Apple, Secret Squirrels, and updates

Apple is notoriously secretive, and plays on the resulting rumours and possibly even the occasional leak, to its own benefit. Had its Watch not been so long-rumoured, I doubt that many of us would have been sat desparately trying to pre-order one once Apple was ready to offer them. Should it ever launch a car, or TV, the protracted rumours about their development can only fuel consumer lust.

Its technical documentation now lags the reality of its products – try to find detailed information about CoreStorage, for example – but I assume that is part of the industry-wide failure to keep such information up to date.

Until this year, I had assumed that when Apple released a software update, particularly a significant and substantial update to OS X, it told us fairly explicitly of what it had changed. For several years now I have subscribed to Apple’s security mailings, and each new update has been accompanied by a very long list of all the fixes which it includes.

When Apple released its latest update to OS X, to bring it to version 10.11.3, I was impressed that it was a goodly size, over 600 MB. But when the release notes and security announcement arrived, well after I had already updated, I was very puzzled. Apple listed just two bug fixes and nine security patches. And that took over half a gigabyte to deploy?

Sensing that there must be more to the update than Apple had told us, I had a peek in the Receipts folder where the update should have been more fully documented. I was surprised to be greeted not just by copious information about the update, but about a firmware update which had been installed at the same time, it appears.

Resorting to the lsbom command line tool, I browsed the list of apps and components which had been updated at the time, and it was much, much larger than would be expected from Apple’s information. You can read a summary of what I found here. Ironically, it is already clear that one long-standing Finder bug has still not been fixed.

So knowing that Apple had actually updated much more than it had admitted to, why did it not tell us? Surely such updates are positive events, which are for bragging not bashfulness?

The least unpleasant explanation is that the update was released before the documentation had caught up with it. That is not good, and for those who have to make decisions about classrooms or networks full of Macs, it is extremely unhelpful and bad news.

But it may well be worse than that. In darker periods of its past, Apple has behaved too paternalistically. Not detailing the important contents of an update could be a sign of a return to such behaviour. If Apple knows best that you need to update to 10.11.3, why should it tell you anything more? Just push it out through the App Store, users will install it, and who cares if they are none the wiser?

Any return to that sort of attitude could cause us all sorts of problems.