Visual cues. We all have them on our Macs. We all use them. What Mac OS X Leopard needs, and what Mac software needs, is more visual cues.
We spend too much time trying to figure out what is going on while our Macs should be telling us. What got me started on my Friday rant?
In a word, Bambi. Her mini review of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac mentioned that Visual Basic for Applications is no longer included in Excel. That’s a great loss for Mac Office users, albeit a minority.
The key word was “visual”. As in visual cues, those little stop and go signs sprinkled all over your Mac which tell you what’s happening without bothering you in the process.
The Dashboard is a grotesque example of visual cues. Invoke Dashboard and look at the Weather or Stock Widgets. Quickly, efficiently, and visually, you’re cued as the weather and stock market status.
Other visual cues in OS X Leopard are included in the Dock. The Dock’s application, utility, and document icons tell you things. When an icon bounces, that application is trying to tell you something.
The little blue light below the icon tells you the application or utility is running somewhere among the mess of windows on your Mac.
The number inside the iCal icon tells you the day of the month. The number inside the Mail icon tells you how many unopened messages you have in Mail.
Those are visual cues and we don’t have enough of them in either Leopard or Mac applications and utilities.
Leopard’s Menu Bar can be loaded up with visual cues, though subtle. Mine is loaded. Count the icons in your Menu Bar. Mine has, from right to left, Spotlight, my name, the time, Sound, Airport status, .Mac sync, AppleScripts, iChat status, Little Snitch status, ChronoSync scheduler, DoorStop firewall status, Weather Pop weather status, S.M.A.R.T. disk reporter, Default folder, and TextExpander.
Not all of those icons provide visual cue status, rather handy visual cues so you can find and use a frequently used utility. Handy, but not glaringly so. I want more visual cues. I want my Mac to interact more with me, updating me, giving me status reports, telling me what’s happening without interfering with what I’m doing at the time.
That’s not so easy to do, though I suspect we’re about to enter a new age of visual cues on the Mac. The Finder is loaded with visual cues. I soak my Finder Tool Bar with cues and utility. There’s a Desktop folder so I can quickly drop files onto the Desktop.
The Finder Tool Bar also has icons for Downloads, Applications, OS X Files, and the standard Burn, Delete, New Folder, Connect, and Get Info. Each provides a cue to what it is, therefore what it does, and keeps itself hand, barely a click away. The Finder Sidebar provides similar functionality.
What about Mac utilities and applications? Not enough visual cues for me. I’ve used Drag Thing for all of this century and part of the last century.
The Processes and Network Docks float on my Mac and tell me what’s mounted, what apps are open, and so on. Handy, but not full of additional information.
My favorite new utility is Together, an elegant information manager similar to Yojimbo. That little sidebar shelf is so handy and makes everything I need to save a simple drag and drop function.
But it doesn’t tell me much more than, “Hello, I’m here. Use me.” It would be nice if it had a quick mouse rollover status of how many items are in my to-do folder, and which ones are urgent. As it is, I have to click over to Together, dig into the folders in the sidebar and check status.
In other words, both Mac OS X Leopard and various applications and utilities offer some visual cues, but they’re mostly anemic attempts to inform us of availability and status, but not much else. I want more. I want more interaction.
For example, why can’t applications pop up little reminder boxes, perhaps 100×100 pixels, and line up in a stack along the right side of my Mac’s screen. Visual? Yes. Unobtrusive? Yes. Colorful, graphic, animated? Yes. Highly useful? Yes. So where are they?
Not to get too far off topic (we’re ‘Mac’360 and not iPhone360), but Apple advanced the visual cue mechanisms in the recent v1.1.3 software update to iPhone. Want to move the icons around? They jiggle to let you know it’s OK to move them, or add to them. That’s a great visual cue.
What about you? What visual cues do you love on your Mac? Which do you hate or find worthless? What visual cues would you like to see and where?