TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Thought Policeman
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:4
Column Tag:Inside Info

I Was a Teenage Thought Policeman

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it!

By Chris Espinosa, Apple Computer, MacTech Magazine Regular Contributor

Two months ago, MacTech published a letter from a reader talking about “good” and “bad” programming practices, calling the editors of this magazine the “Thought Police.” The editors replied with something to the effect that somebody has to do it.

This issue crops up every few years, and people get really emotional about it. A lot of programmers naturally rebel at the thought of having Somebody Else tell them how they should write their code. The favorite historical Thought Police issue centers around the user interface, but error handling, C coding style, object design methodology have all seen conflict between some who would seek to impose standards and others who resist them.

I’m one of the people occasionally accused of starting all this in the Macintosh community. I wrote several of the early versions of the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines, which got credited for creating the consistency among applications in the Mac system, but also roundly blamed for being the original Thought Police dictum of Macintosh political correctness.

The personal computer application software industry was really in its infancy when Mac development started in 1982, and developers really didn’t know what elements made a software product a hit. Many apps were still “turn-key,” meaning you started the computer directly into the app. Applications were free to take over the machine. Hard disks were rare, and floppies usually didn’t hold more than two or three applications. So developers valued the individuality of their application, and in many cases considered a unique menu structure to be a major competitive advantage.

Apple proposed, pretty audaciously, that all applications should use a consistent menu command structure, and even more audaciously, use one that Apple designed. Even better, Apple built the interface software right into the ROM of the machine - it was in fact more difficult to use your own, familiar, already coded interface software than it was to knuckle under and do things Apple’s way.

Reactions to this ranged from delight to umbrage. Some people conceptually bought the idea of consistency from application to application, and were enthralled by the amount of graphics, interface, and utility code already written for them, but others worried how they’d differentiate their products if all applications worked the same.

There was a pretty deep division of opinion over this. Many praised Apple for being daring and doing the Right Thing, and defended the guidelines. Others resented the fact that it was so hard to not do things the Macintosh way, and condemned the platform for being proscriptive. There was a little bit of a war between these forces, and most people assumed that Apple was on the side of the consistency zealots.

And I’m certain there were influential people at Apple who did some righteous bashing of inconsistent applications. I remember an early database, MacLion, which was a bad port of a DOS application, right down to the 24-by-80 monospaced scrolling text window. Boy, it was ugly. It eventually lost in the marketplace. Apple also spent a lot of time working with major DOS application vendors to get them to “get it” about the graphic user interface. Lotus received a lot of personal attention from Apple for their Jazz product, and later 1-2-3 for Mac.

But the folklore that has come down through the years is that Apple defended the purity of the interface by punishing the developers who built applications that broke the rules. And that’s just not true. The rules were vague; they were revised several times over the first five years; we broke the rules ourselves (starting early, with MacPaint); and to tell you the truth, we were so desperate for software that we even put that ugly, DOSish MacLion on our poster of the first 100 apps.

The truth is that the punishment for inconsistency came from the Mac community itself. Magazine reviewers and pundits were the first to appreciate the consistency and simplicity of Mac applications, especially in contrast with the growing mess in the DOS world. Influential users and purchasers followed suit. Programs with inconsistent interfaces did suffer; but they suffered at the hands of the marketplace, not of a dictatorial Apple.

By 1991, Apple’s efforts around human interface were pretty much limited to advice, pronouncements, and leading by example (such as in System 7’s outline-expansion arrows and Drag and Drop). Users and editors still screamed at developers, and developers at each other, oddly turning the original fear on its head: developers claimed their application was superior because it was more conformant to the standard, not unique and different. The interface grew and changed, with some styles becoming popular (like windoids) and others just not making it (such as the use of Microsoft-style boxes to group elements in a dialog box). The idea that there were Thought Police, though, was so thoroughly ingrained in the Mac community that the thought police didn’t need to exist anymore: developers just did the right thing the majority of the time, but still took risks once in a while to push the interface forward.

There’s always a balance between freedom and responsibility. Programmers want to be free, but in order for the whole community to be successful, programmers have to be responsible, and hold up their end. Keeping the interface consistent, reducing bugs by doing correct error handling, avoiding inappropriate system hacks, and not being predatory of competitive applications are some pretty important responsibilities. Doing these well improves the quality of life for all Mac users, and supports the platform sales, creating a larger opportunity for software authors.

Scott Boyd is perfectly right: somebody has to be the thought police. The beauty of the last ten years of Macintosh development is that everybody is the Thought Police. You’ve got a lot of people looking over your shoulder to keep you straight, but there’s no actual bogeyman there to beat you up if you get creative.

 
AAPL
$528.49
Apple Inc.
+3.55
MSFT
$40.07
Microsoft Corpora
+0.06
GOOG
$529.11
Google Inc.
-6.99

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Lens Blur 1.3.0 - True out-of-focus boke...
Let Lens Blur transform your existing photo into true SLR-quality out-of-focus bokeh effect! Everyone needs a gorgeous personalized background for a social profile, blog, Web/UI design, presentation... Read more
VMware Fusion 6.0.3 - Run Windows apps a...
VMware Fusion allows you to create a Virtual Machine on your Mac and run Windows (including Windows 8.1) and Windows software on your Mac. Run your favorite Windows applications alongside Mac... Read more
Tweetbot 1.5.1 - Popular iOS twitter cli...
Tweetbot is a full-featured OS X Twitter client with a lot of personality. Whether it's the meticulously-crafted interface, sounds and animation, or features like multiple timelines and column views... Read more
Mac DVDRipper Pro 4.1.7 - Copy, backup,...
Mac DVDRipper Pro is the DVD backup solution that lets you protect your DVDs from scratches, save your batteries by reading your movies from your hard disk, manage your collection with just a few... Read more
PDFpenPro 6.2 - Advanced PDF toolkit for...
PDFpenPro allows users to edit PDF's easily. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even correct text and edit graphics! Create... Read more
PDFpen 6.2 - Edit and annotate PDFs with...
PDFpen allows users to easily edit PDF's. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even correct text and edit graphics! Features... Read more
Monolingual 1.5.9 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty 1.1.1.180...
Download the patch by launching the Starcraft II game and downloading it through the Battle.net connection within the app. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a strategy game played in real-time. You... Read more
Sibelius 7.5.0 - Music notation solution...
Sibelius is the world's best-selling music notation software for Mac. It is as intuitive to use as a pen, yet so powerful that it does most things in less than the blink of an eye. The demo includes... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Review
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Review By Rob Thomas on April 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: PERFECTLY (WAR)CRAFTEDiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad This World of Warcraft CCG spin-off is easy to pick up, almost impossible to put... | Read more »
Hearthstone: Tips and Tricks for Becomin...
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a deceptive game because it can be so easy to get into, but doing well winds up being a bit of a challenge. Well, for those just jumping into the game with its iPad release, here are a few general tips on how to... | Read more »
Puzzle Breaker Review
Puzzle Breaker Review By Jordan Minor on April 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: PUZZLES AND DRAGONSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Puzzle Breaker combines simple match-3 gameplay with a surprisingly strong RPG feel.   | Read more »
Createrria Gets an Update that Adds Lead...
Createrria Gets an Update that Adds Leaderboards, Parental Controls, and More Posted by Tre Lawrence on April 21st, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review By Lee Hamlet on April 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPIDER-SENSE TINGLING. IN A GOOD WAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad With great power comes… Ah who cares? I just want to swing!   | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: April 14-18, 2014
Spring Into Our App Reviews   | Read more »
Have a Special Dead Trigger 2 Easter Bas...
Have a Special Dead Trigger 2 Easter Basket Full of Goodies, Courtesy of Madfinger Games Posted by Rob Rich on April 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] Dead Trigger 2 | Read more »
Almost All of Playdek’s Library is on Sa...
Almost All of Playdek’s Library is on Sale Right Now, and You Should Check it Out Posted by Rob Rich on April 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] Playdek has released quite a few great iOS ports of board and card games over the years, and now most of them... | Read more »
Zynga Launches Brand New Farmville Exper...
Zynga Launches Brand New Farmville Experience with Farmville 2: Country Escape Posted by Tre Lawrence on April 18th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
David. Review
David. Review By Cata Modorcea on April 18th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MINIMALISTIC IN A DIFFERENT WAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad David is a minimalistic game wrapped inside of a soothing atmosphere in which the hero... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Updated Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
Apple refurbished MacBook Airs available for...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2013 MacBook Airs available for up to $200 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free... Read more
Android Leads in Operating System Share Andro...
Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, LLC (CIRP) has released its latest results of its research on mobile phone operating systems for the calendar quarter that ended March 31, 2014. This analysis... Read more
Pelican Products, Inc. Introduces New Lineup...
Pelican Products, Inc., the global leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance protective cases, today announced the launch of a new line of rugged phone cases for both the Apple iPhone... Read more
SaveDrives – Car Dashboard Video Camera &...
Drivers who want to help reduce potential damage to their health and finances in the event of an accident can download the innovative new no-cost app SaveDrives – Car Dashboard Video Camera &... Read more
Deal Alert! 13-inch MacBook Pro on sale for $...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $200 off MSRP. Price is valid... Read more
Free HopTo 2.2 Helps Enhance Your Productivit...
The HopTo app helps you do more on your iPad by providing more and easier adaccess to files and documents. Version 2.2 adds Egnyte and HopTo’s Mac OSX File Connector. If you already have the hopTo... Read more
National Distracted Driving Awareness Month:...
As the country recognizes National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Sprint is reminding wireless consumers to focus on driving while behind the wheel, to not text or email while driving, and to... Read more
13-inch 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro available f...
Abt has the 13″ 2.4GHz 128GB Retina MacBook Pro available for $1229 including free shipping. Their price is $70 off MSRP. Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $160 off MSRP this we...
Best Buy has iMacs on sale for up to $160 off MSRP for a limited time. Choose free home shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Prices are valid for online orders only, in-store... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…customers purchase our products, you're the one who helps them get more out of their new Apple technology. Your day in the Apple Store is filled with a range of Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Inc. Research Data Specialist - Appl...
…of Worldwide Market Research & Intelligence. The team is responsible for conducting Apple branded consumer market research. It is also responsible for analyzing data Read more
*Apple* Automotive Parts Department position...
Apple Automotive is one of the fastest growing dealer…and it shows. Consider making the switch to the Apple Automotive Group today! At Apple Automotive, we Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.