Last Week on My Mac: Sierra 10.12.5, a shoddy update

A year ago, El Capitan set a precedent for late-cycle updates. At a time when we’d expect the final remaining bugs in a major release of an operating system to be fixed, El Capitan was still a sword of Damocles hanging over many Macs, ready for the kernel to panic at the slightest opportunity. Apple never fixed it, and we moved on to the thankfully far more stable Sierra. I for one heaved a big sigh of relief, and vowed never to touch El Capitan again.

Now, just a couple of weeks before the opening keynote speech at WWDC, and but a few months from the expected – but still unannounced – release of macOS 10.13, Apple has let us down once more, by failing to fix a long list of bugs troubling those using Sierra.

Looking at the official terse summary of improvements in 10.12.5, it does appear to have fixed USB audio stutter which was introduced in 10.12.4. Whatever improvements it has to App Store internals are concealed behind a significantly worse human interface, which deviates even further from Apple’s own guidelines. It’s good that Boot Camp improves support for Windows 10 Creators Update, and there are a couple of other fixes too.

But left unfixed are several serious issues which remain outstanding from 10.12.4 or earlier. Notable among these are problems waking multiple displays, a bug which was introduced in 10.12.4 and persists even now. Bluetooth disconnects continue, as do most of the items which were on my list of bugs in 10.12.4.

So what does this update address?

Its priority, indeed perhaps the only reason for providing it now, is closing a long list of security vulnerabilities. That’s good, and reflects the priority which Apple has given to security. In a week during which many organisations have been counting the cost of WannaCry ransomware, Apple’s new-found enthusiasm to fix vulnerabilities is refreshing.

Another major reason for 10.12.5 may be to prepare the way for new hardware launches at WWDC. If rumours are anything to go by, those will demonstrate Apple’s continuing deafness to its users and obsession with immediate profit. Having discovered that it is selling laptop Macs rather better than it thought, in a couple of weeks we are likely to see new MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models, and I suspect that a careful look through the 10.12.5 update will reveal how it prepares the ground for those.

Whatever Apple may say about its commitment to desktop systems, what it does is much more important. In failing to fix the long list of bugs present in 10.12.4 it has shown again that it is not prepared to commit the resources needed to produce a high-quality operating system. If it fails to deliver new iMac and modular (Mac mini class) models this summer, it will be slapping the face of every potential customer for a desktop Mac.

That would leave the iMac series without any new model for two years, the mac Mini for three years, and some of the significant bugs in macOS for an astonishing four years and more.

The most apposite word which comes to my mind as a description of 10.12.5 is shoddy. It’s a word which comes to us from industry, originally being used to describe cheap wool-like yarn made using a little real wool bulked out by recycled woollen rags. In the early nineteenth century, shoddy cloth was used in padding and packing, but by the middle of the century it was being used for cheap clothing, even military uniforms.

The word came into American usage at the time of the Civil War, when it was claimed that high profits were made by suppliers of military uniforms made not of proper worsted, but shoddy instead.

If Apple wants to make premium profits from premium computers sold to discerning users, then it needs to make macOS a premium operating system. And that means fixing bugs.