An Open Letter to Tim Cook, CEO, Apple Inc.

Dear Tim,

We've not met, but I've been a customer of Apple for 20-some years, so you'll forgive the familiarity. Indeed, customers of mine of 20 years' standing I mostly call friends, and I hope that that's what we are, Tim, you and me: friends, albeit friends who haven't met.

So it's as a friend, Tim, that I write to you tonight.

Wanna know my favourite Mac ever, Tim? The PowerPC beige G3 running OS 8.6. Man, that was a killer combination. Ugly as a hatful of, well, you know, but it handled everything I could throw at it: daisy-chained SyQuest drives ('member SyQuests!?), dual 21-inch ColorSync CRT monitors, LocalTalk network, it even made QuarkXPress behave ... Wow, got a tear in my eye there. Heady days 'eh Tim, heady days.

But as much as I'd love to, I'm not here to reminisce.

See, I run a small creative agency. We do copywriting, graphic design, websites, that sorta thing. I enjoy what I do, and I'm good at it.

Problem is, Tim, I'm not doing much of it lately. Seems instead I've become a system administrator.

Wanna know how much of my time I've spent in the last three days troubleshooting OSX Yosemite, Tim?

All of it.

That's right: every working moment of this week so far has been trying to sort out networking issues caused by the new(ish) OSX Yosemite operating system. You can do the math, right? If I'm spending all my time as a system administrator, then I'm not spending any time as a copywriter or designer or web monkey. Which means I'm not making any money.

It wasn't always like this, Tim.

When I first started the business (with a couple of beige G3s and an old Quadra 8600 as a pseudo fileserver -- no, no, not the six-slot) I did a bit of math as the first order of business to work out how much I (and each employee) had to earn, per hour, for me to make a modest profit. Everything that contributed to the running of the business had to be accounted for as a percentage of an hourly rate: power, rent, asset depreciation, accountant fees... you get the picture. True, not terribly sophisticated — obviously nothing like an Apple Inc. P & L — but it did give me some insight into what we had to charge for our work and some fiscal goalposts to aim for.

Wanna know the figure I came up with? $110/hour. Not a huge amount, I know. But I'm not an especially greedy person: I just wanted to run my little agency nice and smooth, make clients happy, do work we like to do and make a modest -- modest -- profit. That's not too much to hope for, is it Tim?

Within that $110/hour was a small allowance for system administration. Not my specialty, but hey, small business owners have to wear a lotta different hats, right? I can't recall the exact figure now, but it was small, like maybe five percent, a couple of hours per week.

Wiser heads than mine might say that I hadn't allowed enough for system admin.

But here's the thing, Tim: it just worked.

Awesome, no, Tim? That that phrase has become Apple's catchcry — It Just Works — but that's what I really used to say to my Windows-chained friends. No shit! I actually used to say it — that exact phrase — over Friday night beers with friends in a bar called Syd's: while they bemoaned their weekly wrestles with Windows networks, I'd sit back and, three beers later (lots of problems with Windows networks in those days, Tim), I'd say something smugly apposite like, 'Should get a Mac, man. They just work'.

And then I'd look at girls, Tim.

I'm not a Mac zealot you understand. I like Macs, sure. But I like girls more. And beer, Tim. I like girls and beer: Macs are way, way down the list.

And that's kinda the point: having a Mac meant I had more time to be me. I had time to look at girls and drink beer and go surfing and all the other kinda cool stuff that makes life enjoyable. Know what I mean? I didn't have to work back or put in weekend hours trying to fiddle a faulty computer system so it'd be functional for the week ahead. I didn't have to be a system administrator. If I wanted to be a system admin, I would have ... jeez, I dunno ... I don't really want to think about it. Point is, I used Macs so I didn't have to be a system admin.

But these days, Tim, these days ...

Because it doesn't Just Work these days, does it Tim? Or at least it doesn't just work in the way I think you and Apple mean it to just work.

It Just Works in the same way my 1957 VW Bus just works: it might get you from A to B (or it may not) but it'll need a lot of ongoing intervention, some good luck, a sunny disposition and don't expect a smooth ride. It just works. It almost works. It barely works.

It Works ... Just.

Talk to me, Tim. We're friends, remember.

But I gotta say, friendship is reciprocal and, quite frankly, I feel let down. I've seen more of Preferences > Network > Ethernet this week than I have my daughter during her first week of school. Did you feel a little twinge of sympathy there, Tim? I should fucking hope so.

Can I tell you a quick story, Tim? Years ago -- what? maybe ten years ago -- Quark Inc. decided to revamp their flagship product Quark XPress to more closely match the up-and-coming Adobe InDesign. Quark Inc. may not see it that way. Whatever. Fact is, they took a rock solid industry-leading piece of software and turned it into a dog. That must go down as one of the only times in business history where a good product was systematically made worse in order to match a competitor's inferior product. Go figure.

Anyway. I wrote to Quark Inc. at that time, much like I'm writing to you now, Tim, and told them I would pay more for their product if they gave me less.

That's right, they'd get more for less. It's not often you hear that in a business:customer relationship, but they you go. If they had have just returned Quark XPress to the 3.32 — even the 4.0 — release when it did what it did really well, and forget all the raster effects (that's what Photoshop was for) and the web module (that's what Dreamweaver was for) then, well, Heck, I may well still be their customer. But, well, they didn't listen, Tim, and Quark Xpress in now a poorly executed mismatch of half-baked ideas and Quark Inc. is in the toilet.

Learn from Quark Inc.'s blunder. I'm offering you the same thing now, Tim.  Give me less: I'll pay you more. Have you read all the bad reviews out there? You can turn that around, Tim, quicker than Nazi gold to Switzerland.

Honestly, I don't expect a free operating system. I don't even expect it to be especially cheap. What I do expect is an operating system that has been sufficiently tested such that when I install it, well heck, it just works. I don't have days (it's now actually stretching into weeks) of gremlins that need sorting out before I can get back to work.

If the need for a rigorously tested OS conflicts with the needs of your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iTunes etc consumer market who want some new and shiny trinket every 12 months, build a different OS. Call it 'OS Trade' or something.

Strip it back, Tim. Take out all the clunky baubles and non-essential doodads. If something's help file starts with, "Open Terminal ...", ditch it. Apple and Macintosh didn't build their reputation with the tagline Unix Made, well, as Simple As It Can Be. Make the simple things like networking work. iCloud? I don't give a frog's fart: Dropbox does it better. iTunes: if it makes everything else choke, nix it: OS Trade doesn't need it.

I realize that, as a businessman-cum-celebrity, it's pretty easy for me to find quotes that  you probably regret ever having said, and it's not very fair of me to throw one back at you now.

But fuck it, I've paid my admission, and I've got the floor. Here's a quote I found:

"A cheap product might sell some units. Somebody gets it home and they feel great when they pay the money, but then they get it home and use it and the joy is gone.

Well, Tim, the joy is gone. The joy is gone.

And I reckon that probably makes you sad, too.

C'mon, Tim, as a friend: Can you help me out?

Kind regards,

SC

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