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The Mac OS X Report: The Features We Lost

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?