Mac OS X: The problem with brushed metal

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes
June 27th, 2003 • 5:59 am

The preview screen shots of Panther provided by Apple confirm the rumor that Mac OS X’s Finder itself is going to be using the “brushed metal” look currently in favor at Apple and already used in iChat, iTunes, Safari, and other applications.

This is in apparent contradiction with Apple’s own guidelines, which recommend that the brushed metal look only be used for applications that provide an interface for a digital peripheral, such as a camera, or an interface for managing data shared with digital peripherals, such as the Address Book application.

Of course, you can always play with semantics and argue that the Web itself is a “digital peripheral” that Safari is accessing, thereby justifying the metal look for Safari. But the Finder? Well, your hard drive is a “digital peripheral” as well, isn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t think that’s the main problem with the brushed metal look. The main problem is that there is too little difference between brushed-metal windows in the foreground and brushed-metal windows in the background. Unlike regular Aqua windows, brushed-metal windows don’t have a distinct title bar that can be made translucent. The brushed metal look itself does not change whether the application is in the foreground or the background. The only things that change are secondary controls such as the close/maximize/minimize buttons and the scroll bars, and the depth of the drop shadow. It simply is not enough visually speaking. The metal look is too “strong”. It needs to be toned down somehow when the window is in the background.

On the other hand, brushed-metal windows have this advantage that any part of the brushed-metal area that is not used for anything else can be used to drag the window around — unlike regular Aqua windows where only the title bar can be used for that purpose.

If Apple could somehow provide the same benefit in regular Aqua windows by creating an “inactive” area all around the borders of the window that could be used to drag it around, and then if it could provide users with a choice between the regular Aqua look and the brushed-metal look in all applications (via a preference in the “General” pane in System Preferences, for example, and then via a preference setting in each individual application), then I believe that everyone — well, most people anyway — would be happy.

It’s too bad we are not given that choice and that flexibility.

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