The Possible Consequences of A Rushed Software Release?

March 1st, 2014

As we approached the weekend, there were some published reports of early-release bugs with OS 10.9.2. It’s typical of any software pushed by Apple, but I suppose there is reason to think this particular update was rushed because of the immediate threat of the notorious SSL verification bug. Had that not happened, is it possible Apple might have left 10.9.2 to stew in the Q&A labs a little longer just to make sure there were no lingering problems?

To be clear, using 10.9.2 on a late 2009 27-inch iMac and a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, I have not encountered any problems. But I haven’t put my computers through a full set of tests to verify that everything is working properly, except for Apple Mail.

Mail for Mavericks shipped with loads of bugs, some of which involved Google Gmail. I don’t use Gmail all that much, so it didn’t bother me, and some of the issues related to the peculiarly unique approach Google takes to their email system. Translating that to an IMAP account you access with an email client has always been a tad troublesome, but Mavericks merely made it worse, because it appeared Apple’s OS X developers attempted to fix things that maybe shouldn’t have been fixed.

Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone.

My personal problem with Mail was inaccurate unread counts. This particular bug meant that I couldn’t just look at the Mail badge icon and know how many unread messages awaited me. That’s the sort of feature one takes for granted so, again, I wondered how Apple let it get away from them.

To be fair, Mail is not a new app. It dates back to the days of NeXT, and was ported to OS X from the very early days. Then it was a bare-bones email app, but has slowly grown in features and no doubt bloat, although it has almost always been far snappier than Microsoft’s Mac email clients.

I came to Mail from Microsoft Entourage, which was sort of descended from Apple’s Claris Emailer, largely because a number of members of the Emailer team went to Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit after Apple’s email app was discontinued.

So in developing Mavericks, maybe Apple tried to clean out the years-old cruft in the code and rewrite certain functions. I wouldn’t presume to have the nasty details. It’s not new for Apple to rebuild old apps and end up with flawed releases. The most blatant example is Final Cut Pro X, but certainly the newest iWork has come in for its share of well deserved criticisms.

To be fair, Apple is not known to ignore such legitimate criticisms and will, over time, fix serious bugs and, if need be, restore lost features. I don’t presume to know what happened with Mail, but things aren’t broken unless software engineers are doing work that involves those functions. It may just be a case of the best of intentions turning bad.

So Mail appears to be mostly fixed, but there are reports of problems with the AirPlay feature, which lets you stream content from Macs and iOS devices to an Apple TV. Some are reporting reduced or non-functionality, though it doesn’t appear to impact all Macs that support the feature. But if it’s a problem that can be traced to OS 10.9.2, perhaps there will be an update soon, since it wouldn’t be the first time a software update has broken something that should not have been broken.

But is it true that Apple rushed out OS 10.9.2 because of the need to fix the SSL bug? That’s hard to say for sure, because Apple wouldn’t admit to any such thing. This week Apple was busy strutting its stuff in public, as CEO Tim Cook told shareholders that, among other things, Apple TV appears to no longer be a happy, having generated $1 billion in revenue last year.

So the behind-the-scenes by-play in Apple’s developer labs will never be known. There may be all sorts of legitimate reasons why the reported AirPlay conflicts weren’t discovered and fixed. One possibility is that Apple did become aware of the issue late in the development process, but there was no time to incorporate the fix in 10.9.2. Perhaps there will be a small update soon to address that problem and others that arose because of this update. It wouldn’t be the first time Apple had to release a special update, or a version 1.1 of a maintenance release, to fix things that were broken — or left unfixed — in a software update.

I mean, if you forget the real serious issues with Mail, which didn’t impact everyone, Mavericks is one of the better OS X upgrades in recent years. That’s one reason why there have only been two maintenance updates since October. That’s a release or two ahead of the usual OS X update schedule from Apple. So maybe, despite everything, Apple is working harder to make sure each and every software release is as clean as possible.

We’ll see.

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