Is Apple Finally Ready to Repair OS X Interface Problems?

December 4th, 2012

While Lion and Mountain line seem to be reliable enough, a number of Mac users prefer to stick with Snow Leopard, 10.6, which was released in 2009. The critics suggest this is the Apple version of Microsoft’s Windows XP dilemma. There’s a perfectly good OS, but the newer versions aren’t so tempting or compelling, for one reason or another.

With Microsoft, you can understand the issues with Windows Vista, where there were some good ideas, but it was saddled with performance problems and driver incompatibilities. It didn’t do near as well as Microsoft hoped, but Windows 7, which didn’t look a whole lot different, fared far better. In a sense, Windows 7 was little more than a glorified service pack for Vista, with a different name so as not to carry the baggage of its predecessor.

It may well be that Microsoft will need to make the appropriate fixes in Windows 9 to remove the stench of Windows 8, but I suppose it’s always possible customers will surprise us all and buy loads of licenses anyway.

When it comes to OS 10.7 and 10.8, Apple has been sharply criticized for making interface changes that, beyond the desire to integrate the look and feel with the iOS, don’t make sense in a practical way. Making scrollbars part time may be sensible on a smartphone, where you need to save screen space, but not on your 27-inch iMac. Reversing the direction of scrolling, which Apple calls “natural,” simply throws a convention that’s lasted for over 25 years on its ear. Again, this is designed to make it work the same as on an iPhone or iPad.

Now with these two interface changes, a couple of checkboxes in System Preferences will restore behavior to the OS X tradition. It’s not such a big deal.

That iChat is called messages, and iCal is called Calendar, for example, shouldn’t be a show stopper either. They are just names, and you may be upset over the so-called skeuomorphic excesses in the Contacts and Calendar interfaces. But they’re just pictures that do not really hurt the functionality of these apps.

However, using grayscale icons in the Finder and iTunes sidebar does hurt. You may have to look twice to see what they represent. Where’s the sense in that?

Well, a few weeks ago, Tim Cook made design guru Jonathan Ive head of Human Interface for Apple. His tastes appear to be diametrically opposed to skeuomorphic. In addition, the release of iTunes 11 was held up for a month for further revisions.

Something has returned!

When you install iTunes 11, the sidebar is hidden. A check of the View menu restores it and, sure enough, the color icons are back in all their glory. But that’s not enough to have delayed the app by a month. Inserting different icons in an app can be done in minutes rather than hours or days. Clearly the iTunes engineering team had a lot of other things to do, but the gesture is nonetheless appreciated.

So I wonder when Apple might restore color to the Finder sidebar. Sure, there are third party solutions, but this is also something that could be accomplished quickly. It doesn’t have to wait for 10.9. Unless you’re color blind, you won’t complain.

On the long haul, however, just how will the possible restoration of interface sanity impact development of OS X, particularly OS 10.9? Will the leather stitching effect vanish from Calendar? Will Apple’s apps become more consistent in the look and the feel?

Clearly, the need for change comes at a time when Microsoft, for better or wise, is at least trying to do something altogether new and different. Windows 8 may not do much of anything to help a PC user’s productivity, but I suppose you can’t attack Microsoft for taking a chance, only the results. While I wouldn’t want Apple to totally revamp OS X and change interface conventions that have been tested and proven since the early 1980s, there’s plenty of room for change. In addition to finding a cool 200 new features with which to entice you to download OS 10.9, Apple needs to take a large look at every nook and cranny and fix all the inconsistencies, and, if possible, consider restoring needed features that were left on the cutting room floor for no obvious reason.

I also hope that Apple doesn’t fall into the touch everywhere syndrome. Touch makes sense on a smartphone or tablet. It makes sense on a Mac’s trackpad, but nowhere else. On the other hand, enhanced voice recognition isn’t such a bad idea, although I can see where it would become highly disturbing in a busy office. But if you must talk to your Mac in your home, I suppose only your spouse, partner or child will care.

A possibly useful alternative to touch, however, is a way for OS X to recognize hand gestures from a distance. This can be done with your Mac’s FaceTime camera, although that would present a problem with a Mac mini or Mac Pro, unless you’re using an Apple display or someone else’s display with a built-in Webcam.

All right, restoring color icons in iTunes 11 is just one small step. But it gives some hope that Apple will, at long last, cut back or eliminate the OS X excesses.

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13 Responses to “Is Apple Finally Ready to Repair OS X Interface Problems?”

  1. Jim C. says:

    Since I bought an iMac about a year ago, I’ve been using Apple’s track pad. This took a few weeks to get used to, but now I find it the most natural thing. It adds “touch” to OS X in a way that I think is very fluid and natural. There are still things in the post-Snow Leopard environment that are sub-optimal (scrolling, for example), but these are more annoyances than full-blown problems.

  2. Usergnome says:

    There are some things that should be included:

    • Tabbed Finder windows (Now provided by Totalfinder)
    • More control over the desktops in Mission Control
    • Creating desktop sets for mission control that you could choose among at startup. (I have a set of desktops that like to have running for one type of work and a second for another type. These involve opening certain apps on certain desktops and having everything ready to roll whether I’m doing design, video editing, Or running a company.)
    • Being able to type Spotlight Comments directly into list view
    • Make labels more flexible and more powerful
    • Get onboard Blu-Ray. At least provide drivers for BluRay in case you want a burner – either internal or external. A BluRay data disk can backup a lot of files. And we content creators NEED to burn the occasional BluRay video disk.
    • Absolutely abandon the no-file-system meme being explored in iCloud and iApps. I’ve been letting text edit park files in iCloud for while just to see if there was merit in it. But now I have over twenty files and feel a need for folders.
    • Have Calendar and Mail grow up into tools for grownups. (Google is opening up a tremendous usefulness gap with Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Drive. While Apple is drawing pictures of bookshelves and faux leather stitching and making the filesystem go away

  3. Bill P says:

    How about returning to a real “Save As” command. Mountain Lion does NOT do this. As ZDNet says:

    Many sites reported the “happy” news that OS X Mountain Lion restores the Save As command, which was removed in OS X Lion. For example, TJ Luoma at TUAW describes how to remap the Duplicate command with Save As. However, these cheers are undeserved.

    For reference, the Save As command before Lion and all the way back to the original 128K MacOS meant users could “save as” a new version of a document or a file that would contain all the work done since the document was last saved. The result was the “original” and a new saved-as version with a new name.

    The problem is that Mountain Lion’s Save As isn’t the Save As that we knew and loved. Lloyd Chambers at the Mac Performance Guide tested and described the problem in a recent post.

    If one edits a document, then chooses Save As, then BOTH the edited original document and the copy are saved, thus not only saving a new copy, but silently saving the original with the same changes, thus overwriting the original. If you notice this auto-whack, you can “Revert To” the older version*** (manually), but if you don’t notice, then at some later date you’ll be in for a confusing surprise. And maybe an OMG-what-happened (consider a customer invoice that was overwritten).
    This is a disaster, of course, for longtime Mac users. It is a great change in behavior of the OS. If you’re running Time Machine, you can search and hopefully restore the original version. Maybe.

    In a long, thoughtful post, Dave W., a reader of Mac Performance, says the problem is with us.

    It doesn’t surprise me that “Save As” doesn’t work “as advertised”. After all “Save” doesn’t work “as advertised”. In Apple’s brave new world, there is no “Save” or “Save As”. Everything you do is recorded, and you can always go back to previous versions of your work. There is no real destruction. It’s just not working the way we want it to work.

    The way forward is to forget about Save As, and go back to “Duplicate” which works with Apple’s new saveless paradigm. After all, there are two times I use Save As.
    He suggested that we just forget about Save As. If you want to modify a document, duplicate it from the very beginning of editing. And if you aren’t sure that you don’t want to keep changes, then quit the document without saving or save-as-ing.

    Simply a HORRIBLE change for absolutely no reason.

  4. Goober says:

    Dont forget about the changes they made to “Expose and Spaces” in 10.6 it was a system preference where it belongs.
    Now its a complete UI disaster with setting spread out over different applications with no obvious way to make simple configurations like keyboard shortcuts.

    Or the changes they made to automatically open stuff for you when you reboot – with no reliable way to turn the stupid thing off – sure there’s a hidden setting but it works as often as not.

    I played with 10.7 for an hour before being disgusted and going back to 10.6.
    Im afraid to buy a new Mac without a DVD drive because then I’ll be stuck with that new horrible OS.

    Apple really really needs to think long and hard about what they’re doing. Because when I need to upgrade my laptop if 10.8 is as bad as 10.7 – I’ll just buy a Dell or something and make a Hackintosh.

    The Goob hath thusly ruled on Apples two steps back…

    • @Goober, You have it wrong here. Yes, there is a reliable way to turn off app/document resuming. It’s in the General preference panel. When you choose Restart from the Apple menu, there’s also an option to resume apps that you can uncheck.

      I think before you figure on putting up with Windows 8 and a Dell, you should take a little more time to experiment with OS 10.7 and 10.8 and learn how things really work. There are certainly problems with OS X, but let’s start with the facts.


  5. ct says:

    Maybe there is an unpublished preference tweak for this but I’d like to see the Finder be more dynamic to improve response and draw time when mounting network shares. It needs to have a low bandwidth mode that just shows basic folder/document info, without all the icon pictures, previews, etc.

  6. greg says:

    Launch pad is utterly useless. It exists to mimic the front page of an iPad and that is all. If you drag the applications folder to the Dock and select the option to display the stack as grid, you get a much more compact easy to navigate selection of application icons.
    I’d to vote for the restoration of exposé in combination with spaces, or at least make it an option. Mission control is comparatively a disaster.
    I would also hark back to the 10.4 folder icons in the finder. They were the current generic pale blue, but the inset documents, applications, downloads (and other) sub icons were far easier and faster to visually identify colors rather than low contrast monochrome insets that were instituted with 10.5.
    Moving the software update to the app store is also a step backwards. It used to be all that was required was the computer administrator password to access software updates and downloads. Now it requires both the administrator password and the Apple iTunes account password. Increased steps and complexity are supposedly counter to Apple’s philosophy.

  7. Bill P says:

    Thanks for the update, Gene. I will go check it out. Thanks again!

  8. Usergnome says:

    To Greg & Goober: I don’t know how you were using Expose and Spaces, but I believe Mission Control makes them really usable for the first time. I spend all day flying around desktops with the click of a mouse wheel. (I configured the mouse wheel to go to Mission control when clicked). It’s like having eight large monitors.

    To Goober: The choice to not restore Windows now actually works.

    To Greg: The whole App store is a massive step backwards. Couldn’t agree more. For all the reasons you mention and more.

    And an afterthought: Not that I wish Frank Reiff any ill fortune – but the abilities in his “A Better Finder (whatever) series should be part of the finder in the first place.

    I see I am advocating mostly power-user improvements.That in itself is probably enough to seal their fate.

  9. Andrew says:

    First, Vista wasn’t as bad as the press made it out to be. Run on machines with adequate hardware (meaning no Intel GMA950 or slower graphics) it was essentially the same in use as 7, and far better than XP. It was a little rough around the edges, but SP1 fixed most issues and by SP2 it was (and remains) a solid Windows release.

    Windows 7 was a refinement of the UI, but did offer optimized performance and slimmed-down code. 7 was to Vista much like Snow Leopard was to Leopard, and the Windows crowd had the exact same “glorified service pack” insult that you direct toward Windows 7.

    The truth is that 7 was an evolutionary upgrade, but far more than a service pack, just as Snow Leopard was an evolutionary upgrade, and far more than a service pack. I still use Vista on my military laptop and use 7 in Boot Camp for gaming on my Retina MacBook Pro. Both are totally fine.

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