Mac OS X 2.0 – Where Apple is going

Some time ago I wrote down my anger and disappointment about Mac OS Lion and the way Apple is going. I concluded with the vague notion that Windows 8 might be not so bad. Since then I talked with a lot of people about Lion and the Mac platform realizing even more issues, while also I learnt a lot about Windows 8 and its upcoming features. Taking the risk of receiving dozens of flame mails, let me explain why Windows is taking the right steps and Mac OS is not.

Kernel panic in Mac OS X.

Image via Wikipedia

Where Mac OS is going

Monitoring Apple’s moves over the last months I now am convinced that Apple is planning to transform the Mac into a bigger iPhone. I think Apple realized that professional products will never earn them as much money as consumer oriented products like the iPhone. So they will probably merge Mac OS 10.8 with iOS to move all their attention to the just-for-fun consumer users that are already buying iPhones and Apple TVs. There are several striking areas where this can be seen:

Pro Hardware

Obviously Apple no longer cares for really professional users like movie editors, 3D designers or graphic artists. That is why there have not been any updates for the Mac Pro and why there no longer are professional MacBooks. As a Pro you need really high end Mac Pros with ultra fast processors, graphics cards and external ports but there have not been any updates and you can get a much faster PC for half the price of the current Mac Pros. Same with the MacBooks which no longer have non-glossy screens, decent screen resolution and real graphics cards, while on the PC market all this is available for a cheaper price tag and equally or even superior industrial design (see Sony, Samsung, HP or LG notebooks).
Also across all devices there is no BluRay support, no USB 3, the all of a sudden removal of FireWire and the lack of decent graphics chips.

I think Apple will soon merge the Mac hardware with the iPhone hardware. As they now have their own processor (the A4, A5 and A6) they will probably soon put these in the MacBooks while at the same time replacing all spinning hard drives with SSDs. This will only be a logical consequence when focusing on consumer products who don’t need big power but will welcome the lighter weight, smaller casing and much longer battery life. The included iCloud will also reduce the need for big hard drives.

Pro Software and Sandbox games

Apple clearly is focussing on semi-pro users and advanced hobbyists. For one thing there is the release of the no-more-professional Final Cut X and the year-long lack of updates for Logic. But Apple’s strategy also affects Mac OS X which still lacks pro features like allowing the install of Linux, (real) support of filesystems like exFAT (see previous article), NTFS and ZFS.

Moreover with the enforced introduction of the Sandboxing model for all Apps offered in the Mac AppStore hardly any professional software can be offered there anymore. To put it in a nutshell: Sandboxing forced Mac Apps to behave like iPhone Apps. That means they may not access any files, settings or data that they have not created by themselves and may not communicate with any other Apps. This will force many professional and useful Apps to vanish from the AppStore starting on March. As a result the Mac AppStore will only host games and simple consumer Apps.  Some software studios might find their way around the restrictions but for sure only with stripped down features.
Of course it is still possible to install software outside of the AppStore but personally I am not sure if Mac OS 10.8 will still allow this. Those software products with which Apple is making big money are games and media Apps that already run fine on the iPhone and iPad. So I assume that soon Mac OS will only allow AppStore Apps banning all professional products form the platform but making access to consumer Apps more easy and convenient like in iOS. The introduction of iCloud also makes access to the hard disk no longer a necessary requirement so the file system can be hidden from the user just like in iOS while all Apps just save their data to the iCloud (which by the way only AppStore Apps are allowed to access).

Mac OS itself

Lion is by far one of the worst system updates in the history of computing right behind the unspeakable Windows 98. While Snow Leopard was a great system being very fast, sleek, clean and stable, Lion is just the opposite. Let me point out some of the most painful aspects:

Stability: It might not be an issue for everyone but for me my Mac never crashed. Never until I installed Lion. I have about one crash every two weeks which is way to often especially because Spotlight then makes a full reindexing blocking my system and even more annoying:

Window restoring: Whenever my Mac crashes and I have to restart all Applications and windows are restored. This takes about 5 times longer than under Snow Leopard. And what happens if the App that crashed the system will automatically be reopened? This is a vicious circle! After all this means that after a crash Mac OS will first fill up all my RAM with the last used Apps. I really hate this!

No features: Lion got a lot of iPhone features like fullscreen mode, Mission Control and Launch Pad (what is this for?!) but no real system features. For quite some time I am waiting for features like: better VPN support, better filesystem support (see above), faster Application start up times, updated OpenGL drivers (Mac OS has v3.2 while 4.2 is the current standard), more Unix compatibility, up to date Java and a Finder that makes working faster.

Design: Honestly a big thing for Apple customers is design. For me too. I use a Mac because of the cool design. But Mac OS no longer is state of the art. All this grayish buttons, low contrast and no new ideas. It looks the same for 10 years now but I pay premium prices for Apple products and I always thought that includes the cost for overpaid designers. Evern worse Mac OS is no longer consistent. Every Apple App has a different design (compare iTunes with the Finder, Mail and iCal), while some just look awful like iCal.

Speed: Lion is slow. On the one hand there are the mentioned obstacles that make working slower like Mission Control which is a step backwards from Exposé, regular crashes, the auto restore ‘features’ and the messed up spotlight as well as the all gray design which makes finding buttons more difficult (especially in the Finder sidebar). On the other hand Lion takes longer to start up and even more strange: much longer to shut down and to switch between users.

Resumé

I am sure Apple is concentrating on their iPhone user base and will try to make the Mac more attractive to them. While also I thing Apple has something like a vision. A vision of a world in which computers are no longer recognized as working machines but as part of your ‘digital life’ what they call it. That will move technical details out of sight while making acessability and ease of use a key aspect. This of course is a good thing for a lot of people who use their computers not for work but for leisure. This will enable my grandma to use digital photography, video chatting with the family and watching her favorite tv show on youtube. This is great for her. But this will also push any professional work related usages out of the Apple environment. Apple is destroying its professional eco system and cutting pro users off for not providing enough revenue. So what is left to the more demanding users? Where will they go?

Read on in the upcoming second part: Why Windows is the better Mac OS

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