OS X Reviewed

Nearly 15 years ago, I wrote my first review of Mac OS X for a nascent “PC enthusiast’s" website called Ars Technica. Last fall, I wrote my last. Though Apple will presumably announce the next major version of OS X at WWDC this coming June, I won’t be reviewing it for Ars Technica or any other publication, including the website you’re reading now.

Those who listen to the ATP, the weekly podcast I host with Marco Arment and Casey Liss, know that I’ve been contemplating hanging up my OS X reviewer’s hat for some time now. Producing thousands of words (and hundreds of screenshots) about each major release of OS X was my first real claim to fame on the Internet. The prospect of stopping has made me reconsider my public identity and sense of self. Who am I if I’m not “that guy who writes those OS X reviews”? But when I finally decided, the relief I felt let me know I’d made the right choice.

There is no single, dramatic reason behind this. It’s an accumulation of small things—the time investment, the (admittedly, self-imposed) mental anguish, the pressure to meet my own expectations and those of my readers year after year—but it all boils down to a simple, pervasive feeling that this is the time to stop. I’ve done this. It is done.

When I started, I was at the forefront of long-form nerd-centric tech writing. Today, the world has moved on. I might have stopped with my OS X 10.9 review in 2013 if not for my love of round numbers and my expectation that OS X 10.10 would bring a complete interface overhaul that I really wanted to write about.

While OS X reviews were my public debut, the Hypercritical podcast brought me to a new audience starting in 2011. Hypercritical ran for 100 episodes, and in the years that followed I’ve recorded at least one podcast every week. (I’m currently a co-host of the weekly Accidental Tech Podcast and a regular guest on The Incomparable.) The one, long article I wrote about OS X for Ars Technica every year or two has long since been dwarfed by the volume of my audio output.

I still love OS X—and I still have many complaints about it. I will certainly talk about OS X 10.11 (whatever it’s called) at length on ATP, and I’ll read the many great reviews written by others when it’s released. But neither podcasting nor writing have ever been full-time jobs for me. I’ve always had to fit them into my life alongside my actual job and my family. Right now, I’m looking forward to my first summer in many years that won’t be dominated by stolen daytime minutes and long, sleepless nights in front of a screen with a noisy air conditioner blowing behind me. I’m content to have reviewed 10.0 through 10.10. Someone else can pick up the baton for the next 15 years.




About My Yosemite Review

I reviewed OS X 10.10 Yosemite for Ars Technica. This is the eleventh major release of OS X, and I've reviewed them all. There are several ways to read my review.

Here are my thoughts on the various reading options. This is mostly a repeat of last year’s post about Mavericks, with some text carried over verbatim, but there is some new information.

The Web Version

The web version of my review is the canonical version. It has the best formatting, the biggest images, and includes mouse-over image toggle effects that can't be done in an ebook. It's also the most up-to-date. I believe that good writing for the web includes many links. A web browser is the best place to inspect and follow those links.

All the images in my review are Retina resolution. To see all the detail in the images, read the review on a screen with at least 1,920 “native” pixels of horizontal resolution. Most images are 1,280 pixels wide (presented to the browser with a width value of 640), but the “full-width” images are 1,920 pixels wide (presented to the browser with a width value of 960).

The free web version has ads, and it’s split up into multiple “pages” (which are usually much longer than a single printed page). This kind of pagination annoys some people. I actually like it for very long articles because it helps me keep my place across multiple reading sessions. I can remember I was on page 8 instead of remembering the exact point in a very long, scrolling web page.

That said, I also really like how an Ars Premier subscription eliminates all ads from the Ars Technica website and gives me the option to view any article on a single page. I use single-page view on very long articles when I’m searching for some text using my web browser’s “Find…” feature. I use it all the time on short articles.

Some people think Ars Technica forces me to break my article up into many tiny pages. That’s not the case. I choose how to paginate the article. I like to break it up on logical section boundaries, which means that the “pages” vary widely in length. I do try to keep any single “page” from being too short, however.

The eBooks

My review is available on Apple’s iBookstore as well as Amazon.com.

The Kindle and iBooks readers for OS X and iOS have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I think the iBooks version of my review has a slight edge over the Kindle version. Amazon adds a “delivery” charge of $0.15 per megabyte (varying a bit for different countries). This can really eat into the price of a $4.99 book. Like the web version, both ebook versions include Retina-resolution images, making them quite large. To control the size of the Kindle ebook, I used JPEG images throughout.

Unlike Amazon, Apple does not charge a per-megabyte fee in its ebook store. Since both ebooks are the same price, this means I make slightly more money from each iBookstore purchase than I do from each Kindle purchase. But there’s something in it for you, too. The iBookstore version of my review uses lossless PNG images throughout. (Kindle version: 5 MB; iBookstore version: 25 MB.) In practice, I doubt most people will be able to tell the difference between the JPEG and PNG images, but I know which one I’d choose.

I've tried to make both ebooks available for purchase in as many countries as possible, but there are some limits on this that are beyond my control. If the ebook is not available in your country, remember that you can get both versions of the ebook by subscribing to Ars Premier.

The Stats

My sincere thanks to everyone who reads the review, in any form, in whole or in part. You’re the reason I’ve been doing this for the past fifteen years.

Creativity, Inc.

Most of the nonfiction books I read these days fall into two broad categories: books about people I admire and books about the creation of things I admire. Good books about the latter often turn into the former by the end.

The book I just finished, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, had a head start on both counts. My love of Pixar is not surprising or uncommon. As for Ed Catmull, I’ve been aware of him and his contemporaries for decades (I had an Alvy Ray Smith quote in my .sig for a while in the 90s), but my nerd crush really stepped into high gear when I saw a video of Catmull’s talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2007.

It’s difficult for me to describe my reaction to that talk—and to his new book—without sounding absurdly self-aggrandizing, but I’m going to give it a shot. Saying what other people are thinking is a proven formula for mass-market appeal employed by everyone from talk radio hosts to stand-up comedians. But as someone whose thoughts and interests have always been outside the norm, I’ve rarely heard excerpts from my own inner dialog voiced on a broader stage.

Ed Catmull does that for me. If you’ve listened to my Hypercritical podcast or read the article that inspired it, you will find many familiar topics and themes in Creativity, Inc. Now, believe me, I harbor no illusions about this overlap. I am not the guy who hears Louis C.K. tell a joke and thinks he could be just as funny because he had a similar thought once. But shared values and the fulfillment of common aspirations are at the heart of all hero worship.

Ed Catmull’s dream was to create the first fully computer-animated feature film. As a child, I also dreamed of such a thing; Catmull and the rest of the people at Pixar actually made it happen. Similarly, as an adult, I’ve clung to the notion that critical thinking can be both useful and powerful. Creativity, Inc. explains just how powerful it can be when practiced by a handful of the most brilliant technical and creative people alive today.

Ay, there’s the rub. It’s so easy to hear the vaguest echo of your own thoughts expressed by someone fantastically smart and accomplished and view that as a cosmic endorsement of your approach to life. But that absolutely would not be in keeping with the message of the book—a message Catmull tries again and again to communicate to readers he knows will resist it.

Indeed, Catmull most often uses himself as an example of someone who has failed to see through to the heart of a problem. This is the true strength of the book. Unlike so many other tech-industry memoirs and business books, Creativity, Inc. is not an abstract exploration of a philosophy, nor is it a list of accomplishments interspersed with bold commandments. Instead, it is a deep, thoughtful investigation of a never-ending series of failures—and the reactions to those failures that eventually led to success.

Think of it: the man who invented texture mapping, made computer-animated films possible, and led his studio to release a string of amazing, Oscar-winning examples of the form decides to write a book…and then builds it around an examination of his own mistakes. Ed Catmull may not be your kind of hero, but he sure is mine.


The Macintosh team

Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced Macintosh. It was the single most important product announcement of my life. When that upright beige box arrived in my home, it instilled in me an incredible sense of urgency. I greedily consumed every scrap of information about this amazing new machine, from books, magazines, audio cassettes, and any adult whose ear I could bend. This was the future—my future, if I could help it.

The death of Steve Jobs in 2011 brought back a lot of these same memories. What I wrote then echoes my thoughts on the Mac’s 30th anniversary.

I was 9 years old at the time. That year, my grandfather had changed my life by purchasing a Macintosh 128K, and convincing my parents to do the same. My grandfather also had a subscription to Macworld magazine, including multiple copies of issue #1, two of which I took home with me. I cut the Macintosh team picture out of one [see above] and left the other intact. (I still have both.)

I pored over that magazine for years, long after the technical and product information it contained was useless. It was the Macintosh team that fascinated me. That’s why I’d chosen to cut out this particular picture, not a photo of the hardware or software. After seeing the Macintosh and then reading this issue of Macworld, I had an important realization in my young life: people made this.

That last part is the most important. It wasn’t just the product that galvanized me; it was the act of its creation. The Macintosh team, idealized and partially fictionalized as it surely was in my adolescent mind, nevertheless served as my north star, my proof that knowledge and passion could produce great things.

Memories are short in the tech industry. For most people, Apple and Steve Jobs will always be synonymous with the iPhone, an uncontested inflection point in our computing culture. For me, the introduction of the Macintosh will always be more important. Though people who didn’t live through it might not feel it as keenly as I do, the distance between pre-2007 smartphones and the iPhone is much smaller than the distance between MS-DOS and the Mac.

On a personal level, nothing will ever replace my tanned-plastic beauty, the greatest electronic gift I had ever received, or would ever receive. My attachment to the Mac explains why, in the late 1990s, I was desperate to know everything possible about the fate of Apple and the future of the Mac operating system. Almost fifteen years later—half the Mac’s life—I’ve reviewed every major release of OS X and zero releases of iOS. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad and iPod touch, but you never forget your first.

I’m eternally grateful to the people who created the Mac, and to the countless others who kept it alive and shepherded its rebirth. In this age of iOS, it’s heartening to hear Phil Schiller say, “Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever.” That’s just fine with me.

The Road to Geekdom


Ask a room of computer geeks how they came to deserve this appellation and you’ll likely hear many similar stories. “I got my first computer when I was very young. By the time I was a teenager, I’d logged thousands of hours at the keyboard doing everything imaginable with my computer: gaming, programming, networking, upgrades, the works.”

That’s certainly my story. I was lucky enough to get a Macintosh in 1984, and it changed my life. I spent so many hours in front of that computer, I often look back in wonder at how I found so much to do with so little. This was years before I had an Internet connection. I had very little software and no convenient way to get more. My dollar-a-week allowance didn’t go very far. The only other person I knew with a Mac was my grandfather who lived two hours away. Nevertheless, I put in the hours—willingly, joyfully—and became the seasoned Mac geek you see before you today.

My Macintosh origin story is part of who I am. Being there from the beginning (and staying with the Mac, even through the dark times) gives me a useful historical perspective on the platform. But this is not the only road to geekdom.

The Mac is actually one of the few things I’m a geek about that I’ve been in on since the start. Geekdom is not defined by historical entry points or even shared experiences. A geek must possess just two things: knowledge and enthusiasm.

A Man Makes a Car

I became interested in remote control cars in high school after seeing a friend drive one in his backyard. He’d been building and racing RC cars since he was in elementary school. I was fascinated by these machines, but I worried I’d never be a “real” RC car geek like my friend.

I saved my money, bought a car, built it (badly) myself—and then crashed it. Undaunted, I bought replacement parts, fixed it, learned to drive it with far less crashing, and eventually bought a better car. Most importantly, I subscribed to Radio Control Car Action magazine and read every issue from cover to cover as soon as they arrived at my house.

A year or so later, I found myself in my local hobby shop answering another customer’s questions about his car. It started to dawn on me that I now knew more about RC cars than the average hobby shop patron. I was no longer an outsider looking in.

Around the same time, I was engaged in one of those cheap-music-for-membership marketing schemes that led to me having to select some CDs on a whim. I ended up getting Achtung Baby, and it knocked my socks off. I’d been aware of U2 for years and had probably heard the hits from The Joshua Tree on the radio dozens of times, but I’d never really been into the band—or any band, for that matter. Achtung changed that.

I started to work my way backwards through U2’s catalog, buying as many CD long boxes as I could get my hands on. I bought and read biographies of the band. At my local library, I devoured reviews of all their past albums in Rolling Stone and Spin. I found every magazine with a cover story about U2. When I couldn’t find anything else in the stacks of back issues, I turned to the library’s microfiche collection.

In college, I finally had easy access to singles, b-sides, and bootlegs, allowing me to complete my collection. I also had a fast, reliable Internet connection for the first time. This was beyond the local hobby shop; I was communicating with other U2 fans across the entire planet.

I learned to play the guitar (badly) and downloaded tab for my favorite U2 songs. Dissatisfied with the state of lyrics websites (some things haven’t changed), I transcribed every U2 album, single, b-side, and rarity, leading to the creation of my first public website, The U2 Lyrics Archive. This was my first claim to fame on the net. (The site is gone now, but when the official u2.com website launched a few years after mine, it contained lyrics copied from my site, typos and all.)

A Sort of Homecoming

Remote control cars existed for decades before I got my first kit. Achtung Baby was U2’s seventh album. Yet I was once a serious RC car geek and an unassailable U2 geek. It started with enthusiasm. Given the opportunity, I channeled that energy into a dogged pursuit of knowledge.

You don’t have to be a geek about everything in your life—or anything, for that matter. But if geekdom is your goal, don’t let anyone tell you it’s unattainable. You don’t have to be there “from the beginning” (whatever that means). You don’t have to start when you’re a kid. You don’t need to be a member of a particular social class, race, sex, or gender.

Geekdom is not a club; it’s a destination, open to anyone who wants to put in the time and effort to travel there. And if someone lacks the opportunity to get there, we geeks should help in any way we can. Take a new friend to a meetup or convention. Donate your old games, movies, comics, and toys. Be welcoming. Sharing your enthusiasm is part of being a geek.

Anyone trying to purposely erect border fences or demanding to see ID upon entry to the land of Geekdom is missing the point. They have no power over you. Ignore them and dive headfirst into the things that interest you. Soak up every experience. Lose yourself in the pursuit of knowledge. When you finally come up for air, you’ll find that the long road to geekdom no longer stretches out before you. No one can deny you entry. You’re already home.