Here We Go Again: Is Your Problem My Problem?

April 8th, 2006

Before I get started, let me make it quite clear that I do not regard Mac OS X as perfect. I’ve already weighed in on some of my criticisms, and there’s always hope that Leopard will address some of them.

However, a few months ago, I offered what I felt were constructive criticisms when someone complained about problems with Tiger. It turned out that some of the issues were apparently specific to his own installation, and others had nothing to do with Tiger whatever; in fact, they involved Apple’s iLife suite, which is not a part of the operating system.

Well, the reaction was decidedly less than friendly, and I only discovered it by accident, since it wasn’t brought to my attention for a rebuttal. In the end, that person never really addressed any of my concerns, and his responses consisted largely of personal attacks, a frequent refuge for debaters who are left without valid arguments to voice.

I should have learned my lesson, but I’m at it again and I hope this time that my concerns will be addressed in a more mature fashion. Feeding my optimism is the fact that some criticisms have already been presented to the writer in question, but the fundamentals remain untouched. So, this time I’m going to tackle the comments of one Adam Scheinberg at OSnews.

First there’s the matter of “Mounting & Unmounting.” Schienberg complains that you must unmount a storage device on Macs, which he attributes to “the same typical UNIX unmount baggage,” rather than recognize the fact that the Mac OS always worked this way. Unfortunately, he gets error messages and Finder instability in response to something that works just fine for most of us. He blames the operating system, not something that might be wrong with his particular installation.

Under “Media Browsing,” he complains about slow launch times for Apple’s media browsing applications, such as Preview, iTunes and iPhoto. He wonders why “can’t any Mac application open in less than several seconds?” This also, of course, depends on the kind of Mac you have, and the amount of RAM, and his is a MacBook Pro with 1.5GB of memory. Surely he’s done his research, and discovered that Universal apps on MacIntels open razor quick, as they do for me on a 20-inch Intel-based iMac, so again we’re dealing with a problem that appears to be restricted to Scheinberg’s system. A system add-on perhaps? Inquiring minds want to know.

His fourth issue need not be described, because he now admits he was wrong, and that he overlooked a VPN feature that is indeed offered by Internet Connect.

But the final issue of contention relates to a core element of the Mac user interface that is also not restricted to Mac OS X, but has existed since the very beginning, and that’s the Command-Q function. He reminds us that other operating systems will close an application when “last window” closes. He regards the Mac way of doing things as “unintended behavior.”

This raises a larger issue, which is whether Apple has been on the wrong side of the argument for the past 22 years, or whether other operating systems have taken the proper approach. I suppose you can look at both sides of the issue and come up with fairly logical arguments about which interface design works better. Consider if you are working in an application that has a slow launch time, such as Adobe Photoshop. You accidentally shut the last document window and exit the application. But now you want to use Photoshop again, so you have to endure that lengthy startup.

At the same time, many Mac users are confused over what applications are really open. Sure you can check the little triangle below a Dock icon, but some of you choose to hide the Dock unless the mouse cursor approaches it, so it may not be immediately obvious whether a program is open or not. But if closing the last window quits the application, memory isn’t wasted, and there’s no confusion about the result of your action or system behavior.

For me, I cherish Mac OS X’s superior multitasking system, and I prefer to keep lots of applications available at my beck and call for immediate access. I paid good money for lots of RAM, and I want to be able to take advantage of its capabilities. So there! If there’s any complaint, it’s the fact that not all applications require Command-Q to exit. Take System Preferences as an example. My main argument with Apple is one of consistency, predictability. That’s a larger and more relevant issue that Scheinberg ought to consider, but one that he overlooks.

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