I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Climbing back up

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve had trouble seeing my home network’s shares, printing to the network printer, or screen-sharing with my home server, or since one of our computers or Apple TVs gained an erroneous “(2)” after its name.

It’s been almost two weeks since my Apple TV refused to see my iMac’s iTunes share, or since I had to restart iTunes and reboot the Apple TV or disable and re-enable Home Sharing to get them to (maybe) see each other.

In fact, it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve seen nearly any of the annoying, recurring problems that made me write, back in January, that Apple’s software quality had lost the functional high ground.

Not coincidentally, it’s been almost two weeks since Mac OS X 10.10.4 was released, which replaced the problematic discoveryd with the older, more reliable mDNSResponder. These system processes are responsible for tracking the network’s computers, names, and shared services, and discoveryd’s unreliability in these tasks caused erratic network problems like mine for a huge portion of Apple’s customers.

The entire decline of software quality that I felt in January wasn’t all due to a single buggy network-lookup service — but, unbeknownst to me at the time, a lot of it was. And that huge swath of problems that annoyed me every day disappeared instantly and completely as soon as I updated every computer on the network to

It’s still scary that such a critical component could ship in such a buggy state, breaking common tasks and tarnishing Apple’s reputation, without being fixed or reverted for almost a year.

But fixing this is major progress. And seeing the direction and priorities of iOS 9 and El Capitan, I have high hopes that we’re moving in the right direction again.

  1. discoveryd persists on the iOS devices in the house that aren’t running the iOS 9 beta, and the Apple TVs, but upgrading the Macs has fixed every noticeable network-related issue in my daily use. ↩︎

Don’t order the fish

That place is great. Nice staff, casual atmosphere, good food.

You didn’t like it? Really? Why? It’s great.

Oh, you got the fish? Rookie mistake. Don’t order the fish, it’s terrible. But everything else there is good!

*     *     *

Jim Dalrymple’s loss of his music library was painful to read because, as much as I use, rely on, and mostly like Apple’s products, we all know that there are some toxic hellstews that are best avoided.

We’ve all heard (or said) the blanket statement that Apple isn’t good at cloud services, but that’s not universally true.

I’ve been using Apple’s services to sync contacts and calendars since they were called .Mac, with very few issues and zero data loss over the years.

As both a user and developer, I’ve never had a single issue with push notifications, probably Apple’s largest-scale and largest-volume web service. It’s rock-solid, fast, and reliable.

Even the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library have been rock-solid not only for me, but for everyone I’ve talked to. The sole complaint I’ve heard is slow performance with very large libraries. I’ve had no issues with sync performance, data loss or duplication, or any confusion about what’s where.

But the iTunes Store back-end is a toxic hellstew of unreliability. Everything that touches the iTunes Store has a spotty record for me and almost every Mac owner I know.

And the iTunes app itself is the toxic hellstew. iTunes has an impossible combination of tasks on its plate that cannot be done well. iTunes is the definition of cruft and technical debt. It was an early version of iTunes that demonstrated the first software bugs to Grace Hopper in 1946.

Probably not coincidentally, some of iTunes’ least reliable features are reliant on the iTunes Store back-end, including Genius from forever ago, iTunes Match more recently, and now, Apple Music.

iTunes’ UI design is horrible for similar reasons: not because it has bad designers, but because they’ve been given an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app while also making it look “clean”.

iTunes is designed by the Junk Drawer Method: when enough cruft has built up that somebody tells the team to redesign it, while also adding and heavily promoting these great new features in the UI that are really important to the company’s other interests and are absolutely non-negotiable, the only thing they can really do is hide all of the old complexity in new places.

With the introduction of Apple Music, Apple confusingly introduced a confusing service backed by the iTunes Store that’s confusingly integrated into iTunes and the iOS Music app (don’t even get me started on that) and partially, maybe, mostly replaces the also very confusing and historically unreliable iTunes Match.

So iTunes is a toxic hellstew of technical cruft and a toxic hellstew of UI design, in the middle of a transition between two partly redundant cloud services, both of which are confusing and vague to most people about which songs of theirs are in the cloud, which are safe to delete, and which ones they actually have.

Even Jim’s follow-up piece, after meeting privately with Apple in PR-damage-control mode, is confusing at best about what actually might have happened, which is completely understandable because it sounds like even Apple isn’t sure.

I have plenty of plausible theories on why iTunes didn’t get the iCloud Photos treatment — why Apple Music was bolted onto this ancient, crufty, legacy app instead of discontinuing iTunes, dropping its obsolete functions, and starting fresh with a new app and a CloudKit-based service. (Engineering resources, time to market, iPods, Windows, and people with slow internet connections.)

But that doesn’t make iTunes better or less confusing, and Jim’s still missing those Ozzy tracks.

The safest, most sensible course of action for users is to just keep their music libraries away from iTunes Match and Apple Music. We’ll all just know not to order that fish, and many of us won’t use Apple Music at all because its integration into our local libraries feels too unsafe.

And that’s too bad for everyone, because Apple Music is pretty great when everything works and you can figure out where everything is.