Open letter to Tim Cook: it's time to call Mavericks beta

Word counts. Headers and footers. Mail. Scrolling. Accessing servers. Using USB drives. This stuff isn't new. If it's not working, you're plain just not ready. Period.

Dear Tim,

I just bought a tricked-out iMac with all the trimmings , and let me tell you, whoo-ee, is that bad boy fast!

I'm opening up Photoshop in a fraction of the time my 16-month-old, SSD-equipped, then top-of-the-line Windows machine is able to do, and I'm thrilled by the speed. Even Windows 8.1, running in a virtual machine, benchmarks faster than the bare-metal Windows 8.1 running on the slightly older PC (but that's a story for another day).

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For the last few days, the machine has been rock-solid, but that's because I'm not running Mavericks. I took a chunk of my weekend to revert the machine back to Mountain Lion because Mavericks was so... troublesome.

In fact, that's why I'm writing you today. Since my articles on the high-end iMac and on reverting the machine back to Mavericks, I've been getting a lot of letters.

Readers are concerned.

They're spending a lot of money on your new Macs (reminder: that's Apple product line where you sell products to people who often do real work), and these customers of yours are concerned they'll get burned if they run Mavericks.

I can't promise them they won't. Neither, as far as I can tell, can Apple.

The thing is, Tim, it's not just the OS. It's not just that shares can't be accessed reliably (even with workarounds). It's not that external drives suffer from corruption (and, in my experience, it's not just Western Digital — my 4TB RAID array (using Mac OS X RAID) died, and died hard.

No, it's not that just that there are some severe worries about data access and loss with Mavericks. It's more than that.

The issue is that your customers aren't just upgrading the OS. They're also upgrading your iWork applications. Personally, I think they should just get an Office 365 subscription , but I can understand how your customers would want the latest and greatest Apple apps, especially since Microsoft hasn't updated its Mac software for a few years now.

The problem is, and you know this, once your customers upgrade to the new apps, things don't work. You rewrote those apps and left out critical functionality. Hey, I understand coding challenges and rewriting something from the ground up sometimes means you have to pick and choose your battles.

The thing is, your customers are not supposed to be cannon fodder.

People who relied on your products trusted your executives and when your team got up on stage and declared the new iWork to be the best thing ever, your customers believed them. Your customers upgraded. Reverting back from those upgrades is not a simple task .

I know you've detailed a lot of fixes that you intend to make over the next few months, but, seriously, how can you possibly need to improve word counts? I teach an object-oriented programming course, and my students can figure out how to count words. It's not exactly rocket science.

This is why I'm writing you. It's clear you're not ready for prime time with this stuff. If you still need to improve word counts in Pages, if you still need to figure out how to do page headers and footers in Numbers, you're not ready to release. Apparently you broke scrolling in Chrome. Scrolling.

At best, you're in beta.

Yes, I know you fixed Mail. Wow, there's an accomplishment! Seriously, that's my point. Mail didn't work. Mail is not new technology. I ran a mail server on a Mac as far back as the 1980s. And yet, you folks couldn't get mail right.

Word counts. Headers and footers. Mail. Scrolling. This stuff isn't new. If it's not working, you're plain just not ready. Period.

And, so, Tim, that's why I'm making my recommendation. Let your customers know that Mavericks is very exciting (heck, there are features in Mavericks I really want to use), but let them know that it's a beta product. Let them know that iWork is a beta product.

You don't need to be afraid of the word "beta". After all, Google managed to take over the world and still spent years labeling stuff "beta". When you label something as a beta version, customers no longer get angry, because then they know they're privileged to try something exciting, not snookered into buying something not ready.

That's a big difference. Apple isn't supposed to snooker its customers. It's not supposed to release software that takes three revisions to work right. Your customers aren't as jaded as Microsoft customers. They're not trained to wait years after an OS release before putting it in production.

Your customers trust you. My recommendation is you honor that trust by being truthful with them. Label Mavericks and the new iWork releases as beta and warn your customers that baaad things might happen if they update too soon.


P.S. Did I mention my new Mac is faaaast?


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