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

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

Summary: 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).

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?

Topic: Apple


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • I have to agree

    I upgraded my 2011 Macbook Pro to Mavericks and I have never seen the spinning beach ball of death as often.

    iTunes broke, it wouldn't load my library and then kept crashing. I can't eject my iPad without iTunes freezing.

    Chrome breaks.

    Takes ages to flick between workspaces.

    I waited for the update before upgrading to Mavericks but am still kicking myself for not waiting longer. Mavericks wasn't ready when it was released, even though it was free.

    Apple trade on their brand, Mavericks isn't upto snuff. On my drive into work today I drove passed a billboard for the iPhone 5C, I couldn't help but think that it isn't a true Apple product. It wouldn't have been released a few years ago. Mavericks wouldn't have been released in this state a few years ago.

    I'm no Apple Fanboy, this is being written on a Linux PC, Apple's eye is not on the ball at the minute, well since Steve Jobs departed. When someone who can operate technology thinks the product is bad it is bad, when people who aren't that technical and have come to trust Apple as providing quality products "that just work" are struggling, all of us who work in tech suffer.
    • Indeed

      Apple seems to be pushing this uncomfortable trend a lot lately. You can see it with iOS7 and the scores of angry iPhone 4 and 4S customers who are reporting slowdowns and problems. My wife is one such 4S owner. The articles are out. People are complaining. Apple is failing.
      • And yet people are still buying their products regardless.

        So is an open letter to Apple really going to sway opinion one way or another?
        • Open letter won't

          People voting with their wallets will.
          • Apple Stock

            When Apple stock first dropped from $700 to < $400 I thought that it was grossly undervalued. Since then I have witnessed a number of failed products and software roll outs. It is becoming clearer that Apple is changing for the worst. I would like to see them get their act together but I am continually surprised when new blunders emerge. I am glad that I didn't buy any stock yet but I think that they have the opportunity to rise again or continue to fail and lose market value and brand reputation. Only time will tell. It would be a shame to see them fall further when most of this can be prevented by delaying products and software until it is actually ready.
            Burger Meister
          • You should have bought while it was low.

            It's already made back more than half of what it lost and is still climbing.
          • It's still overrated and overpriced, and could come tumbling down

            back to earth easily.

            Apple is still, primarily, the iPhone, and nothing else as far as diversification. That is not a company with a safe future.
          • Yes another in your series of asinine, misinformed comments

            Mac: making substantial profits per unit, and growing in market base. iPad: making substantial profits per unit and grown in market base. iPhone: needless to say.
            AppleTV: Making decent profit on hardware, more than decent profit on content sales, and growing in market base.
            The argument that Apple is not diversified is idiotic, as is the idea that because a company has a primary revenue-generating product, that that company is not "safe".
        • Some won't be buying Apples, except from the grocery store.

          After the epic fail that was Vista, I converted to Apple. Now I'm going through buyer's remorse. Leopard and Snow Leopard were okay, although there were some pains 'upgrading' from Leopard to Snow L. Mountain Lion to Mavericks and then back to Mountain Lion, and the troubles and stress that I have gone through remind me of being a Windows user all over again.

          Perhaps a Linux is next? Who knows? But I am definitely not a happy Apple customer anymore.
          Vance H
    • Seriously, is it that bad?

      I've got a 15" MacBook Pro, early 2011, which I recently upgraded to Mavericks. Honestly, I've run into 1 bug, which was the iTunes visualization which freezes when moving between spaces. I reported the bug. Other than that, my experience has been very different from yours. My MacBook works fantastically well. I also upgraded my 2012 Mac Mini without issue.

      It's either these issues are isolated or people are exaggerating.
      • Not exaggerating

        Mavericks is killing my battery on my mid2010 MacBook Pro. I've docmented it through screenshots, but Apple's answers are not logical. The age of my battery is just days older than it was when I upgraded, so you can't say it's because the battery is old. I cleaned off all icons, emptied the trash, etc. I deleted unused programs.
      • Yes it is that bad

        I'm a long time Apple customer, from the early days of OS9. I am also a senior executive in the IT industry (ex CTO of a Bank, currently CEO of a software company). This is the worst upgrade that I can remember, bar none.
        I have had 3 external firewire drives (not all WD) repartitioned against my will. Data has been lost (one of the drives was my backup). I have application issues with fast user switching. I have thousands of jpeg and psd files no longer readable. I have hundreds of hours of movies that QT wants to 'upgrade' because it doesn't support the old codecs any more. I have old movies that are now corrupted and cannot be recovered. Shall I go on? There's more, such as quick preview no longer working for files it used to work for.
        With my CTO hat on, there is another aspect that I'm disgusted by. Apple apparently is not providing some security updates for previous OS's for 'architectural' reasons. This is a way to force expenditure on upgrades, that is within Apple's timeframe and not its customers. In the corporate world, this could bring a company to its knees if it had no choice. At least Microsoft understand this and work with its corporate customer base.
        For years I have had friendly banter with my colleagues about the Apple Vs MS debate, always singing the praises of Apple. I am so over them now.
    • Rock Steady Here.

      Upgraded my 2012 MB Pro and my 2012 Mac Mini to Mavericks, neither machine rests very long, Did have one or two spinning balls in iTunes, But version 11.1.3 corrected that.
      Maybe its the way I installed it, about once a year, or, when a new OS is released, whether its Windows or Mac, I back up everything, erase my drive and reformat, then install the new OS. That method has served me well for 20 years on Macs, Dells, HPs, Toshibas etc, eliminates any possible cobwebs getting into the new OS, also the PC will run like new again. Peace.
  • Welcome to the new Apple

    The difference between how Cook runs things and how Jobs ran things looks to be very different.

    Would this have happened under Jobs watch? I doubt it, but I do expect to hear Cook once again sobbing and aplogizing for releasing something to soon or things not being up to Apple standards and then promising the world about getting it right.

    Cook seems to be bending his will to shareholders and preset sales release dates (holidays, etc) rather than focus on what made the company such a success under Jobs in the first place. Doing things right.

    I can only fear how things are going to progress under his watch as the iOSification of OSx continues. Unfortunatly there doesn't seem to be much to boost confidence in how Cook is doing things, because he seems more than willing to cut corners or sacrifice the user experience in order to get something out "on time".
    • Not to quibble...

      But Jobs did the right things...not vice versa.
    • Nonsense

      First, Jobs had his own share of mistakes, which I am quite sure you harped on at the time, but conveniently forget when it suits your argument. Second, please cite a single time ANYTHING cook has ever said publicly that can be referred to as "sobbing". What a load.
      Cherry pick much?
    • "Welcome to the new Apple

      this happened before under the watch of the sugar and water guy. Déjà vu ...
  • Lack of Jobs

    First of all, I've never "trusted" Apple to be anything other than anther greedy corporation. No better nor worse than the others. Personally I feel it's foolish to fall for the hype and believe anything different about them.

    Having said that, Apple is floundering without Jobs. If there are new, revolutionary products on the horizon that were not the dream child of Jobs we haven't seen them yet. And it's not as if problems never occurred when Jobs was still alive but it's the type of mistakes that Apple's making that I don't believe would have been made under Jobs. The move to Apple's own map service before it was ready and now these numerous rookie mistakes with such basic elements of the OS is inexcusable. Jobs would never have allowed that.

    Maybe Cook is still gaining his sea legs but he had better right this ship or the shine on Apple's imagine will fade in the eyes of their legions of diehard fans who stand in lines overnight for the privilege of handing over their money to Apple.
  • Funny

    "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..." the writer says.

    Another example of the glaring tech-illiteracy of Mac users who can't properly use their PCs. My SSD-equipped PC opens Photoshop in LITERALLY 1 second. Click......BOOM! Open. Working with 5300px RAW files from my Canon 70D......ten of them at one time, in fact, gives me ZERO lag and ZERO problems. Applying advanced Topaz Suite effects to each shot, then exporting these as PNG ( 5000px each) takes about 3 and 8 seconds, respectively. No "tricked out iMac" is capable of this....especially for the price. Apple's most decked-out iMac is $3349 with a respectable i7 quad-core, 32GB of RAM, and a 3TB fusion drive. My PC with an i7-3930K, 64GB of RAM, an EVGA GTX690, and SSD ran me $3000..............TAXES IN.

    Why do I even mention all this? Despite the writer's rampant inability to know how to use a computer properly, he's actually bashing Mavericks. Perhaps he sums it up the best when he says "It's not supposed to release software that takes three revisions to work right. " Really? Between Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks, things STILL haven't been ironed out. Mavericks users are reporting speed decreases and a host of bugs. Things aren't perfect at Apple, and never were. Instead of doing things to ENTICE me to buy a Mac, Apple is doing the opposite. Every time I keep my eye on Cupertino, they're always doing something to piss off their customer base and scare away potential migrants.

    Too bad.
    • Just a note

      The 8 second figure when exporting a 5000px PNG involves actually Saving For Web using PNG-24, applying settings, pointing it where to save, and hitting the button. For anyone who has worked with uncompressed PNGs at that size, they know exactly what a feat this is.