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Myths and Misconceptions about macOS Sierra

After writing about Apple’s announcement of macOS Sierra at WWDC and seeing comments in a variety of online venues, I’m a little depressed and disappointed (see “macOS 10.12 Sierra to Succeed OS X 10.11 El Capitan,” 13 June 2016). Not with macOS Sierra itself, but with how many people are responding to its unveiling. All that anyone can accurately say about macOS Sierra is what Apple has shared; even the developer preview release is so new that it would be unfair to criticize any problems it may have.

However, that hasn’t stopped the curmudgeon brigade from calling the keynote a “disaster” and referring to macOS Sierra’s changes as “fluff,” before complaining that they were being forced to upgrade.

I have no doubt that many people find change of any sort unsettling, but I’d like to encourage some calm and understanding. To go further, can we have some optimism for the future? The only way our experience as Apple users will improve is if Apple and its community of developers are excited to make things better. Not every change makes a positive difference, but just as with evolution, a lot of changes must be tried before we can benefit from the successes.

With that in mind, let me address three common myths and misconceptions:

#1: Apple is forcing me to upgrade. -- Not true. Apple’s black helicopters will not land in your front yard to disgorge an elite upgrade team that will hold you at gunpoint until you install macOS Sierra.

You can wait as long as you like to update. Just last weekend, I helped my aunt move from a 13-inch MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard to a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display running 10.11 El Capitan. She had been using Snow Leopard since 2009 or so, and she skipped 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, and 10.10 Yosemite with no ill effects. She was ready to upgrade to El Capitan because she could no longer do online banking without a current Web browser, but she decided that after six or seven years, it was worth buying a new MacBook Pro.

Although you don’t have to upgrade, I think swearing off updates entirely is foolish, which is why I wrote “Why You Should Upgrade (On Your Own Terms)” (4 September 2015). But you can certainly put off any upgrades until early kinks have been worked out and it’s a convenient time.

#2: The new features are useless (because I don’t want to use them). -- It’s easy to look at the list of new features in macOS Sierra and scoff because you can’t imagine using them.

“Siri on the Mac? It’s not like it works that well on the iPhone. Desktop and Documents folder sharing across devices? Why would I want all that crud on my iPad? Universal Clipboard? I probably wouldn’t even remember how to use it the once or twice I might need it per year. Auto Unlock? The Apple Watch is an overpriced toy. Big emojis? Invisible ink messages? What are Apple’s developers smoking?”

Here’s the thing we all have to remember: No one of us is Apple’s target audience. Not you, not me, not anyone. Apple is a global company that wants to sell hardware — iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs — to as many people as possible. Yes, Apple very much wants to sell you at least one of each, and it’s going to create features that encourage buying into the overall Apple ecosystem. To do anything else would be, to quote Spock, illogical.

Plus, Apple is looking for broad appeal. While many long-time Mac users may be nonplussed by the emphasis Apple put on emoji frippery in Messages, for instance, those sort of features already exist in other messaging apps, and they’re huge in Asia, particularly among younger users. Attracting that audience is key for Apple.

So no, these features aren’t useless. They may not be useful to you, but they may be compelling to a teenage girl in China. Apple is just as happy to take her money as yours, and since the company has posted over $1 trillion in revenue in the past decade, it’s hard to argue with the strategy.

New features also help Apple compete with Microsoft and Google. In terms of desktop market share, Windows remains at about 90 percent, and on the mobile side, Android smartphones control 80 percent of the market. Apple may be one of the most valuable companies in the world, but there’s plenty of room for it to expand, if it can attract switchers.

#3: Apple is abandoning professionals. -- This myth is related to the earlier complaint about unwanted features, but debunking it requires a different perspective. Professionals don’t work in the operating system, they work in apps, most of which Apple doesn’t provide. Apple does make Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Logic Pro, and Final Cut Pro, but I can’t think of any category of productivity apps for which Apple is the sole supplier.

Your needs are undoubtedly different from mine, but for my work, I rely on BBEdit, Nisus Writer Pro, Adobe InDesign, Google Chrome, Mailplane, Preview, Slack, Trello, and Automator. As long those apps and the workflows I’ve built up around them continue to work, I can ignore literally every change in macOS Sierra.

That’s an important point. No one is going to force you to use new features in macOS Sierra. If Siri, Auto Unlock, Universal Clipboard, and Desktop and Documents folder syncing don’t make you more productive, don’t pay attention to them. I’ve never found Launchpad, Handoff, AirDrop, or Notification Center to be helpful in my work, so I don’t use them, and they don’t get in my way.

Some may say that Apple should put more effort into specific operating system or usability improvements. There’s no harm in that, but if you want to make suggestions, please be specific for two reasons. First, vague criticisms are worthless, and second, it’s likely that enterprising Mac developers have already provided a solution — cue Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, TextExpander, and a host of others. Just as Apple doesn’t provide all our productivity apps, the company shouldn’t be relied on to offer every imaginable interface or workflow tweak.

More generally, the job of an operating system is to provide a stable foundation and set of frameworks upon which developers can build. Apple has aimed many operating system changes at providing developers with capabilities they couldn’t afford to implement on their own. That results in more powerful apps or upgrades appearing more quickly, and that in turn makes professionals more productive. Taking advantage of new capabilities may require you to update, but time is money, and if the latest app lets you get your work done faster, it’s worth it.

Onward and Upward -- I won’t pretend that all change is good, or even that every change in macOS Sierra is likely to work out. As I said in “macOS 10.12 Sierra to Succeed OS X 10.11 El Capitan,” lots of questions surround the Optimized Storage feature that’s supposed to move rarely used data to iCloud. Personally, I wouldn’t trust it or encourage anyone to use it without a truly solid backup strategy. Even then, I’d want to wait until enough people had put it through its paces with no ill effects.

Although healthy caution is always warranted, it’s essential to realize that in the end, all this change does move our technology experience as Apple users forward. It might happen in fits and starts, but speaking as someone who has spent every working day over the last 26 years on a Mac, I have never been more productive or capable than I am today, working in my favorite apps in Apple’s current Mac operating system on recent Mac hardware.

I can’t guarantee that any given upgrade will make you or anyone else more productive, but productivity gains are inevitable in the long run. Do you remember when a Mac could run only a single app at a time, or when we wasted a lot of time scrolling because Mac screens were so small, or when extension conflicts required constant rebooting, or when attaching a hard drive needed SCSI termination voodoo, or when…. You get the picture, I hope.

We’ve come a long way, and how far we have left to go is limited only by our imaginations and those of the developers who provide our tools. So let’s not get bogged down in petty criticisms about an operating system that won’t even be released for several months.


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Comments about Myths and Misconceptions about macOS Sierra
(Comments are closed.)

David B  2016-06-20 11:40
My only problem with Sierra is that I have 0 Macintosh computers capable of upgrade. I have 5 different computers (Pro, 3 Laptops, and a Mini) and they are all too old to support the new OS. They all work perfectly. So this is the first time in I can't remember how long that the OS ship will sail without me. And given that my HW is running perfectly I don't know when the next upgrade will be.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 13:00
It's great that such old Macs are still running fine, and you can keep using them with El Capitan indefinitely. (They must all be more than 6–7 years old, since macOS Sierra's support goes back to 2009 and 2010.)

But Apple does have to move the hardware requirements forward at some point, and this is the first time that's happened in four operating system releases - the requirements haven't changed since 10.8 Mountain Lion.
Neal Tobochnik  2016-06-26 18:08
I wouldn't mind upgrading if there was a Mac model comparable to my MacPro 3,1 which I paid $2000.Lots of memory slots, PCI slots and Hard Disk slots. There is nothing comparable in Apple's lineup.
Ray Thompson  2016-06-20 11:52
Right on brother! I've followed Apple since 1977 (Apple II) and I am equally distressed at the naysayers, but they have ALWAYS been with us! Ignore them! Take the good and complain about the bad, but BE ENTHUSIASTIC about the possibilities and the amazing developers Apple has working for us! Bye R@y
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 13:03
Precisely! I'm in no way saying we shouldn't feel free to criticize macOS Sierra once it's out, if it deserves the criticism. But let's at least reserve judgment until then!

Indeed I had my first Apple in 83 and never looked back. It's been great to see Apple evolve and lead from the front. The subtle implementations are what makes apple unique and versitile because they are so well developed and thought out.
Ian Turnbull  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2016-06-20 12:03
Bravo, Mr Engst. I agree with every word you said.
uhuznaa  2016-06-20 12:15
I think the universal clipboard is long overdue. I can't tell you how often I was annoyed with having to move just a paragraph of text over with using notes or dropbox or SimpleNote (which is my preferred way). Just being able to copy here and paste there is long, long overdue. I'm just a bit concerned over it working over iCloud instead of locally. I hope the content is properly encrypted.

That being said, my MacBook will not be able to run Sierra. I think I will use it with El Capitan until it breaks and then have a long, hard stare at what are my options. Buying a new MB would be much easier for me then if Apple would somehow demonstrate to have an actual strategy of what the future will look like. Just adding a feature here and there and fortify each release with a gimmick or two is not a strategy. What I would really love: An easy way to run iOS apps on the Mac. XCode compiles every iOS app on Intel anyway, so this should be doable.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 13:01
Yes, I agree about Universal Clipboard. I've simulated it in a few ways over the years, but I don't need it often enough to use the apps that make it more fluid. They'll probably stick around, though, and might be worthwhile if you find yourself needing that feature on your old MacBook too.
Jeff Hitchcock  2016-06-20 15:17
I believe they stated in the interview on The Talk Show that all universal clipboard sharing occurs over local encrypted peer-to-peer connections, nothing goes through the internet.
J Osborne  2016-06-20 16:34
As an iOS developer I can say the experience of running iOS applications on OSX is pretty poor. The information density is extremely low, you need to drag the mouse across vast expanses of pixels on those huge finger sized controls to get anywhere.

I mean it all works, but it is so far from "user delight" that it makes total sense Apple wouldn't make it easy for anyone to do it (plus some technical issues exist, but they are secondary & could be worked around for many apps)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 16:42
I reviewed the Noizio app a while back, and it works very similarly on the Mac and on the iPhone, but it's a menubar-only app on the Mac. :-)
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-06-20 19:27
It seems obvious to me that the MacBook is slated to be replaced eventually by the iPad Air, and the MacBook Pro by the iPad Pro. The iPad Mini will eventually replace the MacBook Air. With the move to make Mac OS more like iOS the convergence is coming. Probably both iOS & Mac OS will be replaced by a combined OS that on mobile devices will run a form of iOS/iOS apps and on the iMac & MacPro desktops, will run a form of Mac OS but will also be able to run both Mac OS applications & iOS apps.
Gerald Tangren  2016-06-21 17:53
Otherwise, the loss of support for older Macs would only make sense if the hardware capabilities of new Macs were significantly better, which I don't see other than perhaps some underlying multi-processor stuff that goes on in the background.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 19:28
Over 7–8 years, the under-the-hood changes are often quite significant. Macs have gone through entire generations of CPUs, video cards, and wireless chipsets in that time. It's not necessarily that the raw performance isn't there in older Macs, but that the cost of increasing the test matrix for machines that are far more different than current models is too high to make it worthwhile.

Again, macOS Sierra works on all Macs sold in the last 6–7 years, and only drops a few models from 2007 and 2008, which seems pretty reasonable. Especially since the last four OS X releases had exactly the same hardware requirements.
Shameer Mulji  2016-06-25 02:35
I'm not sure I agree with the iPad Air / Pro replacing MBA / MBP but I do agree there is a convergence coming.

There's the Swift programming language designed from the ground for all Apple devices. Now Apple has a released a file system that can scale from Watch to Mac Pro. It's only a matter of time, I think, before Apple designs their own SoC's for all of their devices. After that, a single unified OS (let's call it appleOS) that will optimize its UI depending on the device it's installed on.

JohnB (SciFiOne)   2016-06-20 12:52
Good one! I laughed out loud at "#1: Apple is forcing me to upgrade. -- Not true. Apple’s black helicopters will not land in your front yard to disgorge an elite upgrade team that will hold you at gunpoint until you install macOS Sierra."

Thank you.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 13:02
But if it were going to happen, it would be a highly diverse elite upgrade team. :-)
Steve Nicholson  2016-06-20 14:43
Yep. Jack-booted thugs from all around the world, from all different backgrounds, and all different points of view.
Agree with most of what you wrote.

Maybe not abandoning professionals, but not updating Mac Pro in three years and dropping Aperture isn't strong support either. Yes Aperture is still running on El Cap (with a few reported problems). No direct replacement and changing over to something else is a lot of work.
Why can't Apple spend a few of their dollars to keep programs like Aperture going. And they didn't do a great job of transitioning FinalCutPro.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 14:37
I agree that Apple treated Aperture users shabbily, but that was why I talked about product categories. Adobe Lightroom is the clear leader in the photo management field now. Our "Take Control of Your Digital Photos on a Mac" has an entire chapter on migrating from Aperture to Lightroom, and Adobe has a migration tool.

In essence, Apple as an app supplier has long been questionable from the professional standpoint, but Apple as an OS vendor has been fine all along.

As to why Apple has been weak in terms of support for professional apps, I can only speculate that the company simply doesn't have the right focus. There's a lot more money to be made with lowest common denominator apps that appeal to everyone than there is in apps that compete with Adobe's core business.

Oh, and the Mac Pro? I think it comes down to the fact that the Retina iMac is a better machine in many ways and serves more purposes.
JohnBoy  2016-06-20 14:51
I'm not sure why Apple dropped Aperture, but don't pretend it was the solves all problems solution. There were quite a few issues, not the least of which were scalability and file management.
gastropod  2016-06-20 19:45
There's a fair chance that Aperture will survive in Sierra, though no better than in El Cap. Not only is it reported to work in the beta, but more encouragingly, Aperture has been spotted in the Sierra release notes, so someone at least is paying attention.

Lightroom is not a good replacement for many of us. The interface is annoyingly modal, and the image quality isn't the best. Capture One blows it away in many respects, especially the default raw conversion. It can also bring in an entire aperture library, doing a pretty good job at reproducing the structure and edits. But Capture One is still behind with metadata handling. Some of us are chewing our fingernails hoping that Aperture will keep working until C1 gets their metadata up to at least Aperture standards so we don't have to lose anything in the transition.
Steve Nicholson  2016-06-20 14:40
System extensions! Blerg! I did Logic tech support during the era when Apple bought Emagic and Logic still ran on (capitalized) Mac OS. A lot of audio interface drivers were system extensions. One time I spent a half hour on the phone with the lead singer for a famous prog-rock band trying to help him figure out why his audio interface wasn't working. It turns out he was holding the Shift key, bypassing all system extensions, every time I had him reboot. He didn't think it was worth mentioning. He had read somewhere that bypassing system extensions made the Mac run more reliably.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 14:46
Very reliable. Not too functional. :-)

We spent a ton of time on stupid stuff back in the day, and it's great that a lot of that has gone away. There will always be technical annoyances and tricky troubleshooting, but as progress eliminates the obvious stuff, we don't have to think about zapping the PRAM or rebuilding the Desktop anymore. And that's a good thing!
You probably remember what state the Mac 128s in the Scriptorium (formerly IAR) were in?
Betty Fellows  2016-06-20 15:01
Well said. I do agree with you.

I happen to be one of those people who would like to be able to copy and paste from one device to another. Just yesterday, I had some research open on my iMac and wanted to copy it into a document that I had opened on my Macbook Air. So I'm really looking forward to that new feature.
Oliver B. Habicht  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-06-29 17:03
I often use Gmail for this task, cut-and-pasting text in a draft email visible on both devices. I have even used the attachments feature to move documents between devices when Dropbox/ Box/ OneDrive isn't as handy (as when using someone else's computer, for example).
Richard Morse  2016-06-20 16:13
It's a bit annoying that I have to update in order to write an app for my new iPhone. Xcode 7.3 isn't available for 10.10, and so I can't write an app for my iPhone SE. I could for the iPhone 5S or 6S, running the same iOS as the SE.
Paul Ellis  2016-06-20 16:40
FIX THE BUGS! Mail has become appalling since Snow Leopard. My belated upgrade from Yosemite to El Captan has rendered Mail incapable of finding any email sent or received prior to the upgrade. Spotlight can find some earlier emails, but I've had to accept my email corpus being hosed. And yes, I've rebuilt the Spotlight index several times, in different ways, and rebuilt the Envelope Index, and yes, I know what I'm doing.

After Mail works properly again I might become more enthusiastic about new features, but can't ever see myself barking orders at my computer. I'm British. It's unseemly.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 16:49
It does sound like you have some low-level corruption in your corpus, which may or may not be Mail's fault, but it's certainly going to affect your experience. I wonder if there's an export-import process you could run through (on a copy!) to clean up the data?

Personally, I've always felt that Mail was a weak Eudora clone, and have never used it as my primary email app. Long ago, there were a lot of alternatives, but then most of them were unable to compete and Mail became completely dominant for a while. Now there are once again a lot of email apps that offer slightly different takes on how email could work. Perhaps give Nylas a look.
Paul Ellis  2016-06-20 17:19
I've briefly looked at Mailbox, Postbox, and some others, but fear sticking my eggs in a basket that ends up orphaned. Been there before with calendaring and business database apps. That's why I gave up proprietary apps and use Apple's offerings - for fear of orphaning. I'll take a look at Nylas, and also Canary, which looks interesting, too. Thanks for the tip, Adam.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-20 17:32
I understand entirely, and it's partly why I use Gmail within Mailplane (while still sucking down an IMAP-based archive via Mail). I figure Gmail isn't likely to go away.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure big companies are any better about not orphaning apps than small companies. Both Apple and Google have dropped some pretty major products, most notably Aperture and Google Reader. It's frustrating, but it does seem to be the way of the tech world these days.
mlilback  2016-06-20 17:35
Do you know of a mail client that doesn't try to preview messages? A simple combination of an NSOutlineView and NSTableView, with new windows for each message would be perfect.

I want Eudora from the early '90s, or even a slightly improved elm or pine. I do not want to see HTML. I most certainly don't want javascript or image trackers being loaded.

Every mail client and RSS reader seems to copy Mail's 3 column interface instead of the old school 3 panel interface that everyone used for ~ 20 years.
gastropod  2016-06-20 19:17
Mail doesn't make you preview; use Classic Layout in Prefs/Viewing. Drag the dot in the divider all the way to the bottom. You can hide the mailboxes and end up with nothing but a message list. There's no way to open multiple message windows, though, afaik.

I ban tracking widgets with Little Snitch. Mail clients are only permitted to talk to my mail servers. I haven't found a solution to the always-styled text woes other than copy/paste to a plain text editor, which I have to do a lot because Mail will not increase text size enough for some messages (5 enlargements is the limit.)

Though I'm using Apple Mail, I am still collecting most mail accounts in Eudora as a backup, partly because sometimes there's no substitute for a regular expression search. But Eudora does have some security problems, so it's not a good idea to keep using using it as a primary mail client, or unprotected by Snitch.
Jay Kinney  2016-06-20 23:00
I used to use Eudora (for ages) and had it set up to show six or so viewing windows for various Yahoo groups I was on. It was an easy way to track new posts to each group. When I had to switch over to Mail (due to Eudora getting squirrely) I could set up a similar multi-window display, but with the most recent Mail in El Capitan (I upgraded from Snow Leopard), each viewer window in Mail has a preview window beneath the message list that I cannot hide. If you know of some way to eliminate that, do tell!
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2016-06-21 11:22
You can easily open up multiple mailbox windows by using the menu option File > New Viewer Window (⌥⌘N). It's even possible to create AppleScripts that will open specific mailboxes in new windows, so with the method above to hide mailboxes and previews, you can simulate Eudora's interaction model reasonably well. When I first switched to Mail I did this. However, I soon found that it was more efficient for me to work in one window and switch between mailboxes with the sidebar – and then I remembered how much I enjoyed this approach in Claris Emailer before using Eudora!
Jolin Warren  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2016-06-21 11:25
You should be able to simply drag the divider all the way to the bottom of the window and the preview will disappear. I'm on El Capitan and never see any previews.
doctorray  2016-06-21 18:36
Yes, Mail on Snow Leopard was a delight. Mail on Mountain Lion was slow and creaky, but still functioned. Mail on El Capitan is entirely unusable (and by that I mean it crashes every time I try to open it, even after doing a clean install and trying to load each mail account's information in from scratch). It just can't handle multiple mail accounts.
I ended up with Postbox after trying just about every alternative, including MailMate.
Apple seems driven to remove functionality (for example, Pages and Numbers have had functions abandoned, not expanded; Safari lost the ability to play online MIDI with Safari 6.2 and Mountain Lion).
Now, there are going to be new, fresh hurdles for those who want to use Flash or independently developed apps.
I really wish Apple would expend effort upon returning the functionality to apps and the OS that they once had.
Instead, it seems that they simply purge the old to make room for the new.
That is the reason for balking at macOS Sierra.
Jay Kinney  2016-06-23 01:05
Consider yourself lucky, my friend. For whatever reason, I cannot "drag the divider all the way to the bottom of the window" nor can I drag the bottom of the preview window up to the bottom of the email list window, thus hiding the preview pane.

I've had no problem creating new viewer windows for different mailboxes, but each of them is stuck with a preview pane/window of approximately two inches depth which can't be dragged up out of sight nor squeezed out of sight by the email list pane above. :-(
gastropod  2016-06-23 23:54
Mine has been ok so far with multiple accounts (on a number of computers, both mine and users), though it usually takes me several tries to get an account working in the first place because the system changes things behind my back before I can turn off keep settings synced. What I haven't done yet though is move my home filters and Mail Tags config from snow leopard to the new el cap mini, so snow leopard is still master in that respect. I keep putting off the transition because it's fiddly.

But wildly varying experiences for things that should be simple and straightforward are one the biggest problems with the newer system versions. I had virtually no trouble supporting snow leopard and earlier, but these days I'm getting quite a lot of 'this fix works on mac one, but won't work on mac two that's set up exactly the same way, but a second fix works on mac two, but won't work on mac one.' Not the kind of job security I enjoy...
Michael Paine  2016-07-01 02:43
I prefer to not rely on any mail app for archiving. I have used Mail Steward for this purpose for many years. It converts mail to a Mysql database which is searchable and more future proof.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-06-20 19:16
What I find amusing is that everyone is still referring to Sierra as "Mac OS 10" when Apple SPECIFICALLY dropped the "Ten" which has been denoted with the the applicable Roman numeral. The current released version of code named "El Capitan" was called, "Mac OS Ten Ten Eleven Five". However, since they dropped the beginning "Ten" the upcoming version is numerically "Mac OS Eleven Zero Zero Zero". However, in reality if Jobs had not been so enamored with the Roman numeral for ten, Sierra would be "Mac OS Twenty-Two"!
Jim Rea  2016-06-20 19:34
Actually, at WWDC Apple referred to Sierra as 10.12. And I saw one session where they referred to a feature as working back to macOS 10.9 Mavericks. Also, apparently when you create a new project in Xcode 8 it still gives you the option to create a project for OS X -- macOS is not mentioned. Most likely that will change before release.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 10:32
Apple often does historical revisionism when it comes to names, unfortunately, whereas our house style has been to use the name that people will recognize because it was the name when the version came out. Hence:

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
OS X 10.11 El Capitan
macOS 10.12 Sierra

Right now I'm having real trouble abbreviating "macOS Sierra" to just "Sierra" since it's so new, but I think we'll probably start doing that eventually, after the first mention in an article where we use the full name with version number.
Ex2bot  2016-06-20 19:26
Sierra finally adds a switch in Finder to list folders first. That's much appreciated.
gastropod  2016-06-20 22:36
Why? Serious question. I've been trying to think of possible advantages for years, and swearing at several of my most used iOS apps that do it this way with no option to not sort folders and files separately. I've never been able to come up with any scenario at all that would make me do anything but swear at it. But I'm willing to admit that could be my lack of imagination, so convince me.
Jesse the K  2016-06-20 19:53
A musician of my acquaintance pulled together a Mac platform that works well for their band: capturing audio, engraving music, publishing songbooks, designing posters. It's centered around OS9. Yes, it's way out of date, but it WORKS for them.

They see no benefit in recreating a system that's still performing well. (For online tasks they use a commodity PC with up-to-date security.) The older I get, the more I agree with this approach. Yes, wrangling new programs was a fun challenge 30 years ago. I'm happy to have left the DOS 3.3 BASIC prompt behind for iOS and OS X.
BruceJ  2016-06-20 20:09
The problem with this approach ("Is it broke?? No? Then don't fix it!") is that when those ancient Macs that can still run OS 9 break, you're massively screwed, because just getting your stuff onto a new platform will be difficult, let alone transferring assets, data and workflows.

Just helped someone do that kind of thing "just" from OS X 10.4 to 10.11, and it was a huge PITA, just migrating the mail successfully took a significant amount of work.

Something to keep in mind...I've seen people who got 'stranded' with an enormous amount of data that's now irretrievable (he says as he eyes those boxes of 5 ¼" floppies from my Apple II days...)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 10:35
Yep, this was one of the points in my article about why people should upgrade eventually. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. Just try opening your WriteNow documents from floppy disks. :-)

I've rebuilt workflows repeatedly over the years, and while it is work, the end result is almost always better than what I had before because there are newer, more powerful tools, or I know better what I want it to do.
Jeff Hecht  2016-06-20 20:12
I see your point, Adam, but I would feel more optimistic if Apple didn't keep doing things like their recent update to the Apple Support pages. They have become eyestrain central with thin gray type -- some of which is too small to read easily and some of which is on a later gray that makes it hard to read. I've had to use Firefox's Reader Mode to read it.

Since 10.6, I've slipped to not upgrading until security updates stop. For someone who doesn't use Apple mobile devices, the last few upgrades haven't offered much that's worth the trouble of migrating and fighting changes that break important things, like access to mail on my personal domain, which happened migrating to Mavericks.

There's always going to be some grumbling just because we're getting old and grumpy. (I was hoping the last big cat OS would be Saber Tooth.) The problem many of us long-time Mac users have is that our systems are cluttered with old stuff that we need or think we need. Apple should put more effort into migration aids that could flag potential problems or help us convert file formats.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 10:39
That redesign is pretty awful, I agree, but you found a workaround and I'll bet there are others as well. For instance, what about Stylish:

The problem of old clutter is indeed a real one. I haven't done this for a while, but every couple of Macs, instead of migrating apps in particular, I install everything from scratch. That way I don't end up with a vast number of outdated apps (many of which require Rosetta and can't even launch). It's quite uncommon for me to need old data that exists only in one of those apps, since the data I need is generally in common formats or is migrated forward.
William Bennett  2016-06-20 20:24
Very good article, well expressed. I agree.
Good article Adam, and very articulate ! Thanks. It looks like you are getting comments and participants this week, which/who are largely different than last week's.
David Morrison  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-06-20 21:48
All of the new features are going to be useful to some people. What deters me from upgrading is that features I rely on disappear with these upgrades.

Yes, by all means make macOS more feature-rich, but not by deleting other features.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 10:41
Which features disappear? This has happened, as with the Modern Document Model release in what, Lion? But it's relatively uncommon that a truly unique feature (one that can't be provided by some other app or utility, often better) disappears.
Adam, thanks for a well written and argued article. However, I think it’s unfair to dismiss criticism of Sierra as merely the uninformed complaints of the curmudgeon brigade who fear change.

Many users like myself who started life with a Fat Mac and Image Writer in the early 90’s have followed Apple’s rise and fall and rise with equal part despair and enthusiasm and have delighted in many, many wonderful software and hardware products over the years.

The pessimism surrounding Sierra is not based on curmudgeonry but based on a collective experience that Apple seems to have lost its way in terms of software focus and quality. Is it being a curmudgeon to bemoan the ludicrous loss of functionality in Disk Utility, am I being a curmudgeon to despair at Apples’ hide and seek user interface elements? Am I a curmudgeon to despair when I can’t eject an external hard disk and Apple’s OS simply tells me it can’t eject as it’s in use – but it isn’t. The list goes on and on and on …

The point is that people want the fundamentals to work well and interface elements to be clearly understood and logical. Your point about features having to appeal to a world audience and not just a specific user are well taken, BUT, what is the point if the basics don’t work properly?

It’s not that people have an issue with change. Change is a part of life. Of course. People have an issue with ‘crud’ being layered on top of foundations that do not work correctly.

David  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-06-21 09:04
The pessimism surrounding Sierra is not based on curmudgeonry but based on a collective experience that Apple seems to have lost its way in terms of software focus and quality

I'll see your Fat Mac in the 1990s and raise you a Mac Plus in the 1980s, and I don't see the same recent decline. Does Apple have software quality issues? Yes. It always has. Every software manufacturer does, and what's happened recently has been no different than throughout its history.

The foundations *never* worked entirely correctly. All I have to do to remember that is think about the arcane art of starting with extensions on/off, partial sets on, partial sets off, and so on.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 10:49
As with David, I'm not saying that problems don't exist. But I am saying that we don't know what problems will exist in macOS Sierra once it actually ships. Perhaps ejecting disks will work way better in Sierra this fall. So you can express hope that Apple will improve that user experience, but it's really not fair to criticize an unfinished release that essentially no one has used. Look at it this way—if that's a problem you're having, it's certainly not going to be fixed in El Capitan or whatever other version of OS X you're running—Sierra is your only hope.

BTW, when you get that error, something very likely is open on the disk. You can check in Terminal:

sudo lsof | grep /Volumes/myDrive

What might be making all this harder is that so many problems have gone away that the ones that remain are trickier to resolve. But there have always been problems and there will always be problems—developers are only human.
Nicholas Croft  2016-06-20 23:51
True, the new OS features can be beneficial, or ignored without harming your workflow.

The larger undercurrent of disappointment is in the "Pro" market specifically AV/3d, which are becoming the DTP of the 21st century.

More (non apple) Pro apps are realising huge gains from CUDA acceleration, not having a modern chipset - say X99 - that can use PCIe slots instead of unwieldy and COSTLY Tbolt enclosures is hurting.

Have a look at some of the long time Mac evangelist tech 'influencers' - they bemoan the fact there is nothing modern that suits their requirement, in turn driving a lot of the Pro market to 'other' platforms.

And they're not coming back.

Releasing an, beautifully engineered, but ultimately pointless X79 AMD Mac (unless you use FCPx) just when the "HEDT" platform was gathering steam has left a lot of us "cut me and I bleed six colours" out in the cold.

Sorry if that seems off point, we love the macOS, but need true expandability.
John Beare  2016-06-21 13:26
I agree with the article as far as it goes, but there is another aspect that needs to be addressed: performance, i.e. speed, particularly on older Macs. I have three minis from 2010, 2012, 2014 and a MacBook Pro from 2011. The latter two minis have Fusion drives (1 TB regular HD and 1 GB solid-state drive). I have kept all these computers updated with the latest Mac OS. Experience with the fusion drive-equipped Macs has been good. These Macs start-up as fast as waking from sleep. However, since 10.8 the other two computers' performance has been slow on start-up. The start-up proceeds as fast as expected until the desktop shows but the Finder is unresponsive until start-up programs such as 1Password, Keyboard Maestro and PopChar load; and that takes several minutes. That wasn't a problem with 10.8. After this initial slowness speed seems okay but no better than 10.8. Sometimes, on all four computers with 10.11, shutting-down hangs with an endlessly rotating gear icon. I kept hoping speed would improve with each upgrade and update, but the opposite is the case. It may be that Apple is tailoring its operating system for solid-state drives. There is no incentive to upgrade to 10.12, or whatever it's called, as it offers nothing of value to me.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 14:07
It's true that a Fusion drive or SSD will be a lot faster (and I recommend them in every case), but I suspect unreasonable slowdowns with spinning disk Macs are due to the installations, not something inherent in OS X. I'd tear them down to bare metal and reinstall from scratch, migrating only documents.
Charlie Hartley  2016-06-21 16:03
This is why I continue to come to TidBits for 99% of my Mac info. Nobody does it better! Thanks again, Adam!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-21 16:08
Thanks for the kind words, Charlie!
Rob Wille  2016-06-22 01:00
I agree with Adam on points 1 and 2. I’m not a professional photographer, filmmaker, musician, etc. so I have no strong feelings about point 3. I wasn’t aware of the level of disappointment with the features of macOS Sierra, but I agree that it’s too soon to be upset with an OS we know little about.

Here’s my “problem” with the notion that there will be a new Mac OS (and iOS, for that matter) in the fall. I find these annual upgrades exhausting! Between desktops and laptops and iPhones and iPads and apps and desktop software, I can’t keep up with everything that needs to be updated.

Releasing new operating systems every year doesn’t give customers time to discover, learn, and enjoy last year’s new features before more new features are added. I’m not yet taking full advantage of El Capitan’s features and I know my friends and family aren’t either. In fact, I know they still don’t sync their devices with iCloud, haven’t moved their pictures from iPhoto to Photos, and don’t know there is Notification Center on the Mac, just to cite a few examples. I don’t think we’re alone in this regard. A large number of customers who don’t follow Apple closely aren’t aware of all the features in their Apple devices.

In the past five years, Apple has released so much software (e.g. the rebuilt Pages, Numbers, Keynote; iTunes redesigns; Photos; Final Cut X; etc.) and so many services (e.g. iCloud, Apple Music, Maps, Siri) that they have plenty of work to keep them busy. Whether it’s fixing bugs or implementing changes so that these products live up to the promise of when they were first introduced, there is a lot to do before new operating systems are needed or wanted.

I’m not saying that Apple’s research and development has to stop or that no new software can be released. But sometimes new features should be made part of the current operating systems rather than causing a jump to a whole new version. OS X's Notes and Messages applications could have been added to Lion rather than requiring users to upgrade to Mountain Lion. Similarly, Maps and iBooks didn't need to appear only with Mavericks.

I do realize that for those products I just mentioned (and others as well), Apple didn’t incorporate them into the then-current operating systems so that they would have some “marquee” features to include in the next new OS release. But this brings me back to one of the points I’m trying to make. Apple didn’t need a next new OS yet. It wasn’t time for an update yet. Relatively recently, Apple created the expectation that there would be new operating systems each and every year.

Finally, to circle back to my other main point, not only are customers struggling to keep up with the annual upgrade cycle, Apple can’t keep up with the pace it set for itself. This has contributed to the decline in software quality over the past several years. I’m not saying there have never been issues prior to the annual cycles. As Adam and others have pointed out, there have always been bugs in every OS release. But it does seem that just as many bugs are appearing in basic functions of the operating system as in new functionality.

In the interest of keeping my long message from being any longer, I’ll just mention one example of the quality decline to which I refer. In the Finder in Snow Leopard, moving files to a network volume did not alter the file’s created or modified dates. (This fixed an error that happened in earlier versions of OS X.) In Lion, I believe, this was broken again. I think it was the modified date that became set to the current date when the file was moved. In Mountain Lion, the problem was fixed again. Now, in El Capitan, it is broken again.

Well, thanks for a good article, Adam. It certainly has spurred quite a discussion!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-22 10:17
I agree that the annual release cycle can be exhausting, but I wonder if we're looking at it wrong when we say that. If Apple added features to El Capitan instead of renaming it Sierra, would that really be any different?

The concept of continual advancement is quite recent, and comes from the world of Web apps, where you can make changes all the time without having to release new versions. Apple's sticking with the punctuated equilibrium approach, where there are major releases once a year and minor bug fixes throughout the year. If we assume that Apple is still going to release the same features, I'm not sure that it's better if they are parcelled out slowly rather than coming as one big chunk that can be easily identified by name. Think of how confusing it is when a feature does change in an interim release and everyone is desperately trying to remember whether it was in 10.6.5 or 10.6.6.

Finally, how much time would people actually need to learn and adopt new features? If a year isn't enough, would two years really make any difference? I'd argue that people who are going to jump on the new features will do so quite quickly, and most other people will ignore them forever. Sad but true.
Steven Oz  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-06-23 00:56
Adam, you and I have been around a while and I've met you at least once at MacWorld. My first Mac was the 512 in 1985, and I've been in Mac tech support most of the time since then. So I recognize the wisdom of time and experience you have. Good advice to everyone, as usual.
I actively now use five Macs and boot into Windows partitions quite often. All are different OS versions. They've all got software on them that I use. For example, I used my Dual G5 today to send a fax, since I don't have a stand-alone fax. I keep one Mac current so I know the issues and features. Having choices is always a good thing. Anyway, thanks for your long perspective, Adam.
Bradley Dichter  2016-06-23 12:14
So where is a single app that uses Metal? The new El Capitan graphics API that was supposed to speed up graphics intensive applications, updated to take advantage of it. It's been a whole year. Maybe only iOS developers are using it. Seems even developers aren't showing the Mac the love we used to enjoy, in this Post PC world. Wish Steve Jobs never said that.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-23 14:09
What APIs apps use aren't generally advertised, so it's hard to know. My impression is that Metal is mostly interesting to games, and most of those focus on iOS because it's a much larger audience.
Scott Randell  2016-06-27 16:52
HI Adam,
I actually do as you say, Upgrade in my own time. I am just now testing El Capitan on a separate drive to see if it will run everything I need without hitches. Meanwhile, I am still running Mavericks on my main drive, because I need to get work done. I always wait to see what others (those who write about these things for a living) say about a new OS. I know you can in no way judge Sierra until it is actually released. Even then you may have to wait to a dot upgrade. The only thing that concerns me about this one, is the fact that after it is out they are talking about releasing a version with the new AFS (Apple File System) that will replace HFS+ . There is a possibility that under this new files system many applications will not work and we will have to wait for updates or upgrades. Some of those upgrades may be costly.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-06-27 17:07
Good for you, Scott! APFS won't be real for users until late 2017, so probably with whatever version of macOS comes after Sierra.