The Great Leopard Fallacy

I’ve been a Mac user for ages. I’ve been a blogger for exactly two sentences. The internet doesn’t need another Apple-related forum, I know this, I don’t care. Some of Apple’s recent decisions (read: almost all of them) bug me. I think Apple is turning away from what made them great innovators. I think their products and, most importantly, the Mac OS are suffering for it.

The grand release of the “secret features” of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard are what prompted me to begin this blog. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when Steve Jobs began making correlations between the Mac OS and iTunes. Jobs blathered on in his tiresome, used car salesman way, about how amazing iTunes is and how everybody loves to use it and how amazing it is and did I mention how amazing it is? Let’s get something straight, Jobs:

  • iTunes is not now, nor has it ever been, great software.
  • People don’t LOVE using iTunes. They HAVE TO use it. It’s the only way they can get music onto their iPod. They LOVE their iPods – they tolerate iTunes.
  • iTunes has always been a lackluster, gussied up pig. It does what it needs to do, but it’s nothing to write home about. Is it better than the competition? Maybe, who knows, I can’t use any other software with my iPod. If I could, I bet someone would write a sleeker, leaner, faster more full-featured audio app.
  • People don’t really “use” iTunes. They don’t sit around all day organizing and reorganizing their music. They plug stuff into and pull stuff out of it. The time actually spent WITH the app is minimal.
  • Other than you, Steve Jobs, nobody masturbates in front of Cover Flow. Nobody.

THE FINDER GETS LOST

I knew the presentation was off to a rocky start when Jobs claimed that he was looking to Apple’s bloated freeware for inspiration for the Mac OS X Finder.

Sure enough, upon revelation of the Finder – it was clear that the blessed design elements of iTunes had been adopted by the OS. Sweet Jesus of Nazareth, tears of blood hath fallen from mine eyes! But, you know, honestly, I don’t hate it. Some thoughts both positive and negative:

  • The smaller type and tighter iconography footprint in the left nav will help to keep things more organized.
  • I’ve never loved the grey-blue sidebar of iTunes and newer Apple app revisions, I find it too low-contrast and not conducive to the kind of quick-lookup pace that I work at.
  • Organizing icons into collapsible groups is great. Very useful for getting things out of the way.
  • But wait…can I create groups? Can I add icons like I can now? Hard to tell. If not, I won’t buy Leopard. That little detail will be a deal-breaker. I need to customize my work environment. I don’t need Master Jobs telling me what buckets my files will be allowed in.
  • Smart searches – useful in concept, but I personally never actually use them. I hope I can remove them and replace them with links to folders instead. Again, Apple should NOT be forcing my hand into using meta-tagging and Spotlight to organize. It’s not the way I work and it’s not the way I want to work. Ever.

Cover Flaw

As a designer having a Cover Flow view in the Finder will come in handy on occasions when I need to visually search for a file and have loads of time to waste. Oh, wait, that is NEVER EVER the case. I don’t have time to flip through a whole goddamned folder of pictures in a ridiculous, overwrought format just because it looks “cool.” This is one of many examples of the egos at Apple getting in the way of REAL interface designers with REAL ideas of how people use things. Hey Apple, ever heard of the Apple Human Interface Guidelines? Oh, right, you wrote them. So, I guess you don’t believe in them anymore?

    Here is what I imagine would be a sample of dialogue in the Apple OS X offices:

    INTERFACE DESIGNER: I think Cover Flow is a time-consuming, unintuitive way to view computer files.

    STEVE JOBS: Cover Flow is used in iTunes. It was my idea to buy it and add it in. I love Cover Flow and iTunes.

    INTERFACE DESIGNER: All hail Cover Flow.

    I wouldn’t be so irked about the introduction of these things as “features” in Leopard if it wasn’t so apparent that the R&D being put into making them a reality is taking away from the real features that OS X needs that still, many versions later, have yet to be added. Some of my personal pet peeves:

    • No cutting in the Finder. You can copy, you can paste, but you can’t cut. In order to move a file from a folder you are currently viewing to another folder without copying and pasting it, you have to open both folders in separate Finder windows and manually drag the file from one to the other. Even WINDOWS has cutting in its Explorer! It makes life so…much…simpler. OK, Apple, so you are afraid that Tommy McHomeuser is going to be confused by the concept of cutting a file and pasting it elsewhere. So, invent a fucking workaround. Make it more intuitive. Or, if need be, make it available in preferences for smart users that want it and turn it off for everyone else! I was forced to work on Windows for years and never once did I lose a file from cutting and pasting — but many, many times I wondered why it was a feature I could only get in the Microsoft OS.
    • Open and Save dialogue boxes from hell. This is long-standing complaint of Mac users. The open and save dialogue boxes are moronically disabled. Those dialogues should be full-fledged mini-finders. If I am saving a document and I see another file that has the name I want to use, I should be able to click on that file and change it’s name. Instead, I have to open a Finder window, navigate to the folder, change the name and return back to the save dialogue. What the fuck. Again – it’s these tiny little things that people do 1,000 times a day that end up saving huge swaths of time. Cover Flow will not save you time — fully featured Open and Save dialogue boxes will.
    • Column view is irritating and doesn’t work right. The columns never seem to be sized sensibly for content. The Finder doesn’t remember sizes you’ve changed.
    • Why do filenames collapse in the center. This is one of my biggest small pet peeves. If I have a file named “The trip I took to San Francisco,” and the Finder column, or icon view can’t fit it all in (why the fuck can’t it? figure it out Apple! The interface should adapt!) it is more sensible to collapse the name as “The trip I took…” than “The trip I t…cisco” Maybe it’s just me, but my brain does not work that way. I am more likely to remember a file if I can see the first few words in their entirety.
    • Calculate files sizes, change modification dates on the fly. This had better be fixed in Leopard – I am so tired of having to “touch” files to get them to update.
    • Icon view — why doesn’t Clean Up work well? Why are the snap-to-grid grids so broad and unuseable? I know this is being addressed to some degree, I hope it is made perfect – there is no reason why Apple can’t perfect these simple layout functions.
    • Changing View Options – “all windows” vs. “this window only”. OH MY GOD — when I make a change to a window please default to it only being for THIS window. Why would I, every time I make a change, want it to be global across the entire computer?
    • Useful labels. The label is a simple, colorful way to remember what files are for. Back in OS 9 days, I used them constantly to organize files. You’d choose a label and it would colorize the icon. After removing them from OS X initially, Apple came back with the current grotesque solution — to encapsulate the file name in an opaque balloon of color. Gross and unreadable! Assholes! Surely Sir Jobs of Cupertino insisted that they make them as unuseable as possible so that he could prove, once and for all, that he was correct to not include them in OS X. That, my friends, is the backwards way of an unhinged ego.

    I could go on and will, presumably, in future posts. For now, suffice it to say that Apple is leaving behind the kind of small attention to detail that made its products so great to use and are instead using broad, ham-fisted attempts at making the interface seem “cool” and “cutting edge” in order to garner attention from Windows users. Sadly, this lack of focus on what is important is going to turn the Mac OS more Windows-like with every turn. There is more to interface design than cheap gimmicks (I’m talking to you – Delicious Generation).

    Case in point…The NEW DESKTOP

    Now, I purposely wrote about the Finder first because the Desktop is nausea-inducing and I wouldn’t have made it through the rest of the post. Though its changes are relatively few, and not all bad, the changes that are bad are so indicative of the poor choices that Apple has made as of late, they’ll make true Mac lovers sweat stone.

    The Transparent Toolbar

    King Jobsingham VI claims that Apple “learned” that people don’t use the desktop pics that come with their Macs (really? I do.) No, they use the newfangled digital photograph to decorate their desktops. Wow, Apple must have had a lot of sleepless nights gathering that fucking groundbreaking info. Boy, I sure hope they turn all of that info into a new and awesome “feature” for Leopard…

    Oh, by gum, they have! The toolbar, a main source of interaction for ALL APPLE APPS, has been turned partially translucent (so you can see your hip-digital-photography behind it) with all black lettering. Wow, this IS revolutionary! Apple is stepping up their game now…unreadable is the new readable!

    Here is an idea: Don’t.

    But, if you are going to make this erroneous decision (presumably for no other reason than to show off the enhanced graphics abilities proffered by Core Animation, etc.) then at least do it right. First, have the toolbar do a gaussian blur on the photo so that the details don’t show through and distract our eyes as we are trying to read the nav. Second, have it brighten the photograph enough so that the black text is actually visible against it. Third, have the nifty Core-whatever engine determine the optimum balance of contrast and automatically change the color of the text so that the menu bar options are always at least 90% viewable.

    This is such a short-sighted and cheap attempt at cool-factor that I’m shocked that it made its way into a beta. This is Microsoft territory here – the result of boardrooms making user interface decisions instead of experts. It’s total and complete bullshit and they had BETTER have an option to turn it off.


    The Magical Three-Dimensional Dock

    Oh fucking YAWN! Give me a break with this visual gimmick. As if the hideous monstrosity that is Time Machine wasn’t enough of a spit-in-the-eye, now the dock has been redesigned by the same hopes-to-work-for-Pixar design hack. Fucking hell!

    Not only that, but now the dock reflects everything on earth. Note, this is a “feature” but, in reality, I bet it annoys the shit out of a lot of hard-working people really quickly. I wouldn’t buy a desk made out of a mirror — because seeing everything I am doing reflected upside down is distracting and in no way helpful to me. And, in fact, when working on detailed, labor intensive work, reflections will become a constant visual fixation at the bottom of the screen that I don’t want or need. Anytime I make a change to a graphic or a video I’m going to see, in the corner of my vision, a flickering double. No, god, damned, thank, you, Apple.

    “Oh, but Mac Topic,” you say, “weren’t you entranced into buying Leopard by the gentle up and down movement of the window as Jobs showed it ‘elegantly’ reflected in the dock? Weren’t you, like I, immediately convinced that this was an OS FROM THE FUTURE?” Um, no. I was, in fact, only convinced that Apple hired a bunch of freshman design students to lead its interface team. Freshman or easily distracted house cats.

    It Wasn’t All Bad

    • Stacks are a potentially useful feature. I doubt I’ll be using the gimmicky fanning-out-everywhere view — the grid seems a hell of a lot easier to view for any real work.
    • Quick Look is obviously hugely useful. This is an old-fashioned Apple feature in the sense that it will actually make my day-to-day Mac usage easier and more delightful. I eagerly look forward to using this and NOT Cover Flow.
    • The new DVD Player looks really swank – I look forward to giving it a whirl.

    Things I’ll Miss That I Never Had

    Leading up to the Keynote, one of the rumors was that Leopard would have independently sizable icons. This would have been a HUGE boon to productivity. I would love to be able to go into icon view or, better yet, list view and resize certain files to make them stand out. I was eagerly awaiting this announcement and, for some reason, fully expected it to come to fruition. I suppose because it seemed like such an easy concept (that nobody ever thought to include) and Ye Old Apple of olden times would be just such a company to include it. Eh, who knows, maybe it’ll make it into future revisions. But, I can’t wait another 20 months for it.

    On Secret Features

    I was flummoxed that even Steve Jobs would have the balls to hint at forthcoming “secret features” and then get on stage and reveal the lame tacked-on additions to the OS that he did. He must have been mortified to say that he was going to reveal 10 new features and then only reveal 3…while pretending that they were all new, despite having given them away a long time ago. It was a completely contrived and uninspired performance and I think even those usually susceptible to Jobs’ Jonestownian presentations had a suspicious eye on the Kool-Aid.

    Yucky.

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    15 Responses to “The Great Leopard Fallacy”

    1. zabbadabba Says:

      You’ve read my mind!

    2. kidmidnight Says:

      :angry: NEW THINGS!!!! :angry:

    3. Matt Says:

      You brought up several amazing points in your article. I especially like you mentioning the Save Dialog boxes and renaming files. It’s stuff like that, which I’ve thought of before but couldn’t ever recite when asked, that makes or breaks your day. If Leopard fixed all that you said and then tacked on a few more things, I’d be way more excited than I am about an iTunes 7-ish Finder.

    4. Damond Says:

      I agree with most of what you were saying. It seemed like Steve woke up on the 10th of June and just remembered he had a keynote to deliver the next day and just threw something together. I was very disappointed and was hoping for something “Apple-like”.

      I don’t see a reason to go out and buy Leo because its basically Tiger with a new bell and whistle.

      Dock – LAME
      MenuBar – LAME
      Background – DOUBLE LAME (Vista grass anyone?)
      Coverfow – Eh, bla bla bla

      Other features…

      Oh, thats right, there were none Steve thought were important enough to showcase. I really hope he has something up his sleve for the interface. This CAN NOT be the next OS from Apple!

    5. James Says:

      I agree with most of what you say, but where I think I agree most is with your vehemence. Jobs keynote was an utter disappointment. It’s been over a couple of years since Tiger first launched, and I was expecting a big improvement. So far, the only things that really impress me are 64bit and Core Animation. And they’ve done nothing to show me that they’re putting Core Animation to good use.

      Time Machine seems like an absolute sick joke. I can see the need for automated backups, but there’s better ways. Otherwise, I’m struck with a simple fact: when I want to delete something I want it deleted, dammit. I don’t like having a bunch of useless goddamn clutter.

      I can see trying to appeal to the complete nitwit user, but goddammit, no matter how good software gets it will never change a very simple fact: users, to get the most out of a computer system, have to develop a set of fundamental skills. Nothing will ever negate that.

      iChat’s great new feature is PhotoBooth effects. Jesus Christ. I was nauseated by how much time they took in the keynote to show of that fluff. I can see doing it at MacWorld, maybe. But in front of a bunch of developers. The fact that there weren’t boos makes me question the capacity of many developers for indepedent thought.

      Let’s face it: the new desktop is downright vista-esque. Jobs blather about the use of pics is debatable: most of the time I use a solid color desktop to reduce clutter. The fact that they choose that stupid grass picture, and then put translucent menus over it, just screamed VISTA. “Redmond, we have a problem. Please slow down. With our new release we’ll be 8 months behind you in look and feel. But don’t worry, we’re not gonna try to surpass you.”

      Don’t even get my started on the cheesey frames for the Dashboard webclips. Uggh.

      As to cover flow, I actually am not opposed to it. I do a lot of photography and page layout, and I can see the use in it. Big previews of docs and images can be nice, particularly if you’re trying decide what to throw out. (As long as that awful Time Machine doesn’t get in my way of throwing shit out.) I’m sure I’ll use it and that it will morph into something more useful. Combined with Quicklook I”m sure there’ll be some time saving and utility.

      I would have loved to have heard about the 300 new features in Leopard. Even a quick rundown. I hope, for example, the Preview is more fully-featured. With CoreImage, they’ve got everything to easily make it a powerful program. Stationary in Mail? Gimme a break. Welcome to the 1990s, Leopard!

      Oh, one more gripe: These damned iTunes inspired windows replacing brushed metal? Are you serious? It’s like some drabbed vision of a post-apocalyptic future. I really dislike it.

      In general, I’ve yet to see ANY compelling reason to upgrade to Leopard. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Tiger looks more beautiful to me all the time. Actually, the WWDC keynote was such an immense disappointment that I’d really worried about my switch to the Mac platform. Whether you’re with MS or Apple, the more time you’ve invested in them the more you’re stuck with it if they go down downright goofy paths. I was really left with the feeling that if this is where OS development is going at Apple, I could be in for a few very unhappy years.

      I’m really hoping this is all some kind of sick, twisted joke. That we’ll see the real Leopard emerge in the coming months. But right now I’m left with a very unhappy feeling that Apple has lost its way in terms of OS development and now can only throw us iChat with PhotoBooth, with a straight face, and expect us to be impressed.

      If things don’t change by October I’m sticking with TIger. And I’m seriously thinking about Linux for the future.

    6. The Robot Says:

      iTunes is a bit bloated, but there are many many people who use it on a regular basis. If I remember correctly, there are many more copies of iTunes being used than there are iPods in the wild. I myself, have been an avid iTunes user and until recently had no iPod — and the one I have now is just a shuffle.

      That being said, the Finder should not resemble an app, any app. Good UI design dictates commonalities between objects of similar function and obvious differences otherwise. Separation of function demonstrated by separation of form. The Finder and Desktop should be obviously different in appearance from the files and applications they help manage. Its poor form to merge iTunes and the Finder for the same reason it was poor form for Microsoft to merge their windowing system with Internet Explorer.

      Now, good UI design also dictates that functions of contrary result should be separate. I don’t like the fact that the method for customizing Windows’ start menu is the same method for using it. Things that look like buttons should be read-only. By the same logic, open and save dialogs should only open and save, it is counter-intuitive otherwise. I can see the potential gain in being able to change filenames directly from within the dialog, and that is exactly what UI design is about — deciding when to make exceptions to intuitive rules for gains in efficiency. Perhaps a good compromise would be to have the familiar magnifying glass or arrow icons to “show in Finder” any file you like, thereby speeding up the process of reaching the file you want to rename, but still reserve functions of that kind to the Finder.

      And you are 100% correct that aesthetics have begun to infringe on usability, but that has been the deliberate trend since OS 10 began. Many useful features were deliberately stripped out — including labels — to give the interface a “strikingly” streamlined design. As “new” features were slowly added back in, some — like labels — made concessions to aesthetics. Tinted icons were determined to diminish the beauty of the full-color icons, so a way was found to highlight the color of the text. I agree that this solution is preposterous, but, ah, well, I got used to it. Evil words, I know.

      Collapsing filenames in the center is actually a stroke of genius, I think, and I was very happy to see that in OS 10. Most people who end up with multiple versions of a given document end up either incrementing the file name or adding dates on the end — so the most useful information is at both ends, not in the center. Tihs is aslo how the hmuan bairn wkors at an itsniucntal lveel.

      There was quite a bit of criticism of some other features that are optional. I don’t really see the point in getting upset over features you don’t have to use. CoverFlow can be hidden, just as in iTunes. TimeMachine can be turned off.

      Speaking of TimeMachine, it’s a great feature, I just wish it didn’t look like a bad PBS animation from the mid-80s. If the starfield is customizable it won’t be that bad. Remember, the files you delete are still deleted, they just aren’t deleted from your backup drive, which, as I understand it, is not anywhere on your internal drive unless you make it that way. This is common to virtually every piece of backup software on the market.

      I agree with everything else you said, but I’ve already adapted to most of the minor shortcomings, and I’ve adapted to bad appearance changes in the past too. (Was never a fan of the brushed metal, I pillbox it back to the old-fashioned window for my most commonly used windows.) Since most of the new features are either great boons or optional, I’ll be onboard — provided that the transparent menubar is optional/customizable in some way, which I’m sure it will be — as demonstrated, not a fan.

    7. mactopic Says:

      Thanks all for your detailed feedback. It’s always good to hear alternate opinions and viewpoints (and to hear that I am not alone in my completely solitary thrashing against Apple).

      One thing I feel that Mac users would benefit from is Apple releasing a Pro version of OS X. Whether that be a System Preference or an actual separate system (brand dilution would be a problem there) – it’d be great to allow some of these simple features to be turned on for those that use it.

      I know all of the features I lament are things that would immediately make my workflow faster. I know I can’t be alone in that. The limitations of the Finder make it very hard for anyone with massive amounts of files to work in OS X.

      The Robot – interesting point about names collapsing in the middle. I version all of my files but somehow the cut-off middle still drives me nuts. I wind up naming everything the shortest sensible names I can and then viewing files in the list-view in the Finder with the name column spread as far open as they allow (note: another huge pet peeve is that Apple limits how far you can open it).

    8. The Robot Says:

      Well, as for the collapsing in middle, Apple gave you one more option — get reasonably sure which file is the one you want, then hover the mouse over it for a moment. If the name has been truncated at all, a pop-up will appear with the full file-name inside. That, or you can Opt-Command-I it and just keep the inspector open. Not great solutions, mind you, but solutions.

    9. Chris Says:

      Hey, if you’re looking for someone who loves iTunes – it’s me: I haven’t seen any other application that allows me to organize my music in such a simple, powerful and flexible way. Smart playlists are great (as they are in iPhoto). Cover flow offers me a nice alternative way to explore my library – not my primary way, but still good. The same with regard to the finder: It’s just a fourth option to look at your files; if you don’t like it, take options one to three.

      Apart from that: I absolute agree with you with regard to the fugly transparent menu bar. It’s a disaster, but, anyway, make a desktop picture with 20 or so white pixels at the top and your done.

      As I’ve heard (I’m not exactly a techie), most of Leopard’s new stuff is under the hood (missing fileserver connections won’t stall my Mac for two minutes, etc).

      Collapsing in the middle is ok, because filenames have their most important information at the beginning and the end.

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      I am sure that there are plenty of positives out there, but what have you seen for yourself? Tell me about my uneasy succession Wanna good joke? What does it mean when the flag’s at half mast at the post office? They’re hiring.

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