• The Leopard Report: Apple Needs to Stop this Silliness!

    February 4th, 2006

    In recent months, I’ve read some speculation about possible new features for Mac OS 10.5. I don’t think it’s fair to put any labels on some of these ideas at this point; it’s a little premature for that. But rather than examine possible gee-whiz features to see if I can do better than Apple in thinking up cool ideas, I’d rather talk about things that need to be fixed. Understand that fixing something won’t sound terribly compelling in an ad, or in a laundry list of new features, but it would be great to make things work better at the same time the operating system is given more things to do.

    Take a printer icon. Under the Classic Mac OS, you’d see some indication of the progress of a job. Now it’s just there until the task of feeding data to the printer is over, at which time it is supposed to disappear. I say “supposed,” because if you make the foolish mistake of clicking on a printer icon to monitor the progress of a job, it stays there until quit. Now don’t get me wrong; this “feature” actually seems to make the printer status window act like any other Mac OS application. But I’d prefer it to operate in the same fashion as PrintMonitor did, and that is to go away when it’s not doing anything. Am I wrong?

    Now let’s look at the Finder. Someone unearthed an ad from Apple seeking a Finder engineer as evidence of possible new features in Leopard. That might be reaching a little bit, because the ad is just designed to attract potential candidates for a job, not reveal potential new features. Why would Apple spill the beans in so clumsy a fashion? Besides, speculating on Apple’s personnel needs may not reveal anything at all. After all, there are people at Apple who may work hard on products that never bear fruit, or do not appear for a number of years. Think about the team that developed Mac OS X for Intel, a team that operated in secret, except for a rumor here and there. Its work didn’t become public till last June when the switch to Intel processors was announced.

    Instead of talking up new Finder capabilities, I’d much rather make the ones that exist now work more efficiently. There are too many operations that can bring the Finder to its knees, even on the speediest Mac with multiple processors. Run a couple of separate copying operations, for example, or just pull a cable on another Mac that’s linked to your computer by file sharing and see how things come to a screeching halt. Before deciding about new Finder functions, it might be a nice idea to look at the plumbing and make multitasking operate more efficiently, take better advantage of multiprocessing. Then load it up on improved or additional functions.

    That brings is to the Open and Save dialog boxes. Right now, what you get is a somewhat crippled Finder-like display. That’s OK as far as it goes, but if you’re going to take that interface to its logical conclusion, why can’t you add and remove items from the sidebar? Now that I’m at it, maybe Apple should have a long talk with Jon Gotow, author of that great system enhancement, Default Folder X, and maybe get a few ideas on how to improve things. Maybe they should even offer Jon a job to graft his program’s features into the Finder. They can start with listing the recent files you’ve accessed and the ability to rebound to the last document you opened.

    When it comes to sheer performance, Apple Mail does a pretty good job, especially compared to Microsoft Entourage. But there are bottlenecks. Sometimes when it tries to update an index, it just stalls when you try to open a mailbox folder. You might wait an agonizing minute or two, fearing the program froze, before things get going again. Now maybe such things do not occur on the Intel version of Mac OS X, but I’ll have to test things out to be certain.

    There are, however, some things that Apple shouldn’t be forced to fix, unless you really care. There has been a lot of criticism about alleged inconsistencies in the user interface. Mail has a different look than iTunes, which has a different look compared to other Apple software. Some of you feel that every single program must look exactly the same, that there shouldn’t be any design variations beyond those required because of the needs of a particular application. On the other hand, none of this really affects usability or ease of learning, except for one thing: Like Classic, you should be able to drag both the top and bottom of all document windows, even if they don’t adhere to the proper brushed metal look.

    The existing Application menu has also had its share of criticism. Because its width varies based on the number of letters in the name, it supposedly makes it more difficult to home in on other menus. Maybe. I don’t see it as a big issue, actually, and I can see where Apple wanted to keep all application-related menus in a single location, rather than move one off to the other side of the screen. Is that less confusing?

    A final question: Is it a good idea for Apple to rush out Leopard in time to meet the possible threat of Windows Vista? Or just let Microsoft complete its promotional campaign first, rather than try to compete with a larger company’s ad dollars? Apple’s message could get lost in the shuffle. Of course, if Vista doesn’t make the cut and slips again, maybe getting Leopard out the door first would be a better idea. Time will tell.

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