Mail 2.0: Lack of polish in interface

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
June 14th, 2005 • 11:05 pm

What is wrong with the picture below?

Vertical scrolling in Mail

Well, you cannot exactly tell because I didn’t want to make the screen shot too big for practical reasons — but the fact is that this is the bottom-right corner of the main Mail Viewer window in Mail 2.0 (with the message area collapsed), and that this mail viewer window is effectively half-empty, which means that the emptiness that you see on the left of the vertical scrolling bar is actuallly empty space at the bottom of my message list. (In other words, I don’t have enough messages in the mailbox that I am currently viewing to fill the entire height of the window.)

The question is: Since there aren’t enough messages to fill the height of the window and there is all this empty space at the bottom of the message list, why is the vertical scroll bar active? Why is the blue scroller visible? Why is this blue scroller approximately 90% of the height of the scroll bar itself, thereby indicating (falsely) that approximately 10% of the message list is not visible and that I need to scroll down to view it?

As a matter of fact, things are even worse. Regardless of which mailbox I select in the mailbox list, the status of the vertical scroll bar doesn’t change at all! Some mailboxes only have 10 messages in them, other mailboxes have 20 messages. In both cases, the blue scroller remains unchanged. It’s only when I select a mailbox that does actually contain more messages than the viewer can display that the blue scroller is updated to reflect the actual portion of the message list that is visible!

Now, granted, I have just resized the mail viewer window itself and, all of a sudden, Mail seems to have snapped out of its semi-coma and is behaving correctly again, making the scroll bar inactive when there aren’t enough messages to fill the height of the window, and making it active again when needed, with the accurate blue scroller size.

So this was just a temporary “glitch”. But still! To me, this is a pretty clear reflection of the lack of polish that still affects Mac OS X after all these years. Such glitches simply shouldn’t happen.

I am now trying to reproduce the glitch reliably, and of course I can’t, which means that there is little point in my trying to report this problem to Apple. “If it can’t be reproduced reliably, it doesn’t exist.” seems to be the motto for software developers these days. It’s true that it must be quite hard to fix a problem when you cannot reliably reproduce it. But I still can’t help but feel that Apple is not putting enough effort into fixing problems that are not as easy to reproduce, but still exist and can be encountered by any user at any time. In other words, I cannot help but feel that Apple doesn’t do enough “real-world” testing with testers and developers that are ready to pounce as soon as someone encounters a problem such as this one.

Obviously I am not asking Apple to send one of their developers down to southwest Nova Scotia to spend his/her days watching over my shoulder waiting for such glitches to happen, so that he/she can report them to the mothership and get them fixed. But this is just an example of the lack of polish that can affect the user interface in Mac OS X at a very fundamental level. (What’s more fundamental than a scroll bar?)

And someone, some day, will have to do something about this — and take these problems seriously, even if they are not as easy to reproduce as other problems.

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