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  • The Leopard Report: Can We Dump Interface Silliness?

    March 21st, 2007

    Aside from the massed demands for a better Finder, my attempts to expand the scope of a Leopard wish list haven’t brought much in the way of innovative ideas. Well, I suppose we’ll all know soon enough just what Apple has in mind.

    On the other hand, I suppose I might as well take this opportunity — since this is my soapbox — to rant about a few things about the Mac OS that have upset me for many, many years. To be sure, there are almost always third party solutions to these and other shortcomings, as you’ll see if you browse VersionTracker for a while. But there are some things that are better left to the operating system to manage, even though I have to admit that I don’t really feel good taking away someone’s opportunity to make a little extra cash.

    So, in no particular order, let me complain about the clipboard. So why is there just one? Sure, applications have multiple clipboards, and there are system add-ons that afford such features, but it would seem to be that this has been ripe for that special Apple treatment for an awfully long time. But it has to be done with simplicity and elegance, with a simple way to manage each storage slot so you can easily get what you want to place it where you want.

    Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, to Shift-click on multiple locations and have all of the appropriate items automatically appear in the proper order? As I said, please don’t point me to the specific third-party utility that does this already.

    An old bugaboo for me is the lame Open/Save dialogs. When did SuperBoomerang first appear? What about Default Folder? Why did Apple deliver Finder-like attributes to these dialogs, and then omit the ability to modify the Sidebar or provide elementary file management, such as the ability to move or delete a file or folder?

    What about rebounding to the last document you opened? And why not be able to rename a file? Let your imagination run world, yet Default Folder X does all this and more, and I’m glad it’s around. I don’t want to see St. Clair Software deprived of an income opportunity either. But, at the same time, all they’re doing is filling a gap that Apple should have provided long, long ago.

    Now do you remember when Microsoft once touted its multiple selection feature as a wonderful innovation in Word? Well, most of you probably know that Nisus was there first. Again, it’s nice to be able to select multiple elements in a text document that are in disparate locations and edit them in some fashion. But, again, why aren’t such capabilities provided by the operating system?

    I suppose that one could argue that offering too much in the way of choices would only confuse the novice Mac user. That perhaps explains why the two-button arrangement on the Mighty Mouse can be used as a single button by default. This way you have the best of both worlds, and you don’t force someone accustomed to the one-button way of doing things to adopt a new method of mousing around — at least not until they’re ready to expand their horizons.

    At the same time, all of the basic power user features I’m writing about here could also be switchable in some fashion in System Preferences and/or Finder preferences. You could, in fact, have an optional “Power User” mode in Mac OS X that would trigger all sorts of extra features that are buried deep within the core of the system.

    Sure, the third parties already offer that to some extent, with such products as TinkerTool. Here, at least, I’m not suggesting that someone be deprived of earnings, because TinkerTool is free.

    Then again, I suppose Apple could hire some of these people to labor on Mac OS X and graft their crown jewels directly into the operating system. Alas, Apple is rarely inclined to do such things, as the authors of certain utilities that are no longer relevant can attest.

    Now when Apple tells us about all the new features in Leopard, and I believe they’ll number of 200 when the list is fully compiled, I would hope that some of my humble suggestions will appear.

    But, as I’ve said before, don’t ask me to take bets on any of this, because I already know that the outcome is not going to be very promising.



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    15 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Can We Dump Interface Silliness?”

    1. Close says:

      Great article. I especially agree about the Open/Save dialogs.
      I missed the functionality of Default Folder since my switch to OS X. For simple remembering the last location, it’s quite expensive though.

    2. Great article. I especially agree about the Open/Save dialogs.
      I missed the functionality of Default Folder since my switch to OS X. For simple remembering the last location, it’s quite expensive though.

      That depends on your definition of “quite expensive.”

      At present, Default Folder X is $34.95 for a single user license. If it makes your work environment more productive, I suppose it’s worth it, right?

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Jeff Wragg says:

      Be careful, including every possible enhancement is a recipe for bloatware, and the hallmark of MS software. Don’t you think there is some value in letting users pick/buy extra-ware?

      BTW, the ONE thing I’d like fixed in Leopard is that “open new window in column view” that doesn’t work, and never has.

    4. Steve says:

      It strikes me silly that you want to use the open/save dialogs as a file manager. That’s what the Finder is for.

    5. john says:

      TinkerTool is not doing anything to the OS that isnt coded into the OS. But Apple has decided to not open the UI for these hidden preferences for a reason – too much complexity for the average user, too heavy system preference panes – but it knew that a third party app could easily do this, merely by changing a preferences somewhere. Therefore Apple is giving you this functionality via Tinkertool

    6. TinkerTool is not doing anything to the OS that isnt coded into the OS. But Apple has decided to not open the UI for these hidden preferences for a reason – too much complexity for the average user, too heavy system preference panes – but it knew that a third party app could easily do this, merely by changing a preferences somewhere. Therefore Apple is giving you this functionality via Tinkertool

      This is a reason why I suggested Apple have a “Power User” mode where one can invoke a certain set of options that would normally not be available. It would require an extra insertion of a user password to present the interface, and there would be, as with the third party options, a reset button to set things back to normal in case you screw up a setting.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. gopher says:

      I agree there is a risk for bloatware. Power User Mode aside, Every little added feature makes it harder to install Mac OS X on a 10 GB hard drive. Maybe the Developer Tools as a separate installer can have all your power user features as individual installers.

    8. Michael says:

      TinkerTool is not doing anything to the OS that isnt coded into the OS. But Apple has decided to not open the UI for these hidden preferences for a reason – too much complexity for the average user, too heavy system preference panes – but it knew that a third party app could easily do this, merely by changing a preferences somewhere. Therefore Apple is giving you this functionality via Tinkertool

      And TinkerTool is doing nothing that you can’t do at the Terminal. I could click a radio button in TinkerTool but I could just as well write to defaults–e.g.:

      defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

      As it happens, I have got TinkerTool, but really a webpage or a textfile listing defaults would do as well.

      The example I gave–toggling the visibility of hidden files on and off–is one that probably _ought_ to be available in any file browser, but in general I hope Apple don’t change the status quo. I’d actually rather not have less frequently needed options cluttering the GUI, when I can get to them just as well in the Terminal.

    9. Ian says:

      The combination of drag-and-drop clippings to the desktop and Expose for fast switching and retrieval seems to cover the need for multiple clipboards.

    10. The combination of drag-and-drop clippings to the desktop and Expose for fast switching and retrieval seems to cover the need for multiple clipboards.

      What you propose requires additional steps that might suit, assuming that the application properly supports drag and drop. I still think a better way would be to integrate a multiple clipboard as is done with third party utilities.

      But to each his/her own.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Obvious says:

      Tiger’s Cocoa text system supports non-contiguous selection, hold Apple and select additional ranges.

    12. Tiger’s Cocoa text system supports non-contiguous selection, hold Apple and select additional ranges.

      Point taken, but not all apps support this, and it shouldn’t matter if they are Carbon or Cocoa.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. mjtomlin says:

      I’m gonna have to disagree on your issue with the Open/Save dialogs. If you want extra functionality, go find a third-party application. If a user chooses “File” -> “Open” that’s a fairly specific request to open a file, not use the dialog to do any file management. Same goes for the “Save” dialog. In a multi-functioning environment, you can simply just go to the “Finder” and do all your file management. Let’s keep the dialogs as simple as possible.

      This is why Linux will never become very popular in the home… shoving power-user features everywhere will only confuse and frustrate beginners and casual computer users.

    14. mjtomlin says:

      Oops! also wanted to add, regarding the setting of a “power user” mode:

      I can definitely agree with that, but only if it took a power user way of turning it on. Having some newbie, accidently stumble across and then turn it on in a preference pane, would only lead to even more confusion.

      If you are a power user, going to the terminal and using the “defaults” command is no big deal. Heck, you could even write yourself small scripts and double-click them in the Finder if you’d like to turn them off and on. On that note, two great defaults to set,

      #1. Safari Debug Menu
      % defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeDebugMenu 1
      close then reopen Safari

      #2. Free Widgets from dashboard layer
      % defaults write com.apple.dashboard devmode YES
      go into the dashboard layer, grab and hold onto a widget, exit the dashboard layer

    15. Dobbs says:

      “That depends on your definition of “quite expensive.”

      At present, Default Folder X is $34.95 for a single user license. If it makes your work environment more productive, I suppose it’s worth it, right?”

      Not really. Shareware authors charge too much. It’s because their volume is so low that they don’t have a good way of gauging what is exactly the price point, so they have a tendency to inflate because they feel they aren’t making enough. And they probably aren’t, but that isn’t the point.

      The point is that you need to look at how your product fits into an ecosystem. Default Folder adds a limited set of albeit nice improvements to a very specific part of the OS. There are dozens and dozens of other tools that do similar things to other specific parts of the OS. If I even pick a selection of the best in each category of these tools, things a power user will consider essential, if they all charged what Default Folder charged it would add up to many times over the cost of OS X itself.

      These little conveniences are nice … but compared to massive professionally maintained and incredibly capable codebase that is OS X?

      I think they’re way too expensive by about double. It’s just my opinion, of course. But I have money here. Don’t they want it?

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