• The Tiger Report: Why Does Mac OS X Need Application Uninstallers?

    August 20th, 2005

    I used to laugh at Windows users. If you’re not acquainted with the other side of the computing world, maybe you don’t realize there’s an Add/Remove Control Panel that does precisely what the title signifies. There’s good reason to require a special method to remove an application in the Windows environment, because it normally doesn’t consist of just a single file, but many strewn throughout various spots of the operating system. A power user can sort things out, of course, but normal people would rather let it happen in a more orderly fashion, with an uninstaller that would, assuming it worked, delete all vestiges of that application and its support files. Sound familiar?

    The situation on this side of the tracks was once entirely different. Where you could once ditch a Mac application simply by tossing away a folder and a few preference files, things are no longer so simple. The Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X throw all illusions of simplicity out the window. Multiple Library folders, Preferences folders, kernel extensions, and all the rest combine to make the process of getting rid of some applications far more difficult. Some even add Uninstall functions in their Installer applications, or provide a separate utility for that purpose and that’s a blessing.

    At the same time, you wonder if Apple did all it could to tame Unix for desktop use. Sure, it comes across, on the surface at least, as just a prettier Mac OS, but that’s just a clever illusion, and a little exploration of the contents of your hard drive will reveal a ming-boggling level of complexity, at least to the average user. And I haven’t even covered those dreaded invisible files. You can’t just poke around anymore with a feeling of confidence that it is extremely difficult to get into real trouble, although the need to enter your password will reduce some of the potential catastrophic effects of putting things in the wrong place.

    But sometimes I think that, in the quest to pile on vast numbers of new features with every Mac OS X release, Apple has forgotten the impact on regular folks who use Macs. Things are supposed to just work, but you end up doing far too much manual labor to help things along.

    Now I suppose it’s a sign of the times. The word simple has a far different meaning in this day and age. A single-button mouse, for example, is out of style, you feel you need a degree in electronics to master a typical high definition TV or a car with a navigation system. Just turning things on and getting on with your business isn’t enough anymore. Even selecting a radio or TV broadcast is no longer easy. With over 130 stations on your satellite radio, more than 300 on your cable or satellite TV, what will you miss if you only stick with one station? Or maybe you just switch stations over and over again in frustration, not finding anything worth more than a moment of your attention.

    Well, I at least have hopes you’ll discover my radio show among the clutter and listen for a while.

    Perhaps job number one for Apple Computer is to now strive to make Mac OS X simple. That may be an impossible task, but it may also be almost impossible to find 200 more great features for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. Maybe it’s time to reorganize the ungainly beast from the ground up, find a better way to manage those tens of thousands of system files so you can sort things out without taking an advanced course in Unix.

    Would it be, for example, too much to ask to restore the ability to simply copy your operating system from one drive to another simply by dragging and dropping a few folders? Do you remember how it used to be, when you wanted to “clone” a hard drive under the Classic Mac OS? You didn’t need special software with the powers to see that invisible spectrum of files that Apple has deigned to hide from your prying eyes.

    No, I am not just an aging hippy trying to regain my youth, return to a time when life wasn’t so chaotic. Today, we have vastly more powerful gadgets at our beck and call. Virtually every computer on our desktops these days is a supercomputer, with powers and abilities to do far more than launch Microsoft Word and run a spelling checker. Apple Computer has prospered because its designers had the amazing ability to make the complicated seem simple, and certainly the iPod epitomizes that concept. That’s why competing music players don’t stand a chance.

    Perhaps it’s high time for Apple to try to get back to its roots with the Mac OS. No, I don’t expect you to be able to store a bootable operating system and all the software you need on a single removable disc. But would it be too much to ask that you not be forced to deal with an obscenely complicated operating system, command line tools and other annoyances when things go wrong?

    My friend John Rizzo, proprietor of MacWindows, has written a neat little book, “Mac Annoyances,” subtitled, “How to Fix the Most ANNOYING Things About Your Mac.”

    Unfortunately, the most annoying thing about today’s Mac is the Mac OS itself.

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