Sierra’s Console: promising but incomplete

Users of all previous releases of Mac OS X and OS X will know how important a system tool Console is. When an app unexpectedly quits, the cursor beachballs, or anything goes wrong, the answer is usually in the logs, and Console is the means to browse them.

Over the last couple of major releases of OS X, using Console has become steadily harder, because of the amount of irrelevant background chatter. It has become a bit like going to a very loud and very crowded reception, and trying to hear the clock ticking outside in the corridor.

For me, as someone who tries to interpret logs quite often, the new logging system and new version of Console which were promised in macOS Sierra were major attactions. Call me sad, but anything to make such work easier has to be important.

The fact that the version of Console which ships with macOS Sierra 10.12 is version 1.0 is a useful caution, though. It looks like the engineers threw almost all of the previous version away, and started from scratch. Although it still looks fairly familiar, Console 1.0 is brand new, and shows it.

Old Console used to open up into its All Messages view, streaming a worryingly frequent series of fairly incomprehensible messages, almost all of which were not warnings or errors, but intended to give OS X system engineers a warm and fuzzy feeling. “Oh look, there’s my service again!” and that sort of thing. But you got this for the last twelve hours or more, so Console was an excellent tool for post mortem work: after the forced restart or crash, you could open Console up and browse back to when things started going wrong.

Console 1.0 doesn’t work like that. Although you still have access to some traditional logs which can give you such historical information, its main new-style live log only runs when Console is open. If you’re trying to work out why your Mac spontaneously restarted at 0330 this morning, you won’t find any clues there.

It will still browse system.log, Diagnostic and Usage Data, and the range of different incident reports, but these only provide a fraction of what used to appear in the old All Messages view. Furthermore, system.log appears much the same as it always did, as a roughly formatted text log. It offers none of the neat, whizzy features of Sierra’s new logs.


So if you want to use Console for post mortem analysis, you will probably have to start in system.log, type in a search term such as BOOT_TIME to locate all restarts and startups, and work just as you did in the Old Console. But with a lot less information and entries than in the old All Messages. In fact, reading a startup there is almost devoid of useful information, such as which KEXTs got loaded when, whether the journal had to be replayed – very little of use ends up in system.log.


Once you have realised that there is little of use in system.log, switch to Diagnostic and Usage Data, which is a new-style log, so is neatly divided into columns giving you time, process, message, and more. You will still have historical data, and can start doing smart searches. But there doesn’t seem to be much that is of use here either. It’s great if you’re debugging problems in Sierra, I suspect, but not much help when looking for those important kernel extensions and services.


The rest of Console 1.0’s new and wonderful tools only seem to provide, and work on, entries which are being made since you opened Console. So they’re excellent if you’re trying to work out why an app unexpectedly quits whenever you click on a particular tool, for instance. Select the top device (your Mac) and All Messages, and it can get a bit like trying to read the credits at the end of Ben Hur: entries just keep scrolling up, as fast as you can read them.


This is where you engage the new filter and search tools, up in the text editing box in the toolbar. You can there type in regular search text, but if you click on the Errors and Faults tool (left side of the toolbar), Console 1.0 puts in neat filter terms, which there filter on messages of type error or fault. Suddenly the Ben Hur credits stop, and you can see the important things in the logs.

What is most frustrating of all about Console 1.0, though, is that you can see how the app puts those filters in, and can twiddle with them. But putting your own filters in is almost impossible. Type in any text, and it becomes a search term, not a filter. I have tried all sorts of different key modifiers, double-taps, and some whispered spells from Harry Potter. But no way could I find of entering my own filters from scratch. Someone in Apple seems to have devised the ultimately impossible-to-edit interface.

Click on the Info tool at the top and a pane pops up at the bottom of the log, giving you full view of the selected log entry. That is good, and the pane can be resized, but Console 1.0 does not remember any resizing, so you have to adjust that every time. It does make you wonder if anyone has actually used this app in anger, or just got increasingly angry trying to do so.


The final all-new tool is Activities, engaged by clicking on the tool of that name in the toolbar. This gives an event-by-event view of what is going on, with reports of which preference files are being loaded, user interface actions, and all sorts of wonderful detailed information. These appear most useful to those debugging apps and macOS itself, although at times they could come in handy for trying to track problems down for users.

By this time, the All Messages view will probably have more than 10,000 entries in it, but don’t worry – once you quit Console 1.0 those will all vanish completely. Although you can select and copy sections of log, there’s no way of saving a log capture at present.

Overall, Console 1.0 looks promising. It has some rough edges – in parts very rough indeed – and is far from the complete tool which we need. Even performing fairly basic checks such as verifying that the last Time Machine backup completed correctly – something I could do in a few seconds in Old Console – are either acts of supreme intellectual challenge, or flatly impossible.

I suppose that we will just have to limp on until Apple finishes it off. For now, I am afraid that it is a definite beta release. Oh – and I have already got it to hang a few times too.