We need better

Recently, a number of reporters have put on their very best nostalgic glasses to look at the history of Apple software.

Walt Mossberg:

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

Jim Dalrymple:

It’s just not like Apple to release software that is so broken.

Although the headline is “apps,” both articles actually talk about a wide variety of Apple software including the core OS.

Look, I’m not here to argue that Apple’s software is perfect. I think it’s pretty good and it’s getting better, but that’s beside the point. What I find ridiculous is the assertion that “this used to be great.” Frankly, it’s setting the bar way too low.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look over some quotes about Apple’s software quality. See if you can guess for what Apple release it was written. Most of these are quotes from the time, but some are in retrospect.

Note: Although I’m presenting these as quotes, I’ve stripped the version number, keywords, old application names and technologies. Further, I’ve been bad and have not marked those edits in the text, so please check the original story for the real quote. This is all done to make the game more entertaining. I hope the original authors understand this comes from the very best place.

Our first quote is about a broken installer:

The release was pulled due to a mistake at Apple, in which some components were not included in the installer.

This was said about 1996’s System 7.5.4 (Source: Wikipedia’s System 7 article).

Next is about Wi-Fi problems introduced in an OS update:

The Mac OS X update installed fine but I lost networking including ability to talk to my Apple Airport Extreme.

This was said about 2003’s Jaguar 10.2.8 (Source: CNET’s “Troubleshooting (pulled) Mac OS X 10.2.8″)

Now let’s talk lack of polish:

But that’s not to say that this initial release is all sunshine and daisies. I ran across quite a few bugs and flaws in the software as I tested it, and while none are significant enough to recommend against upgrading, this strikes me as the least polished major iOS update in quite some time.

This was 2011’s release of iOS 5. (Source: iOS 5 Review: Ambitious update rings in the changes)

Next, we’ve got a quote about data corruption:

Just connecting a drive using this technology to a Mac running OS X can ruin the data on the drive. The problem does not occur with earlier versions of Mac OS X, however.

This was said about 2003’s Panther 10.3 (Source: Macintouch’s “Panther FireWire Bug“)

On inconsistent UI:

Such basic design flaws demonstrate a lack of unity among Apple’s development team and a lack of overall coordination and user design standards.

This was said about 2005’s Tiger 10.4 (Source: “Macintoch’s Tiger Review“)

On security problems:

Apple has significantly lowered the bar for malicious entities to install and execute damaging code in OS X.

This was said about 2005’s Tiger 10.4 (Source: blueprint for a widget of mass destruction)

On updates that don’t work:

Apple support drones are getting an earful from Mac users who are experiencing frozen Macs while trying to update to the latest and greatest version of OS X.

This was said about 2007’s Leopard 10.5 (Source: Dreaded Blue Screen of Death mars some Leopard installs)

On applications being broken:

Users are reporting a significant number of applications being affected by the issue, including Microsoft Office, older versions of Adobe Photoshop, and various other applications…

This was said about a 2012 security update to Snow Leopard (Source: Snow Leopard Security Update Kills PowerPC Apps Using Rosetta)

On sideways motion:

It has gotten mixed reviews from customers, so far (like other recent versions of Mac OS X, come to think of it). There are real technical and usability improvements, but these are obscured by interface changes and special effects.

This was said about the 2011 release of Lion (Source: Macintouch’s Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Review)

It’s absolutely true Apple’s shipped some stinkers like discoveryd, but that’s nothing new. If we want better, the most important thing is to start from reality. A narrative shared by the blogosphere is different from fact.

So let’s start from reality: We don’t need a return to the “golden era” (which may not even have been any better). We need better.

Note: I reserve the right to add new examples if I feel like it. I’m not a reporter, and this isn’t a news story.