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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 06:09 AM   #1
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I've been a Mac user since Jan 00 and I've grown quite comfortable in the reality distortion field. I recently replaced my iMac DV with a PB G4 and have used it extensively at work for all kinds of things. Many coworkers ask about my Mac and I usually find myself explaining the interface differences between Macs and PCs, and how the Mac world seems to have it all figured out (column view, Expose, iPhoto, and the Office formatting palette being the most common subjects).

But I never mention the things about the Mac that I wish would change, and I generally feel a little guilty about recommending a Mac to friends and coworkers because of these personal dislikes. I have several issues with the Mac interface that I wish Apple and other developers would improve on...

Metal vs Aqua

I want Apple to completely replace the pin-striped Aqua theme with the brushed Metal theme. I think all the Metal apps simply look more professional, and are significantly easier on the eyes. I find that switching to an Aqua app after looking at a Metal app to be a blinding experience. I also feel that Aqua apps are simply too colorful: Metal apps have nice glassy or gray buttons, while Aqua apps usually have gaudy, overly-detailed buttons. (Occasionally, some developers create Metal apps with gaudy, Aqua-like buttons. Those apps are the worst of both worlds. For example, look at the right side of the toolbar in the new Automator for OS X 10.4 - how horrid!)

I think that the current visual interface is simply too inconsistent, without any real reason. Add the fact that GarageBand has its own appearance, and the Pro Mac apps (Final Cut, Motion) have yet another, and my favorite app (Logic) has yet another seems to indicate that no one at Apple seems interested in a fully consistent and attractive interface. To both newcomers and many veterans, the Mac looks like visual chaos. A full Metal interface would be the best.

Source Lists and Palettes vs Drawers

I hate Drawers. I find virtually every instance of them to be a poor implementation of an otherwise good concept. As examples, Mail would look so much better if the mailbox drawer was replaced with a source pane of mailboxes, and the formatting drawer used in Nisus Writer Express would look much better as a floating palette (similar to Mellel's or Word's formatting palettes).

Drawers have been replaced by Apple in several places recently, with significant improvements in usability resulting: the Help Viewer drawer was replaced with the Library menu item, and iCal now allows the Show Info to be a palette instead of a drawer. Expect the drawers in Preview and Mail to be replaced with source panes in Tiger.

Mostly, I find drawers to be an eye sore - a simple rectangular window is preferable to the odd shape that a window with a drawer makes.

Window Widget Weirdness

Ever click on a green Zoom button, knowing full well that you have no idea what will happen? The Zoom button has been my personal nemesis since the beginning of Mac OS X.

Sometimes, it's a maximize button (mostly for Cocoa apps, like iPhoto, iCal, Script Editor, and Help Viewer). Sometimes, it's an optimize button (the Finder and Preview). And sometimes, it does something completely different again (iTunes, Address Book, the MS Office apps).

I find that only the maximize zoom is predicable, but even then Carbon and Cocoa apps maximize differently; Cocoa apps hug the edges of the screen but Carbon apps tend to leave a small sliver of space all the way around the window.

Optimize zoom was a great feature for the Finder and Picture Viewer prior to OS X, but both the Finder and Preview now can't figure out what the proper window size is supposed to be, and they leave scroll bars or empty space when they shouldn't. Optimize zoom usually works for Safari, but it took me a year to figure out what TextEdit was doing when I zoomed. (In case you didn't know, the size of the window is related to the settings in the Page Setup. Seriously.) Optimize zoom has now become an unreliable feature for the Mac because of poor programming.

Ever use the Zoom button in Office? I don't know what Microsoft was thinking - I can't even decribe what what the window is supposed to be doing.

To make things simple, the green Zoom widget should only maximize; consistent and predictable. If the developer wants the zoom button to do anything else, it should have a different color (blue? purple?) and be full explained in the documentation why it does what it does.

Finally, the red Close button should only close windows, and never Quit the program. I hate the fact that Panther changed the Close button function for System Preferences and the Calculator from the right way to the wrong way. If I want a program to Quit, I'll tell it to.

Trash Talk

Ever wonder why iPhoto and iMove have their own trash? More importantly, have you ever thought that perhaps the iPhoto way makes the most sense - with the trash in the source pane? That's where Apple should move the Trash to - out of the Dock and in to the Finder source pane.

Palette Pandemonia

Ever try Mellel? Its most outstanding feature is its formatting palette. In addition to being able to come apart, it's so smart that it knows to collapse the lower panels if opening the upper panels causes some of the palette to shoot off the screen. You should try the demo program out just to see this amazing little feat. But I would never buy Mellel - I simply require too many of the features in Word.

But the Word formatting palette is so stupid next to Mellel's. It will happily grow downwards until it sticks below the screen, requiring me to close some other panel to fix the situation. Worse, it grows horizontally too, and will typically overlap the document I'm trying to write! Annoying!

The Font Panel of TextEdit is even worse. To see all of the formatting options available, it needs to be ridiculously wide. Compare for yourself the logic and simplicity of the Color Panel versus the inflexibility and akwardness of the Font Panel. Add to that, the TextEdit toolbar is completely useless. Apple is so close to having the most amazing "free" text editor, but the impressive typography and formatting chops of TextEdit are trapped under the most obtuse GUI ever seen in a Mac program. Shame, Apple!

Floating Toolbars

My two favorite interface conventions are floating palettes and window toolbars. Everything a program needs can be found in these two features. But the floating toolbar (as found in Office, Photoshop, AppleWorks, and Palm Desktop) is the biggest, most annoying visual abomination in the Mac environment. The basic reasons: lack of consistency and visual clutter.

Some floating toolbars stretch from screen edge to screen edge (Adobe) while some are of odd lengths and shapes (Office). Some are colorful, some monochrome. Most are loaded with indecipherable glyphs without any clue as to their meanings (AppleWorks, and even worse, BIAS Peak).

I find it amazing that Adobe thinks Photoshop needs a floating toolbar for Options, another (vertical) toolbar for tools, and then normal palettes for everything else. Couldn't the tools and options go in a single palette at the side? One that stacks and merges nicely like all the other palettes? Please?

I find it really amazing that Microsoft can manage to put toolbars in the application windows for Windows, but not on the Mac. As a result, the Office apps on the Mac look like a crazed overlapping of a half-dozen differently shaped rectangles, none of them fitting together in a way that effectively uses space, and making the document windows jump around and re-size constantly as I switch to the print preview or master document views. It's insane!

Keynote is an excellent example of how to make a simple, clutter-free interface: a toolbar and a source pane in the application window, and a floating formatting palette. Mellel, iPhoto, Entourage, and GarageBand are also really good examples of this simple design. I know that some pro-level applications (Logic, Final Cut) require many, many windows to be useful, but even then their windows and toolbars at least fit together nicely; not so with PowerPoint.

Apple needs to get out of the floating toolbar business, and then politely insist (with the Apple HIG) that its third-party developers do the same.


I know this was really long (particularly given that this is only my second post to ehMac) but I really wanted to get this out. I find that sometimes the Mac community needs to remember that while the Mac interface is impressive, it is still burdened with a lot of clutter, inconsistencies, and cosmetic flaws. I do believe that these small changes could make the Mac easier to approach for newbies and easier to master for veterans. Thanks for reading.

- Kev
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 08:51 AM   #2
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Agree, for all its visual impressiveness, the UI is clunky and what makes it worse the 'appearance' of consistency. At least in Windows you know that it's a free for all...

My personal peeves revolve around font size consistency, some shockingly poor 'home apps' (e.g. AddressBook, aspects of Mail) and generally the loss of WYSIWYG. Come on Apple should be clever enough to implement true WYSIWYG automatically across all screen sizes and video cards!

As far as convincing others goes, I think that, in order of decreasing impact my arguments are:

- You never switch them off and the memory hardly ever fragments
- Laptops have everything built-in. No need for anything outside the power cable
- I do not need virus protection or have spy-ware issues
- I have built-in Spam filters which are way better than what my internet providers supply
- iLife's integration and ease of use
- 99% Office compatibility (you have to be honest about the odd font or currency symbol that will not port through)
- They integrate flawlessly in a mixed network, particularly WiFi at home
- They don't crash (a weaker argument since XP+fixes)
- Hardware installs like a dream
- They can be cheaper than W machines in certain situations and you can buy cheap peripherals in most situations
- They are drop dead gorgeous
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 10:30 AM   #3
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I didn't like the Aqua theme either, I fixed that with a free app called ThemeChanger and now everything is Brushed Metal. They also have other variations, not many, but it's free.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 06:06 PM   #4
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I've seen some theme changers (and some of the hideous themes that are created for them), but generally they don't address my key concern with Aqua vs Metal themes:

Metal themed apps with colorful Aqua-like buttons look awful!

Unless the buttons look like the glassy or gray buttons found in iTunes or Safari I don't want anything to do with them.

Thanks for your reply.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 06:48 PM   #5
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I find Aqua absolutly repulsive, after Classic, it is my primary complaint about Mac OS X.

If I have to look at something for 10 hours a day, please make it something neutral!

When aqua was first rolled out, the woman sitting beside me put it best "what the f--k is this?" and that remains my reaction just about anytime I use X.

Luna in Windows XP is only marginally better, but you can go back to the classic Windows 95 style interface at the click of a button.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 06:52 PM   #6
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Didn't Panther replace the Aqua look with brushed metal?
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 07:09 PM   #7
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No, only a small number of apps changed to Metal, like the Finder.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 08:51 PM   #8
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I like Aqua over Brushed metal most of the time. It's cleaner and redraws faster. What Apple should do is:

A) Make it consistent, and

B) Give the user the choice of either in the Appearance prefs.

But my goodness; there are lots of different themes you can apply via Shapeshifter to overcome this short-coming.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 09:42 PM   #9
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Theme changers create far more shortcomings than they solve.

I would never use any theme-changer. Simply put, both Aqua and Metal look better now than any third-party theme I've ever seen. Plus, if the switch to a Metal-style theme wasn't accompanied by new glassy or gray buttons the result would look simply awful.

Would these theme switchers provide all-new buttons for every Aqua applications like NetNewsWire or Nisus Writer Express (or could you imagine their toolbar buttons on top of a metal window? Yeech!) And can you imagine an Aqua iPhoto or iMovie? Barf!

I don't want Apple to waste resources on themes or appearance managers. I would prefer that they spend that money and time on experts who develop an attractive interface and keep it consistent. They are almost there - brushed metal is the best looking interface on any system, bar none.
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Old Jul 4th, 2004, 10:21 PM   #10
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lpkmckenna - I have to disagree with you on several points.

I find the Mac OS X UI very nice albeit not perfect.

Metal vs. Aqua

There are many people who can't stand the look of metal. I know when metal came out, it was beautiful and I liked it a heck of a lot. But after seeing many applications change from Aqua to Metal looks, just because it is metal does not make it better. I know when Onyx first changed to Metal, I felt like puking.

Whether a developer uses Metal or Aqua, it has to be laid out nicely and easy on the eyes. I'm not one who is anti-Metal or anti-Aqua. I find that they work together so long as they are utilized properly.

eg. Safari does a great job with the Metal theme. It fits Safari. Older versions of Onyx (I believe 1.2.x) made Metal look horrible. SubEthaEdit, Mail, Preview, System Preferences, Transmit, etc. all show a very good usage of Aqua. I really disagree with the idea that all apps should be one or the other.

However, there has to be a standard that is adhered to as to UI design. Apple's Human Interface Guidelines (hereafter called HIG) are supposed to be this standard by stating;
<ul>[*]Provides an interface for a digital peripheral, such as a camera, or an interface for managing data shared with digital peripherals—iPhoto or iSync, for example[*]Strives to re-create a familiar physical device—Calculator or DVD Player, for example[*]Provides a source list to navigate information—for example, iTunes or the Finder[/list]
For those interested, you should definitely check Apple's comments on Brushed Metal Windows (where the quote above was taken). They also show how TextEdit looks in Metal and Aqua. Needless to say, TextEdit looks like crap in Metal.

Apple is most likely the worst when following their own guidelines (as lpkmckenna said, GarageBand, Motion, Final Cut Pro), however for better or for worse, they are "special cases".

The Mac is not visual chaos, but it certainly does not help when things are inconsistent visually. And a full Metal interface would not be best IMO.


Source Lists and Palettes.

To quote Apple's HIG (halfway down the page);
A drawer should contain frequently accessed controls that don’t need to be visible at all times.
For me, drawers do a damn good job at what they're supposed to do. Unlike persistent source lists, drawers are designed to contain information that isn't always needed. I know reading PDFs in Preview, I'd much rather have a drawer then a source list. It's nice to close the drawer.

While, yes in Mail a source list might have been smarter because most people keep the drawer open all the time, but whomever was in charge of Mail's design felt that accessing the mailboxes was a frequently accessed control that didn't need to be visible at all times.

However, you may be interested in noting that in Mail on Tiger, it's been redesigned so that you can access any mailbox (or folders that are added to the lost) without having the drawer even opening.

Also, Preview and Mail still have drawers in Tiger. The screenshots on the web show this.

However like all UI features, drawers need to be used appropriately. They can be used well or misused.


Window Widget Weirdness

To quote the HIG again;
If the user changes a window’s size or location by at least 7 pixels, the new size and location is the user state. The user can toggle between the standard state and the user state by clicking the zoom button. When the user clicks the zoom button of a window in the user state, your application should first determine the appropriate size of the standard state. Move the window as little as possible to make it the standard size, and keep the entire window on the screen. The zoom button should not cause the window to fill the entire screen unless that was the last state the user set.
(Page 119 of PDF)

I agree that the green button is more confusing then it needs to be, but there is method in the madness. Although the last sentence of that paragraph is quite interesting. The green button is not supposed to be the Maximize button like in Windows. It's always supposed to be an "optimized" or "user state" button.

I don't agree with what Apple did, I'd love it if it would automatically maximize the window.

Quitting on close though I think it brilliant. Most people who comes from a Windows background know that closing the window, closes the program. Not so on a Mac. So long as it follows what Apple says in their HIG, I really agree;

In most cases, applications that are not document-based should quit when the main window is closed. For Example, System Preferences quits if the user closes the window. If an application continues to perform some function when the main window is closed, however, it may be appropriate to leave it running when the main window is closed. For example, iTunes continues to play when the user closes the main window.
(Page 120 in PDF)


Trash Talk

Word. Apple should put the trash in the sidebar. There is a way to do this, but not very easily. If all else fails, Command-Delete works too.


Palette Pandamonia

You're not the only one who finds Word's palettes very annoying. I turned off the palette and put the toolbars back on.

As for TextEdit's toolbar. It just plain doesn't have one. Makes it hard to complain when it doesn't have one. Though, I do agree that it could use an overhaul into a much better text editor (but then again, what are 3rd party apps for?)


Floating Toolbars.

I hate floating toolbars. That's me personally, but I hate toolbars and palettes that just float. Simply because they eat screen space like nobody's business. They are the reason that people come to love 2 monitors. That way you can have all the floating toolbars and palettes on one screen and your work on another. They're super useful, but they eat screen space like nobody's business. (Hint: Try using Dreamweaver MX on a 800x600 screen for an example).


This is just my 0.02 on a UI that is generally more consistent then most. It's great but not perfect, but what is important is that I like it and it's easy to use.


There are some fundamental faults in Apple's UI (and disregard for their own Human Interface Guidlines at times), like the Dock, and a few other areas.

(10 reasons the Dock sucks.)

For those who want the Human Interface Guideline available offline, it is available in PDF format at; http://developer.apple.com/documenta...Guidelines.pdf
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