September 19th, 2010 • 3:19 pm
As regular Betalogue readers know, I have been a member of the AppleSeed program for several years now. This means that I get to test early builds of new versions of Mac OS X (and occasionally other Apple applications), including incremental software updates that consist primarily of bug fixes, but also major system revisions. (I first became involved during the development of Tiger.)
It can be a time-consuming process and the rewards are pretty scant. (We usually get a free copy of the new system once it’s officially been released, and the occasional t-shirt.) But it is sometimes gratifying to be able to give feedback and get a response from Apple engineers that indicates that they take your suggestions seriously.
For the most part, as far as I can tell, Apple expects AppleSeed testers to report on bugs. There is a form for suggesting enhancements (such as new features or improvements to existing ones), but they rarely elicit a response and when they do, it is often discouraging, taking the form of a canned “The software behaves as expected” reply.
Still, I cannot help but submit such enhancement suggestions from time to time, simply in the hopes that someone will lend an attentive ear, actually think about the issue for two minutes, and maybe add the request to a “to do” list.
Back in 2007, I submitted such an enhancement suggestion, noting that, when one right-clicks on a mailbox folder in Mail’s mailbox drawer, the contextual menu did not contain a “New Mailbox…” command. At the time, if you wanted to create a new mailbox inside an existing mailbox in Mail, you had to select the target mailbox, then travel down to the “+” menu at the bottom of the mailbox drawer and use the “New Mailbox…” command in that menu (or alternatively, the “ ” command in the “ ” menu in the menu bar).
My view was that the “New Mailbox…” command was a context-sensitive command, since it creates a new mailbox inside the currently selected mailbox. So it made sense to include the command in the contextual menu that you get when right-clicking on an existing mailbox—in addition to the other, existing ways of accessing that command.
Sadly, I quickly got the afore-mentioned canned reply:
After reviewing your submission engineering has determined that the behavior you reported is as expected/designed.
So I didn’t insist and just let it be. Even though I kept using the contextual menu on an existing mailbox and expecting the “New Mailbox…” command to be in there—I just couldn’t help it—obviously it was not a big issue and both Apple and I had bigger fish to fry.
Imagine my slight surprise then the other day when I went to create a new mailbox by right-clicking on an existing mailbox in my mailbox drawer and… found the “New Mailbox…” command there at the very top of the menu:
In fact, it was so logical to me that I didn’t realize right away that this command didn’t use to be there. I took my brain a few moments to reactivate a few dormant synapses, but eventually something in the back of my head whispered: “Hey, this command didn’t use to be there! It was something I sent an enhancement request about to AppleSeed several years ago and got a canned reply to!”
And sure enough, when I checked my e-mail archives today, I found the old e-mail exchange, and the reference number for my enhancement request that went nowhere at the time.
Even though I got the canned reply when I submitted my own enhancement request, it does look like eventually, somehow, the message got through, and someone at Apple finally agreed with my suggestion and made the improvement in Mail for Snow Leopard.
Does this mean that the command is there in the contextual menu because of my submission? I have no way of verifying this, of course, especially since I never received any further follow-up after the canned reply. (Sometimes I do get a follow-up e-mail, even years later, and it’s often absurdly out of date.) It is more likely that someone else submitted an enhancement request and was more persuasive than I was, or that someone internally at Apple realized without prompting one day that it did actually make sense to include the command in the contextual menu as well.
In any case, the bottom line is that the command is finally there, and that this is further evidence that either Apple does listen to the feedback that it gets from its users and testers or it has a fine team of engineers who keep looking for ways to improve their software, even in very minor ways such as the addition of this alternative way of accessing the “New Mailbox…” command.
That makes me hopeful about the future, even though I still find that the pace at which improvements and enhancements are made is often far too slow. At least it gives me a little bit more incentive to continue participating in the AppleSeed program and try and help further improve Apple’s products.