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The “public” part of Mac OS X Public Beta, pt. 2

By MacEdition Staff (Feedback Form), 26 October 2000

Last week, we covered some of the letters that have come into the MacEdition offices. This week, more of the same!

Aqua

Whenever there is change, there are people who will line up and shout at the top of their lungs that the change is bad. Is it? Maybe, maybe not. These loud people are usually referred to as pundits (MacEdition sometimes falls in that category). A pundit’s job is to predict the future and it’s a hard job that’s made easier when that future comes to pass.

Quite a wailing was heard in the Mac Web/press about the coming of Aqua and the Mac OS X Public Beta (Mac OS X PB) interface changes. It’s time to hear what some of our readers think about Aqua.

“Deacon” has a positive outlook, saying: “I love Quartz, and Aqua is gorgeous.” Contrast that, though, with this comment from Neema Aghamohammadi: “I switched my 17" monitor from 1024x768 to 1152x870 just to return some usable space to my screen. I pity the iMac and iBook users out there stuck with their tiny screens.”

Robert Winchester covers both sides of the fence, looking at where the new interface is and where he can see it going:

Here it is, in a nutshell. (I’ve been an Apple developer since 1981. 3 years before the Mac. I live for UI design as a sideline.)

OS X is very cool-looking. It will eventually be great. But it’s definitely not ready for prime-time yet.

Subtleties are not lost on our readers, just as they should not be lost on Apple’s UI designers. Rebecca Gordon points out one such nuance: “I’d like to have a choice about the point-size threshold for anti-aliasing text. My eyes are surprisingly relieved by the sharp text in my Classic applications, including the menu titles.” Who was it that said the best interface is the one that you don’t see?

It’s not just Aqua’s appearance that gives people fits. Ed Fuller has plenty to say about the productivity changes that come as part and parcel of Aqua. [Ed. note: Mr. Fuller’s comments are reproduced below with minimal editing as he is specific in his comments. Some of his more positive comments are included in part 1.]

I think Apple has made a serious mis-step moving to the Aqua user interface. They’ve thrown out many things that made using a Mac easy and fun. I understand that Apple wants a new, beautiful user interface. I just don’t understand why they would remove functionality. Everyone has their favorite little nuances about the UI that make them love their Macs. The only thing getting rid of long-loved features does is alienate users. Apple can’t afford to do that. Not only am I going, “where did they put this?...” all the time, I’m working a lot slower. Time is money ... I use a Mac primarily because I can work faster on it than on Windows!

Pop-up/dockable folders are gone. I got pretty used to having them, and they really help me work more efficiently.

Drag and drop doesn’t currently work going from the Finder to Classic apps.

The Dock always pops up when I don’t want it to, when I’m trying to edit in the bottom tracks of my Final Cut Pro timeline. This really derails my train of thought! I was going to do some audio editing ... now I have to move windows around to keep them away from the Dock. No way to move the Dock.

I really hate the Dock. It is always in the way. It’s never the right size, always too big or too small. “Magnification” gives me a headache. I never know if the things I need are in the Dock or not. Usually not. So I have to hunt around. Oh, I liked my tabbed folders soooo much better. I also miss the palette-able application menu, that I could make really small and move anywhere I want.

I don’t think that this is a case of an old dog/new tricks scenario. (I’m pretty good at adapting to new things, generally. And if there’s a better way to do something than the way I’m used to, I’m there.) I really believe Apple replaced something really good (OS 9 Finder) with something not-as-good (Aqua).

Compatibility?

One of the major selling factors of Mac OS X PB is the compatibility with previous Macintosh applications – the feature known as Blue Box or the Classic environment. This would be important to users of Mac OS X PB, and judging from the comments, it certainly is.

Garry Connors gave us several examples of things that didn't work quite right: “Double clicking of a forked file defaults to OS 9 application rather than OS X application, even if it doesn’t exist anymore (then it happily launches classic and complains when it can’t find the application) [...] QuickTime is slow and very incomplete. Some QT 4 files don’t run.” Hopefully QuickTime 5 and the progression of the beta will help fix this last issue.

When was the last time your Mac cared about a file extension as a primary identifier? It looks like that may change in the future. Mr. Connors mentions, “File extensions are needed for files that rely on Cocoa apps. How annoying. Doesn’t seem to be the case for carbon apps. If Apple wants to ensure that ‘Cocoa is the future’, it not only needs to convince developers of this, but its users. I’m personally going to stay away from Cocoa apps till this is fixed.” The little things do seem to be important.

Tech support ratio divided by the number of jelly doughnuts squared...

One aspect of the cost of ownership of Mac OS-based machines has historically been the necessary ratio of tech-support personnel to installed boxes. This ratio is typically quite low in the Mac OS world, where stories abound of the night janitor who also maintains the Mac-specific parts of the installation (or something similar – the support is part-time, low-volume, and not the sole purpose of a person’s employ). While the one report we have may not be indicative of the world at large, UNIX is known for being, shall we say, finicky about its configurations. This is one issue that Apple (and its users) will need to pay close attention to going forward.

From “Fire Child” comes this:

I know I’m going to spend a GREAT deal of time dealing with training and “this is how this works” kind of questions. Am I thrilled? No, not really... Basically, today I can keep a MacOS machine from crashing – my Appleshare IP server hasn’t crashed in a year, and most of the 40 desktops I have crash less than once a week... AND we are a heavy graphics intensive book publisher. Unix doesn’t gain me all that much on the desktops, and it will cost me in time and headaches to get everyone up to speed... Yes, I know the desktop won’t crash as often with the MacOS X – but does that really save me much time and productivity. One restart a week, vs. having 40 people be less productive for a month or six...

Neema Aghamohammadi agrees:

[...] there is entirely too much UNIX complexity present in the present form of the OS. UNIX terminology should be removed or replaced by familiar MacOS terminology (root vs. owner). Also, a comprehensive review of the new directory layout and user privileges needs to be present from the outset. Unfortunately, there is no online tour available and the manual was barely adequate.

As food for thought, Neema adds this comment: “If these issues are not addressed, many users will find that Windows is more reminiscent of the Classic MacOS than MacOS X and that would not bode well for Apple.” Certainly a strong opinion, but one that each user of Mac OS X PB will have to consider when weighing the costs of changing platforms – even from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X.

Thinking different

This installment’s “thinking different” issue comes from “Fire Child”. This is most certainly an issue that Apple will address for the official release, but it warrants mentioning now, as it will affect potential beta users.

If I’m happy using 8.x, I can’t use that to run the Classic environment – therefore, currently I have no choice but to buy a 9.x upgrade and then a MacOS X upgrade too – the uproar will be incredible.

The beta (understandably) does not ship with Mac OS 9 on the CD. If you want to use the Classic environment before the official release (and possibly afterward), you need to purchase the Mac OS 9 upgrade.

Public Beta is as Public Beta does

Mac OS X Public Beta is just that: a beta. For those who don’t know what that means, even in the loosest of software development shops, beta means unfinished. However, it is through the feedback of the many thousands of people who have purchased this beta that Apple will have the opportunity to change, tweak, fix, and otherwise spiff up the final release of Mac OS X. You can find out more info from Apple at their Mac OS X Beta site, including a link to give your feedback directly to Apple.

We want your comments, but Apple needs them even more. If you have something to say, make sure you submit those comments to Apple.

Remember, neither Apple nor MacEdition condones the use of beta software in a production environment; take prudent precautions before installing (like backing up the hard drive). And be sure to keep filling our mailboxes too with your Public Beta experiences.

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