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Rock Solid Foundation

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Figured they'd go back to Windows again

Watching the stream of complaints and horror stories about 10.5.2 gets one wondering. What went wrong? Did anything go wrong? Is there any way to set it right again?

It would seem the situation is out of control. You don't write or change code willy nilly and then go back and fix it. If you do you'll have a bug farm on your hands and you'll never get out of it. No: to produce a good system you have to proceed slowly and carefully and be prepared to roll back at any stage in the game. That's not being done with OS X.

Many people describe the 10.5.2 update as not so much an update as a 'rollback'. There isn't much that's moving forward; instead, say some, it's a PR move designed to show users the company actually listen to complaints and fix things.

But there's precious little fixed from any one POV. Naturally there are many POVs and in each POV a few things might be getting fixed; but this is in turn an indication of how comprehensive the issues are. If one goes back to Jaguar and Panther one sees nothing of the sort. At least those whose memories stretch back to Jaguar and Panther can't recall anything of the sort. And frankly few can remember anything similar happening on alternative platforms until recently either.

The sad fact of the matter is OS X 10.5.2 users are looking at and using a legacy system almost twenty years in its boots today. This system evolved over time and certainly by the time it came to Cupertino to save the exposed and vulnerable backsides of its present owners it was in pretty good shape indeed. Sun Microsystems were using it. And it looked fabulous and behaved fabulously as well.

Commercial software is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of computer science. It's promulgated by mostly two major players. Microsoft and Apple. And in many ways it turns everything topsy turvy. And odds are we're now seeing things finally coming full circle.

We're seeing change for the sake of change. We're seeing planned obsolescence. And both of these concepts fly right in the face of the rock solid foundation. Enhancements to essential Unix system modules aren't announced with a big fanfare - they're just quietly introduced, the code quietly worked on, honed and improved. Ping and traceroute remain largely as they were when they were first invented; the file system basics and security basics remain the same. And they're good too and they should remain the same.

The legacy 'MacOS' developers knew nothing of Unix. To them 'Unix' was probably a dirty four letter word. Apple had to cater to their fetishes and promise the Unix command line would be 'comfortably hidden' in the real release of OS X - whatever that means. And no: it means nothing at all. Which is precisely the point. It was just a bit of legerdemain intended to keep them at bay. Much like renaming File Viewer Finder so they stopped attacking on that front.

Jaguar and Panther users have a hard time remembering any bugs to speak of. Things took a steep turn for the worse in Tiger and they've never recovered. The tumult at One Infinite Loop seems to have brought about a situation of chaos in the system. Whether it was the crash programming for the iPhone or the need to port code to 64-bit or a panic Microsoft might be catching up or a combination of all three and more - whatever. For something's been happening and the effects are getting all too easy to see even for ordinary users.

From the POV of a system adept there are a lot of alarming things in 10.5.2 and with this company in general. Some of them boggle the mind; some are absolutely staggering. These tendencies have been noted before - as far back as Panther - and they're gaining momentum. Things are getting worse.

Considering Jaguar in August 2002 was the culmination of five and one half years of mucking about with a system initially market ready and falling through booby traps along the way - and still getting something viable out the door; considering all that it was quite a good stepping stone. It brought a lot of things together and things should have stayed right there until the rubble and dust cleared.

But they didn't. Work went on immediately - as in all commercial enterprises - to produce something people would be willing to pay for again. Another cat.

The most touted feature of Panther was Exposé. Exposé isn't an operating system feature - it's a hack. Beyond this everything was negligible. Mail swapped some adequate toolbar icons for some questionable ones; that's about it. Sysadmins liked Panther because it addressed some of their issues. Panther was basically one step forward and one step back so on the whole it wasn't anything.

Tiger was a disaster. In terms of screen appearance it made more of the gaffes Panther had made only it made them more frequent and more unforgivable. Distinction between inactive and active windows was again worsened.

What's even worse is that bugs started appearing out of nowhere where there hadn't been any before. Some of this was blamed on the reorganisation of the KPIs - kernel programming interfaces - but that excuse only holds water for a short time. Today nearly three years later there are still some serious bugs in the system and they show no sign of being fixed.

At which time you really do have to wonder if these people are going to collapse under their own weight. For say what you will about Microsoft and their world famous lack of security but they've never done things like this. If the system as a whole is wobbly and insecure then at least their APIs work.

And you can't use the excuse you're starting out and have to get things up to speed. This is code that worked and worked well - until someone came along and ruined it. And over the months and years after the onset of this corruption, as one realises the things one sees oneself are but a small part of a bigger picture, as one gets into banging one's head into the wall trying to get those responsible to roll things back to where they once worked without a hitch - as one sooner or later arrives at the realisation nothing is going to change, nothing is going to work, things are only going to continue to fall apart - over months and years of this one's forced to accept the inevitable.

Namely that the custodians of this once fine rock solid foundation don't really have a clue about it, have no appreciation or respect for it, and left to their own devices cannot but completely ruin it and bring it tumbling down.

There's no way to pick up the pieces again. At that point it's all a shambles. Reminiscent of a former system many of us have thankfully never had to use. A confused ultimately hopeless system that even used the word 'system' illegally. A system that - and this is no joke - couldn't even be kept idling overnight as it would crash, just crash, just plain crash.

And Microsoft Windows was never that bad.

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Hotspots: 10.5.2

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