The Snow Leopard Report: The Irritants Remain

June 16th, 2009

This article is based on several assumptions, the main one being that Apple won’t be making any significant changes to the announced Snow Leopard features — I mean refinements — before releasing it in September. As a result, some questionable decisions of long standing will remain unchanged.

With that in mind, I’m inclined to start ragging again on the features that have been missing from Mac OS X since Day One, some of which were actually there in the Classic Mac OS. In other words, the things Apple did at least ten years ago have yet to be duplicated today.

This disparity first came to mind when I read how Apple restored the capability formerly known as Put Away and relabled Put Back. Yes, I know it’s supposedly a refinement and not a feature, but I’ll leave it to you readers to argue over which label is appropriately applied.

But if Apple is going to consider revisiting the past in devising new functions for the next versions of Mac OS X, consider that we really have a long way to go before there’s feature parity with Classic. That becomes all the more annoying now that support for Classic has become an historical event.

Look closely at the Apple menu, for example. In the old days, you could configure it the way you want merely by dropping a file or alias into the Apple Menu Items folder. Within seconds, it would appear in the menu. Nowadays you can certainly do this with a third-party system hack, but the only thing you can otherwise change is the number of listings displayed in the Recent Items menu. That’s done courtesy of the Appearance preference pane.

Short of restoring everything, perhaps Apple could devise a contextual menu command that lets a specific Recent Items listing stick there, regardless of how many entries you want displayed. This is similar in concept to the way it’s done in the Top Sites display in Safari 4. There you click Edit, and then the stick pin icon next to the the site you want to keep.

Don’t assume that the contextual menu is the only way to accomplish this task, but it would be faster than having to, say, invoke a list of Recent Items from a preference pane. Feel free to use your imagination to consider the possibilities.

When it comes to the Print icon that displays in the Dock when a job is being processed, it essentially behaves similar in fashion to PrintMonitor from the Classic days. When the processing portion is complete — even before the document is actually output — the application icon goes away. However, if you click on it, it sticks until it’s closed, which seems a bit of a stretch as far as interface conventions are concerned. Perhaps Apple assumes you might want to look at one of the other functions in the apps toolbar, and therefore it should be up to you to dismiss it. Or perhaps, with no activity after a few minutes, it’ll can be set to go away all by itself.

A controversial issue is the method in which applications close. Single window apps, such as System Preferences, quit when you close the window. Regular apps require choosing Quit from the File menu whether windows are open or not within that program. This is normal behavior on the Mac platform, but it can confuse Windows users, who are accustomed to an application closing down when its last window is dismissed. The concept that the application is still running has to be learned. Logical? Depends on your point of view. Maybe a simple preference setting would allow you to choose which behavior you prefer.

It’s safe to say that a properly behaved application isn’t going to use a whole lot of system resources when you’re not doing anything with it, but on a Mac constrained of RAM, it could present the choice of having to endure virtual memory page swapping or a reasonably snappy user experience. So quitting unused apps is a must.

When it comes to location sensing, Mac OS X is getting smarter, though there are limitations, since Macs don’t ship with GPS — at least not yet. Besides, I wonder if I really want someone — anyone — knowing where I am at any particular point in time, but so long as you can turn off the feature, I suppose I wouldn’t object.

With Snow Leopard, your time zone can be sensed automatically. According to Apple: “Using Core Location technology, Snow Leopard can use known Wi-Fi hotspots to set the time zone — perfect for world travelers.”

I read into that sentence that you must have Wi-Fi enabled for this feature/refinement to work. All well and good. But why not take this location sensing bit a little further. When the operating system knows you’re at your office, for example, based on location and what’s on your network, how about changing your setup to better support the sort of work you do there, compared to the things you might engage in at home?

So, for example, the icons in the Dock would be altered to reflect that difference. Today, your location configuration is strictly limited to what you can do in the Network preference pane and nothing more. In the old days, specifically Classic, you had more options. If Apple wants your Mac to know where you are, perhaps the system can take better advantage of the situation.

Or should we just start our 10.7 wish list?

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8 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Report: The Irritants Remain”

  1. SteveP says:

    What is interesting about all these stories that always throw back to what is missing now that was in Classic is the total lack of appreciation for all the things that Mac OS X does that Classic never dreamed of. Sometimes when you move on, you just move on, and not everybody is hung up on the old way of doing things.

    A few errors or at least misconceptions, though… The default for the print monitor is actually to stay open unless at some point you changed the preference to “Auto Quit”. As for quitting unused apps, it does add some small overhead to the paging system, but it is actually quite efficient and if you have minimized an app or closed it’s windows and are not using it, the system will push that out of RAM if more RAM is needed, and overall performance will not be adversely affected until you try to re-activate it and cause the paging to begin again as it reshuffles active/inactive apps between memory/disk.

    It’s great to have wish lists, but altogether everyone’s wish list would be impossible to implement, and for every feature you want there are plenty of people who would never use it and thus the bloatware begins again… Snow Leopard is about trimming down not padding up. 🙂

  2. Bryan says:

    Why are you still going on about the old apple menu? Take your app folder and drag it down to your dock. Right click on it and choose folder and list. Next time you click on that folder you have a pop up app menu. You want more control? Then make another folder inside your app folder and drag just the aliases you want in there. Drag that one to your dock and do the same. Bamn! There you have have it, your old apple menu back. Not any harder, just going up instead of down. Seems like there are better things to be undone with.
    How about playlists for app’s in iTunes? That’s something I would really like to see happen! Even better how about being able change your iPhone/iPod Touch prefs without plugging it in. That way you could have everything set up before you start the sink. Save a lot of beach balling.
    As far as an OS X feature I would really love to have iTunes authorization still work when having to start up and run from a backup. If your drive crashes there is no chance of deauthorizing and you can only deauthorize everything once a year.
    Now I can get back to waiting for the iPhone 3.0… update button here I come!

  3. auramac says:

    I no longer make comparisons to Mac Classic, and the only “irritant” I can relate to has always existed on the Mac- you have to file-quit to actually quit an application. As a Mac user, I am accustomed to this, but working as a tech specialist I found this to be an issue with many, if not most users, whether they were Mac or computer newbies. I suppose that for the majority of people, it would be good to have an application quit when you closed the last window. (I’d often find users with five or so applications open and completely unaware of it.)

  4. David says:

    I agree that the old Location Manager had a lot more capability than what OS X offers.

    I come from the old days of the Macintosh so I’m used to apps not quitting when you close the last window, but see how others might not prefer it. Of course with a large application quitting and relaunching when you close the last window is really annoying.

    iTunes and the iPhone itself really needs a better way of organizing apps. Integrating a search feature, as they’ve done in 3.0, addresses the symptoms rather than the disease. Instead of scattering hundreds of icons across the UI, the iPhone really needs a much better way of grouping apps and determining where in the UI they’re to be displayed. It looks like whoever designed the iPhone UI never imagined a world where users could select from more than 50,000 apps. I knew people who’d filled all 9 pages on the springboard last year and had to keep deleting apps in order to try new ones.

    As for other Classic features, Apple is never going back there. Steve doesn’t like users customizing his UI, even when it has the potential to make them more efficient.

  5. The point being that if there was a good feature in a past version of the Mac OS, it should be consigned to the dustbin of history because maybe Apple has other ways to accomplish those tasks now. Maybe so, but as with Put Back/Put Away, sometimes an old idea is worth resurrecting in a brand new way.


  6. gopher says:

    See my FAQ
    Many of the old 9 functions are available from third parties for Mac OS X.
    And as has been stated any folder in the Dock can automatically become an Apple menu. You can even add your Prefpane folder to your Dock and have instant access to your System Preference panels.

    If anything, I’m glad Apple has allowed third parties to make solutions for Mac OS X that aren’t built-in. Given that Greg’s Browser was supplanted by Mac OS X columns, it is good to see as much as Apple takes away from third party opportunities there are new ones gained. So I wouldn’t want Apple to take over all third party features. Apple basically killed Casady and Green by no longer having definable Extensions to turn off at startup, when Casady and Green’s Conflict Catcher became obsolete. Of course it would be nice if bad kernel extensions could be disabled, so that kernel panics wouldn’t happen.

  7. DaveD says:

    I envisioned the events back in 1996 when the NeXT folks came in to save Apple. The beleagued Mac OS engineers would submit ideas for the platform to go forward. The NeXT people would say to them… “But, our ways are better, MUCH BETTER.” As saviors, their words carried a lot of weight.

    In 2001, I moved from OS 9.2 to OS X 10.1. It felt like I fell into a chasm. So many things were different, re-arranged, or missing. To make matters worst, OS 9 was “much snappier.” But, I trekked on looking for help from third-party developers.

    Over these several years came the calling of FTFF or “Fix the er…um… Finder.” I will be very interested in reading about the upcoming new (and improved?) Snow Leopards’s Finder.

    Glad that a form of Put Away is coming back and being called Put Back. Put Away was another way to have the disk unmounted.

  8. arw says:

    No doubt Mac OS X is a better operating system than Classic Mac OS. But there are a number of things I prefer with Classic over Leopard. I’m still trying to awaken from a long night, but a couple of things come to mind right off. One is the use of labels. They are butt ugly, a horrible implementation in Leopard. Another is the missing WindowShade, a feature far more valuable than Expose and all these elaborate solutions that don’t satisfy what I usually want, which is to peek underneath a window at something of interest. I hate that a window minimizes to the Dock. I miss file mapping, a central repository of settings that I can look at and manipulate. I don’t like how Leopard Finder could not find a turd if it stepped on it. (I don’t use SpotLight, another ridiculous solution that should be an option.) I don’t like how some apps cut a trailing space from a word though I’ve not selected it, and others don’t. I don’t like that a new window pops up when an application comes to the foreground when no window exists already. (The last two items might be present in Classic but I can’t recall.) I can go on and on if I really think about things. There remains much to make Mac OS X totally consistent and utterly elegant, but I love it warts and all nonetheless. I just wish Apple would keep in mind that the Mac is a personal computer, thus we should have full control over its domain, and the tools to make it so. Personally, I would use hidden but documented preferences to handle variations from what Apple wants and the User wants. That way everbody wins.

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