Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Features Lost Across Versions of macOS

Michael Schmitt:

Article Do You Use It? How TidBITS Readers Install macOS Updates - TidBITS says that “Some people even wait until Apple announces or even releases the next macOS version, under the theory that it somehow isn’t fully baked until then.”. I wait until the next major release, but not under that theory.

It used to be one reason to wait was that macOS updates have become so time consuming that I’d wait until there were just the faster security updates left. But now with the sealed system volume even the security updates are a pain.

So that leaves my primary reason: I used to look forward to classic Mac and OS X updates. That ended with OS X Lion. I think every OS X/macOS version since Snow Leopard has been worse than the one before. So, I put off the pain of lost functionality as long as possible.

You think I’m joking? Just look at what we’ve lost in each upgrade since OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard[…]

I think this is a bit harsh because each version brings improvements, too. I’m more sore about the bugs than most of the lost features. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen them laid out like this before. It’s quite a list.


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Old Unix Geek

I'd add, off the top of my head:

* spotlight just scans my drive without telling Apple what I'm looking for by searching the internet.
* no bloody gatekeeper getting in the way
* no need to turn off Siri
* kexts work
* I prefer gdb to lldb
* I prefer Shark to Instruments
* python came preinstalled. I don't think it does anymore.
* I prefer ObjC to Swift, AppKit to SwiftUI (etc).

So what improvements do you see, Michael?

The only one I can think of is: recent software is still updated for latest version of MacOS. Other than that, I honestly can't think of anything.

Hardware-wise, ARM is neat but x86-64 isn't as terrible as bad as all that. HBM is neat, but not being able to upgrade anything (battery, RAM, SSD) sucks. I don't care as much about battery life since I'm usually somewhere where I can plug in. Battery is about keeping the thing on while moving, rather than having to reboot, and about giving me the time to shutdown cleanly when the power goes off.

Some of it is indeed a bit of a stretch, as acknowledged later on in the thread, but honestly I think the general complaint is valid: lots of features just go away, with no recourse and almost no reason, and that's just the price of upgrading. Some of these features just seem so obviously silly in retrospect, like losing feed reading support in Mail and Safari, IMO. But sure, there are little refinements in newer versions too, so it's often just a case of moving on. A lot of features that get axed genuinely have limited use so nobody will notice or care and Apple can feel free to unburden itself. The problem is always the 5% of people who do notice ...

Some features have returned like the reorderable columns in Mail or cover artwork in title lists of the Music App. So, list is not fair when looking back from Sonoma.

Some of these, like "[With Yosemite, we lost] a legible user interface", make me roll my eyes. (Personally, I kind of miss the Yosemite look. It had better contrast than the Big Sur era, IMO. OTOH, whenever I see screenshots from the Leopard or Lion eras… yeah, I don't miss their gaudiness at all.)

The Console thing does still bug me. Leaving aside the dubious practicality of their firehose approach, I really wish the app had a better interface for drilling down into what you're looking for; a 300 pixel search field just doesn't cut it, especially when it lacks discoverability: what categories and subsystems even _exist_? Which ones should you be looking at?

But, many of these are a question of: is that still useful in 2024? For example, `srm` was useful in the pre-SSD era, but overwriting your data 35 times isn't just of dubious value on HDDs; it's outright counterproductive on flash storage. If you still have HDDs and still have this use case, I don't find it problematic that Apple finds it niche enough at this point to have you look out for a third-party solution. I'd much rather they focus on fewer things, and bump up the quality of those.

Lastly, we didn't _lose_ Save As. Apple thinks it shouldn't be the default any more, but if you really want to, you can still do that. (I think it may have come back in Mountain Lion, perhaps?)

As for things we've gained since after Snow Leopard, not counting new built-in apps (including Notes, which is one of my favorite apps now): touchpad gestures, Continuity (shared clipboard, Handoff, AirPlay, Continuity Camera, Apple Watch unlock, Sidecar/Universal Control, …), push notifications, emoji, auto-save (which incidentally also makes reboots less painful than they are on Windows — most of your stuff just comes back), file versioning / local time machine, share sheets, window snapping, Control Center, and at a lower level: ASLR, memory compression, full disk encryption, APFS, power nap. And sure, some more controversial stuff like full screen and system integrity protection. (And more, I'm sure.)

Do I care about all the things that have been added? No. Would I miss some of the above if I were to try and work in Snow Leopard? Definitely.

It isn't even mentioned the "launch a utility without a thousand permission alerts", or the fact that the security system is so broken than 50% of my support email is just helping users work around Apple’s security system bugs.

Barely mentioned is the UI changes that make different kinds of buttons either indistinguishable or unreadable or both.

With Monterey (I believe) Apple replaced the Mac version of Apple Books with a Catalyst port of the iPad version, so the entire book proofing workflow, the push-to-device functionality that let you preview an EPUB book live on the iPad while you worked on the HTML/CSS/Javascript on the Mac, all of that is gone.

Apple's "sweet solution" is for every single update you make, every CSS change you want to check, you have to:
- Zip your EPUB into a completed .epub file
- manually airdrop over to your iPad
- preview the changes
- because it's a user-added file, wait for it to propagate to and use up a chunk of your iCloud drive.

Was that CSS tweak not quite right? Delete the book from your iPad, confirm removing it from all devices, and do the whole thng again.

Unsurprisingly, I'm with OUG on all of this. Shark and MallocDebug or OmniObjectMeter were much lighter weight than Instruments, and didn't need 16 GB of RAM and four cores just to draw a damn graph to show your heap usage. I've always believed software was better optimized in those days because paging and I/O was so expensive with spinning disks. Once Apple went all-in on SSDs for laptops, OS performance fell off a cliff because there was no longer a huge penalty for I/O.

A few pet peeves that haven't been listed: I miss the separate Interface Builder and an Xcode that was designed around multiple windows, not like something created by a refugee from Windows MDI design. I also miss scroll bars that are big enough to actually hit reliably with a mouse.

AirDrop might be the only modernish thing I use regularly, but I'm on Mojave and El Capitan at home, and they're much less annoying than using Monterey at work (here the buttons still look like buttons, and my legacy software still runs). The biggest problem on an older OS is the number of websites that no longer work with Safari, and now that Chrome is no longer updated on Mojave, I expect it will start failing at some point in the future.

I really like the way the latest version tries to sort out screen/sound/video sharing.

It's not 100% there yet, I don't like how everyone else get to see the "This window is being shared" icon but I think it's a good step in the right direction.

I really DON'T like how the option to install apps on my own computer without Apple meddling is gone. Not that I had it set to "Oh, just install stuff without telling me" but this feels like a step in the wrong direction.

Middle Aged Unix Geek

@OldUnixGeek Respectfully, your problem is that your complaint is “me me me”. Things on your list boil down to “I prefer”. Well, I prefer different things to you, and the things you listed don’t bother me. I even think that most of them are better for users in general. Dismissing ARM is particularly shortsighted. So because *you* don’t need it, no one else should get improvements? Come on.

It’s OK to complain about things you miss, but to then outright say “So what improvements do you see, Michael?”, as if your list were an indisputable record of objective flaws is at the very least rude.

Apple talking about all the performance gains of new processors, but I've fired up old mac with spinning HDD with old OS and tapping on Finder icon just shows the window INSTANTLY.

I don't have latest now, but M1/or 2020 Intel ones with that Apple SSD should at least match that old performance, alas..

- Resume playback in iTunes, which was available in SoundJam MP 2.5.3 from which Apple iTunes was developed in 2001.
- Full Finder color labels.
- Arrows in scroll bars.
- Working Apple Mail import tool from Eudora Mail for Mac supporting non-ASCII characters.
- Integration of Contacts (Address Book), Notes and Calendar in a single application.
- Allow to customize and remember "File - Find" (Command F) settings, instead of the mostly useless "Kind is Any" default.
- Implement rich-search options as HoudahSpot (requiring indexing) and EasyFind (not requiring indexing). The latter is essential to search non-indexed disks.

- SDXC reader supporting UHS-II maximum read/write speed (300 Mbps).
- Wired numeric keyboard with built-in USB 3.1 Type C (reversible) hub with two ports.
- Mac power button on USB keyboard.- Mate displays.
- 3D 4K Display 24-inch with Thunderbolt 5 and USB4 ports and SDXC reader.
- Twin TV tuners on Mac.
- Mac tablet.

That is!

Mac OS 10.9 or 10.10 removed the ability in Mail to see alternate parts, and to set the default to text/plain. (I don't exactly which version because by then I had already adopted the "don't upgrade until your current version goes out of support" plan.) It was very useful for detecting phishing emails.

@Old Unix Geek If you look at Apple’s marketing points for the major new versions, most of the things listed really are improvements. Whereas they generally don’t talk about the bad changes, or only do so with developers.

@Mmmm I really wonder what’s going on with Finder and/or the file system. Viewing folders on spinning hard drives is really slow now, and, as you say, it’s not that fast with SSDs, either, even though the hardware is better than ever. Also, hard drives sometimes seem to spin up and then immediately sleep so that another access just a minute later has to wait for them to spin up again.

@Ricky Yes, I used the alternate parts feature all the time. This is the sort of niche feature that I hardly ever see anyone document.

Old Unix Geek

@Middle Aged Unix Geek

You seem to truly misunderstand what I wrote:

I like ARM. I've actually coded optimized ARM assembly code. I even bought a Sharp Zaurus to learn it before the first iPhones came out. I also like x86-64, unlike x86. One of the reasons I bought a mac was to learn PowerPC. Since I've actually coded in 7 different forms of assembly language, I have developed some sense of taste here.

I truly would like to know what Michael thinks is an improvement that he uses. That's not rude. That's curiosity. I asked him because he said "I think this is a bit harsh because each version brings improvements, too."

Michael, I don't find the lists of marketing bullets provided by the manufacturer helpful. I prefer to hear people's actual experience. That's why I found Kristoffer's post interesting.

Now, you, MAUG, are welcome to constructively explain why you experience more recent versions of MacOS as better. But asking me to shut up and accept that "most of them are better for most users" is neither polite nor helpful.

@Old Unix Geek This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some that come to mind:

Sonoma: Safari profiles, Safari Web apps
Ventura: iCloud Advanced Data Protection (not using yet, but will soon), Live Text in video, Login item management (has issues, but is a good idea)
Monterey: Live Text, menu bar privacy indicators, password manager
Big Sur: Apple Silicon, iOS apps on Mac, SF Symbols, APFS Time Machine
Catalina: Sidecar, Find My
Mojave: Swift ABI stability, screenshot controls, Continuity Camera
High Sierra: APFS, HEIF, Time Machine Server, Messages in iCloud
Sierra: Universal Clipboard, Apple Watch unlock, Night Shift, Apple Pay, message list filtering in Mail
El Capitan: Safari tab muting
Yosemite: JavaScript for Automation, CloudKit
Mavericks: Compressed memory, better Mission Control, iCloud Keychain, Finder tabs and tags
Mountain Lion: Notification Center, Messages, multiple Time Machine backups, Power Nap, AirPlay Mirroring

Old Unix Geek

@Michael: Thanks!

Interesting timing on this, because I just finally upgraded my main mac at home from Mojave to Ventura.

(I didn't want to go to Sonoma yet, because I'm one of those people that thinks that a macOS release isn't fully baked until after it's had a year of updates, at the very least. But honestly none of the releases starting with Catalina have been "fully baked".)

I didn't do the upgrade because I wanted to. I did it because the downsides of not upgrading (namely lack of software support) finally began to outweigh the upsides of using an operating system that I actually liked and more-or-less worked the way I wanted. I've used all the releases post-Mojave and I hate all of them. New features aside, everything else has gotten worse. More buggy, worse UI, worse design, missing features, more restrictions, more problems, and just a worse user experience for me.

And now that I've upgraded... it sucks. I got everything set up the way I want, trying to make things as similar as they were before, but everything is just a little bit shittier. Probably what irks me the most is the pointlessly stupid iOS-ification of the UI. The vertical dialogs, lack of title bars, and poor use of space are among the more numerous of the little cuts that will eventually make up the thousand that will kill me. But there were also a ton of bugs that I needed to sort through...

Like how Messages just stopped working.

Or Mail can't fetch emails from my work's Exchange server any longer.

Or my Time Machine backups just silently fail.

Or how Finder icons keep vanishing from my desktop.

Or how I keep getting annoying superfluous notifications that I can't turn off.

Or how search doesn't work in System Settings.

Or how Spotlight isn't reliable any longer.

Or how AppleScript breaks in situations that used to work.

Or how Disk Utility keeps freezing or spitting out indecipherable error messages.

That was just in 48 hours of use. I could go on.

It's just shittier. Good god do I miss using my mac from back in the days of 10.6. I really liked 10.13 too, even though I think the UI changes they made in 10.10 was a step backwards and they added a bunch of annoying security restrictions that didn't really solve anything. But it hadn't gotten onerous yet, and it was a pretty stable release. I miss those days. There's no good operating system any longer.

My next computer will probably run Linux, and I'll be endlessly annoyed by how much work it takes to get it to do as close to the right thing as I can manage with it, but at least I'll be able to do it. But it took almost no work to get my mac to do the right thing ten years ago. It pretty much just worked.

I agree on a lot of the sentiment here; but I think it's also good that Apple deprecates functionality that hardly sees any use in the real world.

On the list of added functionality, I _love_ continuity. The ability to copy on my mac and paste on my iphone has to be the single greatest addition since expose (which is pure muscle memory for me)

@CowMonkey I really wanted to like continuity, but it just doesn't work half of the time for me! And since it's a black box there's nothing I can do to fix it. And a feature that works half of the time is in some ways worse than one that just doesn't work at all.

It’s not just the Mac. I don’t know what happened, but since about that era most software has been this way, from big companies at least. Each version loses features. I agree it also gains them, necessary and good ones. But it also tends to lose functionality that is never replaced. It’s hard to specifically quantify, but it’s a definite trend I have noticed having lived through it.

Outlook is a good specific example.

Outlook is the worst. I recently started having to use it for a job, and the newer versions remove a ton of basic functionality which leaves me wondering whether anyone at Microsoft actually uses it. A few things:

- On the Windows version you can't change only the text size in the folder/mailbox list without changing the text size at the OS level. If text is "just right" in every other app, but excruciatingly small in Outlook, you're screwed. You can't adjust this pane separately on the Mac version either.

- You can't add shared mailboxes to the Favorites list in the Windows nor the web version anymore. Shared mailboxes also appear all the way below all the various mailboxes of your primary account. There is no way to rearrange this. To get around these bogus limitations, you have to add the account manually as a second account, and I'm still not sure if this somehow is worse or more risky than using it as a "shared mailbox" since I share the account with someone else. But you can't add a second email account in the web version if your Outlook is a work or school account. Yet adding a second account in the Mac and Windows version is no problem.

- There's no synchronization of preferences, folder layout, signatures, etc between any of the versions. So you have to set up everything on the Mac, then on PC, then on the web version. Also, each version has different preferences in different places. Stupid.

- All versions have removed the ability to show 3 lines of message preview. Now you can only see 1 line.

As complicated as Outlook is and as many esoteric features that it has, I'm baffled that they have instead chosen to remove the basic features that everyone needs such as the ability to resize the fonts in the various panes, to rearrange the Favorites however you like, and to show a reasonable number of message preview lines (1 line is totally useless). It's like they're making it more difficult to accomplish the most basic email management, and removed things that have been standard across email clients forever.

Oddly enough, I find that the macOS version of Outlook is now _better_ than the "new" Windows version (which is pretty much just a web app wrapper). It has some quirks with text input, and it lacks a few features (for example, while it can _show_ calendars in different groups, it doesn't seem to have a way to _move_ a calendar from one group to another, so I have to do that in a different app), but I would overall call it solid. The Windows app, meanwhile, went from a dinosaur that probably carried too much legacy in terms of both UI and underlying software architecture (I believe it was still written in the 1990s' DirectUI Office UI framework, in C++), but very powerful, to the other extreme: looks fresh at first glance, but lacks even basic stuff.

And then, of course, there's indeed the _wild_ limitation that you can't sync signatures across clients. Why? What? That seemed like an obvious thing to add _ten years ago_!

Brian Reiter

A lot of these complaints seem weak tea.

Replacing 3rd party kexts, plugins, and groveling in Finder’s private memory with a safer and more secure framework while a little rocky at the transition are wins for stability and security.

Read-only OS volume is a security win.

Gatekeeper needs UI refinement but sandboxing so apps have reduced permissions from the user that
launched them is good in principle.

I have no problem reducing the base system size and shipping scripting languages with developer tools and/or you need a package manager. In fact they should also just remove bash and make dash (or ash) the default /bin/sh too. I kind of wish there was an Apple-blessed Unix package manger system but on the other hand there are several viable options including MacPorts, pkg_src, homebrew, nix...

Swift is memory safe and Apple should be encouraging it over C, C++, Objective-C, and Objective-C++. I would like to see Apple actively adopting rust for that matter for drivers and evolving away from C in system and library code because there is kernel stuff and parsing that is vulnerable because of memory management issues that objectively will never be fixed in C.

Breaking dtrace kind of sucks.

Read-only OS volume is a security win.

Or it would be, if Apple had anticipated that people would want to replace the chronically outdated Postfix installation with their own choice of MTA. Which, of course, they haven't. And what's the outdated software (like Postfix or Apache) doing there in the first place? Certainly we need a proper package manager, in addition to mailwrappers.

C is safe, at least until a few generations have died off. Rust is stupidly hard and the gains are pretty marginal for performance-critical low-level software, so it will take a while before it becomes the new substrate language. In the meanwhile there is a lot of existing C code ...

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