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Apple’s Frequent Update Experiment Has Failed – It’s Time for Another Snow Leopard

As many of you have by now heard and experienced, OS X Yosemite has its fair share of problems. Some of them are minor (not preserving non-native scaling at boot or wake on Retina Displays which causes saved user windows to open at the wrong size and position) and some of them are major (UI slowdowns and system freezes that require daily reboots to clear, or Wi-Fi connectivity issues). But the fact is that the list of bugs as of 10.10.1 (many of which are still present in the latest preview build of 10.10.2) is long and troubling, leading me to a realization this week: I no longer trust OS X. In fact, OS X Yosemite on both my 2013 Mac Pro and 2014 MacBook Pro is unusable in its current state.

Unusable

osx-yosemite-bugs [1]

ArtFamily / Shutterstock

With the word unusable, I don’t mean that I can’t boot into the operating system (oh, that’s another thing: Yosemite takes 8 to 10 seconds longer to boot than Mavericks on the same hardware; not sure what that’s all about) or use it in a general sense. I mean that for productive work, I can’t trust it. I’ve had too many crashes, too many freezes, too many reboots to rely on the operating system to get my work done in a timely and efficient manner, and for me, that’s all that really matters in the end.

No new feature, technology, or interface tweak is worth diverting resources away from proper testing and quality control

I’ve long used both Windows and OS X, although I primarily rely on my Windows PCs for gaming and I generally prefer OS X for day-to-day work like writing, research, and video editing. But since Yosemite’s launch in October, a funny thing has happened: Windows 8.1 has become more enjoyable to use. I realized this week after working with my Windows PC from home for a few days due to illness that I didn’t have any of the frustrations or anxiety about work-destroying bugs that I’ve felt with Yosemite for the past three months. I’m not concerned with issues like the controversy over Metro, or the ability to easily create a video montage of my family in OS X. I’m talking about getting work done with apps like Chrome, Word, and Photoshop. In Windows, those apps and the overall operating system run great. In Yosemite, the entire experience is littered with bugs, slowdowns, and outright system lockups.

When I first started experiencing these issues with Yosemite, I feared they were hardware related. But some extensive testing with my old Mavericks volume revealed that it was Yosemite, not my hardware, that was the issue. I’m sure that Apple will eventually sort out most of the issues with Yosemite, but I’m also reminded that Mavericks had its fair share of quirks, too, even up to the very end.

The problem, I think, stems from Apple’s adoption of the yearly release cycle for operating system updates. The company adopted this approach in 2012, by releasing Mountain Lion just one year after Lion, and continued the practice with Mavericks (released about 15 months after Mountain Lion) and Yosemite (12 months). This was after Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard all enjoyed runs of 20 to 30 months each.

All of Apple’s products and software suffer from bugs of some kind, but the company’s missteps with Yosemite (not to mention iOS 8, which has its own share of problems) suggest that it can’t keep up with this new yearly cycle for major releases. I understand that technology is moving forward at an exponential pace, and that consumers are constantly eager for new features and new designs, but Apple has proven that it simply can’t handle this yearly pace. To release Yosemite in its current state is unacceptable, but the solution is easy: it’s time for another Snow Leopard.

No New Features

snow-leopard-no-new-features [2]

John Siracusa / Ars Technica

At WWDC 2009, Apple’s then-Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet [3], took the stage and announced something that he called “unprecedented” in the computing industry: the upcoming OS X Snow Leopard would have “no new features [4].” That wasn’t technically true [5], of course, but his point was that Apple was focusing on refining Leopard — fixing bugs, introducing under-the-hood improvements, and providing performance boosts across the board — rather than rolling out yet another set of end-user interface and functionality changes. It was indeed a bold move, but it paid off, and Snow Leopard is generally viewed as one of the best operating systems ever released by Apple.

It’s time to do that again. When Tim Cook and company convene this summer for WWDC 2015, I want nothing more than for current Software Engineering chief Craig Federighi [6] to channel his French predecessor and promise to dedicate another year of Apple’s resources to making Yosemite as stable as possible. I know that the Mac contributes a relatively small amount to Apple’s overall bottom line, but the company’s most ardent supporters and developers rely on the platform. No new feature, technology, or interface tweak is worth diverting resources away from proper testing and quality control. That’s an important mindset that made Snow Leopard a great operating system, and it’s something Apple desperately needs right now.

Although Snow Leopard was a new operating system meant to replace Leopard, Yosemite’s short life thus far means we don’t even need a new operating system this year. Perhaps the best scenario is for Apple to announce that they’ve reached the pinnacle of desktop operating system design and just pledge to keep refining Yosemite with point updates for another 12 to 18 months.

Of course, Apple has its own pipeline with products and services that we aren’t yet privy to, and it’s unlikely that the company anticipated the poor performance and reliability of Yosemite (which itself speaks volumes). But if Apple announces this summer a brand new operating system filled with new features, they might as well name it “OS X Death Valley [7]” and be done with it, because the company’s track record shows that they simply won’t be able to pull it off without a host of bugs and issues.

As for me, I still need to use Yosemite to keep up with TekRevue, but I’ll be sticking with my Mavericks boot volume for a bit longer for personal work. And when I’m looking for a stable and reliable computing platform, I’ll turn to Windows 8.1, an operating system that may not come close to OS X’s feature set, but one that has yet to ever crash or freeze on me. Oh, how the tables have turned [8].