Getting your bugs on Apple's radar

Getting your bugs on Apple's radar

This week Apple rolled out updates to OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. These triple-dotted updates--10.10.2 and 8.1.3 respectively--are generally pretty boring, since they are almost always bug-fix updates. Still, bug fixes aren't minor when it's your bug that's being fixed.

If you're someone working in Enterprise IT, it's worth noting that Apple has recently begun adding an "Enterprise content" section to its update notes. In the OS X 10.10.2 update there are five bullet points featuring Enterprise-related issues, the majority of which involve Exchange calendaring issues.

My friend Andrew Laurence, a systems administrator at UC Irvine, told me that he appreciates the addition of the Enterprise section of the update notes. But what really thrilled Andrew this week was that one of his bugs was among those that were fixed. Specifically:

Fixes an issue for Microsoft Exchange accounts where the organizer of a meeting might not be notified when someone accepts an invitation using Calendar

Calendar is Apple's built-in Calendar app for OS X. One of the quirks of supporting Macs in an Exchange environment is that there are two different paths that lead to Exchange connectivity: the Microsoft path and the Apple path. If you take the Microsoft path, you use Outlook 2015 for Mac for all your mail, calendar, and contact needs. If you take the Apple path, though, you enter Exchange information in the Internet Accounts window of Apple's System Preferences app, and then use Apple's stock apps--Calendar, Mail, and Contacts--to work with Exchange.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Outlook is the more pure Microsoft experience, to be sure. Users who are accustomed to Microsoft software and services will find it similar to what they've experienced on Windows, though it's not quite the same. Longtime Mac users will find it more foreign, while Apple's apps will be familiar--they're the same apps those users might be using at home for their personal email, calendars, and contacts.

Unfortunately, Apple's support for Exchange in its native apps, while admirable, has always been quirky on the Mac. (I once made the mistake of commingling my work Exchange contacts with the personal contacts I'd been storing on my Mac, and I'm still slowly undoing the damage.) Andrew's bug is just one example. Using Calendar to handle event scheduling with multiple attendees, while theoretically possible, was never anything but a disaster for me--I always ended up retreating to OWA (Outlook Web App) when I needed to schedule something.

In any event, this quirky experience is slightly less quirky now that Andrew's bug has been fixed. While we'll never know if it was Andrew himself who caused this bug to be addressed, he did report it to Apple after a coworker complained about the issue to him in December. After checking out a discussion on Apple's support site, Andrew filed a bug, and now it's fixed.

Sure, it's nice if you can pick up the phone and call someone at Apple to find out if a bug is known. But even if you don't have someone from Cupertino in your contacts list, you can still make yourself heard. Using the discussions.apple.com community can be good for a sharing of tips and frustrations, but that's not how you get Apple to fix bugs. For that, you've got to use Radar.

Radar is the nickname for Apple's Bug Reporter tool, available at bugreporter.apple.com. If you're outside Apple, Radar is a weird, semi-opaque web app. But bug tickets filed with Radar are like currency within Apple. If you file a bug using Radar, you will probably have it marked as a duplicate with no other communication, which is supremely frustrating.

But I can tell you from talking to people at Apple, the more dupes a bug has, the more likely it is to be prioritized. (And no, it doesn't hurt to let anyone you know at Apple, whether it's someone in development or even your account rep, that you're being bitten by the bug. And that you filed a Radar.) And nothing bugs an Apple engineer more than having you complain to them about a bug, then hearing that you didn't ever file a Radar on it. (The off-color phrase popularized by Apple's Michael Jurewitz is "Radar or GTFO.")

I've filed numerous Radars and only once did I not have my bug marked as a duplicate. (The one outlier, I was asked to provide more specific debugging information, which I did, and then the bug was marked as a duplicate.) But many, if not most, of the bugs I filed did get fixed eventually. Even if I wasn't the first to report the problem, perhaps my additional duplicate hastened the fix? Dare to dream.

The larger point is that Apple can be a pretty opaque company. Apple likes to be a black box, revealing as little as possible until a big reveal at a press event or with the dropping of a press release. Even the company's release notes can be infuriatingly oblique, along the lines of "assorted bug fixes." It can be frustrating if you're used to dealing with companies that are externally responsive. Actually, it's just plain frustrating. But in the end, if using Radar can draw Apple's attention to a problem that's been vexing you or the users you support, it's worth the frustration.

[Jason Snell has been writing about Apple stuff for a couple of decades. He's the editor in chief of Six Colors and was previously editorial director of IDG's PC World, Macworld, TechHive, and Greenbot. Email him at [email protected].]

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