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El Capitan Fear Mongering

The other day I read an article from someone who was basically warning us off OS X El Capitan. While he hadn’t actually installed the new OS, he cited threads on Apple’s discussions forums describing a litany of problems that included incompatible apps and the inability to access external drives.

On the surface, I’d be scared off right away. Based on the blogger’s claims, Apple only posted public betas for marketing reasons, and didn’t do its job to make sure El Capitan was reliable. So he’s going to wait, which implies you should too.

Well, let’s set aside my personal experiences for a moment. For now, I did check the Apple discussions and found lots of problems, precisely as the blogger stated. But not all of them had large numbers of participants  reporting similar problems. Unless a problem is fairly consistent, it may be the result of a system oddity with a few installations. It takes more than that to take it seriously, but the article makes no attempt to weigh the importance of those complaints.

I did check the reviews at the App Store and found that El Capitan gets four stars. That’s not a bad start; Yosemite settled in around three stars. Yes, I did see reasons for lower ratings, but some were mostly about the fact that El Capitan doesn’t add a lot of compelling new features. I ran across a complaint about Mail, and that’s nothing new. Long and short of it, however, the buzz is quite positive at this early stage.

When it comes to incompatibilities with third-party software, I suppose you can blame Apple. But you can also blame the independent developer who needs to fix some problems. It’s possible system changes are responsible, but that doesn’t mean those changes are necessarily bad. El Capitan’s System Integrity Protection (SIP or rootless) is clearly causing problems for some developers. Jon Gotow of St. Clair Software has to do a lot of reengineering to make Default Folder X compatible. But that’s not Jon’s fault, nor is it necessarily Apple. SIP is designed to eliminate what is regarded as a potential risk factor in OS X’s security. In the interests of making OS X safer, Apple took steps that protects certain files, folders and processes from being modified or tampered with.

A change of that sort means that things developers depended on are no longer there. There are disruptions, but compatible apps are already showing up, and more are coming. That’s nothing unusual, but it’s not that Apple or developers should be faulted. You want security, there may be tradeoffs, although it is actually possible to disable SIP with a Terminal command. But I wouldn’t recommend it unless doing so is required to get your mission critical app to run.

My personal experience with El Capitan at this early stage is mostly solid. Mail has a tendency to briefly stall, but will resume normal operation in less than 30 seconds. Maybe it’s about background processing of large message folders, but I’m shooting from the hip. The other problem is Microsoft Word 2016. If a document is open and idle for an hour or two, I can no longer save it after making changes. Each attempt brings up a Save As dialog, but it won’t Save. My usual solution is to copy the text, quit Word (not saving the changes), reopen the document and paste the changed text. Then it works.

But when Word launches, I do see a curious prompt about a problem with a backup file the app creates. But maybe it’s fixed already. This week Microsoft released an update for Office 2016 for Mac. While El Capitan issues, such as crashing, were reportedly not addressed in the update, I didn’t see a recurrence of my particular problem — so far at least. In contrast, I’ve had no crashes at all in any of the Microsoft apps I use regularly. Regardless, there are published reports that a fix will come when El Capitan 10.11.1 is released, which is expected soon.

My other problem is far more arcane, and there’s a solution. I use The Levelator for post-processing of files created for my radio shows. It’s a free app, available for Mac, Windows and Linux, which provides a sophisticated form of normalization to an audio file. It does it a whole lot more efficiently than most audio apps I’ve used. But it’s not compatible with El Capitan because a system file on which it depends appears to be unavailable. There is information posted online on how to copy that file from the app bundle and put it in the appropriate system folder. A restart, and it works, though you’d have to follow this process for each Mac you own, or when restoring a Mac.

Since development of The Levelator halted in 2012, you will never see any change unless someone wants to acquire the app and do it. But they’d probably want to charge for it, for otherwise where’s the incentive other than giving back to the audio community?

In any case, as operating systems go, El Capitan strikes me as a pretty solid release. It’s possible the forthcoming 10.11.1 update will address a number of concerns. But with any new version of OS X, some people will have a positively miserable experience, and it may take more than one fixer-upper to address that.