November 19th, 2007 • 11:13 am
It really is frustrating when Apple’s own engineers fail to be careful enough to follow the logic of their own operating system and make sure that they respect the design choices made by other Apple engineers before them.
Here’s a simple, yet very significant example.
For many years now, Mac OS X has had the ability to channel alerts and other sound effects through a sound output other than the default output used for sound playback in Mac OS X. The default output is selected in the “Output” tab in the “Sound” preference pane in System Preferences, whereas the output for alerts and sound effects is selected in the “Sound Effects” tab in that same preference pane.
On my machine, I use this capability to channel alerts and sound effects through a pair of Apple Pro speakers (connected to a PowerWave USB audio device), whereas my default sound output is a pair of headphones connected to my Mac Pro’s front-panel audio jack. This way, I can listen to music or play my own music with GarageBand on my headphones without being interrupted by alert sounds and other sound effects—in theory.
The problem is that, for this to work, every Mac OS X application that produces alert sounds and other sound effects needs to channel them through the appropriate output.
As noted earlier on in this blog, Apple started doing the right thing with Mail 1.3.
Sadly, it now appears that Apple’s engineers have broken this in Mail 3.0 in Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). The various sound effects played by Mail when receiving or sending mail are now again played through the default output, instead of the output for sound effects and alerts.
It is quite frustrating, because I just know that it is going to take months, if not years, for Apple to repair this error. (Needless to say, I submitted a bug report as soon as I noticed the problem.) Why? Because it’s not a deal-breaking bug. It’s one of these “convenience” bugs that only affect the “quality of life” in Mac OS X. The bug does not cause any data loss and won’t prevent me from doing my work. In addition, it requires a little effort to reproduce, because you need to have two different sound outlets available in the first place, whereas by default on a plain vanilla Mac everything is played through the same outlet. So first we’ll need to have someone at Apple who reads the bug reports and is conscientious enough to configure his own test machine properly to reproduce the bug. And then we’ll need this person to have enough clout to get the engineers to fix the problem ahead of the myriad of other priorities that they have.
Meanwhile, it is an inconvenient and unpleasant bug. During all that time, while waiting for the bug fix, I am going to have to live with Mail sound effects that intrude on my music listening experience with my headphones. (I am not going to quit Mail every time I want to listen to music or play music.)