A View on Apple

These are the gripes of a very long time Apple power user.

A list of gripes is not a good thing…   Yet even the best things can be spoiled when irritating negative aspects start to accumulate.

The red thread through this set of criticisms is about productivity.   So far with Apple systems I used to be very productive in the particular kinds of things I do with computers.   But no longer, and I regret that.

I used them all

In the early 1980s I looked around for a home computer.  There were kits, self-contained ones and things for which you needed a television for screen.  I tried several, the machine that stayed the longest lasted three months before I threw it out:  all of them needed to be programmed, and since programming was my day job, I wanted to avoid doing more of it at home.  I wanted a machine that was usable, with which I could be productive.

So I waited, having made up my foremost criterion.  Graphic user interfaces were available but far too expensive.  Then in 1984 Apple brought the Macintosh.  It was horrendously expensive compared to today's machines, and it did not have BASIC as a programming language.  But it fulfilled my prime criterion:  it was usable and I could be productive.  It had a wysiwyg word processor, a drawing program and even a spreadsheet.

Most surprising of all, it had a visible file system:  the Finder.

I have had Macs ever since.  The 128k first Mac was upgraded to a massive 500k memory, then to a Mac Plus.  I soldered a cable on the SCSI port of the motherboard to connect a LaCie hard drive which I put inside the blocky enclosure.  Later I had laptops of all sorts.  I ran Mathematica on a PowerBook 170 with 40MB internal hard disc.  I stayed with Apple even during their worst times.

During the early days of the web I was briefly a developer on NeXT.  Apple later asked my opinion on the migration from System 9 to OS X.

OS X went from strength to strength, I became more productive and the machines more powerful.


Snow Leopard was a very stable system.  But then came Lion.

So many rumours were going around that for the very first time I decided not to upgrade.  Instead I bought a new machine with the sole purpose of trying out Lion before migrating.  This was in September 2011, over two years ago.

Lion was a disaster for me:  I had invested in software that ran on the PPC architecture, and happily performed well on the emulator of the Intel machines, but Lion dropped the emulator.  I now needed to find alternative applications.

Unfortunately, that search failed.  There was no good alternative for Eudora, the highly productive mail client I had used since 1993.  Apple's Mail is a ridiculously simplistic mail client.  Adobe had killed Golive, keeping the defective Dreamweaver instead; maintaining web sites became a nightmare.

Lion went and Mountain Lion came, but still there was no set of applications allowing me to be as productive as on Snow Leopard.

The trend towards skin

Most of the "improvements" of Lion were in the domain of skin:  making things look good, animating more and more transitions, and making everything look more like the "apps" on touch-screen devices.  Also more and more hiding of some producion facilities:  the Libary folder went invisible, the web server lost its on-off switch.

This trend may bring more market share and more clients, but those clients are consumers of information, they are not authors or power users.  They never file their e-mail, do not know how to use a file system, they do not even use multiple windows and get nervous when they see more than one application at a time.

This may be good for Apple's shareholders, but it makes life for serious users difficult.  Nevertheless, aware that I could not forever hang on to Snow Leopard, I switched to Mountain Lion on 16 October 2013, after a very painful two years of trying to find a reasonable migration path.


On 22 October 2013 Apple released Mavericks.  This is the greatest step backwards since Lion.  I can no longer sync my mobile devices except through a server.  There are lots more animations, more attention to "skin" and a lot of productive features that have been taken away.

iWork'13, which I had been looking forward to, has fewer features than iWork'09, its components are less scriptable (if at all).

Having spent an inordinate amount of effort to make Lion just about palatable, I'm now confronted with a wall:  either I twist my behaviour into what Apple thinks all people should do, or I give up and choose something else.  Ubuntu Linux perhaps.  Or Windows 8.

A List (for Sierra!)

General stuff

At this time (2017-06-02 10:56) there is a list at the end of this chapter that applies to macOS Sierra and to iOS; the points are not elaborated yet and some overlap with the general points below.

My main gripe is that after Snow Leopard far too many skin features just began to stand in the way of productivity.

I do not want any animations anywhere.  I don't want the window content to bounce when I reach the end of it.  Certainly not horizontally.

When setting up my new Mountain Lion laptop I spent a long time switching options OFF.  This has become a major problem, sometimes it is very hard to find where to switch options off.

I want NO interface animations.  Just switch windows, spaces, whatever, instantaneously, as fast as the processor permits.  Don't distract me and waste my time with animations.  There should be a general, single option to suppress all animations.

I write in English, French and Dutch,  I use special terms and acronyms.  I know how to spell.  The red squiggly lines indicating what an application thinks is wrong are simply annoying.  There is a way to switch spelling checking off system wide, but you have to change the name of a resource inside a system service.  The only manageable alternative would be a spelling checker that looks up words in several dictionaries before telling me I'm wrong.

When sorting items, I want to see comparable dates.  It's not productive to have to compare "Yesterday" with "2013-11-02".  I NEVER want relative dates, anywhere.  But there is no way I could find to switch that off.

The dock is fine for many people.  I use Dragthing, which gives me a much more efficient dock.  But I have no way to kill the dock completely.  It will always sit in some corner.

At the moment I write this I have 15 applications running.  I copy and paste between them, I have a multitude of windows open on two large screens.  What bothers me enormously is when accidentally I type ⌘-M instead of ⌘-N and the front window then minimises into the (hidden) dock.  I want an option to switch minimisation completely off.  Unsanity had a brilliant utility called "WindowShade" which allowed a double-click on the title bar to make the rest of the window disappear.  It was then easy to look at what was behind.  I realise that this is a particular way of working which does not suit everyone.  It was very productive for me.

Windows (the Microsoft system) has for a long time had the ability to resize a window from all corners and sides.  Lion finally brought that to OS X.  I do appreciate that, it does save time and effort.

Icons and windows are now in most cases either too small or too big when they open up.  The AppleScript dictionaries should open long and relatively thin, and the text should be larger by default.  On the other hand Mail's interface elements are too large by default.  It feels like playing with toys that are not all the same scale, if the scale difference is small it's not too bad, but if the human figures are as large as the houses then something is odd.

When I travel I want to know an estimate of how much battery time I have left.  I know very well that this time depends on what I do.  But the percentage of power left does not help me.  It is a better overall indicator, but I want the time left in the menu bar.  And not having to click on the battery icon.  It was fine in Snow Leopard, why was it taken away?  If it caused "too much clutter" then give me an option, and I will use that, but do not take the facility away.


The Finder window's column view is very useful as it shows the path to an object and lets you easily change to another folder while still keeping the beginning of the path in view.  I have to change the column widths all the time because they are often too narrow.  I know there is an option "right size all columns", but I would want that to happen each time I click.  Or better still:  like the position of an icon in icon view is a property of the icon, I would like the column width of a folder to be one of its properties.  If I set it to very wide or very narrow by dragging the vertical separator, I want that width to be remembered by the folder.  However, though many people have asked for this feature, it has never been implemented.  In Mavericks we get tabs in Finder windows, and more animations which I don't need, but I want that column width.  That would be a feature improving productivity.

In list view I want to see ISO format dates and times for the created, modified etc. columns.  This is only possible if either I set all dates to the same format (short, medium, long and full) or if I carefully make the column width just the right size to display the right format.  So I wrote an AppleScript to set the column widths.  It broke in the migration from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion.  After updating it I found that it does not work when saved as an application, so I had to make a LiveCode application instead.  But worse than that:  the Finder's AppleScript dictionary does not have terminology for addressing the last modified date.

Labels are terribly ugly:  Unsanity had a utility that put the label colour over the icon instead of spreading it out over the whole file name.  In column view it is almost impossible to distinguish between the selected item (grey, rectangular) and an item that is labeled grey (grey, rounded, slightly darker).  Counter-productive.


Mail gets my prize for the least productive e-mail program ever.  Since 1993 I have been using Eudora.  Development of Eudora stopped in 2006.  The last version was for the PPC architecture, so with Lion I had to abandon it.

Mail does not handle windows on mailboxes at all.  It does not allow dragging selections of messages from one window to another (except to mailboxes shown in the sidebar).  Mail's windows take up far too much room.

Selection of messages is a pain:  you can use shift-click for a contiguous selection and ⌘-clikc for a discontiguous one, but you cannot click and drag to extend the selection as is possible in Eudora.

It takes two clicks at least to flag a message  (but only one click-drag-release in the Finder to set a label). In Eudora a flagged message got the flag's colour over its entire line, so was much easier to spot.

Many people forget to set the subject line, or worse, in a conversation keep the same subject line but actually change the subject.  In Eudora I could overwrite the subject line with another one (keeping the old one).  My subject line would then be used for sorting and finding.  This was an extremely useful and productive feature.

Finding anything in Mail is a pure pain:  it relies on Spotlight.  Eudora's find panel allowed many criteria, restricted to selected mailboxes, and presented its results as another mailbox from which messages could be dragged to other locations.

I have not found a way to answer multiple messages in a single reply.  It often happens that I get more than one message from a single sender about the same subject.  In Eudora I could select those messages, then hit reply and a single reply message would be made, containing the bodies of all selected messages concatenated.

It is no longer possible to send html; a message must be either plain or rich text.

When I created a new mailbox with the name "Mark/Space" I got a mailbox "Space" inside a new folder "Mark".   I deleted "Space", then tried to rename "Mark" to "Mark/Space", but that gave an error.   However, I can use a "/" in a file or folder name in the Finder.

There are alternatives such as Thunderbird.  But they are not scriptable.  I have decided that I will go for long-term independence of formats, hence I will convert all mail to html+attachments, one folder per message.  That needs scripting.


AppleScript changes all the time.  It is also one of the worst languages as referencing goes and it is esoteric to say the least when it comes to type conversions.

The most annoying aspect is that the dictionaries of Apple's own applications change with each version, one never knows what will break.  In iWork'13 some dictionaries have disappeared.  In many other applications scripting is limited in an incomprehensible way:  why one can set one property and not another of the same object class is often a mystery.

The explanations in the dictionaries are very terse, tautologous and unhelpful.  What information is added by descriptions like
name (text) : the name of the item
disk n [inh. container>item] : A disk

Error messages are often cryptic as they refer to internal terms.  The sheer number of forums devoted to very basic questions testifies to the bewilderment of AppleScript programmers.





Mojave is a desert.

FileMaker14 stopped working, but all my much older self-developed applications continue to run.  FileMaker is an Apple subsidiairy. The new version cost us 800€, for private use.  Is there some marketing connection between the yearly changes in macOS and the forcing of new versions of some software?

I'm working with two screens attached to a laptop that sits behind them with the lid closed.  When I travel I take the laptop and I know I have everything with me.  But depending on what I do, the machine can get somewhat hot, sometimes the fans switch to higher speeds.  I have a little app that tells me the fan speeds and the CPU/GPU temperatures, which is useful.  Mojave now forbids access to those readings.  Why are we not allowed to see what's going on with our own machines?  Maybe in the next version the screens will be black only, so you can see nothing whatever.

Time Machine

Before (Mountain) Lion, Time Machine showed the entire disc(1).  Now it only shows the backups of the item selected in the Finder.  This is probably useful to the large majority of users who lose files frequently, but it is rather uncomfortable to those who need a file from long ago.  I rarely need to get an old file back, and then it is usually one that sat in a folder that has been deleted too.  I probably do not remember exactly where that folder was, the containing folder has probably been renamed or moved too. So I will most likely need to explore an old state of my disc, not a recent state of a folder.  I also use the Finder a lot:  most of the time there are several useful Finder windows open, on specific project folders.  With the new version of Time Machine I now have to:  (1) create a new Finder window (so as not to disturb the existing ones), (2) select the main volume, and then only enter Time Machine.  Another bit of stress and annoyance, with no way to switch this new behaviour off.  Perhaps an Applescript? Yet more programming.

(1) of course it's now mostly solid state flash memory instead of rotating disc, but I'll use the more familiar word disc here.


I tried to use an iPhone but it just took too much of my time to flip through all the nicely animated controls when entering any data whatever.  I had to give up on my highly productive Palm Treo 650, and bought a Samsung Galaxy.  To sync data I had to buy Missing Sync from Mark/Space.  Mavericks takes away the sync layer, so Mark/Space's software no longer works.  I refuse to use the "Cloud", since that means (a) going back to the iPhone and (b) having my data outside the jurisdiction where I live.  There is a partial solution:  set up my own calDAV and cardDAV server.  It does not solve the problem of syncing when I am not at home and also not of syncing other data than the calendar and the contacts.


For Apple's new hardware there are also complaints:

Thunderbolt Display

My brand new Thunderbolt display has no controls whatever!  I have a 2560x1600 Cinema display with non-reflective coating.  That is my productivity display.  It is large and comfortable, and I know very well that handling photography on it is less than optimal, but I hate the reflections of the other screen types when I am dealing with normal stuff.  The Thunderbolt is my secondary display.  The Cinema display cannot connect to the Thunderbolt display, it has to go directly into the MacBook Pro retina laptop.  That is not too much of a worry, I'm not unplugging the laptop daily and it is only one extra plug.  But there is no way to adjust the brightness of the Thunderbolt display except by opening System Preferences and moving a slider.  I cannot even program the keyboard to use two other keys for that function!

My last resort was to use Keyboard Maestro, and attach Applescripts to hotkeys.  This is one of them:

tell application "System Preferences"

set current pane to pane id "com.apple.preference.displays"

end tell

tell application "System Events"

tell process "System Preferences"

if (name of window 1) contains "Thunderbolt" then

set value of slider "Brightness:" of group 1 of tab group 1 of window 1 to ¬

(value of slider "Brightness:" of group 1 of tab group 1 of window 1)+0.05


set value of slider "Brightness:" of group 1 of tab group 1 of window 2 to ¬

(value of slider "Brightness:" of group 1 of tab group 1 of window 2)+0.05

end if

end tell

end tell

That increases the brightness of the Thunderbolt display by a small amount.  I then constructed four Keyboard Maestro macros:  two for each of the Cinema and the Thunderbold displays (one to decrease and one to increase the corresponding brightness).  I attached them to the hot keys F14 and F15 (for the Cinema up and down) and shift-F14 and shift-F15 (for the Thunderbolt up and down).  Good for me and Keyboard Maestro, not good for Apple's image with professional users.


For many of the problems I have found reasonable solutions.  At the price of a lot of typing in the command line of the Terminal application.

If I have to do a lot of typing to Unix directly, I might just as well switch off the OS X interface and go for Unix.  Ubuntu Linux might become an alternative.

There are third-party applications that do help.  It is not a good sign though that my migration from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion was the one in which I was forced to install far more utilities and tweaks than at any other time.

On the whole I am definitely not as productive as I was with Snow Leopard.