May 18th, 2010 • 11:05 am
A quick test. What does the following image show?
Answer: It’s a snapshot of the “new and improved” cursor animation you get while Photoshop CS5 is busy opening a large file.
We are all familiar with this wheel-like animation, of course. It’s the very first thing we see on our screen underneath the grey Apple logo when Mac OS X starts up. It is also widely used in various places in the Mac OS X user interface: at the bottom of Finder windows while their contents are being updated, in Safari tabs and in the Safari address bar while web pages are loading, etc.
There is only one small problem: It has never, ever been used as an animation for the mouse pointer itself, i.e. as a cursor animation that temporarily replaces the left-pointing arrow (or the other cursors used to indicate the currently selected tool).
Until now, that is. Thanks to the innovation that is taking place in the labs of Adobe’s Mac software engineers, we now have Mac OS X applications where this wheel-like animation is used as a cursor animation, even though it is totally unexpected and totally inconsistent with every other Mac OS X application on the planet.
I cannot help but draw a link between this user interface “innovation” and this recent post by John Gruber about an interview with Adobe co-founder Chuck Geschke.
As John writes:
I can’t tell whether Geschke is being dishonest, or whether he truly is under the impression that Mac users don’t have serious, long-standing complaints about the quality and UI design of Photoshop (and the entire CS suite)…
… to argue that their cross-platform strategy hasn’t adversely affected the quality of Adobe’s Mac apps is to ask those of us who use their Mac apps to ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary. I hope for Adobe’s sake that he’s being disingenuous about these issues; otherwise the co-chairman of their board is completely ignorant of how their flagship products are perceived by many Mac users. The CS suite apps have evolved to look and feel like Adobe apps, not like Mac or Windows apps
Of course, I am not saying that Apple’s UI conventions are written in stone and applied 100% consistently by all Mac OS X developers, including Apple’s own engineers. There have been multiple examples over the years of Apple’s engineers failing to comply with Apple’s own guidelines for the user interface of Mac OS X applications. And sometimes, yes, third-party developers do introduce innovations that are ground-breaking and end up being embraced by Apple itself and incorporated into the standard Mac OS X UI.
But this cursor is so far from being one of those ground-breaking innovations that it is ridiculous.
The only reason I can think of why Adobe’s engineers would have chosen to use this new pseudo-Mac-like cursor animation instead of the standard and expected Spinning Beach Ball of Death (SBBOD) is that it is an attempt to mask the lack of responsiveness of Adobe’s applications by masking all these situations where, in previous versions of the Creative Suite applications, we would get the SBBOD.
The SBBOD is only called that (Spinning Beach Ball of Death) because it’s the same animation you get when an application becomes totally unresponsive because it’s frozen. Obviously, in such a situation, the user is faced with the apparent “death” of the application and has no choice but to resort to drastic measures, namely to force-quit the frozen application and relaunch it. (And when that does not help, it’s the entire system that has become unresponsive and requires a hard reset of the machine itself.)
But the SBBOD also appears throughout the Mac OS X UI whenever an application becomes temporarily unresponsive because it’s busy completing a task during which the user cannot do anything else with that same application.
There are a number of Mac OS X applications where this happens fairly often. The most guilty culprit among Apple’s own applications is iTunes, which still, as of this writing, appears unable to use more than one CPU core at any given time and frequently locks up for extended periods of times during regular use of the application for no apparent reason (at least on my 2009 Mac Pro, with a fairly large music collection).
And yes, Adobe’s own suite of applications has also frequently been a major culprit in recent years. I haven’t used the CS5 applications enough yet to be able to make a judgement on whether they are better than their predecessors.
But one thing is for sure: Using a non-standard alternative animation instead of the SBBOD is not going to do anything to improve the performance, perceived or real, of the applications. It just looks like a really poor way to try and mask the applications’ responsiveness issues instead of actually dealing with them.
And it illustrates, once again, Adobe’s on-going failure to follow Mac OS X-specific user interface conventions and offer true Mac OS X applications.