After 10 days of using Mac OS X Leopard on a number of old and new Macs, two things have become very clear about the latest version of OS X.
Leopard suffers from too many features. And, Apple made the features easier to use. After all, that’s Apple’s claim to fame. Take the complex and make it simple.
Both observations are subjective, of course, but each is difficult to deny. I am impressed with the number of basic features that make up Leopard, and more so the ones that Make Windows users salivate with envy.
This list of new features ranges from the new Spaces to Time Machine, from the Dock to iChat, from the more polished Finder, Mail, and Safari features, to the more integrated and usable Quick Look.
Yes, there’s a lot to like about Leopard, but there’s also a lot more to learn, more features to figure out how to integrate into a work style, more features to attempt to master. In this case, ‘more’ also means more effort, more time, more confusion, and more opportunities for something to go wrong, and probably more disappointment.
Conversely, Apple, at least in my opinion, has also done a good job of making some of those complex features even easier to use, which, based on the number of Windows users switching to the Mac, is probably by design.
Take the Finder, the Desktop, and the Dock metaphors. There’s little question that emotions run high among seasoned Mac users as to how each could be made better, or how they should be designed and used in the first place. Yet, for all the shortcomings, the Finder in Leopard is easier to use than the Finder in Tiger, despite more features.
Like it or hate it, the Dock is also easier to figure out, but comes with more functionality. Sure, the glossy chromium ledge looks funky. The little blue light that signifies an open application or utility is, well, just wrong. But it works well enough. The ‘click and hold’ to view contents folders in the Dock works, it’s easy to understand, but, again, seasoned Mac veterans want more.
Easier to use. More complex. More features. That must have been the t-shirt inscription which inspired Apple’s Leopard programmers over the past two years.
With Leopard, I have a concern that we’ve entered the Golden Age of Featuritis on the Mac. Again, there’s Apple’s famous ability to simplify the complex, but the complex has become more so with a stack of features and capabilities that only Microsoft’s legions of Windows OS programmers would appreciate.
To be fair, it takes a certain amount of colorful eye candy to sell a product, and Leopard has a healthy blend of features we probably don’t need. Spaces? Please forgive me. It’s colorful. It’s cool. It’s snazzy. It doesn’t enhance efficiency or productivity much, if at all, and everyone I’ve seen try it out goes, “Oooooh, cool” and then proceeds not to use it.
I set it up and have it running on four or six windowed desktops, depending on the size of the screen on the Mac I’m using at the time, but it doesn’t do much other than offer a few swishes and wooshes here and there when I switch applications.
Quick Look and Cover Flow are another example of extra features and functionality of conflicting value. Quick Look? Very handy addition to the Finder. It lets Mac users see what’s inside a file or document without opening an application or utility to see what’s inside. The Finder is even more visual.
Let me repeat that. The Finder, with Cover Flow, is even more visual, but Cover Flow makes more for visual esthetics than for enhanced usability. Add Column View to Cover Flow, as an option, and there’s something I’d use.
It appears that Apple has worked hard to hide the complexities of OS X’s Unix-certified roots, yet work toward a balance of eye candy, which sells, and functionality that works. Compared to Windows XP, Leopard succeeds in ways Microsoft’s programmers only dream of stealing.
Yet, we’ve entered that Golden Age of Featuritis—more features than we can digest, comprehend, or effectively utilize. This is one of the reasons Linux has failed as a desktop operating system—a bewildering array of features that are not easy to figure out. What Apple is doing better than Microsoft, and certainly better than Linux distributions, is add features that are attractive (if not wholly useful) yet not difficult to master.
I worry that Apple, in a perverse sort of way, wants to load up OS X so the feature list better compares with what Microsoft offers in Windows. That is not good for Mac users.