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  • The Leopard Report: Don’t Forget the Obvious Stuff!

    July 5th, 2006

    As June passed into July, the number of Leopard wish lists increased. Every possible scenario has been envisioned as to what Apple ought to do as it continues working on Mac OS 10.5. There’s plenty of expected eye-candy among the possible suggestions, such as stacked folders, to make it easier to find your stuff.

    But before we get too far afield, I’d like to just sum up the clear and present issues that still perplex Mac users, or are just downright irritating. Now if I happen to mention something that may have already been addressed by Microsoft in Windows, bear with me. I just want something that works and works well, and I don’t care if it is influenced in a rival product. Apple’s interface designers will put their own smart spin on the thing.

    Understand that Leopard’s features are pretty frozen at this point, no doubt. To have a preview version available to developers beginning in August, Apple would have to be concentrating on making everything work together well enough to be at least usable. As Leopard progresses towards final release, there will be lots of under-the-hood fixes, no doubt, and interface elements may be fine-tuned, but the big stuff must be in a fair state of completion by about now.

    So anything I suggest, or you suggest, may not be of much influence, but you can always hope that a feature that may otherwise be ditched will be reconsidered. If not, there’s always 10.6, whatever it’ll be called.

    First and foremost is the Finder. Now I am not one of the people who craves a wholesale change. I think the basic look and feel is pretty decent as it is. I’m particularly impressed with the column view, but there are limitations, such as the inability to change the sorting order. Consider the common scenario, where you want to check the most recent files in a folder.

    But the Finder has more problems other than the need for any alterations in the look and feel. It remains broken. Just start, say, three simultaneous copying operations of a gigabyte or two of files and it’ll bring the Finder to its knees. This on a G5 Quad? The Finder’s inability to remember position, size, and even the view settings, such as whether to open new windows in column view, is another factor. Why create a preference option if it won’t work? And please don’t bother me with workarounds.

    The Open and Save dialogs are also flaky. Sometimes you type a character and it jumps to the lists beginning with that letter, and sometimes it doesn’t. Forget about size and positioning, which don’t always function. While some of you may just stick with, say, Default Folder X for power user options, Apple needs some of the basics. Why can’t you rebound to the last used file or folder or move and/or trash a file without having to return to the Finder? Then there’s always adding and removing an item from the Sidebar.

    When Dashboard came out, third parties thought of better ways to implement the strategy, such as allowing you to keep a widget open in the same environment or layer as your document window. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to connect frequently-used widgets, or bring up a control panel where you can just click on the one you want. Having them on a separate Dock layer is also annoying, especially if you have to page through a bunch of them.

    But here’s something that seems perfectly logical, but since it mimics behavior on Microsoft Windows, it’s apt to be rejected. Want to resize a Finder, Open/Save or document window? Why can’t you do it from any corner? Why reach for the bottom right? On a big screen that get tiresome. It even gets tiresome on a small screen. What about dragging the item about without having to reach for the title bar on windows that aren’t surrounded with brushed metal? Shouldn’t they all work the same?

    Questions, questions. These items alone may seem particularly petty, as do others that you might want to add. There’s even the fundamental interface difference between the Mac and Windows where closing all document windows on the latter exits or quits an application. You can do that in Mac OS X now, of course, with System Preferences, which only opens a single window. It’s very common for the less experienced in our audience to forget that an application is open, because all documents are closed. Yes, we have the arrow in the Dock, but if the Dock is tiny because it’s filled with icons, it can go unnoticed.

    Yes, I’ve now raised a very important user interface issue, one that has been part of the Mac OS for a long, long time. Maybe Apple should leave well enough alone, or maybe not.

    As I said, this is just the obvious stuff, and I haven’t even gotten started.



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