Last Week on My Mac: Silence isn’t golden

The problem with not clearly articulating support policies is that they will inevitably leave some of your customers alienated and angry. Last week was a demonstration of this with Apple’s unspoken software update policies, which have been left in disarray.

Without Apple having the decency to inform them, many users realised that their Macs running Mojave are now unsupported. These include Mac Pro models from 2010 and 2012, which were sold until late 2013, many of which are still used in production, although some have been upgraded to Catalina thanks to an unsupported third-party patch. Anyone still relying on 32-bit software, thus unable to upgrade to Catalina yet, is also left in the lurch.

I had hoped that Apple would have chosen to prolong the period of security updates provided to Mojave, in view of its singular place as the last major version which still supports 32-bit software, and whose startup volume remains undivided into an APFS Volume Group. This was an opportunity to accommodate the many loyal Mac users whose key tools haven’t been updated, and who, for good reasons, can’t just run Mojave in a Virtual Machine.

Paradoxically, Apple has worsened the situation with the additional detail it now provides in its Security Release Notes. In the two latest Security Updates to Catalina, it has revealed that one vulnerability in Core Graphics and another in XNU are being actively exploited in malware. Anyone still having to use Mojave must now be wondering whether it too shares those vulnerabilities, but Apple won’t make any further comment, leaving those users dangling in insecurity.

This caused owners of Apple’s once-popular AirPort products, including Time Capsules, sold until just over three years ago, to question why they haven’t received any recent software updates. While I have already warned owners of Time Capsules that their internal storage is now becoming increasingly likely to fail, Apple has apparently dropped AirPort Utility from the App Store, its last version being 6.3.9, and Apple’s AirPort support page hasn’t been updated since February 2020.

At the same time as those Mac users who paid Apple as much as $6,000 for their Mac Pro had support silently pulled from under them, those who’d paid a tenth of that for an iPhone 5S that same year must have felt overjoyed that Apple was still prepared to provide their old devices with a security update to iOS 12.5.5, which was originally released exactly a week before macOS Mojave.

As some have commented to my article in which I looked in detail at what support Apple has provided to recent versions of macOS, in not making any commitments, Apple is following a safe legal strategy. Don’t agree to anything, insert a clause which tries to avoid every possible liability, and play your cards as close to your chest as you can.

But licensing agreements, terms and conditions aren’t proclamations, they’re contracts which take place between parties, of which Apple is but one. Support terms are examples of where good management and executives can, indeed must, have a clear policy which customers can understand and accept. There’s little point in having a written policy extending support on repairing hardware for seven years if you don’t also have an explicit policy on software support. Even Microsoft has long and explicit policies on its support for Windows.

But Apple is one of the least informative of major companies. It releases security data updates every couple of weeks without informing its customers. Neither are those users allowed to know officially what the current release of that critical security protection should be. Users can readily discover which firmware version is installed on their Mac, but Apple doesn’t provide any list of current versions. When minor updates to macOS are released, we’re not provided with a list of what bugs have been fixed, but, if we’re lucky, a few bland and generic lines of condescension, descriptions which the rules of its own App Stores forbid as being inadequate.

Software support, particularly for operating systems, isn’t manna from heaven. It’s part of what we pay Apple for when we buy a Mac. It determines customer satisfaction, and our whole perception of Apple. Just at the moment, that seems arbitrary, inconsistent and unplanned.