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
$108.00
Apple Inc.
+1.02
MSFT
$46.95
Microsoft Corpora
+0.90
GOOG
$559.08
Google Inc.
+8.77

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Vitamin-R 2.20b1 - Personal productivity...
Vitamin-R creates the optimal conditions for your brain to work at its best by structuring your work into short bursts of distraction-free, highly focused activity alternating with opportunities for... Read more
Dropbox 2.10.44 - Cloud synchronization...
Dropbox is an application that creates a special Finder folder that automatically syncs online and between your computers. It allows you to both backup files and keep them up-to-date between systems... Read more
Sandvox 2.9.2 - Easily build eye-catchin...
Sandvox is for Mac users who want to create a professional looking website quickly and easily. With Sandvox, you don't need to be a Web genius to build a stylish, feature-rich, standards-compliant... Read more
Cocktail 8.0.1 - General maintenance and...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.3.2 - 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
VMware Fusion 7.0.1 - 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
OneNote 15.3.2 - Free digital notebook f...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that's too important to forget. Whether you're at... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.4 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Iridient Developer 3.0.0 beta 3 - Powerf...
Iridient Developer (was RAW Developer) is a powerful image conversion application designed specifically for OS X. Iridient Developer gives advanced photographers total control over every aspect of... Read more
TextWrangler 4.5.11 - Free general purpo...
TextWrangler is the powerful general purpose text editor, and Unix and server administrator's tool. Oh, and also, like the best things in life, it's free. TextWrangler is the "little brother" to... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Monster Flash Review
Monster Flash Review By Jordan Minor on October 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: ALONE IN THE DARKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Solid shooting and a surprising amount of spooky tension make Monster Flash a great portable... | Read more »
Retry Review
Retry Review By Rob Thomas on October 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: SOARING HIGHUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Flappy who? Let Retry wash all those bad bird-related memories away on a cool retro-flavored flight… right... | Read more »
Dementia: Book of the Dead Review
Dementia: Book of the Dead Review By Lee Hamlet on October 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: A TOUGH READUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A witch hunter is sent after a demonic book in the spooky but short-lived Dementia: Book... | Read more »
Card Dungeon, the Semi-Board Game Roguel...
Card Dungeon, the Semi-Board Game Roguelike, Has Been Renovated Posted by Jessica Fisher on October 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Logitech Protection + Power iPhone5/5S C...
Made by: Logitech Price: $99.99 Hardware/iOS Integration Rating: 3 out of 5 stars Usability Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars Reuse Value Rating: 0.75 out of 5 stars Build Quality Rating: 0.75 out of 5 stars Overall Rating: 1.25 out of 5 stars | Read more »
This Is Not a Test Goes Free, Permanentl...
This Is Not a Test Goes Free, Permanently Posted by Jessica Fisher on October 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Swap Heroes Review
Swap Heroes Review By Campbell Bird on October 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: STRATEGIC SWAPPINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Rotate a cast of heroes to fend of waves of monsters in this difficult, puzzle rpg.   | Read more »
Night Sky Pro™ (Reference)
Night Sky Pro™ 3.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Reference Price: $2.99, Version: 3.0.1 (iTunes) Description: Night Sky Pro™Wonder No More™ Night Sky Pro™ is the ultimate stargazing experience. From the creators of the original... | Read more »
Audio Defence : Zombie Arena (Games)
Audio Defence : Zombie Arena 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: A zombie shooter audio game. Made from gut-wrenching 3D binaural sound, for a new kind of weird immersion. You... | Read more »
RPG Asdivine Hearts (Games)
RPG Asdivine Hearts 1.1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.1.0 (iTunes) Description: SPECIAL PRICE50% OFF (USD 7.99 -> USD 3.99)!!! Travel alongside four companions and a cat in the adventure of a... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple now offering refurbished 2014 13-inch R...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 13″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $270 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Apple Regains Momentum As Windows Stutters An...
The latest smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, for the three months to March 2014, shows Apple performing strongly in the first quarter of the year, with sales bouncing back in... Read more
Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Increase 25.2%...
New smartphone releases and an increased emphasis on emerging markets drove global smartphone shipments above 300 million units for the second consecutive quarter, according to preliminary data from... Read more
Apple now offering refurbished 2014 15-inch M...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Apple drops prices on refurbished 2013 Retina...
The Apple Store has dropped prices on 2013 Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros, with Retina models now available starting at $999. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and... Read more
New 2.8GHz Mac mini on sale for $949, save $5...
Abt Electronics has the new 2.8GHz Mac mini in stock and on sale for $949.05 including free shipping. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model from any reseller... Read more
Sale! 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro available for...
 B&H Photo has the 3.7GHz Quad Core Mac Pro on sale for $2649 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $350 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model from any... Read more
Mujjo Steps Up The Game With Refined Touchscr...
Netherlands based Mujjo have just launched their Refined Touchscreen Gloves, stepping up their game. The gloves feature a updated elegant design that takes these knitted gloves to the next level. A... Read more
Sale! Preorder the new 27-inch 5K iMac for $2...
 Abt Electronics has the new 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale and available for preorder for $2374.05 including free shipping. Their price is $125 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Simplex Solutions Inc. Brings Secure Web Surf...
New York based Simplex Solutions Inc. has announced the release and immediate availability of Private Browser 1.0, its revolutionary new secure web browser developed for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch... Read more

Jobs Board

Solutions Specialist with *Apple* Knowledge...
Company Description: We are an Apple Authorized Sales and Service Provider. We have been selling and servicing Apple computers in the Fairfield County area for over Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Every day, business customers come to the Apple Store to discover what powerful, easy-to-use Apple products can do for them. As a Business Leader, Read more
Sr. Manager, *Apple* Deployment Programs fo...
**Job Summary** Apple is seeking candidates for a new position on the Education Content and Technology team. iPad and Mac is in the hands of millions of teachers and Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple I...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple I...
…important role that the ASC serves is that of providing an excellent Apple Customer Experience. Responsibilities include: * Promoting Apple products and solutions Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.