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Apr 97 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Viewpoint


By Eric Gundrum

Just How Easy Is It?

With all this talk of a modern OS for Macintosh, I am becoming concerned that we may be forgetting what made Macintosh so successful in the first place. Sure, we have many state-of-the-art, interesting technologies, but the single most defining attribute of a Mac is that it is so easy to use it is fun.

Unfortunately, as Apple piles on new technologies, our Macs become less easy to use. I find that I, like many users, spend a significant amount of time configuring and tweaking our systems to make them work better, or keep them working.

Everyone says this will be fixed in the new OS, Rhapsody, but I don't think Rhapsody will be the second coming for the Macintosh world. No operating system, including NEXTSTEP, is as easy to use as the MacOS. No other OS truly supports plug and play at its core. With many years of brain drain, has Apple's ease-of-use expertise drained away?

What's in a name

Do you recall the origin of the name "Finder"? The Finder was so named because, when we double clicked a document, the Finder located the application that created the document and use it to open the document. Macintosh users seem to take this for granted, but no other OS does this, even today. All other operating systems rely on filename extensions such as ‘.txt' and search paths which tell the OS in what directories to look for applications. This capability of the Finder was a big revolution in ease of use since the advent of personal computers; possibly even bigger than graphical interfaces.

What the Finder does for applications is very much like the plug the play capabilities of Macintosh hardware. Just drop a new application on a disk, and it is ready to use, no configuration required; at least, that's the way it used to be.

Plug and play software

Over the years Apple's plug and play approach to software has eroded. Some software, such as OpenDoc part editors, Apple Guide files, and system extensions, must be placed on the appropriate "command path" for the OS to find and activate them. If that description sounds a bit DOS-like, that's because it is. DOS and Windows require the "PATH" variable contain a list of directories to search for applications; so does unix.

Application developers are no better. Many applications won't run if their necessary files aren't found in the Preferences folder, or some other part of the Mac that doesn't belong to them.

What ever happened to plug and play? What ever happened to this being my Macintosh, configured the way I like it, with files organized in a way that makes sense to me?

Make it easier

I'd like to see Apple assign some engineering and design resources to making the Mac easy to use again. The rumors I've heard about the upcoming MacOS releases are not encouraging. The idea that I will have to use a multi-button mouse, or control-option-command-click, is horrendous. It makes sense as a little-used menu short-cut, but not as the primary interface.

Printers should be plug and play. If I connect another printer to my Mac, it should automatically appear as a choice in the Print dialog; even if it is a serial-based printer. Forget the Chooser, and forget other configuration files. I want it to just work so I don't waste any more time on the phone talking my friends through setting up their Macs.

Most of all, I want a plug and play file system. If Apple were to design a system-level mechanism to link all files sharing the same signature, we could have some significant improvements. When I trash an application, the Finder could automatically delete all support files related to the application, or it could warn me if I still have documents that require that application, and it could warn me to not trash any necessary support files. Application developers could keep their stuff out of my System Folder if the OS would automatically find the files for the application. OpenDoc part editors, or even fonts, could be placed on any volume and still be found by the OS. Gosh, it would be so Mac-like.

Has the ease-of-use of the Macintosh degraded in these past thirteen years? On balance, probably not, but overall it doesn't seem to have improved much. Apple certainly has their work cut out for them to bring this new OS to market. I hope they don't lose sight of how important ease-of-use and plug-and-play has been to the success of the Macintosh and will be to its continued survival.

So Long Old Friend

For many years Symantec's Top Ten has been a part of MacTech Magazine. Through this column, Symantec's support staff have provided us with tips and suggestions to help us get the most out of Symantec's development tools. With the emergence of the Internet as such a strong vehicle for communicating with customers, we found it difficult to keep the Symantec Top Ten filled with timely information. After many years of service, we bid adieu to the Symantec Top Ten column. This will be its last issue. We are working with the Symantec staff in hopes to find new ways to provide you with more interesting information from this long-standing Macintosh developer tools publisher. Thank you, Symantec.


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