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  • The Tiger Report: What About These Silly Annoyances?

    May 14th, 2005

    All right, I accept the fact that the perfect operating system will never be produced, although I can dream. I also accept the fact that in the rush to make a release date, things may be overlooked, with the expectation they’ll be dealt with later. And it isn’t just the usual bugs that must be dealt with. If the bug is serious enough, you just know that it’ll be dealt with in the .1 or .2 release, right?

    But what about interface annoyances, things that clearly fit into the “why did they do that” category? With Tiger, you’ll find a few of those, and I hope Apple won’t force us to wait till 10.5 for a sensible fix. Of course, in the scheme of things, perhaps you won’t regard these as annoyances, but I do, and since this is, after all, my soapbox.

    First there’s Dashboard. It’s a great idea even if it was cribbed from Konfabulator. I am also pleased to see third parties jumping in with both feet, and I’ve already found a few indispensable widgets, such as Yahoo Traffic and VersionTracker. If you want to check out the latest listings, look at Apple’s Dashboard page for the latest and greatest.

    All right, that’s the good part.

    But the crew who handled the Dashboard’s interface design overlooked a few things. First and foremost, how do you dismiss a widget? The answer is not at all obvious, and it should be, since the Mac is the computer that just works, right? Yes, you discover that clicking on that silly plus sign at the left of the Dock with Dashboard on display will reveal the close boxes on all the open widgets, or that holding down the Option key and moving the cursor above the left corner of a widget will also reveal it. Now maybe Apple wanted to afford widgets a uniquely clean look, but they simply don’t conform to the usual interface guidelines of a document and/or application window. Now the third parties, by failing to add resize or scrolling capabilities, are also guilty, but those irritants are fixable.

    Installation? Well, I suppose if you download the widget in Safari, it’ll be handled correctly. But what about Firefox. Do you know what to do with that widget on your desktop? So where does it go? That takes us to another Dashboard question: How do you remove a widget? OK, if you look at the Library folder in your Home or Users directory, you’ll discover the Widgets folder, and its purpose is obvious. But that location isn’t so obvious to the average user. At the very least, maybe there should be an option in the Dashboard preference panel to remove selected widgets, perhaps in the same fashion as you remove a Login item from Accounts.

    At this point, I’m not going to talk about the suspicion that there’s a potential security hole here, one in which malware or a widget with unacceptable content can be installed. That’s a subject for another day.

    Now let’s take a brief look at Spotlight. Microsoft’s operating system developers must be jealous seeing how Apple could pull it off, as they struggle to perfect a similar feature for Longhorn. For the most part, using Spotlight is intuitive. I mean, how can you miss the tiny magnifying glass embedded in a blue circle at the right end of the menu bar? But what if you want to make a Smart Folder? Now maybe it’s logical to confine that capability to the application itself, such as the Finder and Mail.

    But why can’t you do it from the Open and Save dialog boxes? You locate the files you want in a search window, but you can’t build a Smart Folder, on the fly, so those files can be found again next time without starting a new search. Didn’t Steve Jobs once suggest that dependence on the Finder is being reduced? Putting the ability to shut down or restart your Mac in the Apple menu was a good start, but it never went anywhere.

    Even better, adding the ability to make a Smart Folder in the main Spotlight window seems a, well, smart idea to me. Now maybe Apple wants to keep the interface clean, uncluttered. But what about a tiny label, say below the Spotlight preferences link? I’m just shooting from the hip here, but perhaps you get the picture.

    But that’s not all. I would be remiss in my short list if I didn’t focus for a moment on greed. Take QuickTime 7 Pro. You pay $129 for a copy of Tiger. Worse, there was only a tiny window of opportunity to get a cheap copy via the “Up-To-Date” program, because the shipping date was announced almost at the last minute. But now that you’re in the midst of exploring Tiger’s 220 features, you find you have to pony up another $29.95 to make QuickTime 7 to strut all of its stuff? What kind of things? Well, if you want to edit audio and video files, or even use the export feature. How about using Automator to put QuickTime on automatic pilot? Same answer.

    Oh, and do you already have a Pro license from a previous version? It won’t help, because QuickTime 7 won’t recognize it. Sure I understand that Apple deserves to make a fair profit for its products, but crippling QuickTime sends the wrong message, and that’s a message I do not have to spell out. What’s more, you don’t have to attend Harvard Business School to know that this is not a good marketing tool.

    While I don’t expect the need for a QuickTime Pro to vanish on my account, or a quick remedy to some of Tiger’s interface irritants, I hope it’ll provoke discussion. This is just the beginning, so keep emailing your cards and letters.

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