February 16th, 2012 • 5:02 pm
For anyone interested in the future of (Mac) OS X, John Gruber’s “Mountain Lion” is of course required reading, if only because he was given unprecedented access to a preview of the feature set of the next major upgrade of OS X.
Beyond the features mentioned, the one big announcement is the fact that the OS will now be on a yearly cycle for major upgrades. As Gruber indicates, it’s a sign that Apple now feels it has more than enough resources to push both OS X and iOS forward at the same time — which of course has been true, from a purely financial point of view, for quite a few years now. It’s an encouraging sign that Apple is committed to future development of OS X and willing to put enough resources behind it.
That said, there is little in the feature set described that triggers my enthusiasm as a professional Mac user. While I’ll appreciate tighter iCloud integration and better consistency between OS X and iOS, it’s hard to feel particularly excited about iCal being renamed Calendar and Address Book renamed Contacts. These applications need way more than a new name!
As I’ve noted in a recent post about Address Book, the application might look more like its iOS counterpart, but there are numerous inconsistencies in its actual operation. Some of these inconsistencies might be tied to the different way of interacting with a touch-based device, but the other ones are just poor, arbitrary design choices that reflect a worrying lack of concern about the way people might actually use the software.
And the inconsistencies that are tied to the different type of interaction are inconsistencies that should remain! If the way forward is to actually force Mac users to use a trackpad instead of a mouse, it’s going to be an unmitigated disaster. It’s bad enough that Apple is dumbing down its OS X applications to make them more consistent with their iOS counterparts. But if we have to give up on the pixel-level accuracy of a mouse pointer just in order to have a user-friendly interaction with our software, it is going to be incredibly frustrating.
I am also worried that, with a one-year cycle, the focus is going to be too much on adding new “features” (no matter whether we really need them or not) and not enough on fixing the new bugs introduced by these new features, especially when these bugs primarily affect users who try to use their applications in more advanced ways.
I am thinking, for example of the numerous bugs introduced in the new version of Mail for OS X or remaining from previous versions of the OS that have to do with file attachments, with sorting rules applied to incoming messages, etc. When will Apple finally fix them?
Of course, I might be reading too much into what transpires through a short post such as the one by John Gruber. We’ll have to judge Mountain Lion based on our actual use of the software when it’s available. But I am not sure that this new approach adopted by Apple does much to reassure professional or advanced Mac users who have little use for the dumbed-down computing experience provided by a device such as the iPad.
And of course, there is no mention of the directions that Apple might be taking with Mac hardware. Is there going to be a new generation of Mac Pro computers, for example? Or will I be forced to downgrade to an iMac for my next machine simply because the pro market is not big enough for Apple to really care about?
These are real worries, and we have yet to see clear signs that Apple is really committed to the future of OS X as a professional platform for advanced users.
I also find it rather ironic that Apple would choose to give a preview of the next OS X to Gruber. Has anyone counted the number of posts on Daring Fireball lately that have to do with OS X and not with iOS?