It’s getting to be quite a process to upgrade a Mac to a new version of macOS. Here are three things that could make the process less nerve-wracking and increase user confidence.
In the early days of macOS (Mac OS X), there were some major, necessary architectural shifts that were required to bring full maturity and functionality to this UNIX/GUI hybrid OS. Some of these are nicely documented in “Apple’s Technology Transitions” by Martin Pilkington.
Examples include updating the Directory Services (used by NeXT), weaning away from Classic Mac OS/Rosetta, and moving away from the Carbon APIs. Along the way, these major, essential architectural shifts were handled with dexterity and grace by Apple. Mostly, the changes were transparent to Mac customers.
Today, however, the scope of macOS is much, much greater. Accordingly, major architectural changes demand a lot of knowledge and preparation by the user. Often, the workload can be imposing, more suitable for an experienced IT manager than the average user. A notable exception is the transition from HFS+ to APFS. For the users, that went pretty well. (Some developers have had some issues.)
After this macOS Catalina upgrade, leaving 32-bit apps, behind, I would think that Craig Federighi would be very much disinclined to put users through any more, major, traumatic upgrade adventures. Those would most certainly drive many customers away from the Mac. As Dr. Don Norman, a former Apple User Experience Architect from the 1990s noted, “my mother doesn’t understand the UNIX command line.” And, I would add, she shouldn’t have to be an OS engineer to do macOS upgrades.
Here are three things I’d like to see Apple do to make future upgrades of macOS just as painless and reliable as iOS/iPadOS, etc.
Preflight. Mac users mess with their system. They reorganize. They can often do things Apple doen’t expect and get away with it. That’s the beauty as well as downside of macOS. Then, when it comes time to do an upgrade, the naive installer, expecting everything to be tidy and orderly, trips up.
I’d like to see a preflight app that must be run before an upgrade. Based on Machine Learning of crowdsourced, anonymous Mac data, it looks for irregularities in the organization of files and anything else that could trip up the installer. When done, report is displayed that summarizes the state of the system and makes recommendations for pre-upgrade adjustments. That way, the user can be confident moving to the next phase.
Progress Bars Gone. Progress bars are lightweight ways to alert the user about progress when it comes to a short task. Say, an app install. They really shouldn’t be used in a mindless fashion for an upgrade process that takes the better part of an hour. They tell us nothing—except when they freeze.
macOS upgrades should have an option to echo an install log to the Mac’s display. Not only would it better inform the user of what’s going on, but if there’s a problem, the log could suggest what went afoul. Linux does this. Now, I’m not saying that ordinary users should be exposed to deep UNIX-speak. But specially written headers, written in plain English (or, of course, local language) could provide an outline, a running story so-to-speak, as things move along.
Today, users are left in Limbo, anxious, fingers crossed, blind for 45 minutes. A blow-by-blow report would at least let the user feel informed. Less nervous. Frankly, this should have been done years ago. It demonstrates respect for the user.
Postflight. Often, users become alarmed about or unprepared for what they’ve gotten themselves into when moving to a new macOS version. Something important is missing. Something important doesn’t work. Something is confusing or even unsavory. In fact, given how Apple (mis)uses notifications, the upgrade may have been conducted quite by accident.
For a period of time after a major macOS upgrade, the OS should provide an “out.” The user is asked, “Do you wish to revert to the previous version of macOS?” EXACTLY AS IT WAS. Eventually, a time soon comes when there’s a final chance. If the user agrees, with no required interaction, or fussing with Time Machine, the previous state is auto-restored. Hands off. The user can then reflect and rethink. Perhaps better prepare. What’s the downside here? But there’s a big upside. A major OS upgrade can be approached with much more confidence.
It Just Works – Redux
These techniques are well within Apple’s engineering capabilities. All they require is the inspiration and motivation that the macOS upgrade process should be brought out of the olden times of simple-mindedness and false-pampering and into the modern era of what our new hardware and technologies promise us. Proper preparation, informed participation, confidence, and easy recovery and reversibility.