Thursday, October 8, 2015 [Tweets] [Favorites]

My El Capitan Experience

The Mac App Store promised a “refined experience”; clearly its progress indicator needed some refinement.

I had a bunch of problems installing El Capitan. The installer hung, and I eventually had to hard reboot the Mac. Then I had problems with 2-factor authentication and logging into iCloud. After finally logging in, most things worked.

I got to the Finder and found that in Icons view the icons look awful. It seems to be using blurry scaled down images instead of the ones that are optimized for the size I am viewing. The icons look normal in the Lists and Columns views, though. The Finder still doesn’t remember which windows are open or which view options I’m using. Even just doing a search and then canceling it messes up my column widths. There’s an odd bug where sometimes the “Move to Trash” menu item is disabled, but if I click on another file and then click back to the first file it becomes enabled. The normal interface for restoring from Time Machine doesn’t finish loading for me, and every time I return to the Finder it crashes. Restoring using tmutil works, however.

The best part of El Capitan is the new San Francisco system font. The year of Yosemite was unpleasant for me because of Helvetica Neue. On Retina displays it looked OK, but in my opinion it is not a good choice for a system font. On non-Retina displays it was ugly and hard to read, with letters running into each other. On non-Retina displays San Francisco looks good. It is perhaps not as optimized as Lucida Grande, but I like the character shapes (except for the quotes). I look at the screen, and seeing the letters so clearly again makes me happy. Needless to say, on Retina displays it looks fantastic.

One oddity is that San Francisco does not appear in the system Fonts panel. It’s the default font in Mail, but if you are updating from a previous version of the OS—or if you ever change the font in Mail—there is no obvious way to go back to San Francisco. I found that on different systems the current font was stored in different places. Some combination of these Terminal commands restores the default:

defaults delete MailboxListFont
defaults delete MessageListFont
defaults delete TocFont
defaults delete Font

EagleFiler faces the same issue as Mail, so I added a pop-down menu to its Fonts panel for selecting the system font. The same menu is also available in DropDMG if you want to make a disk image layout that uses San Francisco.

I love the feature to see which Safari tab is playing audio. There’s now a preference in Safari so that the Option-key workaround for Favorites Bar keyboard shortcuts is no longer necessary. Overall, Safari seems more responsive. However, I have run into some situations with a lot of tabs where some tabs die without ever loading. I have mixed feelings about the new on-demand status bar at the bottom of the window. It lets me see more page content most of the time, but depending on the page background it can be hard to read the URL on mouseover. I like the new feature where you can hold down the Option key to “Clear History and Keep Website Data….” The old way of manually clearing the history—via Select All and Delete—is still buggy in that after a few seconds a handful of pages from each day come back.

The location of the LSSharedFileList files that store the per-application lists of recent documents has changed. One EagleFiler customer says that the displayed list of recent documents is not updating for her, even though the file’s modification date is changing.

The create_os_x_vm_install_dmg script did not work for me; the image it created booted to a blue screen in VMware. These methods did work for creating bootable installers, as did selecting the Install OS X El file itself when VMware asked for a disk.

It’s great to have Find My Friends in Notification Center.

The beta problems with Aperture are apparently fixed, but the iCloud features have stopped working for me and there’s a bug with Onscreen Proofing. I think this is my cue to migrate my old photos to Lightroom before it’s too late.

FileMaker is not ready yet. Microsoft just fixed Office 2011. Office 2016 is currently crashy. MacStrategy has a compatibility list, but I don’t think it’s up-to-date. For example, Super Duper has been compatible for a while. I did not have to update to a newer version of LaTeX because the El Capitan installer had automatically moved the files for compliance with System Integrity Protection. I just had to update the path in my Makefile.

I updated my apps to use App Transport Security. My Web server already supported HTTPS, but the software update feature, crash reporter, etc. were not using it. I need to use NSExceptionRequiresForwardSecrecy for now, because the server is currently running Ubuntu 12.04, which doesn’t support doesn’t support ECDHE ciphers. I was hesitant to switch software update over to HTTPS because in the event of a problem with ATS it would then be impossible to automatically deliver bug fixes. But it seems to be working very well except for one customer who is getting a certificate error—unrelated to ATS, since he’s on 10.9.

The biggest El Capitan changes for me are in Apple Mail. The first-run experience was terrible—it took more than 6 hours after the database migration before it would download any new messages in my main account’s inbox. Before that, it was constantly showing that other mailboxes were downloading messages, only at a very slow rate, and with very little bandwidth usage (as reported by iStat Menus).

Since then, it has been working pretty well for me. The frequent crashes and hangs from the Yosemite version seem to be fixed. Smart mailboxes are still slow compared to before they were rewritten to use Spotlight instead of SQLite (10.9?).

I used to run Mail with the Activity window way off in the corner of my second display and the activity pane in the main pane hidden. This way I could see details if I wanted them, but I wasn’t distracted by activity when I was just trying to read my mail. Unfortunately, in El Capitan there seems to be no way to turn off the activity pane below the mailboxes. It is constantly popping up for a second or two and then disappearing. Also, Mail used to only show a number next to the inbox when it actually contained unread messages. Now, it seems to show a number when there is a message that’s downloaded but in the process of being filtered. So I click on the inbox only to find that there’s nothing there. The main Activity window no longer lets you cancel tasks. I haven’t missed this in El Capitan yet, but in previous versions it was often necessary if Mail got wedged—better than force quitting the whole app. It also doesn’t tell you which account it’s checking.

The Page Up and Page Down keys now work in the message list, fixing the odd behavior introduced in 10.9.

I find the in-message banners notifying me about data-detected contacts and events annoying. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn them off.

I still have some SpamSieve customers who are seeing the bug, introduced in 10.9, where moving messages to another mailbox via AppleScript takes tens of seconds. The GUI scripting workaround still works.

Mail has long had a feature where you could check its number of background operations via AppleScript. SpamSieve uses this to try to avoid sending Mail commands when it’s busy, because processing AppleScript commands can cause it to deadlock. EagleFiler uses this to avoid reading mailbox data while Mail is busy, because this helps ensure that the messages are completely written to disk first. (If they’re not, EagleFiler will detect this, but it’s better to wait a few seconds and then import successfully than to get an error and have to retry.) Unfortunately, Mail’s background activity count property is broken in El Capitan, so these safety features no longer work.

There’s now an editor for e-mail address aliases, rather than a text field for a comma-separated list.

The strangest El Capitan behavior I’ve seen is that somewhere in the setup process, if you have a POP account, it sometimes creates an IMAP account with the same name but marks it as inactive. This hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard from lots of customers who’ve seen this. Since the account is inactive, this wouldn’t seem to be a big deal, however Mail’s own script object specifiers seem to get messed up when there are duplicate accounts, leading to errors that prevent SpamSieve from moving the messages when you train them. The workaround is to rename the inactive account.

See also: my other El Capitan posts, Apple’s list of features, Take Control of Apple Mail, TidBITS, Ars Technica (comments), Jason Snell, Alex Guyot, David Pogue, and MacRumors’ list of reviews.

Update (2015-10-19): Benny Kjær Nielsen notes a bug in setting the default e-mail client.

Update (2015-10-23): The Time Machine crash is not fixed in Mac OS X 10.11.1.

Update (2015-10-30): I’m continuing to have problems with Mail on 10.11.1.

Update (2016-07-25): As of 10.11.6, the “Move to Trash” bug and Mail scripting and duplicate accounts bugs are all still present.


I've seen the tabs-don't-even-load-initially thing too, if it's the one where you have to reload them manually to make that happen. The audio indicator is available in Safari 9 on Yosemite too, although other stuff like Pinned Sites aren't.

Metal seems to deal differently with the ridiculous amount of open windows (and therefore probably low available graphics memory) I use than OpenGL did. Why QuickTime Player in particular can't just switch to a captured still of the movie and dial down on the resources, maybe kill the XPC helpers momentarily, is beyond me. (And if that's what it indeed does, good lord.)

Mail remains my biggest hangup. I don't know if it's because I have a few gmail accounts in it, but I still frequently get crashes or hangs in mail. One annoying bug that pops up reasonably regularly is one where the HTML screens in a mail message won't show up in a window or the pane if you're using the single window mode. Quitting and restarting fixes the problem. It's very odd.

I rather liked the "odd behaviour" of the PageUp/Down keys in earlier versions (all the way back to Tiger, IIRC). Why? I hardly ever need to page through my message list, but I always need to page through the message body. It made sense! That's what I like about Apple.

The new behaviour makes Mail behave like common mail clients, none of which I like.

@Alban In my view, the solution is not to make lists behave differently in different apps, but to provide a separate easy way to page through the message body pane. For example, there is a longstanding Mac tradition (which Mail supports) of using Spacebar and Option-Spacebar for this.

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