Apple’s Big Sur-prise Hits The Buffers

Yesterday finally saw the release of Apple’s much-hyped and eagerly awaited software update for Macs. Catalina has sailed into the sunset; Big Sur has breezed through customs to replace it. Let’s get some perspective here—most of the world couldn’t give a bucket of flying fondant about this. But for Mac nerds, Big Sur is a Big Deal and many of them were frantically checking for updates at 6pm.

Apple have some of the brightest minds in the world working for them. They also have virtually a bottomless pit of resources. So, you would think that after spending most of the year spreading the hype and talking up its major new operating system they would have ensured they could deliver it in a smooth and enjoyable manner to their customers. You would think. Think again. If you had to describe the launch in two words the ones that would probably come to mind are unmitigated disaster.

Mac users around the world had been sold the idea of this amazing new operating system that would transform their lives. Mac users around the world, unsurprisingly, wanted it immediately. And come the magic hour, they all tried to get their hands on it. At once. You would have thought all those clever people at Apple would have anticipated this and put steps in place to deal with it. Clearly, they hadn’t given it a second thought. People around the world wasted hours of their lives in frustration, misery and anger watching the painfully slow download eventually stick and then fail. Twitter trended with the hashtag #BigSur but for all the wrong reasons. Post after post showed images of the gruesome progress bar, some showing an estimated download time of days.

After a few hours of this mayhem it was becoming apparent that Apple’s servers simply couldn’t cope with the demand. Eventually, it became clear they had pulled the plug so that nobody could download the upgrade. It was even affecting other Apple services. It was almost as if Apple was under a DoS cyber attack. Mac users around the world, stricken with rage and disappointment, abandoned their expensive devices and went to bed or something. I suspect many of them watched the latest movie on Netflix and wondered why Netflix didn’t crash when everyone watched a hyped new release at once. Perhaps Apple need to go and poach a few server engineers from Netflix.

As the crushed hordes of Mac users around the world whiled away the barren hours as best they could, the elves at Apple, no doubt being flogged to within an inch of their lives, sought desperately to *make it right*. Many hours later, or for Europeans, the next morning, the update process was suddenly proceeding smoothly at a slow but acceptable pace, taking around a couple of hours to install. In other words, behaving as it should have done in the first place. Happy days!

Over the coming days, Mac users will begin to find out if all the hype and frustration was worth it. Early indications are that Big Sur will indeed be a better experience for many. The problem is the damage Apple have inflicted upon themselves with their mindless upgrade policy. When I think back to the last major Windows update I had I recall being frustrated by the fact that the updates were rolled out in batches. So whilst some people were getting them on launch day, others had to wait days or even weeks to be invited to the party. But when the invite arrived the update was fuss free. So, the two major operating system suppliers taking two different approaches to upgrades, neither of which is satisfactory. Both Microsoft and Apple have the resources to implement a server setup that could cope with high demand. They both need to take a long hard look at Netflix.