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
$111.78
Apple Inc.
-0.87
MSFT
$47.66
Microsoft Corpora
+0.14
GOOG
$516.35
Google Inc.
+5.25

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

LibreOffice 4.3.5.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
CleanApp 5.0.0 Beta 5 - Application dein...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.2 - 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
NetShade 6.1 - Browse privately using an...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
calibre 2.13 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.2.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Make your own Tribez Figures (and More)...
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More) with Toyze Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
So Many Holiday iOS Sales Oh My Goodness...
The holiday season is in full-swing, which means a whole lot of iOS apps and games are going on sale. A bunch already have, in fact. Naturally this means we’re putting together a hand-picked list of the best discounts and sales we can find in order... | Read more »
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode f...
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode for Angry Birds Epic Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minec...
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their...
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their New Game: Tempo Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] WarChest Ltd and Splash Damage Ltd are teaming up again to work | Read more »
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary...
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary with a Bunch of Free Games Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] BulkyPix has | Read more »
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking F...
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking Fever’s new sushi-themed update Posted by Simon Reed on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Lithuanian developer Nordcurrent has yet again updated its restaurant simulat | Read more »
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to C...
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to Celebrate 20 Million Downloads Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Desti...
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Destiny, and Beyond – AppSpy Takes a Look at AAA Companion Apps Posted by Rob Rich on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] These day | Read more »
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Fre...
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Free for the Holidays Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Kodak Returns to CES With New Consumer Produ...
Former photography colossus Kodak is returning to CES for the first time in three years where the Kodak booth (#21818 South Hall 1) will showcase a wide range of innovative, imaging-related products... Read more
Invaluable Launches New Eponymously -Named A...
Invaluable, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace, hhas announced the official launch of the Invaluable app for iPad, now available for download in the iTunes App Store. Invaluable... Read more
IDC Reveals Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Appli...
International Data Corporation (IDC) last week hosted the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Applications and Solutions 2015 Predictions Web conference. The session provided organizations... Read more
Hello Vino Wine App Launches “Safe Ride Home”...
Hello Vino has announced addition of a new “Get a Safe Ride Home” feature in its Food & Drink app with a direct connection to Uber, the technology platform that connects users with rides. The... Read more
DEVON-technologies Releases DEVONthink To Go...
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho based DEVON-technologies, LLC has updated DEVONthink To Go, its mobile companion to DEVONthink, to version 1.5. The update includes an iOS 8 extension, compatibility with the... Read more
The Apple Store offering free next-day shippi...
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
It’s 1992 Again At Sony Pictures, Except For...
Techcrunch’s John Biggs interviewed a Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) employee, who quite understandably wished to remain anonymous, regarding post-hack conditions in SPE’s L.A office, explaining “... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Pros for...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Airs for...
B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: iMacs for up to $...
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software: - 21″ 1.4GHz... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Store Leader Program (US) - Apple, I...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on experience, Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.