the El Capitan disaster

I hate writing on an iPad, and yet I’m writing this post on an iPad. Why? Well, that’s a long story.

My first great mistake was installing the El Capitan beta on my 11″ MacBook Air: it totally borked the wi-fi. Any attempt to connect to the internet, whether a webpage or in an email client, beachballed – forever. Well, maybe not forever, but more than once I walked away from the computer for a couple of hours and when I returned found the beachball still spinning. Sometimes – maybe once in four or five attempts – if I reloaded the page it would work. I learned that if I turned off the wireless and then turned it back on, pages would load properly, but only for a minute or two. Then the beachballs resumed their little dance.

This was unbearable, so I reverted to Yosemite; a time-consuming pain in the ass, but a necessary one. I figured that if you download beta software you have to expect beta problems. I waited for the official release.

When that happened, I tried again – and had precisely the same experience. After trying a series of fixes, which worked … for an hour or two, before the old problems resumed, I reverted to Yosemite again.

That MacBook Air was getting a bit long in the tooth, but at work I have a relatively new 27″ iMac. I thought to myself, I bet El Cap works just fine on the newer hardware – so I updated it (the machine was asking me to do so all the time, anyway). Did it work? Nope. Exactly the same problem. Fortunately, there’s an Ethernet connection in my office, so I just plugged that machine in and was once more good to go.

As I’ve noted, that 11″ Air was getting a little old, and slow, and was ready to be replaced. So I decided I was going to get a sleek new 12″ MacBook – and a couple of weeks ago I did. It is an incredibly beautiful machine; the most beautiful thing Apple has ever made, in my opinion. It’s a pleasure to look at, a pleasure to hold, a pleasure to use…

Except it came with El Capitan installed. And therefore the wifi doesn’t work. It worked for the first day or so, then – yes, beachballs. I tried the fixes above, and as before, they worked for an hour or two.

I have a brand-new, state-of-the-art, utterly gorgeous computer … that cannot reliably connect to the internet. I have now had three computers, three very different Apple computers, and none of them has been able to connect to the Internet on Apple’s newest and most “advanced” operating system.

We’re not talking about some obscure function here, some task that only a tiny handful of users might need. It’s getting online that my El Capitan machines cannot do. Apple’s forums are filled with people complaining about this, and there are a hundred websites offering suggestions for how to fix the problem; but of course, as always, Apple is completely silent about the matter. And we’re now at version 10.11.2.

I have been using Apple computers for thirty years – I bought my first Macintosh in the spring of 1985 – and in the past year or so, for the first time, I have seriously considered trying something else. Apple’s hardware continues to be the best and most advanced in the world, but the state of its software has, at this point, to be called disastrous. It’s not just the OS – Apple Mail is an awful problem, iTunes continues to be a complete mess, the massive deficiencies of Calendar and Reminders have to be dealt with by the use of third-party software, and about photo management on OS X the less said the better – but when you get to the point that your computer cannot connect to the internet you have reached something very close to rock bottom.

I am this close to installing Ubuntu or Mint on my Macs – and I say that as someone who knows just how kludgy and clunky even the slickest Linux distros are. But increasingly I suspect that the Mac is a marginal product for Apple, one in which they won’t invest much care or effort except to make things that look great (because things made by Apple always look great). I have zero reason to think that even a problem this catastrophic is one that Apple cares about. So writing on this iPad, ridiculously limited though the experience is, looks like my best option for now. At least I can get online with it.