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WWDC 2008: Future UI Designs in Mac OS X 10.6

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Daniel Eran Dilger
Following up on the previous segment, WWDC 2008: Predictions & What to Expect: Mac OS X 10.6, this article looks at how Apple differs from Microsoft in the hints it has dropped about the human interface concepts to be used in future versions of Mac OS X, and suggests some additional interface ideas for 10.6.


When Microsoft Zigs, Apple Zags.
A good rule of thumb for predicting Apple’s next moves is to plot the opposite path from the one Microsoft is headed in. While Microsoft perpetually talks about features in the next Windows three years out, Apple focuses on its current release of Mac OS X. As Microsoft has tried to homogenize every product category (desktop, mobile, PMP, UMPC, etc.) with the same Start Button user interface, Apple has developed products that all have a custom designed interface suited for the task at hand. Apple TV, the iPhone, and the Mac desktop all run OS X, but each has an entirely unique design for interaction. Their commonality exudes Apple branding, but the interface details are all very different.

So what is Microsoft now doing that Apple won’t? Consider Office 2007: Microsoft is developing an entirely different user interface for its desktop applications that breaks the human interface standard set by Apple in the mid 80s of consistent, system wide pull down menus. Microsoft isn’t alone in this trend; Adobe is also similarly experimenting with putting toolbar buttons into the title bars of its upcoming Creative Suite applications. Users are howling in disgust. People hate new things, particularly when the advantages aren’t obvious and the changes clash with everything else.

Why are Adobe and Microsoft doing this? Only new Adobe apps will have icons in the title bar, and only Office 2007 apps have Microsoft’s odd new Ribbon UI (although other arms of the company are experimenting with rolling their own version of a similar idea, each being slightly different.) Microsoft and Adobe have similar motivations.

That’s a clue that Apple will be doing exactly the opposite: Apple is going to refine the Mac OS X user interface to create a consistent set of advancements that benefit every app. That’s because Apple doesn’t have a monopoly in Office apps or in Creative apps to advance and differentiate. Apple has a platform to advance and differentiate, and its going to do that again in Mac OS X 10.6, just as it did in Leopard.

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The Road to a More Consistent UI is Paved with iTunes.
Apple’s dominate market leading app is iTunes. The company certainly doesn’t have a monopoly there; Windows Media is far more entrenched thanks to its tied bundling, and there are any number of alternative media apps and content stores people can use, from Amazon to Napster to eMusic. However, iTunes is Apple’s UI bellwether, and regularly gets used to show off and advance new user interface concepts.

iTunes foreshadowed Leopard’s Unified window design (used in the Finder and applied to other apps system wide), with its converged title and button bar, squared corners, source listing on the left, action buttons on the bottom of the window, upper right search field, Cover Flow visualizations, a darker and more neutral window frame, and other elements that make everything about Leopard familiar to users of iTunes. So what’s next?

A Toned Down, Logical, Sun Dried Aqua: Based on the flat, “non-Aqua” scroll bars in the current version of iTunes, expect the next version of Mac OS X to lose its bright blue scroll bar bubbles, or at least tone them down dramatically. The iPhone and Apple TV both present their scroll bars as almost ghostly little black indicators that fade into the background rather than pulsating with an attention grabbing sheen.

iTunes

Apple representatives have also hinted that the “candy drop” close, minimize, and zoom buttons would go away in the next version of Mac OS X, replaced with more serious and professional looking ones. If that seems shocking, take a look at Logic Pro 8: the candy stoplight colors are already gone. Even active windows have grey scale windows controls.

Leopard already toned things down system wide somewhat slightly over Tiger’s version, setting the colored buttons into the title bar like jewels rather than having them plopped out like sugary blobs on top of the surface. Along with candy plastic drawers and pinstripes, those interface conventions mirroring the translucent colored plastics of the late 90s iMacs are out in favor of neutral elements that reflect modern Mac’s glass and aluminum construction.

Logic Pro 8 has also extended “Unified” windows, so that the joined title bar and Toolbar area (separated by a thin line in Logic Pro, as opposed to the solid Unified look applied to Apple’s consumer apps such as iTunes) extends as a thin frame around the entire window. That thin peripheral frame also allows the user to resize the window down and to the right or left by grabbing and pulling.

Logic Pro’s windows are also rounded on all four corners. The latest iTunes (and the Leopard Finder) is only slightly rounded (less than Tiger apps were) but its bottom corners are similarly rounded rather than squared off like Safari and most other apps.Like iTunes, Logic Pro also sports greyed-out scrollbars, although Logic’s are a more dimensional “grey Aqua” while iTunes’ are a flatter blue; further, the Logic Pro indicator has marked ends that act to scale the contents in the view. Pull on the ends of the scrollbar indicator and it becomes wider, compressing and zooming in on the contents of the music being displayed in the window.

Logic Pro

It’s not necessarily the case that everything in Logic Pro will trickle down into system wide interface ideas in 10.6; it’s a Pro App with a more serious audience. However, it does offer an iTunes-like view into how Apple is approaching the ideas of integrating complexity and sophistication into an intuitive, beautiful interface. Logic Pro silently screams futuristic, clean, functional, and subtle all at once.

The Next Dimension: Even Apple faces the contempt of proponents of conformity with the past; users howled in protest when the company unveiled Leopard’s translucent menu bar and dimensional looking Dock with reflections and shadows. Expect more in this direction as Apple works to wean users toward an ever progressive advance to increasingly simple yet sophisticated interface concepts.

Time Machine also showed off Apple’s readiness to experiment with bold new ideas for visualizing complex data in intuitive ways. Windows Enthusiasts who pounded their fists to demand equal coverage for Microsoft’s invisible and far less capable Volume Shadow Copy feature completely failed to recognize that much of the value of Apple’s new backup system came, not from implementing a conventional way to create restorable copies of information, but from making it easy for non technical users to browse those backups and easily recover lost items. They like to dismiss it as being “pretty,” as if looks aren’t a major reason for being wowed by a hot vehicle, sharp clothes, or any other well designed product. Remember, they’re suffering Stockholm Syndrome as captives of Microsoft’s horrific designs.

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Resolution Independence: this isn’t new; Mac OS X began getting support for this back in Tiger, and Leopard advanced the underlying plumbing so developers could get started doing the work needed to support their applications on new systems where the screen density could become a variable. Resolution Independence allows the user or system to scale everything up or down to make icons and text usably large on higher resolution screens that pack more pixels into an inch.

The work needed to do this is largely upon third parties. Apple can already scale the Mac OS X desktop, but any apps that paint custom controls that were only designed to look good at the existing 1:1 ratio will look blocky and pixelated when scaled, and might fail to line up properly into the design grid of the window.

The iPhone already supports resolution independence technology, which is the magic that allows Mobile Safari to scale web page text and graphics smoothly. Apple didn’t have to drag along a bunch of legacy apps on the iPhone, but it does have to do so on the Mac desktop. It has been working with developers to prepare them for this step for years; 10.6 will turn on scaling features by default.

Fix This, Apple!
Mac OS X’s most desperate need seems to be how it presents menu options. In the past, the Mac’s Menu Bar made lots of sense. Today, higher resolutions and subtle graphics effects make it easy to present more controls in the window itself. Microsoft’s original Mac Office appeared to pioneer the idea of button bars; today’s iWork and iLife apps both present a huge number of controls and settings right in the window itself, even though both suites do so in every different ways. iLife apps presents content; iWork presents documents.

Each delivers an interface suited for the task at hand, and both rely upon NeXT-style Inspector Palettes, which group together intuitive controls in a highly graphical setting. The latest iWork now presents what Apple calls the Format Bar, which puts context sensitive, graphical Inspector controls in a strip right under the standard Toolbar. I want to see that in every productivity application, but there are also more pressing issues. With the increasing complexity in applications and between applications, it would be great to see Apple address a number of menu related issues in a consistent, brilliantly simple manner. The problems:

1. Menu Bars are shrinking as displays get larger. This is particularly a problem for multiple monitor users. Why force them to transverse their screens to target drop down menus?

2. Copy / Paste features have been stuck in the middle 80s for twenty years now. Why don’t we have multiple pasteboards as part of the system yet?

3. Services in NEXTSTEP solved a common problem: how can apps share data temporarily, piping text or graphics through a workflow to filter, count, or modify the item in some way and then return it to the current application? Services actually made it to Mac OS X, but few users even know its there. Select something, then go to the application menu and pull down to Services, and you can do all sorts of things with your selected item from the options automatically populated by system applications that advertise their abilities.

All three of the above issues are related. They all involve a degree of complexity that hides behind a textual interface. To use any of those menus, you have to leave the intensely visual desktop and its windows to transverse a bunch of lines of text in the menu bar. This needs to be fixed. There is a fine solution in two parts.

1. Popup Contextual Pies Menus and Piping: a convoluted name, but a necessary feature. Select something, then hit a hot key to pop up a contextual menu. Rather than presenting a conventional, mini version of a menu bar pull down with text to read, you’ll get a highly graphical popup like the kind visual artists put in Star Trek and Minority Report, with obvious tasks that lead in diverging paths.

This is so freaking obvious I’m ashamed that neither Apple nor Microsoft has done it yet. Imagine the concept of the Start Menu, but done correctly, and where you want it rather than tied into the lower corner of the screen and the Windows Taskbar strip. In my mockup below, the idea is portrayed as a pie menu animated and labeled like the Dock.

pie menus

Menu Bars Plus: Want to access System related functions? Hit the Apple and get presented with options to select About this Mac, Software Update, System Preferences, open Recent Items, Shutdown, etc. The Apple Menu. Hit the application icon to bring up that menu, with About, Preferences, and Quit options. File, Edit, Window selection, Help, Clock, Logged in User, and other menu bar items also beg for the same instant access treatment that is visual rather than text heavy, and immediate rather than requiring mousing to hit a target on the top side of the main screen. We didn’t have the processing capacity to rapidly draw menus like this ten years ago, but we sure do now.

pie menu expanded

Copy / Paste Plus: Don’t limit yourself to copy and pasting a single item. Third party utilities have been working to solve this problem in various ways for decades, but the system should really be doing this itself. Copy an item and drop it into a bucket organized just like Safari Bookmarks: visual, immediately searchable (!), and wildly flexible. Use Bonjour sharing and discovery to link computers together on the local network so that users can easily copy and paste data right over the network rather than sending emails, IMs, or the files themselves. Make the pasteboard syncable via .Mac so that anything you copy and paste into your scrapbook is available from any computer you use.

copy paste plus

Services Plus: I hinted at this earlier under the clumsy name Serviceposé, as a play on Apple’s visual window management tools. This would be an extension to Copy / Paste Plus, simply giving the system a visual way to take a selected item and send it through processing (tint a graphic, title case some text, verify a file), number it (get a word count, get metadata info on a file), or apply some other workflow that returns a desired result before dropping it back into the current application.

Hook up Automator Actions into it, extend it with AppleScript commands, use it to present Core Image filters, Core Audio Units, and Quartz Compositor filters and actions. Get Services out of hiding, and pair it with the latest technologies.

services plus

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2. Multitouch Interaction: Of course, this all begs for the mother of all hot keys. Rather than only right clicking to get a pie menu that branches off into every action of your heart’s content, make the interface touchy feely, driven by multitouch sensor pad gestures that would goose sales of new laptops and multitouch trackpads for desktops. That also gives Apple a hardware sales incentive to develop the software needed to push tired textual menus into the obvious future.

You Want it When?!
The Ars rumor echoed the widespread expectation that Apple would demonstrate Mac OS X 10.6 at WWDC next week, followed by a release next year. Ars targeted the obvious Macworld Expo in January. That makes more sense than some rumor critics have suggested. Apple had originally been pushing out reference releases of Mac OS X every year, a pace that was dizzying for developers and users both. A new goal was presented to land a reference release of Mac OS X every year and a half. Leopard ended up pushed back even further because of Apple’s work on the iPhone, but counting out a year and a half after its release places 10.6 really close to Macworld 2009.

It makes a lot of sense that Apple could deliver the beta of a polished, refined, toned down, and yet dramatically enhanced new Mac OS X 10.6 at WWDC and then turn it around for sale in 2009. In fact, it would be unthinkable for 10.6 to slip much past the first quarter of 2009. Why? Apple sells every new OS reference release rapidly in the first quarter of its sales; by six months, unit sales have tapered down dramatically. Apple needs to augment software sales into its product lineup to keep margins where they are and fund the efforts to keep Mac hardware out front and distinguished.

The company has big plans for the future of Mac OS X, and is constantly working to push things forward. That requires targeting a regular new sales cycle to pay for those efforts. In the last few months since the release of Leopard, Apple has pushed out three significant free updates to Leopard. By the end of this year, Apple will likely have shipped another four, giving us something in the area of 10.5.7. In 2009, Apple will need to deliver major new features to support resolution independence and really push its multitouch interface.

That’s Mac OS X 10.6, and it will need to be a full priced upgrade to cover the work Apple is doing to support existing users with regular updates. Ars could be right in suggesting that 10.6 will offer less new bundled application glitz and marketable new trademarked features; there are lots of existing apps in Mac OS X that could be refined and enhanced without adding many major new ones. Expect it to also coincide with a new iWork 09 version, which also takes full advantage of an enhanced multitouch input interface and a more cleanly professional overall interface design.

But what about Ars’ ideas that Apple will abandon PowerPC users and Carbon apps in the next version of OS X? The next article will take a skeptical look at those claims. What do you think?

WWDC 2008: Is Mac OS X 10.6 the Death of Carbon?
WWDC 2008: New in Mac OS X Snow Leopard

I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • anonymous500r

    I’m not sure that services do exist. I don’t know whether it’s something to do with Carbon or Cocoa but in most of my applications (such as Firefox) everything on that menu is greyed out.

  • James

    Every new iteration of OSX has had lots of “under the hood” revisions, which is why each tends to be faster and more stable than its predecessor. This is the argument against 10.6 being just a “housekeeping” release.

    However as it grows larger each new iteration of OSX is more buggy on initial release, and it seems to take Apple longer and longer to bed each new release down. It is only now at 10.5.3 that I am considering Leopard for our Macs at work. It is also true that many of the less glamorous parts of the OS (e.g. Addressbook, iCal) have never had the fit and finish of the “sexy” iLife parts, which is slightly galling for those of us who have to use our Macs for mundane as well as fun stuff. This is what persuades me that 10.6 might be a “housekeeping” release.

    My guess is that it might be an Intel only release, at a modest price having feature parity with 10.5, but with the addition of perhaps a few features that cannot be simply implemented on PPC architecture.

  • JustDoug

    anonymous500r: Services exists, believe me. They’re incredibly handy. Being able to have a selection pop into a brand new TextEdit window, launch a selected URL in the default browser or look it up in the dictionary is just the tip of the iceberg. The automatic system-wide spellcheck is a Service few people notice, for instance. I think it’s one of the best parts of NeXT to make the cut into OS X.

    However, applications have to be written to take advantage of them, somewhat like support for special formats/data using the clipboard required coding support for it in pre-OS X OSes.

    I have a number of “ported” applications from the *nix world that also lack support for Services (even spellcheck) I find myself missing that function terribly at times. I suppose Firefox falls under that heading.

  • http://www.lehigh.edu/sol0 pabugeater

    Ah, Pie Menus. I wrote about them as far back as 2000 in the Perl Journal. No, I didn’t invent them, that was Don Hopkins – the definitive RL used to be http://catalog.com/hopkins/piemenus/index.html but that is now gone.

    But google re-found him at http://www.DonHopkins.com/drupal/

    My Pie Menus were simple 2-D, graphically crude beasts patterned after Don’s:

    http://www.lehigh.edu/~sol0/PieMenu.png

    I end that article envisioning a Pie Menu similar to Dan’s mockup, but in three dimensions:

    “Maybe someday we’ll have three-dimensional sphere menus with conical menu items. All we need is the right input device.”

    :)

  • lmasanti

    I think that in 10.6 Apple will begin to introduce someway of “mixing” desktop and touch metaphors.
    Desktop runs on the “mouse’s arrow”. AppleTV slighly changes this to “remote’s arrow” (also simplifying things).
    Cocoa Touch is quite different: “multitouch”.
    Apple is going three ways:
    – iPhone/touch: fingers and gestures
    – Portables: keyboard/mouse arrow and gestures
    – Desktop: keyboard/mouse arrow
    This is not “so much the Apple way”.
    I would like to use similar interfaces in all of them.
    As you said, I could be “a trackpad” for desktops or (price would be prohibitive) a 30″ Cinema Touch Display.

    On the other hand, I also think that 10.6 will come with more “system wide” resources, like the actual “to-do”.
    I would like to see, other than system-wide metadata, a system-wide bookmarking, system-wide notes/annotations (like Postit notes that get into the app but also are available from outside, like in Preview).

    As a side note, I also miss “MultiClip”!

  • http://web.mac.com/matteorampazzi imat

    If the new rumored devices materialize (Newton like tablet, iPods with OSX flavour instead of dedicated OS, new processors in Macs, including graphics, a new UMPC) then Apple will have to overhaul OSX with resolution independence and support for the new devices. They have the time now also to polish the UI. All these reasons lead me to believe 10.6 will be out next year.

    I also believe 10.6 will be the last OSX iteration. Apple has gone way beyond Macs now, and it’s time for a new OS built with this strategic vision in mind from scratch

  • http://www.reemergemedia.com CW

    Daniel, I recall the uninteresting demo of Windows 7 actually had an interesting bit. That bit was a contextual menu, like you have in your sketches. Take a look again. If I recall correctly it was during the maps demo.

  • MikieV

    “But what about Ars’ ideas that Apple will abandon PowerPC users and Carbon apps in the next version of OS X? The next article will take a skeptical look at those claims.”

    I don’t think the -entire- OS will abandon PowerPC users, but some of the new ideas probably can’t be implemented on older hardware.

    i.e. your previous article mentioning parental controls and secure software:

    “The iPhone’s managed, signed code will make it highly resilient to efforts to inject malware to run on it. That restriction is enforced in the OS X kernel. Apple has made it clear that the desktop version of Mac OS X will get similar treatment. That likely won’t be fully in place in 10.6, but more of the foundation will be. Apple recently filed for patents in that regard.”

    Will kernel-level enforcement of restrictions be as strong on PPC Macs as they -can- be on the Intel-based Macs which have TPM-support at the chip level?

    (Core 2 Duo have on-chip TPM support, don’t they?)

  • JohnWatkins

    Popup Contextual Pie Menus sound like a good thing.

    I have used a similar interaction device in Alias on a SGI O2 (I assume it is part of the system and not just part of the Alias software.) That implementation was more texty like present day contextual menus on OS X. I’d say it is a concept my Mom would have trouble with (after years, she is only now starting to get contextual menus.)

    I think the problem is that it is essentially a hidden feature and therefor hard for people to access (present OS X services are largely ignored for much the same reason.) As an example, the way contextual cursors work in CAD programs is much better for adoption because the cursor changes depending on the context and without prompting.

    Of course contextual menus seem unlikely to ever work like contextual cursors for obvious reasons of compactness etc. Services however are one step closer to the user if they come into the contextual menu. And making the contextual menu a popup pie allows more options in less space as well.

    To work, this must be done well, carefully, and should be, like the present contextual menus, an optional enhancement rather than a functional necessity.

  • JohnWatkins

    Is Carbon something that can disappear or is it really just a deeper base that Cocoa runs abstractly atop of?

    Can it be removed or will it just be placed in a standardized Cocoa wrapper. Would this just make things run much slower?

    I am out of my depth here, but I think removing Cocoa is not as simple nor as desirable as many make it seem.

  • JohnWatkins

    Whoops!
    I meant Carbon.
    “. . . I think removing [Carbon] is not as simple nor as desirable as many make it seem.”

  • JohnWatkins

    On the other hand, doesn’t developing in Cocoa make it easier to create a proper and consistent UI and a program that has simple access to services, etc. while still being able to access Carbon?

    Seems like what Apple really wants is for developers to use Cocoa (and only use Carbon from inside of Cocoa) so all programs will work consistently, implement services, and are not unduly disrupted by system improvements (resolution independence, etc.) as they emerge.

  • lmasanti

    quote:
    “I also believe 10.6 will be the last OSX iteration. Apple has gone way beyond Macs now, and it’s time for a new OS built with this strategic vision in mind from scratch”

    I think that Mac OS X “is the OS for this strategic vision”!
    It is a microkernel, with wonderfully designed frameworks.
    It is possible to “re-deliver” in any chip (remember Intel transition and iPhone’s ARM).
    It is [almost] fully configurable: desktop, server, reduced (AppleTV), mobile (iPhone).

    A totally new OS would be necessary in like 10 years when cloud computing/storage/entertainment become a comfortable reality.

    By now, the inclusion of ZFS, distributed computing, net backup, wireless find-and-connect… are the preliminary steps-

  • nelsonart

    Check out Comic Life Magiq for a wonderful sample of what Dan describes.

    There are still aspects of NeXTSTEP that I miss, even comparing to Leopard. I loved the tear-off menus that clung to applications windows. It was always immediately obvious what App you were in.

    I miss annotating via voice in email, directly within the email App itself. We have built-in iSights and I’m not sure why this isn’t a feature in Leopard!

    I miss Publish and Subscribe. If I insert a graphic inside Pages, I want it to update if I change the graphic in whatever App that graphic originated in.

    But seeing your analysis of Logic Pro 8, that is a wonderful leap forward in improving the UI and reducing mouse travel while at the same time making the App’s features more apparent.

    Lastly, I hope Leopard is the last of the green/yellow/red windows stoplight functions.

  • http://ephilei.blogspot.com Ephilei

    The Contextual pie menu has been around for a while. (I recall an extension for Firefox pre 1.0.) It hasn’t caught on for a couple reasons, some valid and some disappointing:

    *It’s different and different interfaces are accepted slowly.
    *Many menu items don’t have intuitive icons. There are a dozen, possibly two dozen, common commands with image symbols that are obvious, but there are hundreds of context menu items. Your brain can skim through a text menu list in a fraction of a second, but images are painfully slow in comparison. Even when you learn the images, you’ll have to learn new icons in new apps. It gets to be too inconvenient.
    *Lists are friendly with interface guidelines. You always go straight down so your hand learns an automatic reaction that makes choosing items super fast. A pie could send you up, down, left, right, or anywhere in between and you never know where to go until after you find your icon. Sure, this is one second delay at most, but those tiny moments are irksome. That becomes less true with a touch screen than a mouse, but it’s still there.

  • http://www.stat.ucla.edu/~jose HG

    I whole heartedly agree with your GUI improvements, especially the Copy/Paste Plus idea.

    I’d like to see Spaces improved. With 10.5.3, Apple introduced turning off switching to a space with open windows for the application, but this imposes remembering what space contains the application window. I’d like to see Apple introduce a tiled birds-eye view of all ones spaces, like an Exposé for Spaces, if you will. Then you can find your Space quickly.

  • OlsonBW

    I am NOT an artist or graphics person. Even so I would love to see multi-touch brought to desktop Macs.

    To do so Apple needs to change the iMac and cinema displays so that they can not only be tilted but also lowered down and towards the user like a swing on curved rails with the display being point up at the bottom “setting” so that you can look almost straight down at it and use just your fingers to “do the walking.”

    In the position a virtual keyboard would pop up. Unlike microsoft’s tablet PCs, Apple will have figured out how to make this work in such a way that you will actually “feel” yourself touching the keys will just enough electrical stimulus for you to feel when you “hit” a key.

    When you want to type a lot you just swing the monitor back up into the “normal” (for now) position so you can mostly type or use the mouse while still being able multi-touch while in that position too.

    Note that I think the tablet pc is at best a mediocre device. I use and support these every day and I’m still not liking it anymore than the first day one was given to me.

  • OlsonBW

    Carbon and Cocoa

    Cocoa is object oriented meaning the following: When you describe an object (type of data) in Cocoa you can take advantage of it being “known” in a program in a lot easier and more powerful ways.

    With Carbon you have to explain over and over again in your program what something is. Sure you can reference your original procedure but you can’t do anything different with it as easily.

    My best way of describing/explaining things is with analogies.

    In Cocoa you can create a class called furniture. Later you can reference that and with a small amount of code you can describe a couch, a chair, a foot stool, etc., where in Carbon you would have to write a lot more code.

    Could Carbon be remove? Yes but it won’t be. Not yet.

    Instead what might happen is that Apple might (finally?) have a team working specifically on creating Cocoa frameworks that do exactly the same thing as the Carbon frameworks (but better).

    OS X could actually hijack the API calls in future versions of OS X so that programmers could get away without updating their software.

    Or XCode could have new utilities that can search through your code, find the Carbon code which now as a Cocoa version and help the programmer quickly rewrite this part of their program by suggesting new code and let the programmer modify the suggestion to work with his code if the suggestion doesn’t do it quite right.

  • OlsonBW

    Services

    You have to high-light text or objects before most services are available to you.

    Why Grab is always grayed out I have no idea. This has always puzzled me.

    I would love it if Apple would include all the available services in context sensitive menus with a light grey line above the services to set them apart.

    Right now hardly anyone uses Services because they don’t even know where to look for them.

  • OlsonBW

    iMat

    Quote: I also believe 10.6 will be the last OSX iteration. Apple has gone way beyond Macs now, and it’s time for a new OS built with this strategic vision in mind from scratch

    I couldn’t disagree more. Steve Jobs is only 90ish% of the way to getting NextStep into Apple computers, which is what he has been doing since he got to Apple in 1997.

    He would have loved to do it all at once and tried to (Rhapsody) but vendors freaked out. Steve has had to lure them step by step with carrots to get them this far. He isn’t about to abandon OS X now.

    If you want to know where he is heading, bone up on NextStep and get into as much of the guts of it as you can. I’m sure he is really frustrated that things are taking so long but he realized that this was his only choice. And until OS X is NextStep he won’t even be to where he is trying to start.

    He knew back at NextStep where he wanted to take things from there. I’m sure he is getting excited that he is getting close to finally reaching 1997 and moving on from there. OS X isn’t going anywhere for at last 10 years. It won’t look the same by then. But it will still be NextStep and will still be THE OS for Macs, whatever they will look at act like in 2017 and beyond.

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  • Shunnabunich

    Nice article, Dan. Now, I hate to seem anal about things, especially when there are some really interesting ideas put forth, but there were a couple of inaccuracies when describing the current Aqua UI. The “grayscale/grey Aqua” controls you mentioned are anything but unique to the Pro apps, aside from the enhanced functionality; that’s just the “Graphite” colour scheme that you can apply to the titlebar controls, buttons, scroll bars, etc. of the whole OS in the Appearance preference pane. Personally, I’ve almost never used the default Aqua colours in the 3½ years I’ve had my PowerBook. As for the style of the titlebar controls, they’ve been recessed as opposed to “hanging out there” since OS X 10.3 Panther.

    Anyway, one case of “I wish Apple would do this but I can see why they probably won’t” for me would be for them to come out with an OS X “skinning” tool, to let people develop new graphical styles for the UI while not letting them get too out of hand. This would not only slake some people’s thirst for tweakery and make OS X appear more outwardly customizable (one Windows Troll staple is the absurd claim that very little about the OS can be customized, even though Windows offers no custom theming support out-of-the-box either), but would also reduce the desire for unofficial hacks like the late(?) ShapeShifter and restrain theme artists from stepping outside the bounds of UI rules. Of course, I think Apple would be leery about such a thing as it would inevitably lead to some Macs “in the wild” sporting downright fugly themes and giving bad impressions. If the taste of the existing theming community is any indication, that would hardly be a problem, but still. If I could have any Stevemas present in the next OS X release, that might be it. (That, and/or something I call Xcode Express, but that’s a whole other story.)

    Ah, and HG, open up the Exposé & Spaces pane of System Preferences, and under the Spaces tab, you’ll find options to set keyboard shortcuts for Spaces’ functions — one of which is exactly the bird’s-eye view you described, included since 10.5.0. :) The Spaces menu item, if you have it enabled, has a command for this as well, and putting Spaces.app in your Dock and clicking on it will do the same. Hope that helps!

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  • PerGrenerfors

    When I first switched (during 10.2 era) I thought that the candy interface looked fantastic but now I’m sick of it. I expected that Apple would have adopted the matte aqua interface already in 10.5 so I was a bit disappointed. The unified Windows were a step in the right direction however.

    What I like about Mac OS X is how subtle the changes in UI have between releases. For example the long road from lots of stripes, to tiny stripes to no stripes at all in Leopard. I expect 10.6 to do the same: small incremental improvements that collectively make a big difference in the user experience.

    I liked how Apple offered in one of the first updates to Leopard for users to switch to an opaque menu bar. I just wish they would do the same for the dock. There is a hidden preference to change to the handsome 2D dock, it should be in System Preferences where it belongs.

  • PerGrenerfors

    Hah. I accidently wrote “windows” with a capital W in my first paragraph of my previous post. That’s super funny.

  • http://coderad.net StrictNon-Conformist

    Hi Dan,

    Here’s a short bit I’d like to comment on: “We didn’t have the processing capacity to rapidly draw menus like this ten years ago, but we sure do now.”

    No, that’s simply not the case: we had more than enough power back then with currently available hardware to rapidly draw menus of fairly large capacity with bitmaps galore, if you wanted, and it wouldn’t matter if you were referring to using a PPC processor or x86 available at that time. I speak this from having an old Mac of that era (266 Mhz G3 Sonnet upgrade card Hackintosh with a 40 Mhz FSB) running BeOS 5.03 that can update menus quite fast, thank-you-very-much, combined with having written Windows NT/95 software for 80486 boxes in CNC machines that not only were controlling CNC hardware in real-time, but also updating an OpenGL rendering of the part as it was being machined, combined with scrolling through the CNC program it was executing, and all of that far faster than any menu needs to be displayed, with no tearing of the screen. It all comes down to proper use of graphics buffering, and appropriate data buffering, something that’s been old-hat to serious developers interested in making things look nice and work smoothly: it isn’t rocket science, it’s only a matter of wanting to make things look/act right, and doing it.

    The Apple Mac OS before OS X may have had a harder time doing it and smoothly multitasking, since it was still largely cooperative multitasking, so you were at the mercy of whatever the application that was running that had the CPU at that instant. If it is the one that needs to process the menu, you’re fine, but otherwise, well… That’s no longer the case, however, and yes, that can make a HUGE difference.

    So, could hardware of that time do the smooth rendering of scaled graphics you can see now with the Dock? Again, if you had things cached and pre-scaled, that’s not a problem from a technical standpoint. However, the machines of that era (Windows and Macs) didn’t have as much RAM 10 years ago as they do now on average. It all comes down to what your priorities are.

    Oh, a fun tidbit about how “slow” menus in Windows 95 and some other systems are perceived to be: there’s actually an artificial delay between a right click and when a menu is displayed, to minimize false triggers. This parameter is modifiable via the Registry, and can be set with Power Toys (I think that’s the name) or you can hack it yourself. In other words, when setup appropriately, a Windows 95 box from 1995 with enough RAM can be quite snappy for the GUI!

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  • tehawesome

    The Services menu has always struck me as being something of a NeXT legacy placeholder hanging around in a sort of usable form while it waits for some integration and consistency love.

    As OlsonBW mentions, Grab is the perfect example of this: in order to make those menu items available, you need to have Grab.app running in the background first. So what’s the point of it being a Service anyway?

    Then there’s the Look Up in Dictionary item. Okay, this works fine and does exactly what you’d expect, but I’d argue that the floating dictionary/thesaurus invoked by Ctrl-Cmd-D is more useful and feels a lot more like a service: it doesn’t demand a change of focus to another application to accomplish the task while fully leveraging that application’s functionality, and offers one-click access to the full application.

    As it stands, Services are one of those funny little “power user” nooks of OS X that have a lot of power and functionality to expose, but I very much doubt they’ve been lurking there in the application menu all this time purely because nobody could be bothered to remove them.

  • OlsonBW

    I agree with Shunnabunich. I would LOVE to have an XCode Express too.

  • Mr. Reeee

    An excellent articles with many good points. Plus a slew of impressive responses.

    True Resolution Independence can’t come too soon! From Tiger to Leopard, the amount of information available in the Finder window Sidebar has increased dramatically, but with that, the text has shrunk with equal drama. Tiger’s scaling Sidebar icons and text was a good feature, which I do miss (somewhat).

    Not all of us have perfect vision, nor do we want to work with a magnifying glass either. There’s got to be some way of adjusting that. If I could assign a Condensed font to the Sidebar text, that way text size could be cranked up a few notches, while limiting the horizontal spread.

    The number of Menu items that third party applications and utility developers have added to OS X is out of hand!

    On my MacBook Pro, they go nearly halfway across the Menu Bar. Granted, I’ve got lots of things loaded, but over half are Mac OS X items: Bluetooth, Displays, clock, battery, Airport, volume, clock, Spotlight, Input menu. There are more menu items I’d add if there were room Menu bar real estate!

    I’d love to see some kind of Master Menu Items thingamajig to manage all these things. The old Control Strip wasn’t half bad, actually. Even if Apple somehow combined all the hardware related items (Airport, Volume, Displays, Bluetooth, etc.) into one item would be a big help.

    So, what’s with the movement toward dark and darker windows, toolbars and menus? Personally, I find the drifting toward darkening nearly every GUI element a bit claustrophobic feeling. Though it does make sense to have darker control elements and whiter working areas.

    Dark does not necessarily equal elegance or enhanced usability. Ideally, there would be some way to control the lightness or darkness of these things.

  • worker201

    Sometimes, I get sick of all this aqua and aluminum. Appearance options in OS X have always been limited to “blue” and “graphite”. If I could have one wish for 10.6, it would be a couple more colors added to that list. How about green or purple?

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  • Shunnabunich

    @OlsonBW: Just to make sure we’re thinking of the same thing, Xcode Express = something like Interface Builder + Automator (i.e. workflows, third-party plug-in extensibility) + Bento (i.e. databases for dummies) + OS X/iLife integration (i.e. Spotlight, media collection access, Core Everything, etc.). ;) The prospects for someone like me, who couldn’t write a line of code to save my life, are mouthwatering. A whole new class of hobbyist developers would rise up on the Mac platform, and even seasoned devs could use it to “sketch up” an app before fleshing it out the old-fashioned way.

    @worker201: Hear, hear. Even if we didn’t get full-on skinnability, a few more options would be nice.

  • kovacm

    PieMenu works great in Crisys (PC game) but only because it is always the same!

    Biggest flaw/mistake in Windows are Personalize Menus (that horrible feature that reorganize/hide part of PullDown menu in e.g. Office 2003).

    If you use PieMenu (or any other) most important part is that all options are always at same place! – if I need to search/look/analyze every-time when PieMenu open than I rather stick to PullDown menus because

    1. all available options in program can be see in less than a minute – they are all in PullDown menus, there is no need do guess what Icon in ToolBar represent – in PullDown menu you always have writen items.

    2. PullDown manus are always same! IF some option is not available at certain moment than it is grayed (but you still know that it exist!).

    these two things are greatest strength of Mac (and for Atari OS ;) ) and I am not sure it could be kept with PieMenu… (PieMenu will reorganize it self depending from object (and other variable) so you will never know what are all available option in program and you can not be sure that option that you are need are at same place all the time)

    ——–

    Considering Carbon app – it should be droped! If I turn on Quartz2DExtreme (I forgot new name for it) than everything works fine and FASTER except Adobe application! Only Adobe application have some glitches in UI and I suppose it is because code is Carbon based.

    ———

    One more thing: I am not sure about Multitouch – what are exiting one input devices for desktop computer that are multitouch capable ? I am not sure about this… combine desktop + multitouch trackpad + I will need mouse for Adobe app anyway. Only multitouch monitor will be step forward (like Wacom monitor table + multitouch capabilities)

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