Apple's Failure To Ensure Backwards Compatibility In Big Sur Leaves Developers Quite Sour

from the doesn't-anyone-check-these-things dept

When there’s a major OS upgrade, like Apple’s recent Big Sur MacOS release, you would hope that an effort was made to ensure backwards compatibility with key apps and services. However, it’s now become clear that Apple failed to do so, and a variety of different developers across a variety of different applications have had to scramble over the last few weeks to update their apps just to keep working on the latest version of MacOS. It’s always understandable that a few apps may fall through the cracks, but with Big Sur, it’s notable just how widespread the reports are of compatibility problems, and just how much scrambling app developers had to do just to make sure their apps continued working. Here are just a few reports of such problems from across the internet.

Starcraft 2

There are plenty of gripes from users about Starcraft 2 problems on Big Sur found on MacRumors and elsewhere.

The issues range from crashes on start to display issues to being “unable to quit the game” (a feature?). A user comments “In general macOS is a train wreck when it comes to gaming,” but the blame is quickly assigned to the Big Sur update.

“Actually before the update, SC2 worked perfectly on my macbook. All the problems only started with Big Sur. I’m still having the issues unfortunately, but I have a workaround that works (with my eGPU)”.

Apache’s Netbeans IDE

This is one case where developers moved quickly. By November 21 the second voting candidate for Netbeans 12.2 was announced with Java programmer Glenn Holmer praising the inclusion of the “Big Sur fix.” The previous release had startup issues.

Other Java IDEs

Many other Java IDEs had issues: “Well, yesterday I impatiently upgraded to MacOs Big Sur and since then I can’t use any of my IDEs (Eclipse, Netbeans, IntelliJ). They don’t recognize the JDK” wrote Pablo Herreo.

It turns out Apple broke the “Java_home” environment variable in Big Sur.

Other programmers suggest using the SDKman package manager “I use sdkman to manage my JDKs and other Java-related stuff. It works pretty good even on MacOS Big Sur” wrote Gleb Remniov.

In the middle of this brouhaha, Azul Systems gets a nod for giving Big Sur users some hope: two weeks ago, the firm had released builds of its Zulu OpenJDK port both for x64 and Apple Silicon which at least made the Netbeans team happy.

Apache’s OpenOffice

“After upgrading from Catalina to Big Sur, users on our French forum report that docx and xlsx cannot be opened. Whatever the opening process, OpenOffice crashes” reads the bug report on the project’s public bugtracker.

This was confirmed by other users on the web forum: “have the same problem. Safe Mode doesn’t fix it.”

Other user comments show that the OpenOffice fork LibreOffice also had issues: “the big problem with LibreOffice at the moment is that, with Big Sur on a Retina-screened Mac, the text is blurry. The devs at LibreOffice are looking to fix this”


MacOS Catalina and beyond changed the way the OS handles kernel extensions, some of them requiring a system reboot. This raised some developer worries last year. What started as worries has turned into actual problems with Big Sur during the beta cycle for some developers. One example is with Virtualbox, Oracle’s open source virtualization solution.

A long bug report (ticket#19795) on the project’s public bugtracker documents the hurdles faced by users who had VBox working fine on earlier releases but failing on Big Sur, with “security pop-ups” that developers expected to appear, but users didn’t get.

In the end, some manual command line magic and rebooting often led to a working configuration. The good news is that there is now a Virtualbox release available that manages to work fine for most if not all Big Sur users (version 6.1.17 (r141370)).

But the bug squashing didn’t end without sweat and tears. In the flaming bug report, a project contributor was facing end user criticism and chastised Apple for changing a command line tool during the beta cycle, “Apple completely re-did their KEXT handling and there were issues throughout the different Betas with it blocking us from getting everything tested extensively, they even changed the kmutil command line tool completey[sic] in the last Beta.” That same user notes that people saying that “ample time” was given to developers to adjust “is a joke.”

ZFS also affected

In the same Virtualbox bug report, a user reports compatibility problems with the ZFS file system port to the fruity OS: “Nevermind! Further research indicated that the problem was my ZFS installation which hasn’t been made compatible with Big Sur yet”

ZFS developer Jörgen Lundman is still battling the compatibility bugs and API changes, with a test release for x64 available. But things aren’t so easy on ARM64: “So many kernel functions that are missing – so it is hard to say. Still working on it though” he said two weeks ago.

One of the ZFS users has cleverly nicknamed the OS “Bug Sur.” Some sour Apples, indeed.

The more you look, the more problems you find. Native Instruments is noting that a bunch of its software is somehow causing CPU spikes on Big Sur, and it’s working with Apple to find a solution:

Using a MASCHINE MK2 or MIKRO MK2 on macOS 11 (Big Sur) can produce high CPU spikes on your computer, which could cause it to freeze. We are working together with Apple to find a solution to this problem.

Using a KOMPLETE AUDIO 1, KOMPLETE AUDIO 2 or KOMPLETE AUDIO 6 MK2 on macOS 11 (Big Sur) can cause CPU spikes and distortion with sample rates above 172kHz. This can be avoided by selecting large buffer sizes (2000ms). We are working together with Apple to find a solution to this problem.

It’s not surprising that there might be some compatibility problems and updates necessary to deal with a new OS, but it’s striking to see just how many apps seem to have been caught totally off-guard by these changes.

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Comments on “Apple's Failure To Ensure Backwards Compatibility In Big Sur Leaves Developers Quite Sour”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: That‘s what the beta program is for

Well, looking through the issues raised some didn’t, they just ran into issues where Apple weren’t much help or took a long time to resolve. Also, until you have an actual release candidate betas can change significantly during development. The VirtualBox and ZFS issues seem by design, as well.

Others seem slightly more on the dev side of things, for example OpenOffice users not being able to open Office format files seems to big an issue to have missed, and a basic functional env variable seems very strange to have not noticed was being broken. But, I do find it interesting that these more obvious issues were affecting former or current Oracle products.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: That‘s what the beta program is for

What you are describing is called Alpha. Beta should have api’s and command line utilities locked down and just be fixing bugs. For something like an OS, there should be a stage post Alpha and pre-Beta where all the APIs are locked down, but there may still be substantial bugs. At that point, developers can start testing and porting with some assurance that the rug will not be pulled out from under them.

There is no question that Apple really messed this one up.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: That‘s what the beta program is for

"What you are describing is called Alpha."

Not at all. Are you saying that beta software will not change significantly between the first public beta and the first release candidate? That would be news to some betas I’ve seen.

"Beta should have api’s and command line utilities locked down and just be fixing bugs"

Yes. There’s no indication that this wasn’t the case here. Several of the issues described aren’t bugs, they’re design decisions made by Apple that some developers didn’t correctly test for or have had problems reacting to in time. The only likely OS bug I can see in the list of issues described is a Java env variable randomly changing, the rest seem to be a combination of inadequate app testing and architecture changes.

"There is no question that Apple really messed this one up."

There certainly is a question, but some people prefer to just blame Apple for everything.

crade (profile) says:

Re: That‘s what the beta program is for

Acted late? Beta’s are to get people to help you find the bugs in your product not for other developers to work around them for you.

These apps never claimed to support Big Sur OS, it’s not their responsibility to update it, they could leave them broken forever if they felt like it was worth working around the problems in the new OS.

nohillside (profile) says:

Re: Re: That‘s what the beta program is for

Apple rolls out betas to developers even more often as to end users. And while the later for sure is primarily intended to gather early feedback on bugs related to macOS, the developer betas main objective os to give developers a head start in testing and if necessary updating their products if necessary.

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Mike M (profile) says:

par for the course

Worked for HP in 2002 right before they rolled out CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) in 10.2. Next to no notice was given. Our tech support teams were murdered by the Apple devotees who will never admit their favorite company did something wrong.

Apple acolytes will always refuse to acknowledge what a garbage company it is. It doesn’t give a rats ass about developers.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: par for the course -- Zombo makes reference to the DIRT!

Bring Out Your Dead — Oh, got themselves out!

SEIBOMZ! In last few hours, TWO "accounts" having 8.5 year GAPS!

PLUS this one with minor gap:

nohillside: Dec 28th, 2018 — 2 year GAP to 2nd!

Mike M: 4 (<0.5), 8 year 5 month GAP! Jun 19th, 2012

Andrew Pam: 13 (< 1), 16 month; 14 month; 8 and half year GAP to 2nd! Feb 6th, 2007

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: par for the course -- Zombo makes reference to the D

So far as I can tell by looking at the TOR exit nodes IP address, there’s no relation.

BUT once show resolve, I guess that Techdirt gives in.

Since there’s NO information from the site — Maz can’t admit that there’s any blocking after all his prattle about "open to anyone" — and my comments on-topic except when protest the apparent blocking and definite censoring — then I just have to WHINE so publicly as can trying to get this "Free Speech" site to NOT discriminate against viewpoints (a court term, look it up).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 par for the course -- Zombo makes reference to t

You are truly pathetic…

"So far as I can tell by looking at the TOR exit nodes IP address, there’s no relation."

According to the snowflake icon you posted all these comments from the same IP.

It’s funny really, you’re so single-mindedly obsessed with pretending that your issues aren’t about people telling you to GTFO, purely because you’re an obnoxious dickhead, that you can’t even use the threadbare disguises you use properly. It’s like watching someone get drunk and get kicked out for trying to start a fight, then walking back in with a different hat and getting angry that the bouncer recognised you.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: again seems TD locked down to okaying each...

Dear Mr. Masnick,

Please, please, add a TOR filter to this site. Anonymous posting is awesome but having no way to completely block pathetic, abusive trolls such as the wet turd above is serving nobody’s best interests. TOR enables this kind of dumbfuckery and has few, if any, redeeming qualities. It’s not even truly anonymizing as governments all over the world operate TOR nodes to track these idiots where they dwell.

Allowing connections from TOR exit nodes only asks for trouble.

Yet another anonymous reader

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: again seems TD locked down to okaying each...

I dislike replying to my own posts but I have a bit more to add.

I once operated a hugely popular networking service on the net. I won’t say which one or what the service did exactly as that would give away my identity. But this service has operated for decades and still does now though I am no longer involved.

We were having problems with abuse, attacks and credit card fraud and we determined that over 99% of all of this activity took place over TOR. I added a TOR filter to the system and suddenly almost all of our problems disappeared and stayed disappeared. What little remained became the next priority and it turned out that almost all of that traffic originated in China, the remained from Vietnam. A few firewall rules solved that problem.

We were losing customers because of the problems caused by users using TOR. It was well worth shutting that door to regain stability. I should note also that this service allowed for free, anonymous usage. Killing TOR does nothing to change that.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 2nd: again seems TD locked down to okaying each...

By the way for new readers, IF were any: "PaulT" has admitted he’s PAID to troll here, claiming he’s so uniquely valuable that (a Gibraltar) company lets him watch Netflix on the job, needed only for short times.

BALONEY. He hasn’t advanced in the 12 years he’s been commenting here! — Conclusion: he’s a security guard, only job that fits his stated facts.

Slow Joe Crow (profile) says:

Big Sur has also made IT support a massive headache by effectively locking out patching and remote control tools like Connectwise Automate and also breaking anti-virus software. Sophos Endpoint is still not compatible although they are working on it. Apple has doubled down on the walled garden and made enterprise use even harder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why the supprise?

Apple is notorious for screwing ABI compatibility.

It’s not like people should have forgotten that they’ve effectively gone through 3 different processor architectures with OS X (Now called macOS): PowerPC, x86_64, and now transitioning to their own internal A1 architecture. (If you count the original MacOS Motorola’s 68000 is in there too.)

Nor the fact that Apple has deprecated industry standard software development frameworks in favor of forcing everyone to use it’s own BS. Looking at you Metal.

Or how about the fact that to develop for a particular version of their platforms you need their desktop hardware from that era to run the compiler for. Which XCode do I need to develop for Mojave again? How about iOS 13?

The whole iOS deprecation of 32bit apps anyone? A lot of people were upset about the loss of various games that would never see a 64bit release.

People constantly whine about applications breaking with Mac updates, and have for years. It’s common knowledge at this point. You’d think that by now, Apple would be on death’s door for constantly making the work of app developers, the people who make Apple’s shit do useful things, more difficult. Sadly, it seems that there is enough of a market for Apple to continue being abusive to it’s third party developers. The good news is that market isn’t growing very much because of said abuse.

Alan Ralph (profile) says:

I waited until the Tuesday before the launch of Big Sur to (finally) upgrade my iMac from Mojave to Catalina. At that point, I was pretty certain that most of the glitches in the latter had been dealt with, and didn’t fancy any fresh surprises from Big Sur. That is the longest I’ve gone between macOS upgrades, and I’m tempted to wait longer until the next one after seeing the pain that many developers and users are going through. And given that my iMac will be deemed ‘vintage’ by Apple in a few years from now — and as such no longer supported — I may end up repurposing it as a Linux machine by that point.

JohnIL says:

Big Sur equals Big mess

Apple has lost its way with Tim Cook, seriously anyone who defends Cook these days is ignoring the lack of hands on in terms of getting products out the door as smoothly as possible. The missteps are far too many to ignore. The Butterfly keyboards, the thermal throttling, issues with product releases, terrible redesigns such as the M1 Mac’s with less ports not more. I mean who does Apple think uses a MacBook Pro with only two Thunderbolt ports?? Big Sur is a OS that needed to be delayed until it had more time to work out all the compatibility issues. Same goes for the M1 Mac’s which have proven great running benchmarks but causing many compatibility issues. It’s been a really rough introduction for Apple silicon Mac’s and a new MacOS change. Personally, I went back to Catalina and am so glade I opted to stick with Intel Mac’s rather then take a chance on a M1 Mac.

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