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The Future of macOS: Fix the Old Stuff?

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.