Mac360 chastised Apple for ‘dumbing down’ the new version of iMovie in iLife ‘08. Perhaps I was a bit hasty.
In an age where most Mac software is on the road to bloatware, Apple bucked the trend by making something easier to use with fewer features. I should have applauded instead of rashly criticizing Apple’s effort to improve the iMovie experience.
After all, according to our darling diva and Mac360 founderette, Tera Jean Patricks, nothing improves without change. And that’s the problem. All to often change in and of itself is considered an improvement. It’s not always the case.
The iMovie scenario is merely one example. iMovie was a great little application that was so capable that Apple found iMovie up to version 6.x to be too daunting for most Mac users, certainly so for Windows switchers (I’m inserting my own guestimate here).
What Apple did was reverse the flow of software feature and function creep and go backwards, so to speak, and provide a capable new iMovie with fewer features but one that is, arguably, easier to use. If you want features, get FinalCut Express. If you want to make a decent movie right now, use iMovie in iLife ‘08 instead.
My premise is that most Mac software is on the road to becoming bloatware; software with so many features and functions that the product becomes difficult to use. Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop CS3 are two fine examples.
My unofficial survey indicates that about 90% of what most people use Office and Photoshop for can be done with Apple’s iWork and Photoshop Elements, each of which contains fewer features and functions, but both of which are highly usable and cost much less.
Mac software, while creative, functional, even elegant, by nature of the need to improve and add features, is becoming bloatware—full of features but less usable.
This morning I received an email from a co-worker who asked me if I still had a copy of GraphicConverter 5.x. GC 6.x has been out awhile, and he had upgraded GraphicConverter to the newer version Sunday night, deleted the old GraphicConverter, and then needed to save a graphic file as a favicon.ico file (a Windows graphic file format which creates those little icons in your browsers URL window) and couldn’t figure out how to do it.
I sent him my old copy of GC, then downloaded the new version and tried to create a favicon.ico file. Sorry, I couldn’t do it. GC’s GUI has changed. Again. And not necessarily for the better. More features, changed user interface, less usability.
In other words, the combination of the new features and user interface changes made the application more complex, not easier to use. For me. How is it for those just downloading GraphicConverter and trying it out for the first time?
I installed GC 6.x on another co-worker’s Mac and said, “OK, create a 16 by 16 pixel image and save it as a favicon.ico file.” Sorry, it couldn’t be done. There might be a way, but we haven’t figured it out yet. More features. More functions. Less usability. The new Save As… menu is easier because the selections are much fewer, whereas the old GC Save As… menu was long and listed every known file format.
Guess which one, the old or the new, is actually easier to use? In an attempt to squish more features into an easier to use interface, GC has become actually more difficult to use.
With a notable exception, that’s the way of the software world. Mac software is becoming, in general, bloatware. I can’t blame software developers because they’re part of the problem, not necessarily the cause of the problem. Software developers need to make money by increasing the value of their software.
Software users clamor for more features and are willing to pay more money for new upgrades provided the new feature set appears to be sufficiently valuable. The new features in a software upgrade may or may not make the software better, but it makes it more complex, and complexity is worth more money, right?
See the problem?
A notable exception in this trend is Apple itself, dancing precariously between adding features and making them actually easier to use. It’s a tough dance to keep up for very long. Mac software is becoming so complex that elegant, purpose-driven software sticks out like a sore thumb on a construction site.
Relative to Mac Office, iWork ‘08 is elegant and highly productive. Relative to Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Elements is easier, less expensive, has consumer-oriented features, yet is still a complex piece of software.
My favorite Mac applications of 2008 are those that do not try to do everything, but do what they do very well. Unfortunately, such software may be part of a dying breed.