Rotting Apples: macOS Sierra PDF Bugs Get Worse in 10.12.2

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On the eve of the release of macOS Sierra, Fujitsu released a warning to users of its ScanSnap scanners that issues with the operating system’s handling of PDFs could cause data loss for users with scanned documents. While the risk of Sierra PDF data loss later turned out to be more limited than initially feared, Fujitsu’s compatibility warning was just the beginning of PDF-related issues for Apple’s latest Mac operating system, issues that actually seem to be getting worse with the recent macOS Sierra 10.12.2 update.

macos sierra pdf bugs

Sierra PDF Bugs: Blame It On iOS

As noted by TidBITS publisher Adam Engst, Apple’s attempts to create a common foundation for PDF viewing and editing between macOS and iOS have resulted in a number of problems in Sierra, to the point that developers of third party software now recommend users avoid Apple’s own Preview app in order to minimize the risk of data loss.

According to Christian Grunenberg, lead developer of veteran Mac app DEVONthink, the problem stems from Apple’s premature release of its rewritten PDFKit API, a release which both eliminated some existing features and broke compatibility on others, causing issues for a range of third party apps.

Apple wants to use a common foundation for both iOS and macOS. However, it was released way too early, and for the first time (at least in my experience) Apple deprecated several features without caring about compatibility. And to make things worse, lots of former features are now broken or not implemented at all, meaning that we had to add lots of workarounds or implement stuff on our own. And there’s still work left to be done.

“Sloppy Code and Indifference”

While Sierra PDF woes have existed since the operating system’s initial launch, the most troubling aspect for both users and developers is that the situation seems to be getting worse. Jon Ashwell, developer of the Bookends bibliography app, reports that macOS Sierra 10.12.2 is “a disaster” in terms of PDF compatibility, causing crashes whenever a user opens a PDF containing annotations. Mr. Ashwell and other developers have attempted to resolve the issue with Apple by submitting bug reports and other information, but claim that the company has remained mostly silent. “I’ve never seen such a sorry case of sloppy code and indifference from Apple,” Mr. Ashwell told TidBITS.

The relatively good news for some Sierra users is that the issues appear to be limited to apps relying on PDFKit; apps using other PDF libraries, such as Smile Software’s PDFPen, seem to be unaffected at this time. But this apparent immunity only applies if the user steers completely clear of Preview and other PDFKit-reliant apps. If the user, or anyone the user shares their PDFs with, edits the documents in Preview or other PDFKit apps, issues like the loss of an OCR layer or corruption of the document itself may occur. As a safeguard against these problems, users should create copies of their PDFs to ensure that the original document is preserved in the event that the document is inadvertently edited in an app like Preview.

The next Sierra update, 10.12.3, is currently being tested, but there is as yet no confirmation that Apple has corrected these issues.

10 Comments Add a comment

  1. “Rotting Apples”? What FUD artist wrote this headline? Is this CNET or Mac Observer?

    This is a major, data loss-causing bug that has not only persisted in Sierra for over 3 months, but is actually getting worse. Something sure is rotten, and it’s stinking up the place.

  2. d'monder

    “I’ve never seen such a sorry case of sloppy code and indifference from Apple”

    “We Don’t Care. We Don’t Have to. We’re the Phone Company.”

    Hopefully that kind of rot isn’t spreading across the company. Apple, you HAVE GOT to get PDFs right. Mission critical, especially within your own apps and system APIs.

  3. FCompton

    My experience with Preview has been somewhat spotty; it seems to have problems with a number of pdfs that pass through my system. I general find an alternate PDF view to read them because of this; and I’m not even on Sierra yet.

    “We Don’t Care. We Don’t Have to. We’re the Phone Company.”

    Scary how similar Apple is becoming to the old phone company.

    It is beginning to disturb me that they are having to verbally reassure people that they are not ignoring the Mac and their core software (sort of like listening to a politician), but I’m more interested in seeing results that than receiving their sincere reassurances.

    Oh, and Phil, you want to revisit that statement about innovation at Apple, yet? Apparently all Apple has any competence for these days are useless social media features on phones and watches.

    Sorry about the negativity; I’m grumpy this morning.

  4. This cannot be true. Apple states that it has great desktops in its roadmap; thus, that sentiment should extend to the OS that runs its Macs as well. Ergo, and I repeat, this cannot be true. /sarcasm intended/ All I have to say about Apple today and its love affair with iOS and the consumer space is Fsck You. I’m really jaded with Apple’s indifference to the needs and wants of prosumers, power users, and professionals who champion the Mac platform. I supported Apple from its inception, even through lean times when it was unfashionable to work with the Mac. And this is what Apple gives its most influential and fervent supporters in return for decades of staunch loyalty? Each generation of software and hardware for the Mac platform gets less flexible, dumbed down, and worse. Apple should spin off the Mac platform to those who understand what a PERSONAL computer is, and wants to create the very best user experience in that space. You know, like Apple did under Steve Jobs. Though Jobs also liked a closed box, he still catered to those who wanted the greatest power and flexibility, and were willing to pay a premium for hardware that was upgradeable and expandable. He got it. And he drove the personal computer revolution. Trucks and all.

    Also, I must apologize for my negativity. I’m getting to the point of no return with Apple. And my anger is driven by extreme disappointment and sorrow.

  5. Rick Hyman

    Jonn Ashwell developer of Bookends said,”I’ve never seen such a sorry case of sloppy code and indifference from Apple”

    Unfortunately, we *do* have a history of this in the past few years. I think specifically of the terrible TextKit Apple introduced with iOS 7. In prior versions, TextKit was built on top of WebKit, which draws web content. Yes, logic says it should have been the other way around.

    The first iteration of TextKit in iOS 7 did not cause data loss, but severe text display issues. Various discussion lists are full of developer comments indicating all sorts of work-arounds to text that would disappear or not wrap correctly, and so on, and on. Developers spent weeks on their apps just trying to figure out what little bits of code to add to minimize problems for their users. Code often had lines like “If iOS >= 7 then do these stupid things that shouldn’t be necessary.”

    iOS 8 fixed some trivial issues, and broke others. iOS 9 began to fix the worst issues, and by iOS 10 many major issues were fixed. But, not all. Developers found that their fixes for iOS 7, 8 caused problems in iOS 10 if not 9. So, they again scrambled to take out the code that sorta fixed the issues in 7 with statements, such as “If iOS >= 7 and iOS < 9, then do these stupid things that shouldn't be necessary."

    It looks like Apple has performed the same poor coding in Sierra with respect to PDFKit. As with the TextKit problems, developers submit bugs, and Apple refuses to admit there are any issues. And, I expect a few years could pass before issues are resolved.

  6. pnielan

    PDFs are often archival documents resulting from scans of paper documents. They are as irreplaceable as photos in many cases. Applications (PREVIEW) and code that CORRUPT PDF documents are not acceptable. The fixes should be the highest priority at Apple and take weeks, not years.

  7. TheMikester

    Kira, I too feel quite negative about Apple’s direction. So I understand and I don’t think any apology on your part is warranted.

    If Apple thinks that the iPhone community of users would be anywhere near as loyal as us long time Mac customers then I think they are in for a rude awakening some day. The sad thing is that Apple is a publicly traded company and will continue to focus on the high profit areas until profits dip enough to warrant a change in direction. My point is with all of the money Apple has they should not relegate the Mac to second class citizen. They have enough resources to make both the iPhone and the Mac first class. If Apple can spend that much money building a building (aka spaceship) like they are then they have enough to keep both platform advocates happy.

    I like both platforms but I must agree that the Mac platform has been dumbed down and continues to be and the quality of software is just subpar. Even little things are being taken away such as the ability to format text in Messages (formerly iChat) such as bolding. Why? Was it causing a problem? I think it was just easier for them — what the customer wants didn’t matter. Maybe few used it — the truth is I rarely used it but it was very useful when I wanted to use it. Would it really have cost Apple a lot to leave that ability there? If (and that’s a big if) the discussion ever came up about removing it some person probably just said that’s what emoji’s are for and then dropped it because it was easy for them.

    The Mac and the iPhone are different platforms with different strengths and forcing them to have the exact same features limits one or both platforms. Different platforms will always have different strengths why remove those strengths in an effort to make it more like a different platform? If Apple is successful in making them identical then I will only buy one not both — have they ever thought about that? Not only will I only buy one but I will buy a competing brand of the other platform so that I regain the strengths that Apple removed. Once I switch one of the platforms I’m using switching the other one becomes much more likely at some future point.

  8. After the initial update to OS Sierra version 10.12.2 my laptop is not the same anymore. Its so slow and taking up a lot of memory, freezing up my laptop and system has run out of application memory. I’ve freed up some space and deleted some files but no luck.

    Apple is really good at messing things up when they do a software upgrade.

  9. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has had a gutful of Apple’s comtempt for its Mac buyers.

    I’m having serious problems with Mail in Sierra. Does anyone know of any discussions about Mail.app?

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