Last Week on My Mac: It’s the tiddly bits

I’ve been spending a lot of my time over the last couple of weeks digging more deeply into macOS Monterey. It always helps when readers here tell me about what they’ve noticed, and one of the highlights has been discovering all the new features for managing snapshots in Disk Utility (thank Miles for spotting them). But the changes that I’ve seen are far more extensive than even the long list that Apple has published. Long-neglected apps like QuickTime Player and other dusty corners have been cleaned off and revamped too.

Some new features glossed over in brief entries in the list, like translation, turn out to be much more sophisticated and powerful. Even those that have attracted headlines, like tab groups in Safari, merit deeper investigation. Among the other tools which have hidden depths is Erase All Content and Settings (EACAS), which isn’t just for preparing a Mac for disposal, but a valuable tool for sysadmins and many advanced users too.

What I’m seeing here is exactly what we’ve been asking Apple for over the last few years: a major new version of macOS which brings few big changes, but attends to the tiddly bits, including those niggling bugs that no one had time to fix because they were all too busy fixing the features which broke with the introduction of the signed and sealed system volume, or the removal of support for 32-bit code.

It’s not all, yet, a success story. One of the most irritating bugs in recent versions of macOS has been the Bluetooth menu bar item which had to be checked a second time before it would give up-to-date charge figures. While Monterey fixes that, it has introduced a new bug in its place, in which no battery charge figure is given at all for peripherals like Apple’s wireless keyboard and trackpad when they’re being charged. The only way to get that menu to work then is to disconnect the peripheral from the Mac, which isn’t good. But if Apple’s engineers can maintain their current speed and direction, over the coming months macOS should emerge in far better shape.

Where I have yet to see any signs of improvement is in documentation. Indeed, in some ways Monterey is a backward step when it comes to Help books and similar support. One of the stranger bugs in Big Sur which became only slowly evident was in traditional Help books, which for many third-party apps simply stopped opening at all.

Some of my own apps are affected by this infuriating bug. If you’ve never opened that app’s Help book before, when you try to open it, it appears empty. The solution is to quit the app, ensure that it’s installed in one of the standard Applications folders, and try again a bit later. You may need to persist, and do this several times before macOS finally recognises the Help book properly. Then it will work fully, as if nothing had happened.

This only affects traditional Help books; for a number of reasons I’m currently abandoning those and migrating to PDF documents instead. But I know of several excellent major commercial apps which are just as badly affected as my own free ones are.

Beyond that, Apple’s documentation still sucks. There are some exceptions, such as its Platform Security Guide, which are among the only reference documents which it now maintains. Others which started with great promise, like its APFS Reference, now rest abandoned, in that case without any expansion or revision since June 2020.

Many of Monterey’s new features remain inaccessible to advanced users and developers alike. Several have asked me how to script the new offline translation feature in macOS 12, but not only isn’t it supported yet by actions in Shortcuts, but I can’t even find an API for apps to use. Does Apple seriously intend to keep this wonderful feature proprietary, and limit access to the ways it sees fit, or will it eventually open it up for us all to use in automation and apps?

With so much in Monterey to be thankful for, this may seem a little ungrateful. But I hope Apple is building on this success rather than resting on its laurels. Let’s cry not only bravo, but encore.