The police get younger, time passes more quickly, and each major release of macOS is more of a disaster. Isn’t it?
With all the supplemental updates and kludges to High Sierra, as it approaches the mid-term update to 10.13.3, I am going to step back and compare its life-history with those of Sierra and El Capitan before, to try to get a more objective and less emotive assessment of how it is doing. As Apple doesn’t let us look at its bug reporting databases, I’ll step through their update records.
- 10.13, 25-09-2017. An initial two-step installer was hurriedly replaced with monolithic, 5.17 GB. There were inevitably some APFS conversion issues, and a few users were quickly begging to go back to Sierra, but most fared well.
- 10.13 Supplemental Update, 05-10-2017. The primary reason for this was to address a glaring encryption password bug in Disk Utility, and a bug allowing malicious apps to extract keychain passwords. But at 915 MB, it contained more extensive fixes which had missed the original release date.
- 10.13.1, 31-10-2017. This also addressed some important security matters, including the KRACK Wi-Fi vulnerabilities. Again, at 2.1 GB it was also catching up with things which should have been fixed before 10.13 was released.
- Security Update 2017-001 (17B1002), 29-11-2017. This was an urgent fix to address the notorious root user vulnerability, and was just over 1 MB.
- Security Update 2017-001 / Supplemental (17B1003), 01-12-2017. This was an additional fix to the last fix.
- 10.13.2, 07-12-2017. At 2 GB, another major update with many bug and security fixes.
- 10.13.2 Supplemental (17C205), 08-01-2018. A much smaller update, mostly with Safari 11.0.2 to mitigate the risk of Spectre.
So in the first just over three months, we have had three major updates. Much of the urgency and additional fixes have been in response to a series of glaringly obvious security vulnerabilities, in particular the root user gaffe.
- 10.12, 20-09-2016. A 4.77 GB download, followed by a long and complex installation. For many this replaced El Capitan’s freezing problems with kernel slowdowns. It also introduced a serious bug in DAS/CTS scheduling which leads to backup failure. Some Macs became quite unstable, suffering freezes or kernel panics, which didn’t resolve until upgraded to High Sierra.
- 10.12.1, 24-10-2016. 584 MB, with many bug and security fixes.
- 10.12.2, 13-12-2016. 1.94 GB, again a very substantial update.
- 10.12.3, 23-01-2017. Just over 1 GB.
- 10.12.4, 27-03-2017. 1.56 GB. Very extensive fixes, and changed re-installation options in Recovery mode.
- 10.12.5, 15-05-2017. 2.15 GB. I was so incensed that I described it as a “shoddy update”.
- 10.12.6, 19-07-2017. 1.1 GB. Many faced significant installation problems.
- Safari 11.0, 20-09-2017. Security fixes.
- Safari 11.0.1, 31-10-2017. Security fixes.
- Security Update 2017-001, 31-10-2017.
- Security Update 2017-002, 07-12-2017.
- Safari 11.0.2, 08-01-2018. Security fixes.
Although for many users, Sierra has proved robust and stable, others have found it has left their Macs prone to freezes and panics. By this time in its cycle, Sierra had had two major updates, but it lacked glaring errors in security features.
- 10.11, 30-09-2015. A 6 GB download and very slow install.
- 10.11.1, 21-10-2015. Major bug fixes and security updates.
- 10.11.2, 08-12-2015. Another major set of bug fixes and security updates. Also accompanied by El Capitan Recovery Update 1.0.
- 10.11.3, 19-01-2016. 600 MB total, with extensive updates.
- 10.11.4, 21-03-2016. 1.3 GB, very slow install, with a lot of major security and bug fixes.
- 10.11.5, 16-05-2016. 907 MB, which had many installation issues.
- 10.11.6, 18-07-2016. 592 MB including iTunes update.
- Security Update 2016-001, 02-09-2016. 414 MB, really 10.11.6.1 with much more than just security fixes.
By 10.11.6, El Capitan still manifested persistent Bluetooth problems including spontaneous disconnections, and persistent freezes on many Mac models. By this time in its cycle, El Capitan had had two major updates, but didn’t suffer any early security gaffes.
At mid-term, then, High Sierra’s record isn’t that much worse than El Capitan or Sierra before it. It has required one additional substantial update, which Apple cunningly tried to disguise by calling it a Supplemental Update, which doesn’t seem to have been in the grand plan. Most of High Sierra’s problems have arisen from a small number of very obvious and serious security gaffes, such as the root user vulnerability.
Comparison with the introduction of APFS is valuable. Although still only supported on SSDs, which remains one of High Sierra’s biggest outstanding failings, Apple’s new file system has undergone very rapid development since the release of 10.13:
- in the Supplemental Update of 05-10-2017, it was at version 748.1.47,
- in the 10.13.1 update of 31-10-2017, it had reached version 748.21.6,
- in the 10.13.2 update of 07-12-2017, it reached version 748.31.8.
A few users have had problems with APFS on SSDs, and there are residual compatibility issues with its approach to normalisation, but by and large this major change appears to have progressed quite smoothly.
High Sierra’s worst problems have been with inadequate pre-release testing, particularly in security features. The 10.13.2 update has also broken SMB, but that seems to happen at least once during each macOS product cycle, and should be fixed when 10.13.3 is released in a few days. Let’s hope that this brings APFS support for Fusion Drives, and wider access to HEIC and HEVC compression too.