Friday, 17 October 2014

Apple: just breaks

The real pleasure of using a Mac was that you took it out of the box, asked for your previous Mac personality to be transferred over, and you were in business. Things generally work, and that also runs to UNIX-style development, as is typical of many academic projects.

Whether you want a consistent user interface or to go to the command line and type

make install 

it all, in Jobs’s words, “just worked”.

The other side of the Jobsian design world is making things look cool, and that is part of the experience. You have hardware and software that you feel good about having in your home or workspace. Sometimes, that conflicts with practicality, but when both are right, it’s a winning formula. But if I have to sacrifice one, I would rather have something that works and looks a bit less cool than something that looks super cool and doesn’t work.

A while back I updated to Mac OS X 10.9 (“Mavericks” – also the name of a surfing spot with scary monster waves that occasionally kill a surfer). I was travelling at the time so I didn’t use it much before updating to 10.9.5, after which I ran into a problem printing. Could it be a coincidence that a release named after a beach with a vicious break is the turning point from “just works” to “just breaks”?

I use HP printers connected via and SMB server, a setup that has worked across a number of OS upgrades and different Macs. The Mac I have now, a fairly new MacBook Pro 15-inch, Mid 2012 model, bought around the time it was being phased out, should not have problems running the latest software. It is a well-tested design, and only barely out of production.

Another issue I have run into is that the new LLVM compilers don’t entirely work with projects designed to work with the GCC toolchain. Since a lot of what I do is shared projects with other academics running on Linux, this is an inconvenience, but one we will eventually work through. I could have stuck with the older version of Xcode a while longer, but wanted to try out Apple’s new Swift language.

Waiting until some of the earlier complaints about Mavericks were sorted seemed a safe step. But the printing thing was a surprise, and I have had no luck with extensive interactions on Apple’s Support Communities forum, nor so far with posting a bug report though Apple responded by asking for more information. I will add an update if I get a response on that.

Since Mavericks only broke printing and messed up compiling stuff I share with Linux projects, should I install Yosemite (a place of grand view sites and frosty glaciers – and where climbers occasionally fall to their deaths; do you see a pattern)? One major upgrade before, after all, only broke two things.

Does anyone else wonder why Apple can’t step back from their obsession with anorexic design (wow, look, I’m so thin, you can’t see me side on) and get back to making stuff that “just works”?

And could they please stop naming new releases of the OS after places that kill people?


James Katt said...

There is no place that doesn't kill people. So that statement is out of place.

For example, any street has car accidents that kill people. Any bridge has suicides. Any building can have suicides and murders. Any landmark or park has their deaths.

Philip Machanick said...

James, I’m surprised you didn’t mention that big cats kill people too. Anyway that is not the central point. I just mentioned a few things, but I am increasingly getting the feeling that Apple is losing focus on the “just works” side of design, and putting too much focus on “cool”.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

As an aside, you could compile the GCC toolchain if you want to use that. Apple has gone a different direction for Mac development, but nothing stops you from using GCC if that is your toolchain of choice. You just have to do some more work to get there.

The printing "breaking" though is troubling. Apple has had a rough series of events with their revamped SMB stack, and I don't know if printing is wrapped up in that or not but probably so.

I'm 100% with you though on Apple needing to get beyond this "thin is king" mentality and get back to making SOLID products. I was running Yosemite since maybe DP3, and I would personally never have flagged it as ready for release when it went live on the 16th. I wouldn't advise anyone to upgrade yet, but then again a lot of things that bother me may not be problems for others, so take your chances. :)

Philip Machanick said...

I have thought of the gcc tool chain but another thing that Just Breaks is installing packages outside the main (in this case, Apple) package manager. I already have trouble with my research builds with conflicts with XML libraries because of this.