Adobe’s applications and Mac OS X: A tense combination

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Microsoft
October 24th, 2007 • 5:49 pm

These days, there are many ways in which Adobe’s applications simply are not very good Mac OS X applications. I could mention the ugly Windows-inspired close button on the palettes, for example. It’s not just aesthetics. The button is in the wrong place, purely and simply. And there is no excuse for it.

Here’s another very simple, obvious example. Acrobat Professional 8 is, like its predecessors, a very un-Mac-like application. I regularly use it to convert PDF files to Word documents—a process for which, unfortunately, it often does a better job than the other alternatives available. (And I paid for the full CS3 suite, so I might as well use it, right?)

The problem is that the process is often fairly lengthy, especially for PDF documents with a high page count. I don’t really have a problem with that, even though Acrobat feels like a slow application for many things. What I do have a problem with is the way it behaves while it is busy converting a PDF file to Word format.

In previous versions, if I remember correctly, we would often get the dreaded Spinning Beach Ball of Death. Well, in Acrobat Professional 8, we now have a slightly more informative progress bar, combined with the use of… the good old stopwatch cursor icon:

Watch Cursor in Acrobat

Maybe Adobe’s engineers think that, by avoiding the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, they will help alleviate the impression that Mac OS X users get that Acrobat is such a slow, unresponsive application. I don’t know. My main impression when I see that cursor icon is that I am still running a Classic Mac OS application, which is not exactly flattering for Adobe.

And, again, it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. As the screen shot above indicates, this stopwatch cursor icon still appears even when the mouse pointer hovers over a window belonging to an application that is definitely not unresponsive (the Finder in my case).

A properly-behaved Mac OS X application, even when it’s temporarily unresponsive and even when it is still in the foreground, should normally not block the status of the Mac OS X mouse pointer. The mouse pointer icon should be allowed to change depending on what it is hovering over. If it is hovering over a document window that belongs to the foreground, unresponsive application, then yes, it should change to a cursor icon that reflects that unresponsive state. Normally, that cursor icon should be the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, but if you think a black-and-white stopwatch icon is better, well, good for you.

What is not right, however, is that, even when the unresponsive application is still in the foreground and still unresponsive, when the mouse pointer hovers over a background window belonging to a background application that is not unresponsive, then the cursor icon should change to reflect the fact that the Mac OS X user can still switch to that other application and do stuff while the unresponsive application is busy completing its own tasks.

But with Adobe’s applications, this does not happen, as the screen shot above shows. And that is just wrong. It might sound like a small thing to you, but it’s just an example of the myriad of ways in which Adobe’s applications are not true Mac OS X applications. Clearly Adobe’s engineers do not really care about making their applications fully Mac-like. And the result is an inconsistent user experience that is just not very pleasant.

In that respect, Adobe is very much like Microsoft these days. They might claim that UI consistency is dead and that this frees them to do whatever they please, but it is simply not true. Just because Apple keeps experimenting (with varying degrees of success) with various visual schemes, it doesn’t mean that third-party developers such as Microsoft and Adobe are free to do pretty much as they please. It is simply a gross distortion of what UI consistency really is.

UI consistency depends on getting a myriad of small details right, and with all the experimentation, Apple still gets the majority of these details consistently right. Microsoft and Adobe, simply put, consistently fail to get a sufficient number of the details right. And that’s why you can never really believe them when they keep talking about being fully committed to the Mac as a platform and making grand gestures about being “Mac lovers” themselves or pronouncements of the kind. Real Mac lovers would strive to get these details right.

3 Responses to “Adobe’s applications and Mac OS X: A tense combination”

  1. Simanek says:

    Pierre, you should seriously consider switching to Linux or at least open source programs on OSX (as ugly as they can be). Your criticisms might land on richer soil. Plus, it seems like you are interested in tinkering a little to make things right.

    The Compiz-Fusion window manager combined with the Gnome desktop provide a pretty Mac-influenced interface. The new version of Ubuntu is really impressive ‘out of the box’.

    As for Adobe Photoshop, the GIMP is really eating their lunch as far as I’m concerned. Once they get a CMYK color mode I’ll be totally sold. I’m running CS3 on a PowerMac G5 2GHz with 2GB of RAM and it is S-L-O-W. Considering the very few features added from CS and my complete dislike for ‘The Bridge’ I don’t see the return on investment this time. Maybe the GIMP lacks a few features and is at times awkward, but it always runs fast.

    Unfortunately, running GIMP or Inkscape in X11 on a Mac doesn’t make them look good. In a full Linux environment they seem very polished and the interfaces are at times unique from Adobe and quite creative. I’m curious to hear your opinion.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Linux? Lord, you must be kidding. I don’t mind tinkering a bit, but I certainly do not want to spend all my life tinkering just to get things to work. You are also going to have a pretty hard time arguing that a Linux environment provides better UI consistency.

    As well, I simply have no choice but to use “mainstream” applications such as Microsoft Office for my work. Open source alternatives are OK to a point, but they simply do not provide a high enough level of compatibility (not to mention their lack of polish).

    The bottom-line is that my problems are more with crappy third-party products such as Adobe’s and Microsoft’s applications than with Mac OS X itself or with “true” Mac OS X applications (Apple and third-party).

    In all honesty, I think I did my share of tinkering back in my teens, when I learned how to program in assembly language on a Sharp MZ-80K and then on a Commodore 64. I went down to the nitty-gritty back then, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but I feel like I’ve done my share.

    Don’t get me wrong: I am sure that, with a little bit of work, you can get an acceptable Linux-based work environment with which you can actually get things done. But I also have to make a living, and besides, I am having too much fun with GarageBand :).

  3. AlanY says:

    Pierre would explode if he had to use Linux :) This blog is concerned for the most part with interesting inconsistencies and insightful complaints on relatively minor issues… the problems with Linux usability are orders of magnitude larger.

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