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Rant against Apple

The other day I fell upon a knowledge base page on Apple's website advising against installing an earlier version of Mac OS X than the one the machine was sold with. Naturally, as I did this modification myself, I was still somewhat astonished they took the pain of writing an article for that. They must have seen a lot of people coming back to the Genius Bar for troubleshooting such modified Macs.

I couldn't resist sending them a lengthy prose as feedback, seeded by a justification as to why people would chose to disdain more recent versions of OS X, and I was carried away writing about all I felt is currently wrong with Apple.

Hello Apple,

this is a comment as I found your link in the knowledge base, at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2186. It states explicitly not to install an earlier version of Mac OS X than the one that came with the machine, citing possible hardware incompatibilities and unexplained bugs. I do totally understand the potential issues here, yet I chose to revert my originally-10.7.3 MacBook Pro to 10.6.8. Apparently, if Apple spent the time to write such a database entry, then there must be tens of thousands of people who reverted to an earlier version. The question is why? Why customers keep on rejecting seemingly better, more intuitive OSes in favor of older ones? Really, Apple, you should listen to your customers, especially those who have more experience with your great products than newcomers. Additional disclosure: I reverted my MBP Late 2011 to 10.6.8, knowing that the exact same machine was delivered with 10.6.7 Early 2011. A friend of mine reverted from Mountain Lion, that was installed as part of a HDD replacement, for Lion, because ML exhibited erratic, but seemingly normal behavior of waking up many times in the middle of the night, presumably for updates. It emptied the battery faster than expected. He also had additional issues I can't recall at the moment.

Out the top of my head, the main reason for rejecting Lion and Mountain Lion is that everything was "dumbed down", and paradoxically, made more complicated in some regards. Many computer lab managers will happily say they prefer to run Snow Leopard Server rather than more recent iterations, because it gives more control. Without being a sysadmin myself, I do agree that the default settings on Lion and, presumably, Mountain Lion, do not make much sense to users who had a Mac previously. I know software must evolve, but I still think that Snow Leopard stroke an optimum balance between ease-of-use for newly "Mac converts" while leaving enough control in the hands of advanced users, even if it meant firing up the Terminal. Of course I would have preferred a nice GUI as only Apple knows how to design them, but I don't complain too much. It is remarkably similar to the Ubuntu system I used before going Mac.

Default scroll behavior, for instance, makes total sense on a touchscreen, but not on laptops. Hey, I have a scoop for you: most Mac converts actually used a laptop before, no matter how poorly-designed many competitors have been. They are used (and I was as well) to scroll the content in the opposite direction of finger movement. As much as the reverse direction would make no sense on an iPhone, same direction scrolling doesn't make any on a [non-touchscreen] laptop, either. There are two different paradigms.

I also mourn the loss of some extremely useful, if not downright stunning, yet simple software when Snow Leopard was declared obsolete. First, say Front Row. Why did you removed this slick app?  It can't be a matter of incompatibility, as many tweakers easily managed to get it back working in Lion. It is beautiful, well-designed, clean and smooth. The essence of what Apple-designed applications should be. Fit perfectly with the remote. Speaking of which... I noticed that you didn't include the remote anymore a few generations past, probably to save up on costs. Right. But now the remote does seem very hard to find in stores? I suspect it may be designed in a way to increase Apple TV sales, but yet again, Apple TV was never a major product from Apple. iChat discontinued; right, but look what replaced it! iMessage? FaceTime? Come on, it took me far longer to figure out how iMessage would work between my iPad and friend's iPhones: the reason: too dumbed-down. Simplifying the interface to an extreme means it is no longer obvious why messages would go on iPhone but not on iPad, etc. FaceTime is currently useless. Although it claims to be based on open standards, no device except Apple's support it. Many of my friends don't have iPhones, partly because of a staggeringly high price and refusal to sign for 3-year contracts.

I personally regret the loss of Rosetta. OK, it was primarily designed to help software editors move to Intel platform. But a handful of them never did. I know that Apple may not be the culprit here, as it couldn't license the underlying technology from Intel anymore, for reasons I have forgotten. Right then, but why hasn't the Image Capture application be improved? Its performance is underwhelming. Almost no settings, crappy defaults, bad drivers. The Simple Ubuntu Scanner application isn't available on MacPorts. Why Apple has stopped capitalizing on UNIX compatibility? This is one of its greatest strength, and adding such a nice open-source component would help marketing a lot.

I can't say the same for iSync. This piece of software was the buggiest and under-featured applications I used. It was blatant that Apple didn't care the least about it, as it worked only every three time, at best. I know then you want to push iPhones as hard as possible, and I can't blame that. They consistently were the best phones available at their date of release. But in the end, the $800 price it costs for a current iPhone, unlocked but taxes included, combined with frantic update pace, repelled me. It is so much more expensive than a similarly-speced iPod Touch it's downright grotesque.

If only Apple would expend as much energy on Mac OS X and Macs it does on iPhones. I can't say MacBook Pros are bad, far from it. But I now get the uneasy feeling that I have [rather, had] a great machine with stupid software. This "all-in-the cloud" fashion suits Google much better than Apple. Leave that to competitors. ChromeBooks are powerful machines greatly hindered by WLAN access, and all lags and bugs that come with an Internet connection, in addition to normal, local hurdles. Talking of cloud… Apple Match never worked properly. Downloads of songs inexplicably stall regularly, and only a manual resume can complete them, a fact we are aware of only when time comes to play a song. Not even a way, say, to locally-sync preferred lists and leave the rest in iCloud. It's either all-local, or all-cloud, with manual download only available on the device itself. Guess what, a fast wifi connection isn't always available. Yes, it is more common, but still not fast enough to allow for seamless playing of iCloud-stored songs. The 10-second gap before each song is uncomfortable, at best. Maybe it has to do with a prefetch functions that's not aggressive enough. And don't think of 3G iPads as the solution to connectivity. With such small plans as 2GB (actually 2GB are part of the bigger ones), it is only at its best for occasional use yet for a significant premium over the wifi-only model.

On the other hand, Apple was able to discontinue X11 without hurts, because an open-source, independent version was mature enough to take its place. Since open-source is a cornerstone of many Apple applications, why not give back to the community, opening softwares you don't intend to develop further anyways? Much as you bought CUPS a while back and improved it, let experienced coders (and there are many, and more sensitive to user experience than competitor's!) do a great job. Users will be pleased, Apple will be able to capitalize on it in marketing terms. Especially when there is no commercial replacement, you wouldn't hurt small commercial developers anyway. Cutting Flash support on i-devices was a bold move that showed competitors and the public alike what would be done, single-handedly, without major side-effects. Why not take this a step further, and default Safari to use the same underlying technology to automatically drive the user toward a Flash-free, compatible version of videos? I don't have Flash installed on my MBP. It's a bag of hurts, battery-hog, and significant security risk. So I find myself switching to my iPad because Safari doesn't gracefully fall back to HTML5-compliant video. Of course I do like my iPad, but this process is best described as awkward. It's time to kill this over-used, unsafe 90's technology and reaffirm Apple's adherence to strict Web standards, and leaving Flash as an entirely optional component on OS X will definitely help accelerate the transition to a standards-compliant Web. Hundreds of millions of iDevices, added to same number of Macs can't be wrong!

You probably also noticed that a lot of users complained about new versions of former flagship software. Of course you make the majority of your money on hardware, not software. But great software, even sold under its real cost, greatly helps selling hardware. Such was the case when I bought Snow Leopard for a mere $40. Even iPhoto just elicits the all-inclusive "meh." from me. As much as it packs surprisingly good tools, picture organization is silly. What an "event" is? When I snap pictures, it is when I find a good one. Instinctively, I follow my impulse, and that doesn't relate to any particular event. Or there may be more than one even per "roll". Default view should be by albums, or tags, at the very least. Professional users apparently aren't the majority of Apple's revenues, but they do contribute a lot to marketing, making common users dream about these "cool artists", dreaming of their lifestyles, and try to imitate them. I remember going to concerts where the sound engineer fired up a beat-up MBP, plug everything inside. Neuroscientists with a throning MBP on top of a sea of cables. The core of our 512-electrode EEG systemic the form of a Mac Pro G5. A former lab advisor telling me he chose the Mac because "more beautiful equals more efficient". Elegant scientific experiments that wouldn't possibly be born out of a cluttered mind. The 17 inch MacBook Pro was such a product. Big, powerful and impossibly thin, it was considered much like a supercar: unaffordable (although I still think Apple managed to make money on them), but designed to make people dream about it as a status symbol. Professional users have a great influence on perception of Apple products, and if it wasn't for them, no such sites as Macrumors would be born. In fact, there wouldn't be an Apple anymore. This is all-free advertisement.

That one may be more personal, but as much as I like the horsepower in the cMBP and dislike the lack of it in the rMBP, I find myself unmoved by the current unibody design. It all seems too rounded and sterilized for me. I never considered it before as I was into PCs, but I now find the pre-unibody MacBook Pros to pack much more character with its rounded yet muscular corners, apparent, shiny screws highlighting the frame and contrasting with the subtle, feminine glow of the logo. I feel somewhat the same about my previous MacBook, which I still use as a home server. Never mind it being more fragile, less performant or practical, I see it as having class much as an old-school race car (don't take me wrong on old-school, I'm still 25). This was the computer I dreamed about. Something that screamed Not Your Average machine, silent power that could beat any competition without breaking a sweat. Even a prototype MacBook Pro I saw pictures of on the Internet had stunning looks. A perfect balance of utilitarian yet cool-looking machine. Red PCB, as many Apple's prototypes, SIM card slot, external, magnetically-attached antenna. A machine that didn't made it into production, yet looking so much more finished than finalized competitor's products.. I will upload the pictures some day on my website. As everybody is trying to imitate Apple's design, with varying amount of success, current MacBooks blend in. With the new Mac Pro, I can't help but admire the design and claimed power, but what about modularity? With no room to spare inside, Apple should remember that high-performance additional graphic cards, or data acquisition systems, or video, or fiber, typical on high-end systems won't necessarily fit in an external box. Or how to spoil a daring design, or should I say, put design before functionality. Former models had both.

Making money is normal, making loads money is better, and making great products while making money is perfect. I was consistently satisfied that Apple didn't bend to repaying investors with dividends as I always felt this habit weakens companies. But since a few years, priority has apparently been given to the bottom-line at the expense of blowing off people's mind. Rational decisions are the job of engineers. I long the time when Apple made me dream while leaving competitors in the dust. A time when I was glued to my screen while reading the updates on new products. Not a time when I raise a curious eyebrow before closing the browser tab and resume my work.

Even if I don't expect an answer as so many people must send feedback (probably with less grammatical mistakes!), I mourn the loss of a spirit that was able to move customers.