Catalina: regrets, I’ve had a few

Last week was WWDC, the Apple developer festival at which it’s traditional for the next version of macOS to be announced. This year it was Big Sur, the first version of macOS that will run not just on Intel processors but on “Apple Silicon”, in yet-to-be-announced Macs. Apple have designed their own chips for years, in iPads and iPhones, and their performance-per-watt makes them very efficient.

So I already know that my next Mac will have an Apple chip, and I’m happy to wait for that rather than buy one of the current Intel laptops, good as they may be.

My current laptop is 6 years old, and is from a generation dating from the end of 2013. Essentially, my Macbook is With the Beatles and Apple’s most recently released Macbook is Let it Be.

But it was still going strong, having recently had a new battery, top case and keyboard. There are no loose hinges, cracked bits of plastic or other signs of the shitty quality you find with other laptops. You get what you pay for. Full disclosure: all foor footpads fell off, but because it is all four, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t know what it was that finally prompted me to update the operating system to the version of macOS that was announced at last year’s WWDC, Catalina.

There had been nothing in that release that interested me. Security was beefed up, and I’d heard that there were a lot of annoying messages about software that wanted access to parts of the system. But there was nothing else.

But then there were a couple of things I read or heard that made me think, hmmm… maybe I should upgrade. Waiting a long time to update means that all the bugs get ironed out with updates, so it should be fairly stable. On the other hand, installing the software from Abbey Road onto hardware from the With the Beatles era might be counterproductive, might just slow the whole system down.

Still, I updated to Catalina, which had the bonus side-effect of removing the annoying notification from System Preferences. As I say, I really can’t remember, three weeks later, why I did it. The reason I can’t remember is that I Have Regrets. And the regrets have overtaken other concerns.

  1. I use an app called Planbook to plan my lessons. This is simply an electronic equivalent of jotting down a quick note in a paper planner. The advantage of the software is, I don’t need to lug a paper planner around; I can look back at previous years to see what I did (e.g. if I’m teaching the same book and I want to remember an activity that worked); I can copy-paste lessons if I’m teaching the same thing to two classes; I can link documents/presentations to the lesson; and I can bump lessons forward if for some reason they get postponed.
    There are tons of features of Planbook I never use. There’s a whole section on Teaching Standards and Units and Reports. I don’t use those features, but I have found the bits I do use to be incredibly useful. The software, over more than a decade, has saved me tons of time and stress, kept me organised, and in short was an excellent use of around £20.
    One of the things that has astonished me about teaching is that while I know teachers who will spend their own money on books, markers, DVDs etc., they always baulk at the idea of paying for software. People are astonished enough when they learn that I have paid-for fonts on my system. The idea that they might spend £20 to save themselves huge amounts of time and stress seems to horrify them. I have not once, in all my years in teaching, persuaded a single person to get this software. It’s weird.
    Which is why, I guess, that the developer behind this software has kind of disappeared. He’s probably moved on to work that pays. Anyway, he doesn’t reply to emails.
    The last flurry of activity around Planbook was when it went onto the App Store. I duly downloaded and updated to the new, 64-bit version. But there have been no updates, and when I looked for it last week, it had disappeared from the App Store.
    Updating to Catalina fucked me up because the serial number that I’d entered to demonstrate that I’d purchased the software was stripped out by the update. In fact, Catalina threw up an error and said basically that the security certificate was no longer valid. I’m not sure how this affects the functioning of the software yet. my timetable is suspended because of lockdown, and it’ll be September before I need to start using it properly again. But there’s now an annoying Trial Over message on the screen, so I’m not sure.
  2. My second regret is that my Macbook, 6 years old, has started running hot, with the fan kicking in for long periods of time. This never happened before. You might get the fan if you were doing something intensive for a long period of time, but in day-to-day use, you’d never notice it. I think the cause of the overheating was the background processing being done by the Photos app.
  3. Well, let’s take a look over there and see what’s going on. Here, we find my third regret. The new Photos is horrible. First of all it ‘organises’ and ‘curates’ your photos for you, which is what I thought I’d been doing for myself for decades. There is no way to turn this feature off. Hence the endless background processing. In the end, I left it plugged in, lid open, Sleep disabled, overnight, and it finally seem to finish this enormous task, of going through my entire, curated, photo library in order to curate it again.
    But there’s worse. Because now, when I bring in a new photo and apply any edits to it, I no longer see a full resolution version of the photo. Having checked on the forums, there are thousands and thousands of people having the same issue. A little crop, a quick adjustment, and suddenly the photo you see on screen is blurred and shit-looking, even though the original was sharp as a pin and taken with your new Olympus digital system camera.
    Revert to original, and it’s sharp as a pin again. Export it, and it’s fine. But looking at it in Photos: low res preview. And here’s the thing, Apple. You’re doing all this ‘curating’, and running my processor into the ground, in order to show me a low-res preview version of the photo, so I don’t want to look at it.

Anyway, I wish I hadn’t updated. This is before we get to what happened to all my wife’s work on the other (same aged) Macbook in the house when I updated that. In short, I will not be installing Big Sur on this old machine. I’ll be counting the days for the next generation.

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