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

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?