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Other Articles you should read on this subject:

OS X a First Look
A sharply critical look at Aqua by a respected HI guru (and Apple alum).
By Bruce Tognazzini [01/16/00]

Analyzing Aqua, Part 1 MacWeek's resident iGeek looks at Aqua and for the most part likes what he sees. Make sure to also read parts two, and three of this article. Part three brings up some critcal issues relating to the dock.
By David K. Every [01/24/00]

Aqua, The movie
Time magazine's impressionistic Aqua review.
By Josh Quittner [01/24/00]

Apple's OS X / Aqua Pages
Get the poo from the source.

OS X Unveiled  
A love letter to the new look .
By Jason Snell [01/25/00]

Aqua explained  
Aqua step by step from Macweek .
By anonymous

Taste-Testing Aqua  
Aqua thoughts from Salon's managing editor.
By Scott Rosenberg [01/26/00]


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Aqua: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
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One of Aqua's main new features is the Dock, a Windows-like taskbar jazzed up so it can be sold as an important improvement. It's supposed to save us time and quickly get us from program to program and document to document. I'm skeptical.

Under OS 9 my desktop holds a control strip (pared down to a few essential controls) and several pop-up finder tabs filled with all my favorite applications and documents. This arrangement suits me well. I can fiddle with the sound and with OS settings when I need to and I can quickly access my apps and recent documents (the "Recent Documents" folder is one of the tabbed pop-ups). If I want to get to a favorite app, it is 2 clicks away--one for the tab, one to launch the app (which I have saved as a button). This set up allows me instant access to about sixty apps, twenty or thirty recent documents, and about a hundred saved documents in a neat orderly way.

Using the dock if I want to have access to all these apps I'd have to put them all in the dock. There is no way to organize them into neat little folders. My options--put all my apps in the dock or in the apps folder. Both of these solutions are inferior to my current method.

Sitting on a dock in the bay... wastin' time.

Another problem: The dock as demonstrated does not show file names until the user has the mouse over the document within the dock. How am I supposed to differentiate between documents? What if am designing a web site and have 5 different html files and 10 jpegs. How will I tell them apart visually unless I have custom icons? What about sound files? Should they all have custom icons? This omission looks like bad news.

Also: Is it just me or is the dock gigantic? How will anyone with a normal sized screen be able to do any work?

Why is the trashcan in the dock a square picture of a trashcan instead of an icon (without the mask it doesn't actually look like an object)? And why isn't the trash can where we expect it to be? The trash can is one of the things that makes the Mac a Mac.

And while we're on the subject, what's deal with all those square icons (Apple calls them tiles) in the dock. Why do they all have different backgrounds? Did Apple forget how to mask icons? Am I alone in thinking this is lame?

How would I fix the dock? I would make the Dock a shadowed shelf with a single configurable background. Icons would be able live in there, but they would always remain icons (not tiles). Windows would reduce into little pictures of windows (without the surrounding backgrounds). Folders would be able to live in the doc as pop-ups. Finally we would be able to set the dock to a fixed size. In my case that would be fairly small (32x32 max)--too small to display complex pictures, but totally functional with old fashioned icons. Finally I'd include a hot key to display file names. Hold the key down, the names appear. Release and they disappear. The names would also appear as they do now when icons are moused over.

I dream of...
Animated effects look fun in demos but almost always get old and annoying very quickly when you are doing real work. Aqua has lots of animations--there's one for switching apps, another for dialogs, and the icons in the dock move around when you are putting stuff in there. At least we can shut off this so called "genie" feature when the novelty wears off. My guess is that Apple feels the animations help newbies know what is going on (Newbie thought process: When a window closes where does it go? Oh, it goes down there.). Instead of super-simplifying everything, Apple might be better served by providing all new Macs with a good training app (like the one that came with the original 128K Macs teaching us how to point and click... anyone else remember that?). I recently bought my dad an iBook and was surprised to find that no app for total beginners is included with new machines.

Gigantic Icons
In its default mode Aqua displays 48x48 icons as opposed to the customary 32x32. I won't mince words, I just hate these icons and find them retarded looking. Imagine looking at these icons on your iMac or PowerBook screen. Hello? Not everyone has a 1600x1024 display (I actually do have one and I'm still frightened). At least we can set icons to smaller sizes. I just hope the icons look as good small as they do big... It was hard to tell during the demo, but the way the icons scaled suggested they might be pdf-based which would mean they could scale to any size cleanly. Still my guess is most icons will now be designed to look best at large sizes which is bad news for anyone with a normal sized display.

Jobs made some comments about how early icons were originally designed as simple pictograms because of early display limitations. He went on to say that now icons could look more like pictures because displays are so much better. Apple's own early research shows that people respond to simple iconic forms more accurately than to complex more "real looking" pictures. Ever wonder why road signs are designed to look the way they do? My fear is that the Mac is headed towards an iReview/Sherlock kind of look with fussy pictures everywhere instead of a look that is clear and concise.

Shadowing without depth
While purists might consider shadowing to be eye candy, I love it. I think it really makes windows pop by giving them a more tangible feel. That said, I'm still not sure about Apple's window shadowing scheme. From the demo it looks like the Aqua shadowing scheme is superficial without giving real depth cues. In other words the shadows don't correspond to real 3D space. Also there is no falloff in brightness… Windows further back should be slightly dimmer and less contrasty. If shadowing is going to be added, it should give users real and useful information about the program in use. I suggest a 3D space in which each program has its own layer with the active program being on the top layer. Selecting a program will bring it to the top and throw an appropriately deep shadow. We should be able to decide how deep the space is and how far various layers are spaced apart. Some of us might want a deep desktop others might prefer a shallower look. Real 3D space with smart shadowing would tell us a great deal.

All these things--the dock, icons, and shadowing are at least semi-configurable--that's why I only put them in the bad category. Aqua's real problems are with those things you can't change.

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