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Ask Tog Reader Mail

 Leave the Finder Alone
 Don't Mess with the Windows Controls
 Leave the Default Button Alone
 A Typical Letter
 Windows Users Feeling Better Already
 New Coke Loyalty
 Macintosh Loyalty

This month's mail numbered in the hundreds. Many readers called me to task for errors made in the original article, both syntactical and intellectual. In response, I have been continuously improving the article. If you read it back at the beginning, you may want to skim it again.

I received around three or four letters in defense of the interface. All the rest were critical, with the greatest concentration focusing on the Finder replacement.

Leave the Finder Alone

Eric Strobel summed up what more than half this month's letter writers had to say:

...[As for this] “Finder as just a window” thing, I’ve tried Greg’s Browser and simply don’t use it. It is (for me) a completely useless way of accessing my files.

If I had to state a single reason why Windows is completely, totally, and absolutely unusable for real, day-to-day work, it would be the File Manager. At least in X-Windows systems, I can make something like a disk icon that represents the starting level of the directory structure I choose to think of as a “disk drive”—I do this once and thereafter think of it as if it were a disk on a Mac. It appears that Apple has decided that the biggest abomination of the Windows UI is what all Mac users need.

The true bottom line is that the current Mac OS adapts to the user’s way of viewing the world. I can keep my network aliases along the left side, my printer icons along the top and frequently used documents near the bottom. You can lay things out the way you find most efficient.

It sounds, though, like we will have to adapt to OS X, instead of the other way around. Well, I don’t use a Palm Pilot because I don’t want to have to learn Graffiti—the Newton had it right, adapt to the user, not the other way around. Steve Jobs needs to understand this point in no uncertain terms.

- Eric Strobel

I hope Apple will think long and hard before bullying users with a browser interface at the expense of today's spatially-oriented Finder. If they want to augment it, I think that's great. Let people use what most pleases them. However, it they strip out any of the functionality or usability of today's Finder—if they cripple it—they face a wrath that could bring the company down. The hundreds of letters I received this month makes that completely clear.

I disagree with you about Graffiti, however. Graffiti seems to me to be a reasonable compromise between the relative abilities of the person and the machine. I am willing to forgive such compromises when they drop the price more than in half and the size by many, many times. Particularly since Graffiti only takes a few minutes to learn, even for someone as slow as myself.

Any failures of design in the released version of OS X, in contrast, will likely result from sloppy methodology, e. g., failure to user-test, rather than technical limitations. Should such failures occur, I will not be nearly as charitable.

Don't Mess with the Windows Controls


Please rethink your position on the mouseovers or rollovers of the window controls in Aqua.

The symbols inside the red, yellow and green window controls should be ALWAYS ON.

Do the symbols waste screen real estate? No. Then why hide them?

Do they besmirch the beauty of the window controls? Yes. And this is where I have a problem with Apple's approach. Apparently, beauty comes first. Function later.

Form over function is an interface design "no-no" of the highest order.

Mike Donahue

First, I don't think we should be quick to condemn something just because it is attractive. I'm the first one in line when usability is truly being threatened, but clean, attractive design often improves usability by simplifying and clearly communicating.

Second, the only time you need to see those symbols is when you are going to use one of the buttons. All the rest of the time, those symbols are unrelated to your task. Anything unrelated to your immediate task is noise.

That doesn't call for ridding the screen of everything but the immediate window, but it does call for progressively simplifying visual elements as they grow further and further away from the user's point of focus. That's the reason for dropping out the scroll bar elements and other controls in rear windows. That's the rationale that supports a single menu bar, so that you don't make the constant errors seen in other systems where users click the File or Edit menu on the wrong window.

This principle does call into question having the window controls at all visible in any but the front window. It also suggests that the Mac and other OSs are long overdue for adding the concept of projects or workspaces, so that only those items pertaining to the current task are visible at all in the window.

Some UNIX systems provide this functionality, but usually with a difficult-to-grasp conceptual model. I think Quicken is doing it right. They have a clearly visible model, coupled with an ability to show the same content in multiple workspaces.

Many other letters took Apple to task for moving the controls to the right, away from their historical position. There is no good reason for doing this, other than to put the new designer's stamp on the interface. It will increase the error rate at least somewhat, although I don't expect it will be the high error found on windows because the Mac buttons are spaced apart much more generously.

With the kind of firestorm that seems to be developing, however, I think this team better rethink anything that is going to act as a target for criticism: If it works, leave it alone, and, in this case, there is nothing wrong with the current layout.

And Mike Donahue responded:


You wrote:

Second, the only time you need to see those symbols is when you are going to use one of the buttons. All the rest of the time, those symbols are unrelated to your task. Anything unrelated to your immediate task is noise.

By this logic, the buttons *themselves* should be hidden "All the rest of the time" until the user needs them and "mouses" over them.

The buttons themselves (without the symbols inside) are just as much "noise" as the buttons with the symbols inside, inasmuch as "Anything unrelated to your immediate task is noise" and, "All the rest of the time, those symbols are unrelated to your task."

By your logic, why hide just the symbols; why not hide the gel buttons themselves?

One more time, please rethink your position on "rollovers" or
"mouseovers" for the window controls.


Mike Donahue

I'm not suggesting that these rollovers are a fabulous addition to the interface. I'm just suggesting that they don't do the kind of damage that people are claiming and that, futhermore, they do offer some small advantage to offset what they take away.

The buttons themselves need to be present at all times because the computer has no way to "know" when accessing them will become part of the user's task. By showing the buttons, but hiding the symbols, a compromise is formed wherein the user can head for the visible target, then gain additional information upon arrival. Were each button to "light up" separately as the mouse passed over, I would be vehemently opposed, as the user would have to scrub the buttons repeatedly to gain enough context for a decision (the objection I have to the dock and it's hidden titles). However, they all light up as a block, offering the user all the information necessary to discriminate among them.

Again, for the single task of clicking one of these buttons, showing the symbols all the time is the superior solution. For the task of using the whole environment, removing sources of noise is an equally worthwhile goal.

Leave the Default Button Alone!

No! No! No! No way are they moving my default action button to the left!

You're asking that Apple move in the exact opposite direction of progress, and after a whole article that states the exact opposite! All your article does is contradict itself....bletch!

Jamie Dow

I called for this only because 90%+ of all dialogs have the default button on the left. It is similar to right-hand drive. It does make the Mac unique, but it does a disservice to all those who must spend their daytime hours driving on the left.

I have updated the article to suggest this be a preference item.

A Typical Letter

This next letter pretty well sums up the tone and substance of the majority of those received.

As far as [OS X] being the New Coke of 2000, I agree completely. It’s beautiful, looks fun, and I’m sure Bill Cosby has already been contacted for endorsements.

The 128x128 icons are asinine, the apple in the middle of the screen is moronic and the lack of a usable desktop is ridiculous. The mouseover controls are a horrible idea because they serve no function. The colors along the side of an active window detract nothing from the content of the window, so to make the buttons mouseover is purely a gimmick.

I like the clean colors and the lack of window borders, as I have long detested the charcoal frame in OS 8.X and 9.

To call that hideous folder a finder is absurd. Let’s be honest and call it what it is: A poor man’s “My Computer.” Similarly, the filer browser is a bastard-child of “Greg’s Browser,” and “Windows Explorer.”

I feel like apple has surrendered to Microsoft and proclaimed the Bill Gates’ way as the best way. I’ve always thought that the day that happens would be the day they raised the Chinese flag above the white house and the US converted to communism.

It’s always been my experience that, when the finder clutters my screen or is an eyesore, I go to the app. menu and click ‘hide others,’ which hides all open finder windows.

As a graphics guru, I think the OS interface is cute, but would be a pain. I want my window borders to taken up a minimal amount of space, not a maximum. The windows don’t belong on apple (long a fav among DTPers) but on a Fischer Price “My First Computer.” I hate the idea of a single window most of all. Talk about fascism.

Steven J. Meiers

Windows Users Feeling Better Already

Found your review of OS X today. Along with another article I read on the same subject, it finally convinced me (after years of "the grass is greener" envy of Mac users) that there is no reason for a longtime Windows user to make the switch.

I hate round, one-button mice and dinky little keyboards, and I sure don't want to be forced to use an interface that is, as you put it, being "taste-tested on a single user: Steve Jobs."

As much as we Windows folks love to hate Bill Gates, he and the machines his OS dominates offer us something that Mac and Apple never did: choice.

Thanks for making the grass on the other side look like what it is—somebody else's lawn.


Ned Humphrey

Ned's opinion was typical of a great many I received. Its a pretty sad day when Windows users can feel good about their pretty sad interface.

New Coke Loyalty

If I may be permitted a demurrer to your analogy new Mac/new Coke. The issue with New Coke was not demo vs. a full bottle, but primarily with what you put as a secondary occurrence, the loss of their “beloved” Coca-Cola.

And - it was not merely “country-fair tests” that had Pepsi winning. Coke itself did thousands of taste tests that showed consumers (especially outside the South) preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke. (In the South, defined as below the North Carolina/Virginia border, it was the practice of Pepsi to alter its formula to taste more like Coke.)

But Coke has a century of advertising and promotional history, of defining America in a positive way, behind it, and the apparent rejection of that was what fueled the consumer anger.

Larry Dietz

Larry is absolutely correct.

Three "ingredients" seemed to contribute to the furor:

  1. A loyal following
  2. A change in formula not clearly for the better
  3. Publicity

Remove any of the three and they might have gotten away with it. For example, Best Foods/Hellmans seriously degraded their mayonnaise several years back in response to an ugly advertising campaign on the part of Phillip Morris's Kraft Foods. (Kraft had this middle-aged harridan yelling at young housewives who were so stupid as to serve mayonnaise that had not been whipped to the point of losing all texture.) Instead of getting on the TV and renouncing the competition, Best Foods/Hellmans folded.

Best Foods/Hellmans mayonnaise now is a textureless mass just like Kraft, but I have never seen a single person complain. Why? Because they did it quietly and those of us who did notice had no focal point to attack.

Campbell's similarly changed some of their signature soups a decade or so back, making them mealy for reasons unknown. Had Campbell's bought a few million dollars worth of ads to declare they were ruining America's most beloved soups, they might have stirred up the kind of trouble that Coke found itself in.

Macintosh clearly scores on points one and three: They have a fanatical following and they are busy generating huge publicity about the upcoming changes. Shifts to technologies like protected memory are clearly for the better, and few will care to criticize them. However, spurious changes in the interface that are either neutral or that degrade the current user experience are going to cause a firestorm. We've already seen continuous, unrelenting criticism of the toy keyboard, round mouse, Quicktime player and Sherlock, even in those segments of the press that are usually fawning. These outcries are nothing compared to what will come down if Apple is even perceived to have screwed up the interface.

Macintosh Loyalty

Your article on "Aqua" is brilliant.

I have always wondered what is the primary difference between Mac OS and Windows. It took some time, but then I realized (that was years ago) the "obvious" - it's the Finder.

If I don't find the Finder in a new MacOS, Apple is in trouble.

And I have four Macs! I am absolutely certain: if Steve Jobs loses me as user—Apple is finished!

So they better listen to you.

Boro Krstulovic
"LEXIS" d.o.o.

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