The Mac OS 10.6 Wish List: Number Two — Bring Back Classic Features!

November 13th, 2007

From the very first day Mac OS X appeared on the scene, many of you clamored for the return of some of your most cherished Classic features. How could Apple possibly remove the so many of the things that made the Mac OS special?

Do you remember, for example, when there was no Apple menu, and the Apple logo stared at you from the center of the menu bar? Yes, that generated an outcry so loud that you can still almost hear the echoes.

Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

Over time, some of those features came back in different form. I remember when Steve Jobs demonstrated an updated version of the Apple menu, incorporating items that used to be in the Classic Mac OS’s Special menu, which made them system-wide. He even remarked about the possibility of multiple Finders and/or Finder alternatives, but I think he was just thinking out loud, since nothing came out of that speculative chatter.

Or maybe he was just trolling for some extra headlines, or to make Mac users give Apple millions of dollars in free publicity suggesting what form these changes might take.

So what was the original Apple menu like? Well, starting with System 7.0, you could add items to the menu simply by depositing them (or an alias) in the Apple Menu Items folder. They would immediately (or almost immediately) appear right in the Apple menu. Over time, there were third party “extensions” that would create sub-menus, and Apple acquired one of these for itself, renaming it Apple Menu Options.

But it’s now six years since Mac OS X was introduced, and the Apple menu remains largely unchanged. If you want to alter it to conform to the Classic version, you must add a third party system hack. As it is, aside from setting the number of Recent Items in the Appearance preference panel — which does very, very little to earn its name — the Apple menu is a hard-coded component without lots of outside help.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a system hack. In fact, they serve the purpose of providing features Apple didn’t incorporate into the operating system, or left buried without a graphical user interface. But as Mac OS X is upgraded, they can cause troubles because the system capabilities they exploited might be changed or removed.

Consider what happens when you have an older version of Unsanity’s Application Enhancer installed and you do a straight Upgrade installation of Leopard. The “blue screen of death” phenomenon must surely have made Windows fanboys pleased as punch.

But let’s return to the Apple menu, since there are so many possibilities left untouched.

Why, oh why, can’t Apple find a way to make it just as configurable as the older version, using the world’s most advanced computer operating system? With all that fancy 3D eye-candy occurring, surely relics of an older operating system ought to be easy to incorporate. Or perhaps they can provide a better version, using all the system know-how they’ve acquired merging the technologies from Apple and NeXT. Well, maybe I’m being a trifle facetious here, but I just cannot understand how today’s Apple menu is superior to the old.

No doubt the lack of a configurable Apple menu represents a change of vision, with the Dock meant to replace its missing functions. Indeed, you can drag an application, file or folder to the Dock and have it function somewhat like the Apple menu of old, only you access it directly, rather than grab a pull-down menu. When you have displays spanning 24 inches and 30 inches, I can see where Apple might have a point here, assuming that’s their logic in abandoning the configurable Apple menu.

Then again, maybe most of you don’t care. Millions of Mac users never used anything but Mac OS X, and that number is growing exponentially every quarter, so the features of old that you and I grew accustomed to are no longer top priorities.

This is not to say that everything in the Classic Mac OS is necessarily outdated. It took a while, but the Data Detectors feature of Leopard — which “senses” names, dates, locations and phone numbers in your email — is an old Mac feature that I’m happy to welcome back. I can say the same for the enhancements to Leopard’s Sharing preference pane, which lets you configure users and shares, just like in the old days. Again, what was old is new again.

So I ask you, dear reader: Are there any features to which you grew accustomed in the Classic Mac OS that you’d like to see restored for Mac OS X?

These are serious issues, and the feeling of nostalgia shouldn’t be a part of it. After all, a lot has changed since Apple was a beleaguered company thought to be doomed to tiny niche status, or destined to fade away in short order. Today’s Apple is a multinational consumer electronics company with a market value that exceeds that of any PC hardware maker. Just placating some old timers like me isn’t a practical business decision. If a new feature is to be added to Mac OS 10.6, there has to be a good reason, and it has to be done with the typical Apple flourish, to stand out from the crowd.

And, in case, you’re wondering, I don’t think the Classic Mac features continue to be absent from Mac OS X because Steve Jobs hates older Macs and the older Mac operating systems. If he could be persuaded that Apple would sell more copies of a future version of Mac OS X with a specific feature, you can bet he’d get his developers working on it pronto.

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46 Responses to “The Mac OS 10.6 Wish List: Number Two — Bring Back Classic Features!”

  1. Snafu says:

    The thing is, Apple was hearty and fun and bubbly until suddently it went all Gray-white-zen-serious on us. Every new try to do playful feels rather false since then.

  2. Joe Co says:

    I found Launcher to be a really useful tool for “regular people” – I often set it up on friends’ machines, and my boss couldn’t have managed without it! The best thing was you could set up groups of Launcher items, so he could choose from “Business” or “Internet” or “Blank Documents” or “Recent Invoices”, for example.

    @ Dan Shockley:
    I think OS X does have locations, doesn’t it? (It’s in the Apple menu) But it only affects network settings. I never used the old version, but it sounds really useful. I imagine people in offices with both a “slacking off” and a “looking busy” location set…

  3. Chris says:

    After a bit more thought, I have a few things to add…
    Commando — When Apple first had a go at combining Unix and the Mac OS in A/UX, one of the tools they came up with was a “command line helper” application called Commando to put a friendly Mac GUI on the unfriendly Unix man pages. With most common shell commands you could pull up a graphical dialog and construct the various options arguments and switches to enter. When you closed the dialog, the options you configured were turned into properly typed text on the command line waiting for you to press return to actually execute it. Commando could be brought back as its own tool or perhaps implemented as a plugin architecture in Terminal that developers could write plugins for. (I don’t know how similar A/UX’s Commando was to MPW’s Commando; they may or may not be similar tools.)

    The MPW Commando dialog is identical to the A/UX Commando dialog. They probably shared the same code.

    TextMate’s tm_dialog command line tool is probably the modern equivalent. It’s actually more powerful than Commando, because it uses nibs and specifies interaction through Cocoa Bindings. And you can write scripts to interact with the nibs. It doesn’t directly call command-line tools, but it allows you to build sophisticated UI for scripts which call them.

    If someone put the plugin portion into a standalone application shell, it would be incredibly powerful tool outside of TextMate. tm_dialog is entirely open source, so it’s not impossible. There aren’t actually any hard internal dependencies on TextMate’s internal API.

  4. netizen19341 says:

    Here, here! Yes, all I’ve ever wanted Mac OS X to have “put back” into it from MacOS 9 days are the configurable Apple Menu, Window Shade, and to have the Finder windows come to the front when the Desktop is clicked upon. All simple things that once made the Mac a Mac at its heart. C’mon, please Apple, put ’em back in a 10.6.x point update soon?…

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