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  • The Leopard Report: Please Don’t Change Too Much!

    August 3rd, 2006

    The suspense is building in intensity, and rumors and speculation about the form and shape of the next Mac OS are starting to take shape. I wouldn’t presume to have the patience to summarize all the stories, but a few are worth mentioning. One report actually claims that Leopard will be delayed, which seems rather disingenuous, since Apple hasn’t pinpointed a ship date except in the most vague fashion.

    As to new features, well, the stories are plentiful. The Finder will be repaired at long last, with an updated interface and lots of bug fixes. There is a particularly intriguing claim that .Mac’s sync capabilities will be enhanced to include files as well, and that would be a wonderful way to keep your desktop and note-book Macs on the same wavelength.

    There’s also the hope that Apple will find time to do some heavy-duty bug fixing, because there are still issues that irritate Tiger users even after 10.4.7 and a bunch of security updates.

    At the same time, Apple will no doubt add another 150–250 features to whet your appetite and tempt you to buy an upgrade, or a new Mac for that matter. At the same time, the desire to pump up the operating system can put Apple on a slippery slope.

    Let’s look at the situation with Windows Vista, for example, where Microsoft appears to want to paint a strong veneer of change. Even the menu bar commands you and I have taken for granted over the years have been hidden in a Classic menu mode of some sort, and that’s bound to engender confusion. That is, unless Microsoft relents and realizes that change for the sake of change isn’t a good idea. But who knows what’s going to happen before Vista is released, and the date for that is growing increasingly uncertain.

    My biggest hope here is that Steve Jobs and his band of eager-beaver developers will realize that piling on the eye-candy may be all right to a point, but familiarity is important as well. New features should be presented in a way that you gravitate to them naturally, without having to undergo retraining. If you’re used to the way things used to “just work,” you don’t want to discover that some of them now work differently.

    Remember what happened in the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X? Although lots of things were very much the same, there were enough changes to engender confusion and lots of disappointment. In fact, to this very day, there are people who will swear at the Classic Mac OS is the best graphical user interface known to man, and everything has gone downhill from there.

    That you may, on occasion, have to invoke a command line to get out of trouble only enhances the impression that the Mac’s usability has been sacrificed in the transition to an industrial-strength, Unix-based operating system.

    On the other hand, I have to tell you that I have not encountered a single instance where I was forced to invoke Terminal to deal with a Tiger issue. I have run into some strange issues, such as the odd and sudden inability of a client to get his Epson all-in-one to output a document. But that repair was accomplished via a simple printer system reset, which didn’t involve any tricks and arcane arguments in the command line.

    The long and short of it is that Apple should try to keep the layout as familiar as possible. Except for one big thing, and that is if it truly intends to overhaul the interface in a way that makes it more natural, more intuitive, more functional.

    You see, whatever its shortcomings or advantages, the Mac OS is, in many respects, little different from the version that debuted in 1984. Is that truly the best way for humans to interact with computers? I have a feeling there is a better method out there, but whether Apple will be the company to discover and deliver that method remains one huge question mark.

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