Tech platform curation is good, but let adults take responsibility

In tech, like in many other industries, people need to make trade-offs. Apple chose to curate as much as possible, and they are mostly doing a good job – why else would their devices be such a runaway success? And yes, it is certainly a slippery slope giving so-called power users more choices. But I don’t think the need to curate should be detrimental to good practice, in this case a backup solution should never force a user down a single path, the way Time Capsule is doing it here.

I frequently experience the issue that Apple, in their attempt to totally curate the platform, actually take away vital responsibility from those who could otherwise be more empowered. Most computing devices are good when they function normally and remain responsive to user interactions. But, when something goes wrong, that’s when you really appreciate the ability to get out of trouble. And those are the moments when a technical savvy person could get really frustrated with Apple. Take this latest example with my Time Capsule:

Time Capsule wants to delete my backup history
A dangerous Time Capsule dialog

This dialog might look innocent but it isn’t, here is what it is saying to me:

Time Capsule has decided that it is going to destroy your backup history from the beginning of times. This means that you are starting anew, there is no way back from this. Now I give you two options, a) do this right now and get over it, or else b) I stop doing any backup until you finally accept this situation.

This is terrible for several reasons. The first one is that it defeats the whole purpose of Time Machine, remember when Steve Jobs famously demo’ed feature saying that you “will never lose a file again”? Well, this dialog clearly contradicts that claim, your history will be gone for no fault of your own. The second reason why this isn’t good is that, backup rotation schemes have been around forever, Time Capsule has no business deleting my older backups without giving me any other alternative. What it is supposed to do here, is to allow me to either add a new disk, or take the current backup history offline, or simply suggest to delete the oldest backup (but not the entire history!).

If given more options, since I know how to go about this, I would be able to take an appropriate action and be content with the product. But if it treats me like a kid, giving me no other option, that is a bad user experience and it is frustrating. Another example is that, I noticed the disk free space on my MacBook Pro had shrunk dramatically and I suspected something wasn’t quite right. Luckily I’d used the Target Disk Mode before, so I did that and found out the disk needed repairing, which I run. Before repair it was reporting 34 GB free space, after Repair it reported 124 GB free space! I have one more example with Server Manager (OS X Mountain Lion) but I save that for another post, if time permits.

This Time Capsule issue is one example where platform curation falls short. And at the moment, it looks like Apple is the biggest culprit in such practice – though Microsoft seem to be marching fast on the same track – I’ve been running Windows 8 RC for a while, it’s getting harder to troubleshoot issues, see what apps are running for example.

In tech, like in many other industries, people need to make trade-offs. Apple chose to curate as much as possible, and they are mostly doing a good job – why else would their devices be such a runaway success? And yes, it is certainly a slippery slope giving so-called power users more choices. But I don’t think the need to curate should be detrimental to good practice, in this case a backup solution should never force a user down a single path, the way Time Capsule is doing it here.