Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

coping with OS frustration

Alex Payne recently did what I do, in a less thorough way, from time to time: he re-evaluated his commitment to the Apple ecosystem. It’s a valuable exercise; among other things, it helps me to manage my frustrations with my technological equipment.

And frustrations there are — in fact, they have increased in recent years. You don't have to look far to find articles and blog posts on how Apple’s quality control is declining or iOS 7 is a disaster. (Just do a Google search for those terms.) And I have to say that after a month of using iOS 7 I would, without question, revert to iOS 6 if I could, a handful of new and useful features notwithstanding. Moreover, even after more than a decade of OS X the ecosystem still lacks a first-rate web browser and a largely bug-free email client. (Most people know what's wrong with Mail.app, but I could write a very long post on what's wrong with Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Postbox is looking pretty good as an email client right now, but time will tell whether it's The Answer.)

But in the midst of these frustrations and others I need to keep two points in mind. First, we ask more of our computers than we ever have. Browsers, for instance, are now expected not just to render good old HTML but to play every kind of audio and video and to run web apps that match the full functionality of desktop apps. And increasingly we expect all our data to sync seamlessly among multiple devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, phones. There is so much more that can go wrong now. And so it sometimes does.

Second, as Alex Payne’s post reminds us, every other ecosystem has similar problems — or worse ones. And that’s a useful thing to keep in mind, especially when I’m gritting my teeth at the realization that, for instance, if you want to see the items in your Reminders app in chronological order you must, painstakingly, move them into the order you want one at a time. The same is true on the iOS versions. It seems very strange to me that such an obviously basic feature did not make it into the first released version of the software, and frankly unbelievable that manual re-ordering is your only option two years after the app was first introduced (in iOS 5) — but hey, influential Mac users have been complaining about fundamental inconsistencies in the behavior of the OS X Finder for about a decade now, with no results. This is the way of the world: the things that need to be fixed are ignored and the things that don’t need to be fixed get changed, as often as not for the worse. So whaddya gonna do?

One thing I’m not going to do is to throw the whole ecosystem out with the bathwater — and thanks to Alex Payne for preventing me from doing so. Better for me to make the most of a system I know how to use than to start over from scratch with something utterly unfamiliar that has at least as many problems of its own. And one thing I most certainly will do: I’ll keep asking Why in the hell won’t this thing just work?


  • Well here's the thing, from my perspective: the OS wars are as hot as they've ever been, thanks to the Android/iOS axis joining the Windows/OSX axis, and yet everything is more the same than it has ever been. I tend to disappoint both sets of partisans, but I think this is true. It's incredible how much the same Windows and Mac OS have become. It's crazy how much alike ios and Android have always been. The same can be said for a lot of the physical gizmos as well. And yet we still invest this incredible cultural significance in the distinction.

    I know I do!

  • I know what you mean, Freddie. I'm old enough to remember when the HUGE point of contention between PC and Mac users was whether it was permissible to use a mouse, or whether, by contrast, serious computing had to be keyboard-only.

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