As mentioned here earlier, our friend Gruber (not Hanz Gruber, John Gruber) has taken issue with the current state of the Mac OS X Finder, pointing out that good enough isn’t always enough. In his follow-up article, Gruber goes on to emphasize the importance of providing a consistent, usable interface.
Zeldman commented on the issue a bit, emphasizing the importance of incorporating OS 9’s refinements (which evolved over decades) into the OS X Finder. The Finder is, he says, Ã¯Â¿Â½slower, less consistent, and less intuitive."
I began using computers first with the Apple II, and spent little time without a Macintosh in the office at home or work. I’ve spent at least an equal amount of time in front of a UNIX system (like Solaris, AIX, or FreeBSD), and an equal amount of time in front of a Windows or Linux client machine.
I’ve also designed and built data-centers, call-centers, server-farms and clusters, serviced servers and client machines of all breeds (from sun4m and macintosh centris to rs6000 and the latest wintel), and single-handedly built hundreds of PC’s.
This has had several side-effects: On the one hand, I’ve become quite comfortable with the idea that all computers are, for the most part, identical. They all do the same thing, some better than others in different areas.
I’ve also learned that the differences between the user experience from one operating system to another (and hence between one platform and another) tends not to be based on actual system performance, reliability, or CPU speed, but rather on the “feel” of the interface.
And, as is the case with all devices we’ve grown accustomed to using, when something changes – even slightly – it can be catastrophic to the user experience. This is important because most people define an operating system’s user experience as good if it’s easy to use. Unlike me, few list stability as their primary requirement. It’s all about comfort and ease.
I know people who won’t consider driving a Saab because the key is in the center-dash and not in the steering-wheel column. The shift is too much. (I can, of course, offer a better reason not to drive a Saab). When something changes on the front-end, people will notice. Immediately.
There’s no doubt that, overall, Mac OS X is the best operating system around. Geeks like me can keep our hundred-day uptimes and enjoy the benefits of a solid GUI. Newbies and old-time users get an easy to use system that, while lacking a few tried-and-true bits, works quite well.
I recently gave my friend Carl, a talented developer and database guru, a tour of Mac OS X. Impressed with it’s features, capabilities, usability, and built-in programmer’s tools, he laughed and said “You know, it’s not that OS X is a great operating system, or that Macintosh is a great computer. The truth is, it’s neither. But everything else out there is so bad that, by comparison, it seems amazing. And that’s what makes it so good.”
But I’m one of the lucky ones. I could get by without a GUI if I had to. Using Terminal (what us UNIX guys call the prompt), I can edit file permissions, tweak the UI, kill any process, and banish “un-deleteable” files with ease – and usually with one keystroke. I edit my text files with vi. Editing httpd.conf is routine, boring.
But … truth be told – I prefer the GUI. I prefer to click, drag, and drop, so despite what I can do in Terminal, I want to use the Finder.
And there’s a lot that’s changed, and I find that I miss a few of the old Finder’s tricks. I miss it’s super-snappy performance. I don’t miss the constant crashes, lock-ups, and loss of work. As someone who values time and despises doing the same thing twice, I’ll gladly trade stability for a few tricks.
It’s true, there has been a change in Apple. The focus has changed from stellar usability, poor stability, and relegation of the platform to the education/media corner to an emphasis on style, good usability, stellar stability, and (finally!) acceptance into the business world.
It’s a trade off to be sure, but in the end, the refinements we find lacking in the current Finder – along with new improvements – will eventually (and my guess: quickly) find their way back into the OS.
In the end, we’ll get back what we’ve been missing – and more – if we’re patient.
Actually … right here. Cosmetic changes to Hivelogic continue. A masthead (similar to the very old one from about a year ago) has made its return, with links, no less.
The pages linked-to are still old-style, but they work. Mostly.