Monday, December 5, 2016

The Operating System Fountain of Youth

Jean-Louis Gassée:

Today, macOS is a fully-grown computer operating system, pleasant, fast, flexible. But it’s also enormous — RAM and disk storage requirements are measured in gigabytes — and it isn’t exactly bug-free. An ex-Apple acquaintance recently told me there are something like 10,000 “open” bugs on an on-going basis. The number that are urgent is, of course, a fraction of the gamut, but like any mature operating system, macOS has become a battlefield of patch upon patch upon patch.


It appears that a new direction may have been tempting. At the time that Apple’s smartphone project began, an Apple employee and former Be engineer offered Palm Inc. $800K for a BeOS “code dump” — just the code, no support, no royalties. The engineer was highly respected for his skill in mating software to unfamiliar hardware; BeOS was a small, light operating system; draw your own conclusion… Palm, which had purchased Be a few years before that, turned him down.


iOS managed to succeed where “lite” versions of mature operating systems failed, and it succeeded on a much larger scale than existing personal computers. The ubiquity of iOS devices ensures the operating system’s future, but it’s not just the higher unit volume that’s attractive: iOS is younger and nimbler than its noble and worthy macOS forefather. As I stated last week, it will assume more and more of the duties of Apple’s historic Macintosh.

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10,000 “open” bugs - This is far too low. Some system apps have this many open bugs. I'd guess a quarter to half a million open bugs for the OS X component tree.

"Today, macOS is a fully-grown computer operating system, pleasant, fast, flexible"

Pleasant: less and less.
Fast: it has never been "fast". The hardware got faster but the performances have always been an issue compared to other software platforms (the problematic areas are changing over time: math lib, process fork, OpenGL, etc.). My all-time favorite BS from Apple regarding the performance: the WWDC slide explaining how app launch would be fast in Mac OS X 10.0…
Flexible: less and less.

"Today, macOS is a fully-grown computer operating system, pleasant, fast, flexible."

Why is Jean-Louis writing about Snow Leopard now?

About performance: for many years OS X got faster and faster with every new version on the same hardware. I think this was happening all the way up to 10.6 at least, if I remember it correctly. Ah huge reason to why Apple were able to do that was of course that OS X was horribly slow and un-optmized in the early days. I remembering buying 10.0 on world premiere day but waiting until 10.2 before I finally switched, because it wasn't until then the performance was acceptable (compared to Mac OS 9).

Still, I was very happy that Apple spent time and effort optimizing it for current and old hardware. This was also a great contrast to the previous years of system updates to classic Mac OS. As Jean-Louis the upgrade from System 6 to System 7 was a real bummer on the same hardware. For years you had to accept that new major updates came with both new features and a slower system. That's just how it was. Therefore it was kind of amazing to witness 10.1 being faster than 10.0, and then 10.2 being even faster than that, on the same hardware.

@Adrian I think there are still a lot of opportunities for optimization in specific apps. For example, I recently filed a Radar about a 10-second hang in Safari’s bookmark list with only a dozen bookmarks. It’s a question of priorities.

@Michael I agree, I do think more can be done, both in the OS and specific apps. Sadly I don't think Apple is as committed to optimizing as it was in the early years of OS X. The Archive Utility slowness that you brought up in another post could be another example.

There are tons of examples where Apple makes apps, or components of the OS (whether Mac or iDevice), just "good enough" and then never goes back and fixes bugs, inconsistencies, and so forth. And in many cases, it seems that some modest and simple tweaks are all that is needed. But they just forget about it... pushing out new features, but never fixing the things that they only did half-ass in the first place. I think most of this comes down to apathy and a lack of perfection in software. Fixing old bugs isn't sexy and doesn't sell new devices. Gotta focus on making those Macbooks 0.01 mm thinner!

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