Apple’s OS X 10.9: a New Hope

| Hidden Dimensions

“Don't mistake activity [for] achievement. -- John Wooden

Periodically, Apple updates OS X, and we get our hopes up that things will get better, not worse. That's what always happened in the past, and we loved it. Nowadays, however, there is some concern that instead of fabulous new OS technologies to serve us, we'll be dragged into something that unnerves us. That's a big difference. What can Apple do to reemerge as the hero?

Apple customers are much more astute now about business models. They know why Facebook does what it does. They understand why a smartphone game is free. So when features are added to OS X, customers will be quick to notice a feature loaded with self-serving agenda instead of a much needed, fundamental technology. More than ever, given the recent tendency by bloggers to dump on Apple, the time is right to put a new stake in the OS turf.

Features that Serve

It's fashionable nowadays in software development, thanks to the technologies of the Internet, to think about features that fulfill the needs of the developer, not the customer. That's, of course, because they make money. The temptation to use a modern OS that way is no different. But OSes are held to a higher standard and shouldn't be test beds for agendas; they should be sacred ground on which the developer wins over the customer.

For example, many technical observers have been hoping that Apple, after three decades, would update the file system, now called HFS+, to something more modern. Apple dabbled with Sun's ZFS in the past, but there were secondary issues that prevented Apple from moving forward. Here's a terrific article by Chris Foresman that explains, "ZFS-loving Mac users demand support in OS X 10.9."

A new file system would solve many customer problems and would create a sense of excitement that Apple is working hard to deliver the very best technologies. On the other hand, something like Apple Maps, very useful in the mobile world, can be questioned as a priority for the desktop. One gets the feeling that Siri, maps and search constitute an enduring campaign to ostensibly provide not just service but also separate customers from their money. The distinction is crucial.

When a company that has inordinate amounts of cash seems to focus on making yet even more cash, the glamor of developing new and better fundamental technologies to serve the customer is hard to recapture. One way to do that is a renewed focus to delight us with technology rather than smother us with agenda.

Customization is Not to be Feared

Another thing that happens when a company broadens its base greatly is that many different kinds of people are embraced. For example, new ways of doing things in the OS don't always appeal to all the new and varied customers, so intelligently managed customization becomes more important, not less important. Case in point, we shouldn't have to go to command line to turn off Notifications.

In a very real sense, a cleanly designed UI with multiple layers of discovery and customization send a message to the customer that the OS is being designed to serve and enable the customer to be resourceful and creative.

On the other hand, when Apple unilaterally decides to drag 70 million users along, in a direction that seems arrogant and authoritarian, (like supressing the visibility of the ~/Library folder) or won't let them enable and disable feature as needed, then customers start to question whether they're paying for an operating system as a service or being charged a tax for the privilege of being manipulated. Microsoft has already traveled that rocky road. There's no need to follow.

Earning and Keeping Trust

A third factor that can help with a renewed positive attitude about OS X 10.9 is the idea that the user is fully informed by the OS even as strides are made to make the OS better aware of its environment.

For example, Apple has recently been using the Xprotect mechanism to silently and secretly disable functionality when security is at stake without also leveraging one of its most touted features, Notifications.

Instead of creating the Notification Center as a temptation for developers to harass the user, the Notification Center could (and should) also be used to advise the customer about the state of the Mac. For example, the temperature of the CPU, the S.M.A.R.T. status of the boot drive, Apple's remote changes to our OS and suspicious websites are worthy alerts. Instead, all of these things are left to third party apps.

I'm not suggesting that Apple go overboard with geekification of Macs, but the idea that ignorance is bliss doesn't work either in this day and age.

A New Hope

In summary, Apple has always been considered a trustworthy technology partner. The company figures out how to develop or invoke technology that delights and serves us. It would probably like to have that spirit rise again to the forefront of our minds and have it be the popular narrative again.

One way to do that, we hope, is to refocus on implementing more neutral, fundamental technologies, such as improving the file system, improving the Finder, creating a hardware health monitoring system, factoring iTunes, bringing discipline to Notifications, dramatically improving the Mail app, and so on. These are not sexy money makers, but an enthusiastic, solid customer relationship is more important now.

Other methods include putting users back in charge of customization and constructing system services so that users can use their judgment and talents to decide how features will be used.

Finally, there is a certain undefined knack for User Interface design. It takes a considerable amount of vision and talent to create an OS with a sparkling, consistent, intuitive interface that treats us with respect and, in turn, earns our respect. (Mr. Ive: are you listening?) We fantasize that that will be a top priority in 10.9.

The one thing Apple shouldn't want to do is cast us into further frustration with technologies that have been very controversial and are not fully baked for the desktop -- for the sake of competitive urgency, agenda or fast cash.

If there were ever a time when Apple were to do all these positive things, we're hoping that the summer of 2013 is it. There should only be one goal: OS X 10.9 must delight and amaze us. We should adore it for what it does for us, not for Apple.

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Cougar in snow via Shutterstock

Comments

oneof52

Amen!

Great article.

davebarnes

I would settle for a decent address book.

Bradley Dichter

I have very little hope Apple wants to do any of this. They have embraced the Post-PC era and have not given the Mac OS any innovation for users. They seem bent on convergence with iOS. Part of the reason I use Snow Leopard daily while my Mac can run Mountain Lion and does perhaps one day each month. P.S. I have been using Macs since early 1984.

mjkphoto

Well, the next number is 10.9, as in 0.1 below 11. Of course, apple could choose to continue with 10.10, .11, .12 and so on, but that’s unlikely. OS 10.9 will be an incremental update. Hopefully Apple will bring back Save As - as last seen in Snow Leopard. And how about a professional and consumer version of the OS, allowing those of use who can to do so while the rest can be blindly led by Apple R&D. But, alas, Apple is all about iOS and it is a good bet the Mac OS will be moving in that direction. Unfortunate. There are too many things you cannot do on a tablet.

I can’t believe we’re taking about 10.9. I’m still running 10.6.8. A representative from Mr. Cooks office assured me that key features (such as Save As) cut from the OS with the release of 10.7 will be restored. When???

It is a scary time for the Apple faithful. Functionality trumps new and shiny. Unfortunately, the consumer will be led just about anywhere with the promise of new and shiny, leaving the professional to scramble for work-arounds for lost functionality to get stuff done. If only Apple would listen. They won’t. Because they know what is best for us. And it it is not, Apple marketing will convince us it is.

10.9 huh? With the promise of 11 around the quick corner, we should be afraid. Very afraid.

John Martellaro

David Pogue was told by Apple that they have no problem with future versions of OS X numbered 10.10, 10.11, etc. I believe I have referenced this fact from time to time myself.

http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/apples-mountain-lion-makes-the-mac-more-like-the-ipad/

John Martellaro

mjkphoto: “Save As…” was restored in Mountain Lion, OS X 10.8.  Hold down the Option key when opening the File menu on Apple’s apps that have formerly suppressed that function.

Paul Goodwin

Keeping my fingers crossed, but am very skeptical.

John. Thanks for the tip on the Save As with the Option key….I didn’t know that. Why they ever took that out, I’ll never understand, and no matter what their excuse, it was wrong.

And yes, I too agree on an improved Mail and Address Book. The address book is horrid. Making edits to it is so frustrating when the things are syncing with the cloud. Ridiculous.

And yes, I still long for 10.6.8. 10.7 caused my Mail to crash on start - EVERY TIME, and it’s still that way. It takes two or three starts.

If iTunes 11 and Airport Utility are recent data points in the direction Apple is going, we are all going to be deeply disappointed. No multiple window support in iTunes; you can’t even view a shared library on the screen and compare it to your own…HORRID.  And in Airport Utility, is really not much of anything any more. If you have to choose your own frequencies to use, what do you look at???? They took the signal strength and signal-to-noise ration screens out. Ridiculous.

I’ve been a staunch Apple guy since 1988, and I don’t ever remember being this frustrated about anything as much as the direction they’ve gone in the last couple of years. I find it hard to envision them really getting things right with new technology improvements and a world class OS. They just don’t seem to be pointed that way, and everything new since 10.6.8 has been a step backward.

Maybe they’ll surprise me. I’m not holding my breath. I could go on for hours on this stuff, but I’m madder than when I started typing this, so I quit.

John Martellaro
Paul Goodwin

That link didn’t work but I found it by searching for apple design teams get cozier.

LOL I can’t figure out if that’s good news or not. If the iOS team is looked at as the new model for their combined restructured group, OMG. Hopefully sanity will reign.

Who will have the dominant genes?

John Martellaro

Paul:  I accidentally left a space before the [ /url ] closing.  It’s fixed.

Paul Goodwin

I’m nor sure what a “flat” OS is???

John Martellaro

That’s when you remove the skeuomorphism’s 3-D effects and blend the UI elements into the background.  But you can’t take it as far as MS did, in WIndows 8, where (I am told) in some places you have no visual clue as to what’s text and what’s clickable. Apple won’t make that mistake.

John Martellaro

Paul: “Flat” isn’t as bad as it sounds. Android does it.  See, for example, the first two screen shots here:

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/google-nexus-10-tablet-first-impressions

droid

My hope is that a ‘flat’ iOS design is similar to the newly updated podcasts app.  Less useless eye candy (the reel to reel player) and more simple UI elements like the playback controls without the tiny, fussy icons.

Apple seems to be slowing down based on previous years, perhaps they are taking time to get Ive’s teams to pick over and fix the inconsistent UI.
The OS foundation is pretty solid now that versioning is built in but I think it would be useful if the file system supported proper de-duplication considering the limitations of SSD’s. They could even throw in some ability to have redundancy at the file system level too.

I fear that we (the geeks who are TMO readers) are not the Mac customers Apple want’s to focus on any more with OS X. I think they are more interested in parents & kids who just want to browse the web & do a little Word or iPhoto. They want to sell Macs to people who have tried iOS & only want simple solutions like iCloud.

Apple’s pro section seems to be dated https://www.apple.com/pro, as is the Mac Pro, hopefully there will be something to keep us happy in 10.9, I’ve yet to find a good reason to leave 10.6 behind.

iJack

Wasn’t it just a very few months ago that writers here were cheering the iOSification of OS X?  And now you’re saying, “No, no; 10.9 needs more beef?”  Gimme a break.

Edward Webster

Excellent article and superb observations!

Incidentally, for whatever reason, Apple engineers decided to hide the “Empty Caches” command in Safari.  It can be found as follows:  Preferences>Advanced>Show Develop menu in menu bar.

I would add one other item to your excellent article:  Apple’s constant updating of its OS has had one unintended consequence - the near elimination of third party software.  As someone who uses his computer for various forms of productivity, I have witnessed the steady disappearance of once common software programs for the Mac.  To wit:  clip art which was commonly found (when is the last time a 100,000+ clip art program existed for the Mac?); a draw program for the Mac (remember the days of AppleWorks?); OCR programs that were readily available at an inexpensive price; and so on.  I’m certain that others could list numerous programs.  And while Apple claims that its App Store features “hundreds of thousands” of apps, few of them are productivity oriented, and the apps that don’t cost and arm and a leg are junk - just read the reviews after they’ve been in the App Store for any length of time.

Perhaps when Tim Cook stops obsessing over the iPhone and iPad, what once made Apple what it is - the Mac and an excellent OS - will return to its roots.  Unfortunately, Cook’s “midas” fancy has turned Apple into the new AT&T - Apple Telephone and Table.

Brutno

To Edward Webster - Command-Option “E” empties the cache - and flashes the “Develop” indicator in the menu bar to let you know it’s done. It’s too bad Apple took it out of the “Reset Safari” options. Dumb move on their part.

Since it takes so long to clean up Safari I’m going to attempt an Automator task to empty the cache, reset Safari and remove unwanted cookies and databases. Anything to reduce the insane amount of steps it nows takes.

droid

@ Edward Webster:

For drawing apps, try Skitch or pay for Acorn, Pixelmator, Easydraw, Artboard…

Appleworks is nearly 30 years old, with the last update 9 years ago it’s time to move on, try one of the many Open source office solutions (search ‘office’ in either of these sites).
http://alternativeto.net
http://www.alternative.to

TesseractOCR is a simple free OCR tool, I find it works best with large images YMMV.

Clip art used to come on CD’s with huge printed sample books, nowadays you use online services instead, or type ‘clip art’ into google if you are lazy & willing to steal copyrighted works.

I do agree generally with the churn rate of OS X causing apps to be left behind, but there is a world of great software outside the app store.

dhp

re: AppleWorks
I don’t think Edward Webster was looking for a new office suite; he was pointing out that Macs used to ship with a basic drawing app preinstalled.

Edward Webster

@droid

Thank you for your comments, albeit you may have misunderstood my criticism.  Yes, I am aware that AppleWorks is well over nine years old.  I was merely lamenting the loss of a great program which featured a wonderful set of tools.  Compared to Pages, AppleWorks was an incredibly feature rich program which lent itself to many useful applications.

Thank you for the various program references.  I will certainly give them my attention.

As to clip art, I am aware of the “older” use of CDs - being an old codger myself.  However, your comments beg the question about the quality and quantity of clip are available through “on-line services.”  As someone who creates fliers and newsletters, I find it incredibly time consuming to visit one on-line service after another to find the right line-drawing or piece of clip art, which many services misconstrue with photos.  But let me not trifle over this, as I don’t think we will agree to disagree.

Yes, I realize that much software exists outside the confines of the App Store.  My point about the App Store is that Apple promotes it as the center of its universe for “great software” (read their ads); but the sad truth is, much of what is on the Apple Store is a waste of money.

On one point I hope we might agree, that the constant turn-over of the Mac OS is creating a situation where Apple is producing a great OS with less and less inexpensive software to run on it:  A cruel irony and interesting conundrum.

jeffff

Jon Ive won’t help with software UI because he’s an extreme minimalist. Great for cases, bad for UI.
Intuitive means you don’t have to search for tools (press ‘option’ when accessing the File menu? Really?). For me, ‘intuitive’ means I don’t need a tip to find simple commands and tools.
Because of travel, I have to rent several cars every month and I find it endlessly frustrating that different manufacturers use new and different strategies for enabling defog, AC and headlights. As though this were somehow creative.
If it were modern software UI, even the steering wheel would be up for grabs.

wab95

John:

I realise that this discussion thread has grown cold, however permit me to throw in a couple of minor thoughts.

I whole-heartedly agree with your overall thesis and theme. Apple, indeed all tech companies, need to accommodate an ever greater diversity of clients and client needs in this increasingly competitive environment. If any company assumes that they are catering to a monoculture of loyal and longstanding clients with essentially the same needs/limitations, then they are tacitly acknowledging that they have ceased to grow as an enterprise. Worse, they will send a message of unwelcome to any prospective new clients who might want to migrate from a different system. The only way to expand the base and address the needs of a progressively diversifying clientele is to provide for options, customisation and perhaps even layered complexity that can be accessed by those with the requisite knowledge (e.g. command-line functions, system folder customisation, etc).

And therein lies the problem. How exactly does one accomplish this in not merely a more competitive environment but an increasingly more dangerous one, from a security perspective, with increasingly higher stakes, as we invest more of our vital data, at both a personal and business level, into our devices?

You nicely address some of this in both your ‘Features’ and ‘Customisation’ sections with appropriate measures that Apple could take. While I agree that Apple (and other companies for that matter) need to send an unambiguous signal that they respect their diverse clientele, and can/should/must provide them with options for adapting the OS to their specific needs within reason, they have the simultaneous task of having to harden those systems against not only known threats - including the client themselves - but threats that might emerge, based on current intelligence, during the expected lifetime of the system. It does neither the company, nor the client, nor even the industry for that matter, a whit of good if the system is vulnerable to compromise either in the course of routine use or from external attack. The stakes are simply too high here in the second decade of the 21st Century. For everyone.

We already endure this with airline security, in which all have to endure a measure of inconvenience for the safety of all - the stakes being life itself - while a few of us (present company included) suffer the additional inconvenience of fitting an unhappy profile, all so that everyone travelling and those living along flight paths can be safe.

That said, in OS development, compromises have to made by everyone. Inconveniences have to be borne by everyone. In my view, that means that strategic decisions about accessible OS feature sets have to be made on a population-likelihood basis and not on the basis of individual capability beyond two standard deviations from the mean, i.e. the true professionals and geeks. While I see options for customisation, I foresee a trend of continued constriction on the nature and system-level access of that customisation, not because Apple or other companies necessarily want to wave their arrogant fists above our heads, but because of the need, indeed one can argue, the obligation, to provide sufficient security of our data and privacy.

I don’t think it far fetched to envision a company, almost certainly Apple, being taken to court or summoned before government bodies and held liable for security breaches that they could have prevented with available technology, but deliberately chose not to put in place.

This is not to detract from the imperative of providing a richer, more nuanced feature set and options for customisation - indeed this is essential - but to set that practice in the modern context of security enhancement for the widest population.

Terrin

Can we get back the double tap in the top of the window to shrink the Window? That has been that way forever, and all the sudden it is gone.

give_me_a_break

The computer business is what I care about.  It begins to appear that the only way to save the computer business at apple is to stop buying apple iphones and tablets.  In a perverse way apple sees each sale of an iphone of ipad as an handy excuse to stop building computers.  I dont need an iphone of ipad, I can buy perfectly useful equivalent products from samsung.  What I do want from apple is a new computer, but they seem unwilling or unable to produce and ship anything new.  So I hereby pledge not to buy other apple products until they get back into the computer game. ..on the other hand as they keep screwing up the OS, perhaps it wont be long before I wont want one of their computers either.

GK

Just added a MB Pro Retina to PC after having liked both iPhone and iPad. I have hardly installed any apps or programs, but now my HDD is showing 50GB has gone to some deep hole in sudos, vars, imaps, sleep images and the likes, stuff newbies like me aren’t suppose to touch.

I’m counting on support helping me get back my pricey real estate on SSD, but compared to a windows explorer, finder sucks. Having to install a 3rd party Omni something just to see what’s on ky computer, wrf?

muffuletta

Good thoughts. As a Mac user since System 7.1, I share your hopes. Coupla typos in the article: “happend” in the first paragraph, and “it’s” instead of “its” in the paragraph that begins with “A third factor that can help….” Thanks.

John Martellaro

muffuletta: Thanks.  I work hard to make sure I don’t have those kinds of typos, but they can slip in.  Fixed.

Michael Kummer

Great article John! I was just thinking (and writing) about my wish list for OS X 10.9 as well as iOS 7. Improvements to Mail and Reminders (along the lines of the new Mailbox app) and collaboration support in iCloud (mix of Dropbox and Google Drive) are on the top of my list, besides fixing all those stupid bugs that Apple introduced in 10.7 and 10.8.

Cheers
Michael

John Martellaro

Michael:  Welcome aboard! And thanks.

Chris Shaw

Cracking article John!, I have always been a Windows user, but after buying an ipad last year decided to have a look at the imac, I am sat typing this on my beautiful 27” beastie!

For the most part I love it, the downsides have been the fact that its been in for repair (for 2 weeks at a time) 3 times in the last 12 months, I mean c’mon! I’ve never had this problem with a pc, and if indeed there ever was a problem with my laptop/pc I could easily replace a faulty part, so yes its frustrating that you pay so much money for a premium product and then extremely limited by what you can do with said product.

Ok, you can save as by holding down the option key, these things should be available on a menu somewhere, as more and more people are purchasing Apple products you would think moving a little more towards being user friendly would be a priority, stupid stuff that I take for granted on a Windows machine, for instance merging two folders together, is a nightmare to attempt when moving files on my mac, previously resulting in me losing a few gb of family photos because I assumed the replace button would merge, it didn’t!

There was an issue with file sizes too, trying to back up a file over 4gb to my external caused me some problems…

I love the style and design of Apple products, I just wish they didn’t have these daft niggling issues, that really shouldn’t be there in this day and age, hopefully the next OS x will resolve some of them!

Engineer

Apple updates the filesystem every Mac OS X release.  HFS+ of today is not the same as HFS+ of even 5 years.  Quite radically improved.  But this is under the covers and doesn’t come with a sexy new name like ZFS or credibility with non-technical linux users.

Frankly, the author of this article doesn’t understand what Mac OS X is, or how it works, well enough to have this opinion.  He laments the lack of “important” features because he’s not technical enough to know they are there… yet the visible, consumer features he assumes are to serve some other agenda.

I’m glad Apple is doing the things that make Mac OS X the best operating system…. rather than chasing fads or catering to people such as the author with a very shallow understanding of the technology.

Rbk

The article is great, some very good points made, however his bio does say he was born at an early age…

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