Archive for the ‘Mac OS X’ Category

The Great Leopard Fallacy

June 14, 2007

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.


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.