The Future of macOS: Fix the Old Stuff?

January 4th, 2017

The wish lists for the next version of macOS are beginning to appear, but it’s a small list so far. After all these years, you even wonder how many bright ideas Apple might come up with. Before you even go that far, I wonder if it isn’t time for Apple’s Mac developers to be tasked with fixing things old bugs, making things work better, before wondering what features look impressive in a demonstration at the next WWDC.

Take the Finder. The Finder is the core of the Mac user experience dating back to 1984. With the advent of what is now known as macOS, first released in 2001 as a version intended for developers and power users, there was a new Finder. While it inherited the features of the old Finder, it had more of the look of a traditional browser.

Over the years, Apple took the hint and added such features as tabs and backward and forward buttons to cement the deal. For the most part, it works pretty well. I use tabs to setup folders for my radio shows. Once a show has been broadcast, it goes in an “Archives” folder, another tab in the same Finder window, and please don’t tell me about the lack of creativity in my titles. I set up folders when I need them, and enter the first name that occurs to me. So long as I know what it means, that’s all I need.

Now one of the age-old criticisms of the macOS Finder is that it’s flaky and fails to remember size and positioning from window to window. In theory you should be able to set things up, close the Finder window, and when you open that or a new window, it’ll be positioned and shaped identically. More or less.

As you probably know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s no way to predict what choices the Finder will make in terms of positioning. It reminds me in a way of the Imperial Droid in “Star Wars: Rogue One,”which had a mind of its own. Believe it or not, watching that movie — and it’s one of the better flicks in the franchise — led me to write this column.

So I regard size and position as fundamental features. The Finder should be correct 99.9% of the time, not come up with a window that’s half the size of the one it replaced.

But when it comes to positions, I have the same view of apps. I like my app windows in the center of the screen, not stretched to the edges unless the content dictates it. But it seems that Safari has the same memory problem as the Finder. I open a new browser window and it’ll usually be placed in another spot, sometimes just to the right of the window below it, sometimes elsewhere. Pages has its own flakiness, as a new document window is off center to the right. I fix the window, close it, open a new document and it’s in the wrong position. But Pages seems to remember the placement of an existing document once I’ve positioned it where I want and saved it.

Yes, I know such concerns might be interpreted as symptoms of being a little obsessive. But I like to think that the supercomputer on my desktop ought to manage the simple things perfectly every time.

Microsoft Word, notorious for its flakiness, has its own document window positioning irregularity. except that it’s off-center towards the left. Closing the new document window, after fixing its predecessor, produces the same symptom.

I am never surprised at what a Microsoft app might do, but the most recent version of Office for Mac works all right in many respects. There are feature shortcomings with Outlook, but that’s not relevant to this column.

With Apple, fit and finish are supposed to be paramount. Even when Apple more or less duplicates — or imitates — a feature from another platform, you expect it to work better, more reliably. Apple didn’t build the first personal computer with a graphical user interface, the first digital music player, the first smartphone, the first tablet, or the first smartwatch.

You get the picture.

So as Apple’s developers continue to craft what is expected to be known as macOS “something-or-other” 10.13, I wonder how much attention will be paid towards just rummaging through the source code and fixing the things that need to be fixed.

Now it may just be that most of you don’t care if the Finder or an Apple app loses its memory. It’s minor in the scheme of things, and unless you want things to be just so, you probably won’t care all that much. Well, maybe if the Finder window doesn’t remember the size you set.

As you know, I began to use Macs in the 1980s. Even though the OS in those days was extremely prone to freeze or crash at inopportune moments, PCs were all very much worse. True, Windows 10 is regarded by some — well Consumer Reports at any rate — as two sides of a coin, but I disagree.

But Apple has to fight harder to keep Mac sales at a decent level in the post-PC era. The little things do count, even if it’s just a document window forgetting where it ought to be.

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28 Responses to “The Future of macOS: Fix the Old Stuff?”

  1. Walker says:

    Let’s start a list!

    1. PDF rendering has been a mess since at least 10.10, and then there’s the recent complaints about changes to the engine. A must fix.

    2. Memory management, especially with Safari (five tabs open, most rendering text and with most ads and scripts blocked, should not take up 4+ gigs of RAM).

    3. Spotlight gives inconsistent results, and the search-via-Finder isn’t much better.

    Focus placed on these three things alone would make macOS that much better. I’d love for them to find a way to use more recent versions of the GNU utilities (Homebrew helps, but it’s not perfect), and attempts to rewrite things in place for size and speed *without changing functionality* would be appreciated. The one thing I’m really impressed with about Windows 10 is that it can function acceptably in a very small memory footprint; that would be a huge bonus for macOS, especially if they’re planning on continuing their crazed solder-everything-down-to-prevent-upgrades policy.

    Then there’s iWork, but that’s another story entirely. Thanks!

    • Everyone has a list. But I rarely encounter memory hogging from Safari, so we have to see which tabs are open on your system and that might have a clue. Right now I have four Safari tabs open with nothing blocked. One is a stream from an online radio broadcaster that uses Flash. Activity monitor shows that Safari is using a tad more than 920 MB on my iMac.


      • DaveD says:


        I have seen memory leaks in Safari. In the Activity Monitor, I have the list sorted by the highest RAM user and it is normally the kernel_task. Over time Safari memory would creep upward until it becomes the highest RAM user. If I just close and reopen Safari with all my tabs (lots), its starting memory use goes back down. Normally this would free up around 1.5 GB of RAM and it is beneficial to do this again later. But, I have third party apps that have the slow memory leak and they would pop up close to the kernel_task. I believe all the memory bloat make the System Sound Effects stopped working in seven to 10 days when it is time for a restart.

        Best regards,

  2. DaveD says:

    Ah, the window size and placement mismanagement by Mac OS X and yet, Classic Mac OS had no difficulty in remembering. One of the features lost when moving from an aging OS to carry the Mac platform forward. I felt that when OS X Tiger came along, Apple had gotten this feature back. But, it was short lived as Leopard broke it and is still broken.

    There was a time I would had liked Apple to go back and get things right. Not anymore as my confidence in Apple making quality software had dropped. One has to revisit Apple’s accomplishments. App reboots with lost features, removing “Save As…” and hacking it back in, creating a wireless connectivity issue by replacing the longtime working module and later having to bring it back, and lately Apple changed PDFkit in macOS Sierra causing problems for third party developers and editing issues in Preview.

    My most current Mac is a four-year-old MacBook Air running El Capitan. My OS upgrade plan is to wait until the last update of macOS Sierra. From the age of the Mac, it may only have a couple more future upgrades left. It got the recent Safari and Security updates and showed me how sloppy Apple is today. A Spotlight activity will trigger a crash log involving Safari History process. I don’t see any crashes, but in Console there are many such files and occurring a number of times during a day. Reading the log tells me it is an oversight in the private frameworks library of a failed to connect between two components.

    As for macOS 10.13, the software really needs to be put back on a solid quality foundation.

  3. JR says:

    Totally agree with the expectation that the small details DO matter, absolutely. I’m also a Mac “fan boy” since the ’80’s, and I reluctantly admit now that things don’t “just work” any more. My newest Mac is a 5 year old iMac. Fam/biz needs a re-fresh urgently, but I’m not buying anything until I see new models. Hopefully they don’t continue the trend of non-serviceable memory/drives etc.

  4. Kaleberg says:

    Given how many people miss the old positional Finder as opposed to the new browsing Finder, I’m surprised no one has written one. The Finder substitutes, like Pathfinder, are if anything more browser like. Surely, it can’t be that hard.

  5. Ron Wilson says:

    One thing I’ve noticed since the addition of town is in the Finder window is that when you scroll down by one window it doesn’t line up with the last item on the previous list. In other words you have to scroll up a couple of lines to see what’s missing. I believe this only became an issue when they implemented tabs in the Finder window.

  6. Paul Robinson says:

    Absolutely on target! The forgetful Finder is a nuisance! Text Edit’s lack of ability to return a window and its text to a zoomed size is a major irritant and work hamperer.

    In general, there are so many glitches, inconsistencies, lack of transparency, gotchas, etc. in the OS that fixing them should be job #1.

    Along the way, they should revisit old versions of the OS and bring back key features thst went missing,

    One of the biggest deficiencies is the marked lack of color in the interface. The sidebar should have its colors restored; users should be able to color an entire document name and icon and not just add the little colored dots.

    They also need to revisit accessibility and basic visibility, The text in the default menu bars is tiny. They need to go back to OS 7 and to the iBook G4 – and see how large the menu bar text is. Thst should be the model. We should not have to change the entire screen resolution to get readable text– that just results in grainy screen.

    I’ll stop there, but longtime Mac users could quickly add dozens of specific examples.

  7. Ron Wilson says:

    Another pet peeve of mine is that there could and should be more continuity across the interface… at least for the Apple brand apps. For example: when you double-click on a smart mailbox in mail it automatically opens the “edit Smart mailbox”. That same action could be used in iTunes for smart playlists, or the Finder for smart folders and saved searches.

    And why oh why is there a different method for selecting portions of a list view in the various applications.

  8. Gary says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Upgrade to 10.12.1 has revealed numerous bugs – Messages crashes, unable to open.. Mail sent folder crashes mail when you attempt to open I’m afraid to update to 10.12.2 until bug list is addressed

    • There are always stability improvements. Unfortunately, Apple isn’t good about giving a thorough set of release notes. But let me tell you that I have none of the problems you list. I think you should take the chance.


  9. Rainy Day says:

    Actually, Apple did build the first personal computer with a graphical user interface.

    Xerox’s GUI wasn’t running on a PC, but rather a single-user business-class workstation machine of its day (which, relative to PC’s of that era, was like a super-computer in comparison). Nor was it ever a commercial product.

    • The Xerox Alto and the Xerox Star were not commercial products but several thousand were built and distributed. Before there was a Mac, there was the Apple Lisa. I remember when CompuGraphic was offering them as front-ends for their phototypesetting machines.


      • Rainy Day says:

        The Alto and Star weren’t PC’s in their day. They didn’t have microprocessor CPUs, nor were they commercially marketed to individuals.

        Although the Lisa had a microprocessor for its CPU, it nonetheless cost $10,000 for the base unit, and was marketed as a business machine. The Macintosh is arguably the first PC with a GUI. (And the Lisa the first commercially available computer with a GUI.)

        Incidentally, my first Mac was a Macintosh XL (aka, Lisa with a Mac ROM).

        • We’re quibbling over semantics. Price is no criterion for a PC. Did you ever price a fully-outfitted Macintosh II? Or a Mac Pro for that matter?


          • Rainy Day says:

            Not quibbling. PC means Personal Computer. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, a $10K machine wasn’t in the average hobbyist’s price range. (I would argue it still isn’t, but that’s a different discussion.) Nobody back then would consider such a computer a personal computer.

            In those years (and i think still today), a PC had three common characteristics:

            1) It had a microprocessor for a CPU. Indeed, computers with microprocessor CPUs weren’t considered useful for business purposes, and were lucky to have a floppy drive for storage.

            2) They were relatively portable (i.e. one person could move them without using a hand truck).

            3) They didn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. A couple grand, at the most.

            [For what it’s worth, fully-outfitted Macintosh II’s were used primarily as business machines; only the richest hobbyists might buy them.]

            • Quibbling.

              The Macintosh II may have been a business PC, but it was a PC. PC doesn’t define whether it’s used for home or business.

              Or price a Macintosh IIci, a relatively compact Mac used in home or business, which listed for $6,269 plus options.

              This can go on forever, so let it stop here.


              • Rainy Day says:

                Not quibbling; you’re simply wrong (or anachronistically applying modern standards without appreciation of the technology available in a bygone era).

                When they first came out, PCs were very much defined by whether or not they were used in the home (or – more accurately – could be afforded by individual hobbyists). I know as i witnessed the birth of the PC. I was using mainframes, mini-computers and workstations (IBM, HP, DEC, Data General and Wangs) before there were microprocessors or PCs; when one had to toggle switches on a control panel to enter a bootstrap program in order to load the operating system into core memory. These were machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (tens of thousands for some of the lower-end machines). And a buddy of mine assembled an Altair (considered by some to be the first PC). I know what i’m talking about here, and there was definitely a clear delineation between PCs and everything else at the time.

                Today, this distinction is largely lost because microprocessors have become so powerful that they obliterated whole categories (i.e. mainframes, mini-computers, micro-computers, etc.) Today, individuals can afford to buy PCs which have far more power than million-dollar mainframes of the 70’s. Today, PCs are powerful, business-class machines and used both in the home and in businesses of all sizes. This wasn’t true in the 70’s. PCs truly only started to be used in business in the 80’s, initially by small companies with limited funds. It really was when VisiCalc hit the Apple ][ that PCs first became suitable for certain limited business applications. By the late 80’s, PCs were making serious inroads in business, scientific and general use computing, and starting to eat their way up the food-chain.

                But in the days when the Lisa and Macintosh were being developed, there was a big difference between PCs and the high-powered, high-priced business-class workstations Xerox Parc was using to experiment with its GUI. The Macintosh truly is the first PC with a GUI. Not the first computer with a GUI, but the first PC. And it was an impressive engineering feat, given the technology and economics in the early 80’s.

  10. IanG says:

    “Setup” is a noun. “Set up” is a transitive verb.

    Describing a Mac as a PC? Those famous Apple ads were obviously spurious, then. And IBM registered “personal computer” as a trademark.


  11. Shameer Mulji says:

    RE: the future of macOS

    Here’s a thought: What if Apple has no intention of moving the Mac off of Intel. What if their intention is to evolve the iPad (from 10″ to 28″), with a separate “padOS” that’s not exactly like but as powerful as macOS? This could, in time, eventually replace the Mac and run on Apple custom ARM SoC.

    It would be similar to 1984 when Apple introduced the Mac and was selling the Apple II / Lisa simultaneously but eventually the Mac subsumed that line.

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