Disclosure: rant ahead.
When I started using Macintoshes back in 1986, one of the phrases you heard a lot was, “I use Mac because Macs just work.” If you wanted to perform some task on a Mac, you could usually just try the first method that came to mind, and it would almost certainly work. If there were three equally probable ways one might think of to do something, chances are that you could use all three to get to exactly the same place.
Over the past decade or so. the Mac has been gradually losing that polish. Nothing has been more disappointing than Apple’s habit of pressuring users to adopt a “shiny new feature” that is great for young, tech-savvy hipsters in cities with world-class services, but outright bad for a different, significant segment of users—without informing them when they’d be better off not adopting it.
Most egregiously, when these features are introduced, they come up enabled by default on new machine or new releases. Yes, you can deliberately turn them off when creating your new account or installing your new release… but the choice switches come up “on” by default, and Apple never discloses why the new feature could be right or wrong for you.
Here are several of the most egregious instances of Apple’s violation of informed consent.
A clever feature, FileVault encrypts every bit of the user’s (or users’) personal data, such that it can’t be read or decrypted without that user’s password, even if the drive is removed from the computer. Aside from the minor decrease in operating speed caused by continuous, on-the-fly data decryption, there’s a much bigger downside — namely, a significant portion of the population (especially seniors) are terrible at password management.
“I forgot my password, can you reset it?” is one of the opening lines I hear all too often from my clients. The process used to be tricky but doable. However, if you have activated FileVault, and you can’t remember your password or your Apple ID password (yes, it’s more common than you may think), your data is toast. I can give you back a shiny clean machine with a factory OS, or maybe even the same machine with all your old apps and a brand new user on it, but… your old data is still toast.
I never recommend FileVault to anybody. Most people have only a small subset of information they need to keep confidential from physical thieves (tax returns, password lists, financial accounts) — these can all be kept in a small, extensible encrypted disk image, opened and mounted when you need it, then closed and secure when you’re done or when you log out.
If you’ve already activated FileVault, you can turn it off at any time. If you want to set up a small encrypted disk image for your sensitive files instead, I can help you do that. (If your machine is new enough to have an A2 security chip, FileVault is redundant anyway, as the A2 hardware does practically the same thing FileVault used to.)
iCloud Drive / iCloud photo storage
A great feature for people who have multiple computers or iDevices, including work and home computers: instead of storing your documents and photos on your computer, store them in iCloud, and be able to access them from anywhere and any device.
The downside? It burns network bandwidth like there’s no tomorrow. If you live in a city with “gigabit Internet to the Segway,” like all the boys and girls in Cupertino, you won’t even notice it. If you live out in the sticks, like I and most of my clients do, and you have rural wireless or DSL Internet, your work will slow to a crawl. (If you have satellite or limited cellular internet, your wallet will drain to its dregs at the same time.)
The other downside is storage. Suddenly your “free” iCloud allocation is exhausted, and you have to buy more iCloud storage monthly to store all your data. Many users just pay it, assuming that “this is the way Macs work now.” It’s particularly frustrating when the user has only one Apple device, and the shared cloud storage is providing practically no useful function at all.
Again, these options are defaulted to “on” when you set up a new device or install the OS in which it was introduced, and Apple won’t divulge a word to you about why a person in your geographical location or with only one Apple device might be better off to leave it off.
The moment Apple introduces a major release newer than yours, the nagging starts on an almost daily basis on your computer screen. “Upgrade now, get cool new features!” There’s never any consideration that the upgrade might be physically bad for your machine.
Back in High Sierra, Apple introduced a new file system called APFS. Long story short, it is heavily biased towards SSD drives, so much so that it pummels older rotational (SATA) drives like eggs in a blender.
I routinely get older machines with rotational drives in the shop that have been updated to Monterey—three major releases beyond Mojave, where APFS became mandatory. They’ve been updated because Apple nags the owner incessantly to do so, and the user has no idea that he’s volunteering for disaster. As these abused machines struggle for over five minutes just to reach the login screen, I can almost hear them pleading, “kill me!”
The bad news is that by this point, it’s impossible to move back to an earlier release because too many structural changes have been made to user data containers like mailboxes and photo libraries. The only options remaining are:
- Clone the SATA drive to an SSD, and then swap the SSD in for the old SATA drive. In a laptop, this isn’t a hard job; in an iMac, where the display screen has to be removed (and often reglued) to change any hardware at all, the labor might triple the cost of the job. Many older machines aren’t worth that kind of investment.
- Buy a new computer (they all have SSDs now) and use File Migration.
Either way, it’s rarely an inexpensive job, and one that should have been unnecessary. It would have been so easy for Apple to make its upgrades check for the presence of a SATA drive and ask the user if he was sure he wanted to proceed. They they didn’t means that they were either deluded about the massive performance degradation that the upgrade would cause, or they expected it to spur extra sales of new computers once the older ones got too slow to countenance.
So what can you do?
Most Apple users grew up trusting Apple to do things and recommend options that were right for them. Sadly, post-Jobs Apple is straying farther and farther from this ideal.
Before making use of bold new features in new releases, consider the downsides. I’m available on the phone for a consultation if you ever need this type of advice .