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Why Go Through All the Trouble...

Things would have been so easy, so relatively carefree; passing the buck would have felt as natural as anything.


Apple have put up with a lot of grief of late - the Month of Apple Bugs being the most recent humiliation. CNET are always out proselytising on how many bugs Apple have in their products; Steve Wozniak's gone on the record to state Apple software is the buggiest he uses; and so forth.

But things didn't have to be this way. Once upon a time OS X rested securely on top of FreeBSD, the system Linus Torvalds says he would have used if he'd known about it. And bugs in FreeBSD are fixed by FreeBSD - and not a worry for Apple or any other vendor.

But Apple chose to go their own way - something that's never been dared before in the world of Unix - with humiliation as a result. They changed elegant simplicity into bug-ridden confusion. Why did they do it?

Why go through all the trouble?


The precursor to OS X was simple, clean, and elegant as can be. No compromises: straight lines everywhere. The underbody came from Carnegie Mellon; the kernel came from FreeBSD; and the graphical layer came from NeXT. Clean lines - no foul-ups.

Aside from the proprietary GUI layer it was the perfect example of open source design.

This was before the age of the Internet but the system was still ready for it. And should anything ugly have happened, the compartmentalisation of the system would have precluded any major prolonged disaster.

But Apple took too much of a good thing and turned it into a mess. They won new fans in the media but simultaneously condemned OS X to the same fate as MacOS before it: a system that came apart at the seams and that ultimately could not be revised.

What did they do?

  • Their regard for and treatment of the POSIX file system is a classic. A POSIX file system is a great file system. And it builds on the principles of Unix which is an even greater system. Yet important bits of Unix and POSIX are left out of OS X or at best don't work correctly. And Apple officially recognise these shortcomings but to this day have done nothing about them. Why?
  • Apple continue to offer a file manager that not only hides important parts of the OS X file system but which also is incapable of showing them. Apple's file manager cannot find anything outside the file system to which it is accustomed (and neither can other ISV file managers that use the same APIs). Apple have always prided themselves on never forcing users to the command line, yet here they fall far short and fail miserably. Why?
  • Over the years case after case of 'bad design' has popped up in OS X - things not wrong with Unix but with the way Apple have used Unix. There's continual talk about how Apple engineers have no respect for Unix - but they've chosen to use it, so aren't they supposed to at least understand it?
  • As time goes on and Apple's goals get farther and farther away from Unix, Apple choose not to reassess their strategies but to alter the open source underbody of Unix. No one's ever done something so blasphemous before and hopefully no one else ever will: it's not only disrespectful - it's also stupid.
  • Apple continue to get hit by more and more bugs - and exploits - that are not attributable to (and easily fixed by) the open source community but are their own. They cannot ask for help in fixing these bugs because they are not using the same open source code everyone else is using - they have to fix them on their own and this takes time they don't have.
  • Apple were once considered the 'great hope' of the Unix and open source communities in the struggle against Microsoft but as time goes on the gap between Apple and the rest of these communities grows bigger. And Apple try to obfuscate the issues, claiming anything not standard on OS X is Microsoft's fault.
  • Apple made a play for the research community, hinting their OS X was 'true open source', but as soon as they got people interested they closed the doors, and today the caretakers of the Apple open source project have now officially closed the project down.

Ten years ago Microsoft were the darlings of the industry. Windows NT was a cheaper way to interface with Unix databases. The implications of having Windows online were not yet fully appreciated. Yet it took only a few short months for the industry to understand the writing on the wall. Support for Windows was gone long before the new millennium.

Apple had an operating system ready for market already ten years ago. The OpenStep operating system, later named Rhapsody at Apple, is to this day light years ahead of anything else on the market.

It is better in terms of the symbiosis between developer and user, with developers claiming their work time is a mere 20% of what it was previously and luminaries such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee and John Carnack claiming their products would have been impossible to create on any other platform.

It is the first and to this day only operating and development system fully based on the work of Alan Kay's Learning Research Group at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

And above all it has stunning graphics.

Thanks to Adobe and their PDF specification, Apple were able to improve on the EPS rendering system (also from Adobe) used in OpenStep/Rhapsody, to the point the graphics of OS X are even more stunning than before.

And Apple have added considerable technologies to their operating system, QuickTime being one famous example.

But at the same time they've taken the pristine system they once had - a system fundamentally impervious to 'black hat assault' - and turned it into what Anandtech called a 'hodgepodge': a system ultimately so confused the black hats are throwing a party.

Want OS X? Stand in Line!

It's easy to see the day when most people are using OS X but it's not easy to see them all using Apple computers. Distributing an operating system to 25 million or one billion is merely a matter of CD/DVD distribution.

Manufacturing computers for 25 million and one billion is a world apart - and no one would be so pretentious as to claim they could supply the hardware needs of the entire planet.

Yet Apple are essentially saying precisely this: that you must buy their computer hardware if you want to run their (superior) operating system. Meaning that even if everyone wanted to, they couldn't do it - Apple wouldn't be capable of scaling to that demand.

Yet Bill Gates and Microsoft continue to supply their inferior Windows to 900 million users on the planet. And Windows - regardless if it be the incarnation known as 'XP SP2' or the new Vista - is essentially a product that can't measure up to the requirements of the Internet age.

Careful Windows users of today spend as much or more time running anti-malware tests than they can spend using their computers. At the same time OS X and Unix (Linux) users rarely have more than a firewall to reduce CPU waste in repelling all those probes targeted for Windows.

Single Digit Happiness

At its most abstract level OS X is not much more than the world's most unbelievable GUI run atop the world's most vetted and secure operating system: an unbeatable combination - and ten years after its first possibility of introduction OS X should stand atop the heap not only in critical praise but in market saturation.

Yet Apple continue to 'enjoy' a mere 2% demographic - the all time low in their corporate history - and focus more and more on inessentials such as consumer electronics. Which may be good in its own right but it's not going to give market domination anywhere on the level Bill Gates has grown accustomed to. And Bill Gates makes more money than anyone.

And more importantly Bill Gates controls the all important supremely lucrative personal computer operating system market. It's this market's made him the richest person on the planet.

And Pixar is a good company - and the main source of wealth for Steve Jobs - but resting on the laurels of John Lasseter isn't going to make OS X any better. And abandoning the promise of OS X isn't going to make anyone any happier.

Apple waited a long time to introduce OS X. They had a complete product ready for market ten years ago. Yet it took them a full five years to get it out the door. Had that time been spent developing a product for market - as Microsoft have done with their Vista - then that would have been one thing.

But take away the transition to PDF and core technologies such as QuickTime (which could have been integrated later anyway) and one is left with a system that is not as good as its predecessor, much more susceptible to malicious attack, and above all shockingly confused.

Considering Apple won so little and lost so much, the question ultimately becomes: why go through all the trouble?

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