Should OS X 10.11 be Apple's last Mac operating system?

Microsoft's Jerry Nixon raised eyebrows at the company's Ignite conference recently. He said that Windows 10 "is the last version of Windows.". Microsoft may be on to something, and I'm wondering how well it would work for the Mac when it comes to OS X 10.11.

An iterative approach might give Apple an opportunity to introduce new technology more gradually.

Nixon doesn't mean that Microsoft has any plans to cancel Windows or do something else radical with it. Instead, he's talking about Microsoft's plans to evolve Windows as a service, rather than as a monolithic operating system update.

Microsoft plans to update Windows incrementally with new features and services rather than force a major disruption every few years when it comes out with a major new release.

Many of Windows 10's major components are designed modularly, to be replaced with new technology. This iterative design approach should make it possible for Microsoft to innovate and test new features more rapidly than it's been able to in the past. What's more, Microsoft's new operating system will work similarly across desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.

Given the resistance and outright antipathy many consumers and businesses have shown Microsoft's recent releases, this new approach may make a lot of sense. Once they've transitioned to Windows 10, they'll be ready to take advantage of new features and functionality as Microsoft is ready to roll them out. Microsoft is trying to make it as painless a transition as they can by giving it away to legitimate users of previous releases, a page they've borrowed from Apple's playbook.

Beginning with the release of Lion, Mac OS X 10.7, Apple adopted an annual upgrade cycle, and they made the new OS free. Mac users have upgraded to new releases in large numbers ever since. In fact, Yosemite has been Apple's fastest adoption yet. So you can argue that Apple has nothing to gain by taking a more iterative approach — that its current system works just fine. And you might be right.

Apple's not afraid to cause short-term discomfort for long-term benefit.

Given that, should Apple consider Microsoft's "last OS ever" approach?While Mac users have adopted new OS X releases in large numbers, there certainly have been some growing pains. I've talked before about some of the issues that Yosemite users have had, like unreliable Continuity features, trouble with new networking technology, and more.

An incremental, iterative approach might give Apple an opportunity to introduce new technology more gradually. Would that cause fewer problems for users, administrators, and developers, or would it be an even bigger headache?

Apple's not afraid to cause short-term discomfort for long-term benefit. Just look at Apple's app development efforts: Final Cut Pro users were furious with Apple when it went to Final Cut Pro X because it removed or changed functionality. It's done the same with iMovie. It's done the same with iWork apps like Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.

At least when it comes to Apple, it's dangerous to assume that past behavior is a good indicator of future action. So I wouldn't make any assumptions based on Apple's track record thus far.

I'm willing to bet that Apple is taking a very long look at what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10. And Apple is surely ready to adapt and change if it looks like it's the right move.

48 Comments
  • By the way, 9to5mac said Apple is having a hard time updating OS X annually because it is a mature OS, do you think there will come a time when there won't be any new features to add, as OS X is mature? Or do you always think there will be a better way to do things?
  • A mature OS shouldn't be causing users as much hurt as Yosemite (or Mavericks before it) has, though.
  • Link? Apple's struggle with OS X (and iOS) is to maintain quality control while keeping their yearly upgrade schedule, rather than a lack of ideas for new features. Unlike hardware manufacturing, a process which Apple has honed to perfection, great software development cannot be easily scaled by automation or outsourcing to India. The results are evident in the growing dissatisfaction with performance and reliability of OS X and iOS.
  • http://9to5mac.com/2015/05/22/ios-9-os-x-10-11-to-bring-quality-focus-sm... "As for OS X 10.11, we are told that Apple has realized that annually adding new features to the mature Mac operating system is more challenging than with iOS, so 10.11’s upgrade list may be slimmer than iOS 9’s."
  • Its getting to the point where the only way to add "great" value to a Desktop OS is though interoperability with other devices (TV, Smartphone, Tablet, etc.) and service integration. And to do that, you need all platforms to be in virtual lock-step with each other otherwise the entire user experience is broken. This is really the only thing I pay attention to when I watch keynotes or whatever. Not about the features per se, but how are you going to better integrate services and how are you going to make my devices work better together. As I own more and more devices of various form factors, I care more about cohesiveness of user experience when moving from one device to the next, and not necessarily about specific features limited to one form factor. How is a new feature in OS X going to help me on my iPhone when I am away from my PC and can't access it. Example: How does the iCloud Drive integration in Finder help me, when it's so poorly done in OS X? End result is I use an alternate cloud service. Yes, it's a nice OS X feature (being able to put files there and access them elsewhere), but because it's so poorly implemented on their other form factors it makes the feature a non-factor to me. I'm way more concerned with mobility across platforms and form factors than knowing how many features you're adding, or even caring about the features you add that will have me scurrying to get that one specific device where it's usable.
  • That story is about the challenges in annually adding features to OS X while maintaining quality, which is the same point I made. OS X has a much larger code base than iOS and it is a less locked-down system, allowing users to freely install software from any source, connect any hardware, and directly view and manipulate system files. Apple is just echoing what some observers have already pointed out - that we've gotten some great new features and a fresh new UI design in the last couple of years but now it's time to pause and focus on performance and bug fixes, two areas that where they've fallen behind their very high standards. It is not because there are no new features to add or because it is a "mature" operating system.
  • I think there will always been new features to add. The question is, what's the best way to introduce those new features? Is doing a monolithic new release every 12 months or so always going to be the best way?
  • I've always viewed that as something Apple has already been doing. They've released a new version of OS X on average about once per year since its inception. They were always point releases (10.1, etc.) rather than full versions (11.0) because the changes are incremental, much smaller changes than Microsoft has comparatively made with Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10. As an example, 64-bit support in OS X was rolled out over several releases rather than all at once. The look and feel has also gradually evolved.
  • Those "new versions" are more like Service Packs at this point.
  • My thoughts exactly. Apple have already been doing this since updates when free and annual. They just don't need to make a song and dance of it as they're not panicking about losing market share like Microsoft and have a well thought out development roadmap that's working well for them and their customers. Sent from the iMore App
  • On the surface, it appears to be a good idea, but only time will tell at this point....:)
  • "On the surface," or "On the Surface?" ;)
  • But but but if they stop releasing distinct operating systems now, how will people learn about California geography??
  • Hahaha Sent from the iMore App
  • Or cats for that matter? How am I EVER gonna learn about Lynxes NOW. huh? :)
  • The problem with the incremental, iterative approach is that something's bound to break sooner or later. The reason many of the server operating system distributors (mostly in the Linux world) freeze development at a certain stage and work on bug-fixing that particular frozen snapshot is so that they can concentrate on refining a static target. A "rolling release" operating system, by it's very nature, becomes a moving target. It's not impossible, but there has to be focus. More focus that they've given Yosemite, that's for sure.
  • Stories inside Apple state that engineers spend maybe 2-3 months actually *building* features for a new version of iOS/OS X and the other part either fixing bugs in old releases or fixing bugs in pre-releases or new releases. And often things that are deemed too unstable are cut for next year, like the rumored transit map directions that were supposed to come last year (and are highly likely to come this year according to 9to5Mac).
  • Things break all the time, not just sooner or later. This is the case regardless of whether you do one big release a year or focus on a steady stream of smaller, iterative releases. Software development is a process that must balance the creation of new features with correction of defects and regressions. The developers best qualified to fix issues are the ones who who wrote the code that cause the bug in the first place. So there's always a tension between focusing your A-team on new functionality and on bug fixes and performance optimization. Over the years, Apple has proven to be quite capable of pivoting when necessary to shift priorities in one direction to the other when needed.
  • They tried to do this with Windows XP, (XP = Experience) and it failed. The Internet was not where it was needing to be when they tried it. I don't think that windows 10 will accomplish that as well. Technology is ever growing and adapting, I think it's an ego trip that they say that windows 10 will be the last OS that you will ever need. Again this is coming from Microsoft, where Bill Gates said "640K ought to be enough for anybody."
  • First off, Bill Gates never made that comment about 640 KB. Secondly, with a planned update in Fall 2015, Spring 2016 and Summer 2016 for Windows 10 already planned, you're point is already invalid.
  • Oh, Microsoft has announced several planned updates on a tight schedule? Well I guess we have to assume they will deliver as promised and on schedule given their stellar track record in this area.
  • Bill Gates said that in the context of the Era in which it was stated, and he was right. It was enough for practically anybody back then, even many business users.
  • No, the allegation is that Gates said that no one would ever need more than 640k of RAM. However he has categorically denied saying that and no one has offered a citation to prove otherwise.
  • "allegation" Okay, sir.
  • "Microsoft's plans to evolve Windows as a service... with new features and services rather than force a major disruption every few years." What this really sounds like is an attempt to transition Windows to a software-as-a-service subscription model à la Adobe - the promise of a guaranteed revenue stream without the trouble of persuading customers to upgrade every year. It also smacks of Microsoft's diminished confidence in their ability to plan visionary improvements that will please their customers rather than drive them away. If I were still a slave to Microsoft I'd be complaining loudly, but luckily I unshackled myself from Redmond many years ago.
  • And now you shackled yourself to Cupertino! lol Sent from the iMore App
  • I sure hope Apple DOES NOT go this route. Is there really any good reason to pay for an OS anymore? Don't we pay enough for the hardware and company apps (that aren't complimentary value-added)?
  • This route does not necessarily mean paying for OS updates. In Fact, quite the opposite. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't spend my days cursing Apple as I used to with Microsoft, so I prefer to look at it as freedom rather than slavery.
  • I hear you, He is shackled but in potentially in denial
  • Apple are probably finding it hard to find something to make it look exciting each year. Trouble is if you make it look fresh each year rather than focus on fixing the bugs within or curing regular bugs then people look elsewhere. Some features that worked great no longer work as well or have bugs for example I used to use Airdrop to transfer images from my iPhone until it started calling them all the same name rather than moving over the actual file name for them, it really makes it difficult to use a features when you transfer 15 or 20 unrelated images and they are all all called Fullsizerender and are out of sequence from the order they were taken. I thought they would fix it during upgrade cycles but they have chosen to leave it as it is and I started utilizing the Google Drive app to move the same files across because it retained the original file name and metadata involved with the image and maintained the all important sequence the images were taken. It's a little slower than sending directly over my home network but saves me time (certainly a lot of time compared to "Photos") and that time for me is something that is lost and I can never get back. It was the biggest reason I switched to using a Mac was because I got far more work done using Mac OS. Sure some of the changes have made the OS look Oh So Pretty but I'm sure I am not the only one that would love them to fix the silly bugs that they ignore in the race to bring a feature that they announce and then may take another year to get working and put their whole focus into. Maybe they should go onto a two year cycle for MAC OS X and get all the bugs ironed out in the first year and then work on some new exciting features for a new release. That's all many people want is just features that just work well and do what they should.
  • There are plenty of "missing features". I'm amazed that universities pump out thousands of Computer Science graduates every year yet neither Apple nor Microsoft has been able to make security be a thing that consumers need not worry about. The state of remote access is pitiful everyone wants to "store" your data for a price rather than provide robust RA tools. On OS X you still have silly things like permission's issues and access privilege issues that crop up every now and then that you'd think would be stamped out by now. Scripting features have not been made simple enough or robust enough. I like iOS but it's a stripped down mobile OS. I don't feel like it can get work done. It's not a truck and the more complex my life gets the more I realize I need a "good" truck.
  • If updates become seamless and automatic going forward, that may work. But there will always be people who don't want an automatic update for a multitude of reasons - "early adopter" concerns, stability, bandwidth, etc. So how would this work? Presumably, people would be able to choose whether or not to install a feature update or not. A person can choose to install a Bluetooth & Wifi update immediately, but hold off on graphics driver updates until the early adopter reports are out. But then this would cause some sort of mess for software makers - maybe not immediately but in 2-3 years when we're still all on "10.11". How do you write a system requirement for your software? "User must be on OS X 10.11 with the following updates: Bluetooth & Wifi (April 2016), AMD graphics drivers (June 2016), etc, etc, etc". That would get tedious. Today's strategy is to say, you must have at least 10.10.1 or 10.9.2 or even Windows 7 Service Pack 1. But once you start putting in sub-versions, or service packs, you've essentially just created "new versions" of the OS - you just merely shifted where the numbers change. The other alternative is to just say a certain application requires OS X 10.11, with "all the updates as of July 2016" or something similar. But then that may alienate a significant portion of your user base who doesn't update their machines immediately. All this is to say that having versioning makes sense for an OS - it gives developers and users a common ground. When you have OS X 10.10.2 installed, you know exactly what to expect.
  • Apple & MS are in different businesses even though they are both offer OSes. For Apple, it already is a service that helps to sell hardware - both macs and their mobile devices - so it matters very little if they swap out the name every year or just keep calling it yosemite - which works as it's now and forever just like the natl park ... for MS, there is two probs. First, they have besmirched their own name - WIN is associated with low end PC's that are full of malware or wonky so it's no wonder they want to retire the name and like IE, rebrand it something new* ... they also realize they cannot get people to EVER upgrade a WIN version after they buy it for "free" with a $399 WIN PC (just buying another one for $399 and MS makes $10-$50) - if they want to upgrade, they'll just buy another PC BUT if MS can sell subs, they can get someone to pony up $5 to $10 a MONTH or $120 a year - after year - after year but it remains to be seen if anyone will sign up for a WIN sub anyway - especially when Apple promises a better experiemce and FREE upgrades plus for those who stick with WIN PC's - it is cheaper just to buy a new WIN PC in 2-3 years anyway.. * the whole Vista & WIN 8 doesn't help either.
  • Indeed. In the time I've gone through four Windows PC's and two Windows Laptops, My late 2008 Macbook Pro is still humming along and my 2006 MacPro Workstation has only had one part replaced. The hard drive. can't go higher than 10.7.5 on that, but I don't care. They both just work. Windows PC's? Not so much....
  • I often wonder what people are doing with their PCs when I hear posts like yours. I have had one DOS box for years and done nothing too it. Heck I’ve only just installed AV. It will run, (I think), any version of Windows without jumping through hoops or being gimped intentionally by the software maker.
    I have an 06 Mac Pro too. It is now my Media centre PC. Its only failure has been a hard disk drive and optical drive. Alas I think the days of things lasting a good while are drawing to a close. Partly because the manufacturers are skimping wherever they can and partly because they are designing things like the Mac Pro where everything is proprietary and it’s not cost effective so we buy a new one.
  • What I do on laptops is primarily web surfing, document creation, and e-mail. What I do on the desktop is mostly gaming. Since there are few games for the Mac, I don't use my Mac Pro for gaming. It runs my Desktop Audio Workstation of choice (Cubase) for recording and production and audio interface and has done so like a champ, without ever the need for part replacement, accept for a hard drive. It also does photo editing and graphics. I can also do recording and production with my late 2008 Macbook Pro, but I typically do photo and video editing with that nowadays. My current Windows PC was built by me and as such, is upgradeable. Upgraded that 5 years ago as far as the CPU, Mainboard, and memory. Been through a couple of video card upgrades since then, just to have more frame rates in games. My self built PC has outlasted every HP, Dell, Compaq, and particularly, Lenovo, who builds Junk, as far as I'm concerned. The newer Mac Pros and Macbook pro (and Macbook) don't seem to have the highest rates of repairability, so I agree, Apple has moved to mobile components in the Mac Pro now and the whole "thinner and lighter" thing makes the newer MacBooks and Macbook Pros less repairable, as well. I avoid those like the plague and stick with what works for me.
  • Ok I see. The point I’m making is that a lot of Mac users claim that a PC will be dead after a few years and I just don’t see how.
  • Well again, I've had Dell, HP, Compaq, and Lenovo PC's just die. Mainboard, usually. And since the ones I owned weren't upgradeable, I wasn't going to take it for repair after the warranty period was over (that's usually when they'd fail). That's why I built my last PC in 2010 and have gone through parts upgrade cycles to get newer/faster CPU/Memory/Mainboard data path and more powerful power supply to handle a better video card (not because of parts failure, as in the store bought PC's I've had made by the manufacturers I've named). Better to build an upgradeable PC than buy junk from the vendors for whom quality is NOT, job one...
  • Oh right. Ok, well I can’t argue with that.
  • Isn't it a bit lazy to just release an OS and just keep patching it to "add new features" or provide "updates? They may claim it's "modular" and capable of replacing features with patches, but for those of us who don't write code, how would we know if I feature is really replaced by a new feature, if the existing feature is updated, if any features are really removed, or if a feature is just hidden, while an additional feature is installed? Is the plan for this a plot to lock everyone in to monthly subscription fees, as in Office365? At a certain point after certain updates, doesn't it become a "new OS" without it being called a new OS? And what happens if your system crashes and you have to reload that OS. Are you reloading the initial image or are you re-loading the image with all of the updates you've installed up until then?
  • I guess there are pros and cons each way but I know that the yearly update cycle really gets people excited about the product. With incremental updates I don't know if anyone could keep the hype. Maybe I'm wrong but the hype to me is what keeps the operating system and hardware fresh in peoples minds. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple used to charge $20-30 for those OSX updates. They only made them free when Microsoft gave the 8.1 update for free. Apple did start the free OS update trend but it was with iOS. In a way OSX has been on its last version for a while (also version 10). To copy Microsoft they would need to make the next iOS version it's last (and since we're talking copying Microsoft, skip 9 and bump it to 10 as well). They'll also need to merge iOS and OSX... Of course if they did that they'll have to find something else to promote at WWDC... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I think the ‘Apples fastest adoption yet’, is a disingenuous thing to report on Apples part, (not yours Peter). Apple make it notoriously difficult to downgrade your OS, (mind you a Time Machine back up may do it - I don’t use that after corruption).
    In OSX it’s bad, in iOS it’s almost criminal.
  • NO, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge%27s_law_of_headlines
  • As a retired systems admin, and previous to that, a help-desk type, my first reaction is sheer horror. Figuring out service packs on windows was one thing, the millions of updates that happened (at least up until Win X) is a horror. Splintering it more does not seem like a positive thing to me. Think of all the times you've tried to remote help a less than savvy user… one of the first questions is always about version so you know where to tell them to start looking, and where to change settings, etc.
  • I adapted to the dramatically new look of Yosemite fairly well, but I struggled with bugs that exist even in 10.10.5, the final update that Yosemite received. Bugs meaning, among other things, Wifi issues, startup and shutdown times have increased heavily, bluetooth speakers (JBL Jembe) can't keep up with OS X bluetooth protocols - maybe only Bose speakers or Beats headphones are 'optimized'. At any rate, I started off in Apple's world with a 17" Macbook Pro running Snow Leopard. And it was amazing. It blew any Windows laptop out of the water. I believed Apple's claim that OS X is the most advanced Operating System in the World. Unfortunately that claim has been ruptured in recent upgrades. Ever since OS X Lion, they went on a annual upgrade path that prioritized new features over reliability. Reliability cannot be ensured under a yearly cyclical system of production. This is an Operating System we are talking about. If Apple was truly committed to keeping OS X the best OS alive, then it should have been committed to squash out Lion's bugs in Mountain Lion, or Mountain Lion's bugs in Mavericks and so on. But they are not doing that. They are all too happy to provide us half-baked "features" while we lap it up. Snow Leopard was everything that is amazing about an OS. It didn't crash, it handled the laptop hardware fantastically, it was light yet strong, and it made me fall in love with Apple. Until I started upgrading to the following iterations. I had to. If you want the updates to, let's say, iWork or Final Cut X, Apple makes it impossible for you to not upgrade your OS just to run these apps. At least in Yosemite, I can run extension apps like MenuMeters, XtraFinder, cDock and many such helpful apps. In El Capitan, I'm shit outta luck. Once again, Apple has managed to bulldoze small apps to the ground with their 'Rootless' function - which I appreciate in theory - but I hate in practice. El Capitan is just going to be a frustrating experience, for me, and I will most likely have to upgrade sooner or later if I want the latest iterations of iWork or their 'professional' apps. Their new 'features' are highly underwhelming and there is no evidence from its Beta releases that it is any more reliable than Yosemite or the iterations before it.
  • Nope, it shouldn't, they should just continue to make point upgrades to OS X, and they shouldn't change the name of it either, everyone including me knows it as 'OS Ex'. Although I agree they should pick up the pace with the releases, maybe make it every 6 months like Ubuntu. Technically OS X is their last Mac OS because they won't want to change it's awesome name. It defines power and beauty in an OS. Plus the X is a reference to UNI'X'. I'd like the next OS X update to be called 'Deus EX Machima' but that's just me. Would be a pretty cool name. I'd also like an option to switch on the 3D dock again allow with a global dark theme, along with Siri integration with Spotlight. It doesn't matter how many point updates there are for OS X because it's base version always stays on 10, so if we had 10.30.0 it really wouldn't matter.