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  • Let’s Not Forget the Mac OS We Used to Know and Love

    December 19th, 2007

    I know that many of you are the proud owners of vintage Macs, dating back to the very first model, back in 1984. Of course, there’s not much they can do today with anything but the software and operating systems released when those computers were first built, or a few years thereafter.

    In moving to Mac OS X, Apple did a lot of unthinkable things, such as embracing open source components, open standards and so on and so forth. That stands in sharp contrast to Microsoft, who considers open source a nasty insect that must be swatted out of existence. And, no, I want get into those alleged patents that Microsoft claims it holds that Unix operating systems and applications infringe on. That’s strikes me as just a power play, and rather a clumsy one.

    Now, while I realize some of you will disagree with me, my daily Mac computing experience is far more reliable than it used to be. In those days, I was lucky if my Mac didn’t crash a couple of times a day. Sure, some of you never encountered those problems, but I’ve always been deeply immersed in desktop publishing, graphics and other content creation software. These are the applications that have always stretched the limits of the system and the hardware, and, as a consequence, generate the most instances of system instability. That is, aside from the overzealous installation of system add-ons.

    But in moving to a world-class operating system architecture, Apple decided to ditch many of the concepts and components from the Classic Mac OS. To a large extent, that was a good thing, as the aging Mac OS of old was about to crumble in its last days. But there were also good ideas that never survived the transition, and that’s unfortunate.

    In past articles, I’ve talked about the ultra-configurable Apple menu, and the need for third-party solutions to provide solace under Mac OS X. But there’s yet another important component of the Classic Mac OS that disappeared, although there is sort of a replacement, if you can call it that.

    I’m talking about desk accessories, those tiny applications that provided all sorts of added functions, such as a calculator. They existed side-by-side with your regular applications, and were called upon simply by choosing them from the Apple menu.

    The replacement, Dashboard, is an interesting concept, lifted from a shareware application, Konfabulator, which also used widgets to provide various degrees of functionality. But Dashboard, while workable, remains controversial, simply because it exists on its own layer, as the Finder and application windows are grayed out.

    Sure, this condition can be dispensed with courtesy of  third-party software, but Apple hasn’t seen the need to change Dashboard’s basic functionality, although they made it easier for you to make widgets. Starting with Leopard, if you want to build one from scratch, there’s the Dashboard SDK, or you can make a Web clip from Safari 3.

    But were desk accessories so broken that they had to be replaced with something that really isn’t quite as good or as convenient? I wonder.

    There is also the venerable Scrapbook desk accessory of old, a little repository of clip art and other stuff that I’m sure many of you found awfully useful over the years. I didn’t use it all that much, but one of my long-time clients, a publisher of marketing books, came to depend upon it heavily. He was also rightly disappointed that the feature disappeared in Mac OS X and was never restored.

    Indeed, there are third-party solutions that can do the job. But why not a fancy 21st century scrapbook utility direct from Apple?

    Oh, and one more thing: My friend David Biedny reminds me that, years ago, there was a nifty little system extension that did nothing more than drop down the menu when you moused over a menu bar label. No clicking needed until you actually selected a command. This may not seem so big a deal until you consider how many mouse clicks you saved over a period of months and years, not to mention wear and tear on your wrist.

    Is there a Mac OS X equivalent? Anyone know? And if not, why hasn’t anyone tried to realize this super-simple concept?



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    14 Responses to “Let’s Not Forget the Mac OS We Used to Know and Love”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      Let’s make a list of things that Apple took away from us when it introduced OSX (in no particular order): the old Apple Menu where you could park your own stuff, Scrapbook, Notebook, Launcher,a macro recording ability (back on approx. OS 6),the ability to change themes, the ability to use system sounds, and last but very far from least the ability to program F keys. (Am I forgetting anything? It’s been a while.) Okay, the Dock replaced Launcher, and they eventually gave us Automator to replace macro recording. The others can be replaced by third party shareware utilities (except that the best Apple Menu replacement, the single truly indispensible haxie, broke under Leopard and the developer appears to be futzing around with some other project and to be in no hurry to put out an upgrade), but this requires the user to scamper around hunting for suitable replacements and of course to pay what adds up to a fair amount of money to regain these old pre-OSX functions. Apple originally gave us these things because they thought we needed them. The mystery is why did they later decide that we don’t need them after all? A better and fairer approach would have been a policy of giving us new stuff with OS upgrades, but not taking away the stuff we already had and had learned to depend on.

    2. Chuck says:

      Funny you mention this. We had an old (!) orange iMac G3 333MHz sitting around the office. I snatched it up for $5 at our tech garage sale yesterday. Mac OS 9.0.4. Now I have a Mac to run a lot of old kid’s games I have laying around that my older daughter used to play, that now my two younger ones can enjoy again…and I have a super-fast Mac for playing the Marathon trilogy! There was IMHO no better game for the Mac. I think it did a lot to save the Mac platform in the mid-’90s. And went on to somewhat become the theme for Halo.

    3. Yacko says:

      Look for Amnesty Singles

      “Amnesty Singles is a drag-and-drop-utility that converts any Dashboard widget into a standalone application for Mac OS X Tiger and Panther (10.3.9). Simply drop a widget file onto the Amnesty Singles window, click a button, and out pops a small OS X application that will open an instance of the widget outside of Dashboard when launched. Applications built with Amnesty Singles also include features important for running a widget continuously outside Dashboard such as adjusting the window level (desktop, standard or floating) and setting an ‘auto refresh’ timer (for widgets that are designed to refresh only when Dashboard is shown).

    4. MichaelT says:

      I used the Control Strip a lot back then. I guess what I would consider the replacement for it is the System Preferences panel, but having the option to change to 256 colors (which was necessary to run some programs or games) from the strip was convenient. Anyone remember what all was on the Control Strip?

    5. I used the Control Strip a lot back then. I guess what I would consider the replacement for it is the System Preferences panel, but having the option to change to 256 colors (which was necessary to run some programs or games) from the strip was convenient. Anyone remember what all was on the Control Strip?

      It would be roughly the equivalent of having System Preferences on a single strip or control bar, and would include monitor, sound settings, etc., etc. These are the things you’d likely want to change on the fly. There were also third-party Control Strip modules that added custom functionality.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. MichaelT says:

      Kind of like the top right menu on my MacPro. Only the Control Strip (if I remember correctly, which these days is less likely) seems as though it was more customizable.

      I think that’s one thing I’ve noticed people missing from OS X: the ability to customize to whatever degree you wanted. I used Kaleidoscope and many other extensions to make my Mac unique back in 8 and especially 9. Since X it’s been almost (ALMOST!;-) generic. Any OS X user can get on this computer and work without surprises.

      That’s kind of too bad.

    7. Kaleberg says:

      Desktop accessories were a work around from pre-Multifinder days. They let you run a few tiny applications along with your main application. Nowadays, programmers could write desktop accessories as ordinary applications using global floating windows. I find it telling that no one has bothered to do so. The control strip is now a series of menu bar items, so it is easy to set display size, sound level, and the like without yet another window cluttering the screen.

      I find Dashboard much more convenient for calculators, dictionaries, web cam views and the like. Ever since the Multifinder I have so many windows open I can never find my desktop. It’s nice having screen corners to make my desktop and “desktop accessories” visible.

      I never missed the old Apple menu since the Dock provided a more convenient mechanism for storing commonly used applications and folders. I gather that Leopard has dropped hierarchical folder access which might be annoying, but I have been using that feature less and less what with 15 years of files and hundreds of applications on my machine. I tend to use Spotlight which I gather has been sped up and cleaned up a bit in 10.6.

      Personally, I feel that Apple has been doing a pretty good job of moving into the future without gratuitously destroying the past. Maybe I’m too much of an old timer, but I’ve seen worse. When personal computers came out in the 1980s, they didn’t have protected files or memory, so they crashed ALL the time. In the 70s, computers only crashed when power went out. PCs were a big step backwards. Twenty years on, even PCs have protected memory, and they crash much less often. Even those who remember the past are sometimes condemned to relive it. Sure, it would be nice to be able to run Classic applications on my Macbook Pro, but that’s like arguing for built in MAME game emulation so I could run the original Donkey Kong.

    8. Dana Sutton says:

      If I were to do this here, Gene would immediately remove it (and would be right to do so, since no doubt he doesn’t want his site to become a forum for recommending individual products), but it would be nice if somebody were to make a list of the shareware utilities on the market that replace these lost pre-OSX features, discuss their relative merits when there are two or more that more or less do the same thing, and then add up their prices to see how much it costs to acquire them. By the way, the one that has me scratching my head the most is the inability of OSX to program F keys (something to which I got very addicted in OS9). Apple now makes a keyboard with nineteen, count ’em, nineteen F keys and gives the user no way to program them!

    9. If I were to do this here, Gene would immediately remove it (and would be right to do so, since no doubt he doesn’t want his site to become a forum for recommending individual products), but it would be nice if somebody were to make a list of the shareware utilities on the market that replace these lost pre-OSX features, discuss their relative merits when there are two or more that more or less do the same thing, and then add up their prices to see how much it costs to acquire them. By the way, the one that has me scratching my head the most is the inability of OSX to program F keys (something to which I got very addicted in OS9). Apple now makes a keyboard with nineteen, count ’em, nineteen F keys and gives the user no way to program them!

      Dana, so long as it’s a list of your faves rather than ads for any individual product, I have no problem with this. I’m happy to know what you readers like.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Dana Sutton says:

      Okay, here goes. (N. b., the first few of these are Haxies, which at the moment don’t work with Leopard). Apple Menu – Fruit Menu ($10 – note, since this allows you to access individual control panels it also substitutes for Control Strip). Themes – ShapeShifter ($10). System sounds – Xounds ($10). Launcher – there seem to be a zillion launch programs out there, I use Overflow ($15). F-key programming – I use Keyboard Maestro, which also can record and play back macros ($20). Notebook – Notepad (free widget). Scrapbook – maybe CircusPonies ($50) but perhaps there is some less expensive multimedia storage app. on the market. Total cost: $65 or even $115, which, when stacked up against the cost of Leopard itself, is a pretty hefty outlay to get back stuff that used to come free with the OS.

    11. Frank Tennant says:

      Dashboard was a rip-off of Konfabulator, not Kaleidoscope.

    12. Dashboard was a rip-off of Konfabulator, not Kaleidoscope.

      This has been corrected.

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. veggiedude says:

      Oh yea, I miss the Font/DA mover.

      Not!

      But one day, a third party developer will bring back the Font/DA mover, Apple will copy it, and then people will say they ripped off another idea.

    14. Paul G. says:

      Unsanity also makes WindowShadeX which allows any window to collapse to it’s top line and is incredibly handy for me and use all the time. This WAS available in OS9 and Apple chose not to reinstate it in OS X. Too bad. I absolutely HATE dropping window icons to the dock, which is the automatic alternative.

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