About that root user bug in macOS

November 29 2017 in Technology

Yesterday, a huge story about a bug in macOS that allowed anybody to easily log in as the root superuser on your Mac made (and broke) the new cycle. That’s a particularly condemnable bug. It’s shameful that it made it past QA; Apple shouldn’t have let it slip.

Even for an Apple apologist, this is a difficult bug to defend.

But I want to take a moment to dispel the notion, currently making the rounds, that bugs in the Mac are more prevalent than ever before. I don’t know if that’s the case.

I think two things are happening:

  1. The Mac is in the hands of a wider audience than ever before, which means bugs are more likely to be reported and analyzed. As Apple becomes even larger, the company faces more scrutiny for bugs they would have got a pass on in years prior. You could make a very strong argument that, because of a large audience, each macOS bug now affects significantly more people. If a bug affects 1% of users, and one million people use Macs, then that affects about 10,000 people. If twenty million people use Macs, then that 1% user base is now 200,000 people. Viewed within that metric, little numbers become significantly larger.
  2. When the Mac shedded its skeuomorphism, a lot of the little bits of joyful interaction you find in macOS got lost in the process.1 When that joy is removed from the process, I think bugs become a lot more obvious — and a lot less forgivable.

Only Apple knows if the Mac is buggier than it’s ever been before. No matter what the truth of the matter is, though, Apple has a huge perception problem they need to sort out over the coming months (and years). Most of my friends (particularly the non-tech ones) don’t say Apple products “just work” anymore.

  1. This isn’t the first time the Mac has lost personality in exchange for highfalutin design. A lot of old-timers hated early versions of OS X because it lost so much of the Mac’s personality. This isn’t a new problem for Apple.