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Apple Core Rot: Introduction
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Having been a professional software engineer (C++, Java, assembly code, drivers, compression, encryption, threading, server code) for 25 years, and having used Macs since they first appeared back in the early 1980’s, I have a long and deep perspective on the evolution of Apple Mac OS X (now just “OS X”). I also have demanding professional needs, e.g., professional photography.
What I see happening with OS X is not pretty.
When one runs into a problem, the focus is on fixing it or working around it; it is easy to forget about documenting it as this series of pages now does. Worse, users have been trained to accept excuses from tech “support” whose main job is to deny culpability and assign blame to the user (“reinstall the system in its entirety that you are responsible for messing up, somehow”).
Over the past few years a semi-conscious unease has been steadily growing in my mind: OS X is not getting more reliable and more stable, it is instead developing more and nastier problems that range from interference with getting work done to potential data loss.
This unease is now consciously realized, hence my decision to publish this series of pages and to no longer ignore the eruption of a serious bug, but to document it.
The goal here is for Apple to step up to the plate and engage in responsible OS X development; some of these issues are absolutely unacceptable even in a single minor release, but to see them persist for months or years is unforgiveable.
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General working theory
All this is not all right, but not all of it is wrong either. There is room for disagreement, but there are general rotten spots at Apple that cannot be denied.
- OS X is degrading into a base for an entertainment platform. As it stands, the trend is entirely downhill for serious work (albeit a mild grade so far, but steadily downhill nonetheless).
- OS updates are fast and furious— a lot of hype but little of real value and a lot that degrades value, improvements to stability running in reverse, core performance stagnating, followed by a scattershot approach to fixing new bugs introduced in the new haphazard and hurried release that was made to match the next model, not to provide serious deeply considered benefits.
- Core operating system quality is declining as resources are diverted to software development in more profitable lines: iPhone, iPad, iHaveNoRealWorkToDo products. Apple forgets its history and leaves it core professional base twisting in the wind.
- We begin to tread in dangerous territory: potential data loss in some cases due to haphazard design and apparently no testing in key areas outside a very narrow scope of usage (“who would make any changes to the awesome setup for novices that we Apple Geniuses provide?”).
- Developers are forced without recourse (by API changes and Apple Store requirements) into costly and arbitrary updates which themselves carry the risk of new bugs.
- Apple, a leader in pro graphics, still has no 10-bit video card drivers. This was an issue 3-4 years ago, but the joke has now worn thin . PC users are laughing at Mac users.
- Useful functionality is prohibited in the name of security. No choice— comply or you’re not in the Apple Store and it doesn’t matter if your users demand the features or not.
- Outright removal of an API in a minor release. Deprecation with threat of removal of robust long-standing threading APIs with rewrite required. This is a major burden on some developers, a pure cost, and every such change carries the risk of new bugs.
- Censorship is the wrong term (censorship applying only to the state against its citizens), Apple’s iron hand over what constitutes a “right and proper” application leaves no room for disagreement— Apple is lord and master and final judge on what is “acceptable”, both in design and content.
- Hardware for professional use is released in 3-6 year cycles (Mac Pro), or is dropped entirely (XServe and related). My MPG Pro Workstation (based on Mac Pro) gets the job done every day, but I want current chips, not 2.5-year-old performance which is little different from performance 4+ years ago.
- The trend to a new breed of “shallow” features: those useful only for beginners and entertainment, coupled with serious bugs or workflow impairments for everyone else. Makeup over pimples.
- The general dumbing-down of features in every Apple OS X program. Arbitrary removal of functionality such as keyboard shortcuts, or simply removal of features entirely.
- The general trend to introducing stupidly inappropriate iOS-isms into OS X (e.g., Mission Control).
- The OS X donkey cart is getting loaded with ribbons and flyers and decorations and marching band, but getting real work done is getting harder due to having to work around “improvements”.
- So-called OS X “upgrades” now consist largely of ill-conceived dilettante eye-candy features that reduce usability, clutter the user interface and introduce scads of new bugs. No true upgrades have occurred for at least two major releases.
- The real talent at Apple has probably been diverted away from OS X to iP* development, leaving incompetent and truly reckless programmers working on areas they have no business touching.
As of early 2013.
- iTunes — a nightmarish kitchen sink design cluttered with dozens of tabs and modes and animations and clutter, all mixing highly variant purposes Fortunately, Walter Mossberg likes it (but it’s time for him to hang up his jockstrap).
- iCloud — a organization-destroying bug-ridden unreliable disaster.
- OS X Finder — damages the system, can’t copy files reliably, can’t do useful things it ought to do at all, hides key files, rife with bugs.
- iPhoto — arbitrary removal of keyboard shortcuts and similar made a slightly useful program into a useless toy.
- Aperture — so full of display bugs on dual-display systems as to be unusable.
- Time Machine — auto-excludes critical data from backup, silently.
- Disk Utility — under some conditions, destroys arbitrary numbers of volumes, no real upgrade for years, took two minor releases to fix RAID support.
- File system — continued use of HFS Plus instead of robust ZFS.
- That’s just for starters, OS X Lion had its share of hairballs, many of which still exist.
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