To some people one thing that emerged from the recent major product announcement by Apple that was of the utmost interest and importance was a new version of the operating system, OS X, now called Mavericks (after one of a whole series of challenging surfer beaches on the California coast). The mainstream press mainly concentrated on the reduction of the cost of this nominally major upgrade to zero. That is, Apple has said that anyone with an Apple device that can run it, can have it for free. This applies to machines produced as early as 2008, and still running, because of the vaunted Apple product quality and reliability.
The magazine “Ars Technica,” which is techier than “Fast Company,” and geekier than “Wired,” has traditionally had one of their senior editors, an especially intelligent, expressive and well-written character named John Siracusa give an intensive review of new operating systems from Apple as soon as possible after they are released to the public.
His reports of the past have been lengthy (as many as 20-30 printed pages, or, if you prefer, a PDF document of equal length, and always made available for a fee, around four or five dollars, to those enthusiasts who didn’t care to subscribe to “Ars Technica”—which most people, including their subscribers don’t realize is owned and published by Condé Nast, the vast consumer magazine empire whose fiefdoms include such venerable and honored marques as “The New Yorker” and “Vanity Fair”). Although decidedly of a much more technical focus, in many senses of the word technical, “Ars Technica” fits right in with the full array of Condé Nast publications, in its thoroughness of coverage, persistence in journalistic terms, and its relentlessness in the pursuit of perfection of the craft of special interest journalism.
There are many people who won’t, or wouldn’t, formulate a personal opinion on the value and importance of the latest release of Apple’s flagship operating system for Macintosh computers (as opposed to the operating system for their incredibly popular and commercially successful mobile devices, the iPhone and the iPad), not before getting a complete reading of what the comprehensive nit-picking and scrupulous examination of Siracusa’s hits the stands in the form of a review.
I sent the link, which appears way at the bottom of this blog entry, to two friends who have as avid interest as mine in the worthiness of this significant new step in the evolution of the most important software that runs on the computers each of us uses, one way or another, to occupy ourselves, at the very least, or even to produce productive work at a professional level because of our vocations.
I started in the email that contained the link to excoriate Siracusa, even as I was suggesting they might be entertained or even engaged by his remarks. As I wrote, and wrote, I very clearly veered from what had been a friendly post to similar minded comrades, dealing daily with the vagaries of IT products that touch our lives in a very deep way, and have done for a very long time in each instance. Two of us are older. One of us, as the grown son of one of us, is younger, but with more formal technical training, and more dependence for his living on how the machines work, that is, on how well or how poorly they work.
Here, edited and adapted for Per Diem, is what I wrote.
John Siracusa has been the chief bull goose looney of Mac OS X reviewers. He is thorough to a fault and candid. I think this is probably worth reading, or at least jumping around in from high point to high point. However, as he has become ambivalent, clearly, while trying valiantly to appear still to be objective, if not disinterested with a god-like quality, I think with this review, having read a series of them now over the last most recent years, he is coming dangerously close to jumping his own shark.
Pugnacity has entered in a rather sinister way, to the point at time of my feelings of repugnance. I don’t mind fair criticism, which is substantiated. I don’t even mind substantive personal crotchets about various features, which might have gone a different way because of obvious alternatives not chosen by the vendor. However I do mind gratuitous opinions that are offered ex cathedra. Now, according to him, to cite a very minor matter, the uncluttered, non-skeuomorphic, simplicity of the Mavericks Contacts app interface is “boring?” And not just boring, but the overall thrust of getting rid of the leather, on which fact he seems to be fixated, apparently because he can’t find a serious credible critical peg on which to hang his overall basically highly critical tone, is that it is ugly. When it is neither, but merely non-distracting.
I think maybe he has been doing this for too long. He has his own cadre of fanboys (see the “Promoted Comments” at the end) and he has to perform at this point, I mean be performative, rather than simply being an exhaustively thorough fair, if not tough, minded reviewer of what’s designated a major release. I think it is, and I am disappointed only, as he seems to be, that they didn’t do more to adopt more of Ivey’s new graphical interface esthetic for the new OS X. That will no doubt appear in the next release.
As an aside, and having read deeper into the very long review of Siracusa’s, I want to add this interlinear emendation. To be fair to John Siracusa, who I’m sure, even if he knew, could give less of a shit about what I think, he reverts to his usual stalwart, well-informed and articulate critical (in the good, classic Arnoldean sense) self when he gets deep under the hood of OS X Mavericks and begins analyzing the less visible technological changes and advancements he has detected. Not that this has anything to do with him, but some of the changes related to local networking and file sharing, like a new SMB protocol, are particularly welcome to me. I don’t want to, but I actually do have to have some rudimentary understanding of these technologies, because I actually use them. I’m happy to have had him point them out and review the changes so cogently.
For all that, Siracusa seems to have caught the same virus as the entirety of the blogosphere and the rest of the frauds and pretenders who work for mainstream media and have to pass for journalists who now perpetually bemoan the departure, in their eyes, of excitement, or, as it’s usually called, the “wow” factor in Apple product releases. Often this is expressed as a metaphor or, in larger terms, a manifestation of the lack of invigorating, inspiring developments in society from which people might derive not only some solace, but motivation and the renewed exercise of vigor in their daily activities. These people clearly have no notion of what true innovation is, and that virtually every vendor of every product ever introduced sincerely believes among other things, that what they have wrought is not merely functional one way or another, but is an innovation. Of course, what everyone, but the vendors, forgets is that no one, but no one, is in the innovation business. They are in the development and sales for profit business. And it’s only hindsight that allows us to see what was an innovation and what was not. And it is not innovation, of course, that Apple has ever touted, because they have not, except with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, ever really introduced to market a true paradigm shift in how something fundamental to behavior or activity among a significant sample of the functioning population within a market is done.
What people are missing in their lives, apparently is excitement, or more specifically an absence of dreariness and an inescapable feeling of a lack of control over anything in their lives outside what they can comfortably put under the roof of their usual lodgings. Apple, or anybody, is not responsible for that state of affairs. I am long since sick and tired of seeing Apple (and President Obama, both of whom probably head what is a growing list) blamed for what people individually should first look to themselves to be accountable for. We have become a nation of whinging, thrill-seeking, know-nothings in a state of denial, and we want something material put in our hands that somehow will produce a simulacrum of orgasm and deep feelings of self-reliance and pleasure combined.
Here’s the “Ars Technica” John Siracusa review of Macintosh OS X Mavericks: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2013/10/os-x-10-9/