November 7th, 2007 • 10:18 am
I am a bit late to the Leopard party, because I was waiting for my copy of the GM version of the new operating system, which the AppleSeed program only shipped after the software was made publicly available in stores. Since stuff sent by courier from California takes about a week to reach me here in southwest Nova Scotia, I only got the package yesterday.
I must say that the installation process itself was really almost as painless as it can be. I had prepared myself by making a complete bootable backup of my startup volume, and also by installing all the latest versions of the potentially problematic third-party software that I use.
I then booted from the Leopard disk, and used the “Archive and Install” option with the option to preserve user and network settings. I also customized the installation to remove unwanted localizations and printer drivers. The installation process started, with an estimate of the time it would take of approximately 40 minutes. But in truth I don’t think it even took half of that. The slightly frustrating part was that the progress bar arrived near the end in about 20 minutes, but then stayed stuck there for at least another 5 minutes, with more hard disk activity and the optical drive occasionally spinning up, only to spin back down after a few seconds. So the progress bar itself, as usual, was not really a very accurate indication of progress. But I am picking nits here.
I then restarted from the newly installed system volume and logged in with the Shift key down, thereby preventing the operating system from automatically launching all my login items. I just wanted to make sure they all worked by launching them one by one.
Of course, I had to reinstall a few things that use system extensions and require a restart, including LittleSnitch and USB Overdrive. I also took that opportunity to install the recently released iTunes 7.5 and QuickTime 7.3. Maybe it was a bit unwise to install all of this at the same time, but it all went without a hitch.
The last thing I had to do was to turn off the 3D visual style for the Dock. I find the style rather ugly and utterly useless. Whenever I have Finder windows (or any windows) open near the bottom of the screen, which is pretty much all the time, the reflection of these windows creates a background on the reflective surface that is far too bright and makes the bright dots indicating currently running applications nearly invisible. I am very relieved that, at the last minute, Apple included an alternate visual style for the Dock on the side that can also be used for the Dock at the bottom through a small Terminal hack.
But really, the whole thing is quite embarrassing for Apple. And of course, it does not stop there… There is the whole issue of what has happened to the right-hand side of the Dock. It is really head-shaking-in-disbelief stuff.
First, though, I will mention the one single positive aspect of the changes introduced by Apple in the Dock in 10.5, which I have not seen mentioned elsewhere. With the new behaviour of folders in the Dock (the so-called “Stacks”), it is now finally possible to use the right-hand side of the Dock without having to hold the mouse button down.
For years we have been able to pull down menus from the menu bar with a single click instead of a click-and-hold. (The traditional click-and-hold still works as well, of course.) This ability, which was copied from the Windows world a long time ago, if I am not mistaken, is particularly useful in the case of fairly long menus or menus with a deep hierarchy, because in those cases it is very difficult to explore the menu in a single mouse movement, and with a click-and-hold you are forced to keep your finger down on the mouse button during the whole mouse movement.
With a single click, you can just click to pull down the menu and then move around with your mouse without having to maintain the tension required to hold down the mouse button. Like I said, it is particularly useful for long/hierarchical menus.
The single benefit of Mac OS X 10.5′s Stacks feature in the Dock is that it now lets you use a single click. In fact, it is now the only way to access the contents of the folder/stack. If you click-and-hold, you get a short menu with a few (very limited) options for the stack. So, unlike what happens with menus, the single click and click-and-hold now have two different meanings here.
Of course, everything else about these stacks is just totally wrong.
The “icons on an arc” feature (called “View as Fan”) is totally useless eye candy. I dare say that there is not a single UI expert in the whole wide world who would argue that it is not more difficult to reach a target on a curved path than it would be on a straight path. It serves absolutely no purpose, except presumably to satisfy Steve Jobs’s appetite for useless eye candy.
The “Grid” display mode is only marginally more useful. All of a sudden, it seems that Apple has rediscovered the virtues of icon view. But at the same time they have gone out of their way to make this icon view less useful than it could be. Icon are displayed in a huge size (which is not customizable), but the file/folder name label underneath each icon is truncated, as if they could not have used a little more room on this already huge grid to display the name in full (or at least 2 or 3 lines, as in the Finder).
The most irritating aspect of both the “Grid” and “Fan” modes, however, is the total absence of hierarchy. If you want to access anything in a subfolder, you are taken back to the Finder. So that completely eliminates the usefulness of the right-hand side of the Dock as a shortcut to quickly browse a hierarchy of stuff, even one with minimal depth. And of course, this was precisely the thing that I personally was using the right-hand side of the Dock for.
Now, when I try to look inside, say, my “Bookmarks” folder in the Dock, all I see is a grid of huge and completely identical folder icons, each with a short, truncated name underneath it, and if I want to access one of these subfolders (if by chance the name of the folder is short enough that I can actually make out what it contains), I am automatically taken back to the Finder, with the associated and unavoidable increase in mouse clicking and mouse moving requirements. Ugh. Is there any way that this new Dock can throw its utter uselessness in my face any more blatantly?
Thank God for DragThing, I say.
Finally, one cannot conclude a quick review of the new Dock in Leopard without mentioning the completely absurd and utterly silly way that folder icons are drawn on the right-hand side of the Dock. It is not even possible to use the phrase “folder icon” anymore! Essentially what you have as a “folder icon,” whenever the folder in question is not empty (which is pretty much all the time), is a slightly reduced version of the icon for the first item inside the folder, with a few bits of other icons sticking out from the edges.
I mean, really. It breaks one of the most fundamental things about the desktop metaphor to begin with. There is no visual indication that what you are dealing with is a folder! You are just supposed to know. And it’s an ever-changing thing too, especially if you are dealing with a folder whose contents change all the time, like… the “Downloads” folder. Of course, elsewhere in the Finder the “Downloads” folder has its own folder icon, which has nothing to do with this behaviour in the Dock—although that icon too has its own inconsistencies.
Here’s what the normal icon for the “Downloads” folder looks like:
And here’s what the small icon (in list or column view) looks like:
And here’s what the same folder looks like in the Sidebar:
Fun, fun, fun. I already have a hard enough time trying to teach my fellow Mac users how the Finder and Mac OS X are visually/spatially organized. This is really going to help.
Like I said above, this is utterly embarrassing. I have nothing against UI improvements. But exactly in what alternate universe does this new Dock behaviour and visual appearance qualify as an improvement?
The sad reality is that we are probably going to have to live with this at least for a few years. Although the last-minute introduction of an alternate visual scheme for the Dock leaves a small glimmer of hope that all is not lost with Apple’s UI designers, it is really hard to imagine them going back to the drawing board again and coming back to their senses in a small, incremental 10.5.x update. And, given the past history of the Dock, I even seriously doubt that they will revisit this at all in the next few years. They’ll just force us to live with it, apparently hoping that, somehow, we’ll get used to it.
I am afraid that I personally am in no mood to voluntarily participate in Apple’s crazy UI lab experiments. I have work to do. So I am effectively reducing my Dock usage to the absolute minimum and using DragThing instead. But I really find the whole thing very sad and very damaging to Apple’s image as “UI experts” with the public at large. And the really sad thing is, of course, that they are the experts, i.e. that things are even worse in the rest of the technological universe.