Whatever Happened to It Just Works?

Warning– middle aged man ranting about first world problem alert. I am just venting about my recent problems with my Mac. Feel free to ignore.

After the last couple of operating system releases, the wifi on my Mac has always been hosed. It’s been glitchy, with dropped connections, greyed out icons for Dropbox and OneDrive and browsers telling me that they cannot connect. It was bad after the El Capitan upgrade but this last week it has been plain awful. My Mac won’t connect to the Internet at all in the co-working space I frequent, and it struggles at home. To add insult to injury, the same Mac has no trouble at all connecting in Windows 10 on Boot Camp. It’s clearly a software problem and quite a big one if you do a quick Google search for it on the Internet.

I was ranting about this to a friend whose job it is to install networks for businesses and he said he’s noticed a big uptick in problems with Macs over the past two years.

This is frustrating. I mean come on! WiFi is not exactly a bleeding edge technology. It’s one of the core functions of a modern laptop. It’s simply astonishing that a tech company like Apple is struggling with wifi drivers.

How has it come to this? It used to be that OSX was infinitely more reliable than Windows. There were periods in the first decade of this century when my iBooks and MacBooks used to run for months without a restart and years without a single problem.

Those days are long gone. Over the past few years I have had more and more programs crashing and asking me to send in error reports, keyboards locking up and the machine just freezing– not even a blue screen of death. It just stops working. These past few years I have had far less trouble with my Windows machines.

With some of this stuff I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Apple is not responsible for the work of all the people developing software for their machines. But it is a disturbing trend.

Part of me is tempted to go for the easy explanation. Everything started to go wrong when the late, great Steve Jobs died. Without his obsessive detail-oriented presence Apple has simply gone down hill. This would never have happened if Steve Jobs were alive, I often find myself thinking. The more logical part of me doesn’t buy it. After all the same systems were in place after he passed on. The same processes of development were gone through.

I’m inclined to blame the yearly OS upgrade treadmill. This is a pure marketing exercise intended to give Tim Cook something to announce along with the new machines. The idea is to generate some excitement. Well, what would excite me, Apple, is Macs returning to something like the reliability they used to have. I don’t care about how my computer interacts with an iPhone. I don’t care about whizzbang new icons. I want something that just works because it’s something I just work on.

Rant ends.

(I am writing this in Windows 10 on a MacBook by the way.)

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17 Replies to “Whatever Happened to It Just Works?”

  1. I’m glad that I BY PURE CHANCE read some customer reviews about El Capitan instead of just hitting the update-button (as usual). There btw. is a new El Capitan update online and the reviews seem to be quite positive.
    I will nevertheless wait and observe before I “update” my running (Yosemite-)system.

  2. Recently an acquaintance lamented his new MacBook Air:

    “I got a Mac because I was tired of all the problems I have on the PC,” he said, “but on the Mac I have all the same problems as the PC, and I paid twice as much for them!”

    He’s not wrong.

    Anyway, I’ve spent a big part of the last two years administering large numbers of Macs, and I have many, many, many anecdotes to verify that the recent versions of OS X have indeed been as buggy as a raw steak left out on the patio in July. 🙂

    1. Hey Jonathan–for me Macs used to be a lot more reliable than PCs but somewhere around Windows 7 the gap really started to close. Over the past couple of upgrade cycles my experience with Windows has been better. If it were not for Scrivener and Vellum, I would probably be working on PCs only now. This past week has made me seriously think about going PC only for a couple of months to test this out. It’s pretty much being forced on me at the moment :).

  3. I’ve been lucky so far, everything has kept on working fine with each upgrade, but I certainly know the people reporting problems aren’t imagining the issues! I always wonder why some people have problems and others don’t when it comes to something as basic as the Wi-Fi connection after an update. I could understand if it was a specific piece of third party software that suddenly went wonky. But the Wi-Fi? That seems extra wrong to me.

    1. I think I know what one main culprit is, Brian. Most of the time the wifi is simply glitchy but in the two specific areas where it absolutely refuses to work there are wifi amplifiers/extenders/whatever the things are called. Some people’s Macs work just fine (including my wife’s!) while other people have the same problem as me. What is particularly galling is that Windows 10 on my Mac takes everything in its stride. Probably some specific combination of software and/or hardware is at work to cause the problems. My networking friend suggests it may be the drivers for the wifi chipsets– if I understood him correctly!

  4. Not a Mac user (I do have an old iPhone 3GS that still works great however!), but I’ve certainly had more than my fare share of WIFI issues with both Windows/Ubuntu OSes on PC, and various other machines such as game consoles etc. What are you connecting to may I ask? Is it a router or the WIFI mode on your phone when out and about? There can be a whole host of issues and conflicts with certain routers and settings. Give me a bell if you need some help!

    1. Thanks, Kal. I am happy to go with my present solution and use Windows when I need to connect to the net. If things go the way they did with Yosemite, I’m sure that the problems will be solved by one of the rolling updates that Apple does over the next 6 months. Just in time to hose my now functioning wifi with the next one no doubt :).

        1. Thanks, Kal. It was a generous offer and I’m grateful. Thing is that my whole setup is based on the fact that I know I am going to be using different operating systems and computers. I write in markdown. I don’t use anything except Vellum that isn’t available on all the operating systems. I work out of Dropbox (which is why the whole wifi thing is so annoying). When the problem hit I just dropped every file I was working on– I keep them together in yearly and monthly folders– onto a USB stick and transferred them to Boot Camp. Now I am working in Windows. It’s an experiment. I can access the Net from the Mac through ethernet if I need to. It seems kind of primitive but there have been times in the past– like in Japan of all places where a lot of hotels didn’t have wifi — when I’ve needed to do it. And I can get wifi on the Mac– just not at home or in my office!

  5. Maybe it’s a local thing to do with your service provider? I’m running two Macbook Pros, an iPad Air and Emma’s Macbook Air and I have no problems – well, nothing that didn’t get fixed with a quick reboot, and rarely at that.

    1. It’s possible, Gary. It is the same Internet provider in both places. My wife’s MacBook Air works just fine though although, as I wrote this, I realised she hasn’t updated her OS since she bought it a few years back. I think she’s still on Snow Leopard.

  6. I too have trobules with my MBA early 2015 model and WiFi. Sometimes a page will stop loading and pretend like it is for no particular reason…or a large 1.5GB update for the iPhone will stop some 70% of the way through with an error. These are recent happenings, my girlfriend’s Win 8 notebook is screaming. I theorized her computer was to be a greedy sort and stealing my radiation. The logical side of me says there’s no way her computer would possess greed, and therefore is programmed to steal the radiation instead. It never dawned on me to be a software issue, but thanks for the awareness. Now I’ve to publicly shout at my Mac as Apple loses business, one friend or concerned coffee-shop goer after another!

    1. Tyler– what is particularly discouraging is that in the co-working space I go to, me and one other person with a Mac has this problem. My wife’s MacBook Air works just fine at home. It’s the randomness of the thing that is driving me batty. I think I have isolated a couple of factors now. One, it happens when the computer wakes from sleep. Two, both places use router extenders. Now all I need is the smoking gun.

      1. Completely agree, this bleeding-edge technology (to use your words) is getting the best of us Mac users! A real disappointment is Pages in the scheme of things—a real face to palm moment to be frank. If those issues haven’t been resolved in over a year’s time, makes me a bit nervous on the present concerns with El Capitan and our beloved WiFi. Best of luck to our computers and their rebellion.

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