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Falling Down the Mountain

PublishedOctober 18 2014

My relationship with OS X started about four years ago. With my grandparents’ help, I bought a mid-2010 21" iMac, which came preloaded with OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”. I had drooled over stock photographs of iMacs for months prior, and the day I bought my first Macintosh was one of the highlights of my computing life.

For reference, the computer I was using before my first Mac was a free PC given to us by our ISP for signing up for their new "high-speed" 2mbps DSL service. It had a single-core AMD processor, 512MB DDR2 RAM, and a whopping 80GB hard drive. It was upon that tank of a PC that I began my web development career. That thing ran Ubuntu 8.04 LTS for the majority of its life, and worked for years -- and still worked as a FreeBSD-powered file server up until my parents accidentally took it to the recycling centre after I moved out (though its original hard drive still lives on, taking a spot on my "old tech" shelf.

Finally, with the purchase of my Macintosh, I was experiencing computers full-on: I had the Unix backing with the beautiful UI and major vendor support. It was the pinnacle of modern computing.

In October 2013, Apple released OS X 10.9 “Mavericks”. At this point, I'm using Mountain Lion every day as my primary operating system, I've purchased two Macbooks since my original iMac, my machine at the time being a top-of-the-line 15" non-retina Macbook Pro.

When Apple announced Mavericks I was legitimately excited. Finally, OS X was getting the power-user features again, and some of the best features were kernel enhancements. Mavericks looked great, performed extremely well, and smoothed over some of the retardations that made me cry for Linux back when Lion was released.

Mavericks’ energy-efficiency and bug fixes, matched with some of the greatest hardware Apple has released in a long time (the latest-gen Macbook Airs and retina Macbook Pros) blew me away. The experience was just like using my original iMac for the first time -- everything worked, everything was well-designed, and the overall experience was very positive. I was excited to use OS X again.

Perhaps the best part of Mavericks was the hope it brought with it. Mavericks was a step in the right direction, and gave me the opinion that Apple could actually do great things post-Jobs.

And then, just a couple days ago, OS X Yosemite was released to the public. I had tried the Yosemite betas a couple times, but every time been disappointed with the performance and number of bugs. With the official release, I wiped my hard drive and prepared myself to experience the next version of The World's Most Advanced Operating System™.

The Installation

Let's start with the installation. I always use Filevault on my Macbooks, and so as I wiped the partition, it prompted me to set a new Filevault password.

Filevault ugly

It's obvious no one looked at this dialogue before shipping Yosemite. In fact, it feels like all they did was swap out the logo assets and mark the installer as complete.

How do you even fuck up a default UI component like a progress bar? Since when are progress bars in OSX green?

What the fuck is that default-browser-stylesheet-looking link simply labelled “Password”? Oh, it opens a password generator... Okay, what about the key button that looks stretched? Oh, that's also the password generator.

But I let it slide, because I doubt many people will hit this scenario (fresh install on a previously-Filevaulted partition). It's an edge-case, although still disappointing.

Continuing on with the installation, everything completed as expected.

Update needed displayed as user

As the install finished and the OS booted for the first time, it displayed the user as “[Update Needed]” with an unknown-user icon. It looked disgusting, it looked like a bug, and it was reminiscent of something you'd see in backwater Linux distros. What the fuck does “update needed” mean? Why does it try to display user information before the OS is configured? It turned me off right away, and is, again, just plain sloppy.

But installation was just the beginning.


One unreproducible circumstance I've run into a couple times has been the audio—through all interfaces, even my USB DAC—will distort to a bitrate that sounds just like popping and fuzz pushed through a cyborg effect filter. It'll continue to deteriorate until I switch between two different audio output devices (reloading the sound driver, I guess). Doesn't matter if I'm watching a video in Safari or listening to music in iTunes; it's a system-wide audio issue.

This exact same problem used to happen on my Hackintosh under Mavericks, but I shrugged it off as a hardware-incompatibility. I would never expect this to happen on Apple's own hardware


Safari's new design isn't bad; I actually quite like it. However, it is the slowest application on Yosemite yet. If I don't open a new tab for a while, opening a tab sometimes causes Safari to freeze for up to 10 seconds. Not only tabs, but just loading websites in general feels slow and laggy, and the whole experience reminds me of using a netbook.

I had come to appreciate the simplicity and speed of Safari on Mavericks, so the performance degredations in 8.0 are very disappointing.

The Design

Overall the design of Yosemite feels very rushed. It seems like every application I open (official Apple application, I might add) has a glaring UI problem that I guess no one noticed during QA (did they even do QA?)…

For example, these:

Stocks highlighting is weird Quicktime is just broken

To be clear, I'm not talking about the iOS7 aesthetic, but rather the poor execution of a design language that probably needed a couple more months of polish. I love redesigns, but only if they're not full of bugs that ruin the experience of using them.

The Speed

Unfortunately I don't have any fancy evidence to back this up, but Yosemite just feels plain slow. Opening applications, typing, switching between applications: everything I do feels slower than it did with Mavericks.

I imagine this is probably to do with everything being translucent and blurred, which requires much more GPU horsepower to draw than a nice opaque window. Regardless, sacrificing performance for eye-candy is completely unacceptable, especially to those of us who are adults.

While everything I've pointed out here may seem minor on its own, it is the combination of all of these little things that just make OS X Yosemite feel like a sloppy, rushed release. If I wanted to use an operating system with a sub-par UI, then I could just use Linux with a tiling window manager and have an insanely fast and powerful interface that just looks a little worse.

Quite simply, Yosemite is a huge fall backwards. It's the destroyer of the hope Mavericks brought—an omen that perhaps Apple is truly losing its sense of perfection in both visual design and user experience.

Obviously I'm not going to give up on OS X because of one bad release (I'm still here after Lion; plus I don't really want to just throw away my $2000 Macbook), but I think Apple needs some time to figure their shit out, and I'm going to give them that time. For now, though, my Thinkpad is calling for me.