The Mac OS X Report: The Features We Lost

September 15th, 2010

Now that so many members of the media are recalling their first exposure to Mac OS X, I remember a few things too, particularly when it comes to features that vanished in the transition from Classic to Mac OS X.

Now I should point out that Apple doesn’t attempt to ape Microsoft and keep features in a product even when they are shown to be useless, or not as well-baked as they might be. So you have the latest iPod nano that lost the ability to watch movies and take videos. While that appears to be a significant loss of functionality, I haven’t seen many complaints about it — at least not yet!

That said, since the early days of Mac OS X, enterprising shareware developers examined what was missing and tried to restore all or most of the functionality.

Consider the Apple menu. Under the Classic Mac OS, it was highly configurable. You could use it as an app or document launcher simply be adding the original, or an alias, in the appropriate folder. For Mac OS X, Apple retained the Recent Items feature, limiting it to apps and documents, and removed the customization. The Special menu functions, which include Restart and Shut Down, were added, but the Apple menu went largely unchanged thereafter, except for the modification of the legendary Apple icon from rainbow to shades of gray.

Yes, you can get third-party utilities that will restore the missing functionality of the Apple menu, but I wonder how many of you bother.

There was also the famous WindowShade, where you double-clicked on a document or app’s title bar to collapse it to just the title. Under Mac OS X, that act minimizes the window to the Dock. But WindowShade X restores the missing functionality, if you still lust for it.

The Launcher utility can be replaced by loads of app and document opening utilities. The rest of us rely on the Dock, despite complaints that the interface was clunky and confusing, or perhaps Spotlight. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who couldn’t figure out the essentials of the Dock with just a few minutes of experimentation.

One over-simplified feature of Mac OS X is the Location component of the Network preference pane. You can add presets for wired and wireless networks depending on where you’re connected. The old Location Manager, however, also let you add printer configurations and other settings, so you wouldn’t be saddled with printer choices and network setups that you weren’t actually using.

Again, there’s a third party alternative, Locations for Mac, which allows you to customize all sorts of configurations, including startup apps, desktop backgrounds and even your iChat status, and switch to them simply by choosing a different location.

The Finder’s Label feature also retains but a subset of the original Mac OS functionality.

But I don’t need to go on, except to say that I haven’t felt the need to explore any of the shareware replacements for that which Apple never restored when they moved to Mac OS X. I’m sure many of you can offer a detailed list of the ones I didn’t mention, but that’s not the issue.

If the core Mac OS X doesn’t have every little feature you want — whether it existed under the original Mac OS or not — that’s probably a shareware or freeware substitute. So even if Apple decides to go elsewhere when looking for features to add, you probably won’t suffer all that much.

When moving to Snow Leopard, Apple did most of the work on the plumbing; there wasn’t much in the way of new functionality. Indeed, Apple called the visible changes “refinements,” rather than features, to show how insignificant they were in the scheme of things. Of course, the cynics in our audience will remind me that such alterations would have been called features in other Mac OS X releases. Apple was just playing the spin game.

For Mac OS 10.7, I assume Apple will focus on feature improvements, adding another 200 or 300 so you will be tempted to pay the full $129 price for the upgrade. I suppose the real question is whether Apple has run out of significant stuff to add without starting from scratch and building something totally new.

Now with the iOS, most of what’s new and different merely duplicates that you could already do on a regular Mac, such as cut, copy and paste and multitasking.

For the next iOS release, version 4.2, you’ll be able to print wirelessly, rather than have to rely on a third-party alternative. The main question mark is whether the feature will work directly with the printer, or you’ll have to share the output device that’s already hooked up to your Mac or Windows PC.

By the same token, some are suggesting that elements of the iOS might find their way into future versions of Mac OS X. Certainly the new QuickTime Player in Snow Leopard is a lightweight app that offers an interface not dissimilar from the mobile version.

Will such cross-pollination mean touchscreens for future Macs? Well, Apple applied for a patent that covers such technology, but that’s never a guarantee that it’ll actually appear in a shipping product. Besides, how many people really want to make a 27-inch display serve as a touchscreen?

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12 Responses to “The Mac OS X Report: The Features We Lost”

  1. veggiedude says:

    You forgot to mention the Font/DA mover. LOL

    Seriously, I use Finder windows to launch my apps just as much or maybe even more so than the Dock. You can drag and drop any app into the top of a window, and from there drag and drop any file to those easily available apps. Or just click on them to launch. I have about 20 apps at the top of my Finder windows.

    • Peter says:

      @veggiedude, there’s always Font Book in the Applications folder.

    • HandyMac says:

      @veggiedude, actually I do miss the classic Mac OS’s ability to open font suitcase files, which are a useful way to organize fonts. In OS X, it’s hard to tell which font files are a single font, and which contain several in a family; and there’s no way to open the latter to extract a font, or create a new “suitcase” (or “TrueType font collection”) file to put all members of a family together in one file. For instance, in my 10.6 Library/Fonts folder is a bunch of Arial fonts; Arial Bold Italic.ttf, Arial Bold.ttf, Arial Italic.ttf and Arial.ttf are a family, but the latter (which is the “normal” style) is separated from its three variants by six other Arial fonts (of which four are also a family). It’d make more sense to have all four in a font suitcase, e.g. Arial.ttc. (Note that AmericanTypewriter.ttc *is* a family of six fonts in a single file; but there’s no way to extract any of them if you only want one installed.)

      The author of the Font Finagler utility has been promising this capability in the next version for several years, but it hasn’t appeared yet. Meanwhile, if I want to organize my fonts, I have to copy them to my ‘Pismo’ PowerBook in OS 9, where new suitcase files can be created with the Simsonite utility (the System never enabled creating new suitcases, only moving fonts in and out of existing suitcases; Font/DA Mover can create new suitcases, IIRC, but it’s pretty clunky after all these years).

      The “snap to grid” feature in the Finder has never worked right in OS X (until 10.6, which I’ve recently installed; it finally seems to work), though it was essentially flawless in OS 9. The development of OS X seems to have suffered all along from a “we didn’t do it that way at NeXT” attitude, which has made every similarity to the classic Mac OS a hard-won, begrudged concession. In the original OS X beta there was no Apple menu at all, only a cosmetic blue apple in the middle of the menu bar. Took a lot of screaming to get it moved back to the left, and a hard-wired, non-configurable menu added to it. I didn’t move to OS X (10.2) until FruitMenu made it possible to have a usable Apple menu; and Apple seemingly has always hated Unsanity’s “haxies” (most of which only restore classic features like Windowshading).

  2. Peter says:

    I have one grouse about missing functionality between Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. I brought it up at WWDCs past and it still hasn’t come back.

    In Mac OS 9, Empty Trash would tell you how much stuff was in the trash. So when you said “Empty Trash”, the confirmation dialog would say, “There is 78K in the trash. Are you sure you want to delete it?”

    This was useful, letting me know immediately how much space I would get back. It also acted as a sanity check–“I have 343 megabytes in the trash?! It shouldn’t be that high…let me look. How’d that movie get in the trash!?”

    In Mac OS X, all you get is a CYA from Apple saying “You can’t undo this.”

    That’s one piece of old functionality I’d love to get back. Maybe in Mac OS XI…

    • veggiedude says:

      @Peter, the Mac OS 9 trash maybe smarter than in OS X today, but it was far better with a utility from Connectix that would separate all the trash from various devices. So you could empty the trash from one hard drive only and leave another drive and the internal one alone.

  3. Mark D. Shapiro says:

    I miss the Chooser. It was so handy, I even used it to test network wiring, set up file sharing on one old Mac, then in another part of the building bring your OS9 laptop and start the chooser – do you see the server – if not, bad wiring.

    The Chooser and Appletalk are missed. Or how about dragging one print job to another desktop printer spooler?

    • Stuart Smith says:

      @Mark D. Shapiro,
      you said: “Or how about dragging one print job to another desktop printer spooler”
      that feature isn’t missing. You can do that in Mac OS X.
      Bonjour provides most of the features of AppleTalk, without pissing off network admins.
      Chooser – what was that for again?

  4. Twig Gravely says:

    I miss a lot of things from Classic, like understanding how it worked.

  5. Michael O'Connor says:

    Several good ones listed already, but I really miss the simple printing of a finder window.

  6. KenC says:

    I’m not sure Apple can charge “full-price” anymore for a new OS, after having only charged a pittance for Snow Leopard. I know, I know, SL was mostly about plumbing, but still, the psychology of buyers will be hard to overcome if Apple charges the old “full-price”.

  7. Andrew says:

    Location manager is, in fact, alive and well in OS X, only its automatic and hidden.

    My MacBook Pro running 10.6.4 knows whether I am home, at work, or on the road, and configures itself accordingly. Just like Location Manager of old, I believe this is triggered by the network. When at work, it remembers that I’m at work and print jobs go to the big new Xerox 4250 unit at the office. When at my sub-office, it knows and all print jobs go to the older Xerox unit there (they are different models requiring different drivers and have different names). At home, you guessed it, my home printer is default.

    Admittedly some function is lost, like the ability to automatically launch certain applications under a given location, but the ease of configuration (all automatic, I did nothing) more than makes up for any minor loss of control. If I recall, most of Location Manager’s coolness dealt with modem configuration, which was vitally important in the classic OS days, and all-but-meaningless today.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I miss mouse tracks. It was part of the OS and let you find your mouse easily. I haven’t found a substitute. It started off only on powerbooks, but then was available on all computers. If anyone knows of something similar, post a comment! Please!

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