OS X is Getting Simpler. What to do About That

| Hidden Dimensions

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” — E.F. Schumacher

The user interface of Apple’s OS X operating system and its default apps is getting simpler over time. That’s a natural thing to happen as Apple seeks to widen its audience for the Mac. However, it causes some heartburn for experienced users. What can we do about that?

How OS X Evolved, Succeeded

Once upon a time, back in 2001, Apple’s new operating system was being reconceived, born of the BSD UNIX OS that was developed under Steve Jobs at NeXT. The primary goals at Apple were to 1) Replace Mac OS 9, 2) Build a beautiful, elegant, easy to use UNIX, a task never before achieved, 3) lay a foundation for more modern apps and 4) only peripherally, deliver a respectable UNIX for enterprise and science.

Bertrand SerletThe interesting thing is that it requires a very senior, experienced UNIX guru like Avadis “Avie” Tevanian or Bertrand Serlet (shown left) supervise the development of a respectable, capable UNIX OS that can achieve the first three goals above. And if the UNIX core of the new OS gets off to a bad start, is ill conceived, and doesn’t have the right infrastructure and design for growth, it will be both reviled by the UNIX community and fail in its ability to further Apple’s commercial goals.

Thanks to Steve Jobs, we had two of the foremost minds working on the design and evolution of OS X. A fallout of this process, however, is that a UNIX OS can become an end in itself. UNIX constructs, the way it’s surfaced to the customer, and how that percolates into UI thinking can be a joy to the UNIX scientist or it can become overwhelming and possibly irritating to customers who don’t care about OS theory. They just want to get on with their lives.

Accordingly, for all of the history of OS X, it was a steady refinement of the most successful UNIX OS to ever be put in the hands of a mass audience of non-technical customers. But Snow Leopard still retained that geek factor that earmarked it as the apogee of the technical UNIX OS with serious and brilliant mods to make it a successful commercial OS.

The Lion Roars into a New Era

Starting with OS X “Lion,” Apple started thinking differently about OS X as a UNIX OS. For starters, the UNIX promotion and literature at apple.com started to disappear. We were no longer reminded that this is A 100 percent POSIX UNIX based on BSD. Bertrand Serlet left Apple, and I can only guess why.

In terms of the UI, UNIX file constructs like Save and Save As … that caused customers to lose personal work started to come under scrutiny. Tiresome, technical ideas like HTTP cookies in Safari were simplified. Software facilities that were originally part of the UNIX standard trade like Java and X11 were removed, to enhance security and simplicity respectively, for the every day user.  Sandboxing, which can cripple the capabilities of a robust OS X app, was introduced in the name of customer security, not a UNIX heritage of power and interoperability. Holy cow.

The Impact on Some Users

Rage?The impact of Lion and Mountain Lion has been twofold. Young, new customers who never studied computer science or never worked for an aerospace company up to its ears in Sun workstations only want to do the popular things. They want to communicate, create and share. They don’t want to lose work because the OS is too stupid to save periodically, and they want to shop and bank with safety, not learn about SSL certificates.

On the other hand, experienced customers who, perhaps, go all the way back to Mac OS Classic have watched Apple’s OS efforts evolve with joy. The ancient, creaky, Mac OS didn’t have protected address spaces, reentrant code and therefore no preemptive multi-tasking. They watched with joy as Apple developed this new UNIX, and except for some much needed modernization under the hood, highly approved of this new Mac OS X, now just OS X.

This departure from the old ways of thinking, the simplification of OS X, the hiding of geeky elements, has caused many experienced users to become concerned about the future of OS X. The term iOS-ification has come to the forefront and led to concerns that, someday, our Macs (if they even survive) will someday be a lame and limited as an iPad, leaving them no recourse but to fall into the, omigod, open arms of Linux.

How to Deal With the Changes

Despite Apple’s direct interest in making Macs easier and more fun to use, there are plenty of opportunities for experienced users to travel a different path. And I’ll point out that if you don’t want to continue down that path of learning, OS mastery, system oversight and supervision, you might want to just stop reading here. That’s because, if you’re pleased as punch with OS X “Mountain Lion,” out of the box, then the rest may not be for you.

Part of the issue for the expert users is that they’re from a culture of lifelong learning. They’ve used UNIX systems at work, have written code, opened ports in a Perl script and dumped data to a server, or been a database administrator, just to name a few. Their computing life, out of necessity, has been about deep learning.

X11

Can we just move on from X11? Please?

Life on a Mac is a mixed bag for them, both the joy of Twitter and browsing and the pleasure of finding things out. When information is obscured for the sake of simplicity, they want an option to bring it back. But Apple learned that infinite fine control in preferences, like Windows, just confuses the newbies.

The good news is that Apple hasn’t slammed the API door shut. Sure, some APIs become obsolete or insecure, and so they’re deprecated. But the API space of OS X is so rich that any developer can dig in and make anything at all happen. Anything.

In fact, that’s the salvation of the expert users. Developers know that simplification is a losing battle. Apple has the upper hand on the system apps, customers are going to use them, and it’s a losing battle to out-Apple Apple. The best course is to foster and cater to a specific audience that wants what they can deliver. And so, while Apple continues to simplify OS X and its default apps, there remains a rich space of 3rd party apps, outside the M.A.S., that gives the expert users what they want. For example, I am writing this article in BBEdit, an app that continues to offer me a genuine, traditional Save As…

For example, I almost never use the OS X Finder. I use Path Finder. For browsing, I use Firefox, a product from a company that’s looking our for its customers with no other conflict of interest. I use Time Machine, but I supplement it with Data Backup 3. I use Intego’s Virus Barrier to block malware because I’m all over the Internet daily. I use Vienna for RSS because I never cared for Apple’s approach. (And now we see why.) And when I really need to muck around, there’s always the Terminal app.

PathFinderCocoa Tech’s Finder Replacement, Path Finder

Even if, someday, Apple removes the Terminal app the same way they’ve removed X11 in Mountain Lion, the company is unlikely to block us from downloading one from a 3rd party site. In fact, getting software from 3rd party sites, code-signed or not, is something that will be with us for a long time, and affords ample opportunity for exploration and the building of OS expertise.

My only major OS X app exception is that I use Apple’s Mail app, but I can’t wait for the day when I can switch away. Maybe .Mail will be my salvation.

Conclusion

It’s clear that Apple is now fully leveraging modern ideas about how customers can interact with a Mac with pleasure and convenience. UNIX is no longer even on Apple’s marketing radar. To be sure, while I have previously called it “Happy-go-lucky computing,” Apple also works very hard behind the scenes to protect its customers. What more can we ask?

Meanwhile, expert users may lament that the days of UNIX geek computing seem to have gone the way of Snow Leopard, but they can still continue to bend, fold, and mutilate OS X into their own vision. It just won’t be handed to us by Bertrand Serlet on a silver platter anymore. We’ll have to work for it.

___________________

UNIX hippie via Shutterstock.

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Comments

Enver Masud

Not a Unix user, but why did Apple get rid of “View Source” in Safari, and “Save As”?

John Martellaro

Enver Masud: “View Source” My theory is that the average Safari user would see a confusing, extraneous function that clutters the UI. And then, if they actually look at the HTML source, they would turn to stone. But it’s still in the Develop Menu for expert users.

KitsuneStudios

Frankly, I just wish I could find an easy way to make the user Library folder visible. I can understand why Apple would want to keep casual users out of it, but since upgrading to Mountain Lion from Snow Leopard. I have had at least 4 instances where I needed to get into the Library.

Some programs still don’t have good GUIs for plug-ins, manual transfer of preferences from another system is useful, It can be helpful to “reset” a demo license, if you download it, play with it for a weekend, and ten don’t get back to it in the 30 day window, and most programs don’t bother to take their preferences with them when you delete them.

John Martellaro

KitsuneStudios:  Stay tuned!  I think you’ll be happy with an upcoming article.

David Morrison

Apple’s approach of hiding everything is great while everything works. Those of us who have been around for a while know that sooner or later, something will go wrong. Not even Apple is perfect.

So now instead of telling someone to do a couple of simple steps over the phone to fix the problem, it’s a long and involved sequence that the person does not understand and will often not do correctly. Sitting at the other end of the phone, I cannot see what has happened. So I then have to get them to start up screen sharing of some kind, a big task in itself. And sometimes it requires a site visit.

So only simplification in some ways. Greater complication in many others.

Enver Masud

In Lion, to go to Library, hold down Option key, use Go in Finder.

Let me know if this works in Mountain Lion.

Lancashire-Witch

”  Young, new customers who never studied computer science….  “

Not just young new customers, John.

I suspect there’s a whole bunch of mature users who maybe jumped on the PC bandwagon a little late (say after 1995); who have struggled with Windows for over a decade and decided their “next PC” will be an Apple.

I know several.

For them, “it just works” and a minimal geek factor is just what they’ve always wanted.

John Martellaro

Lancashire-Witch: Absolutely!

RonMacGuy

Frankly, I just wish I could find an easy way to make the user Library folder visible.

Like Enver said, just hold down the the Option key to view hidden folders.  I find this easy and useful - keeps them hidden to clean up clutter, but when you need to see the hidden folders just hold one key down.  Not too bad once you get used to it.

Tiger

View Source was renamed. And it’s still there. Just enable the Developer Menu (easy to do) and on that item, the fifth item down is Show Page Source.

Enver Masud

Just enable the Developer Menu??? How ???

mjkphoto

The loss of “Save As” is a deal breaker. And please don’t tell me there’s a work-around because after all the jumping through hoops, it still doesn’t work like the “Save As” feature I’ve come to rely on in my business.

It’s nice that Apple wants to make a computer for the lowest common denominator, as a friend who watched Wheel of Fortune called himself, but the working professional needs a computer to meet her/his workflow. The move toward new, streamlined iOS-like Operating Systems leaves us out in the cold. Apple is forsaking loyal, long-time users and that is a big mistake.

John Martellaro

Enver Masud:  Safari -> Preferences -> Advanced -> check box at the bottom.

KitsuneStudios

Thanks for the tip!

iJack

Shortly after installing ML, I downloaded Lion/Mountain Lion Tweaks, and updated Onyx.  I haven’t got time to look now, but between the two, I have both my User Library visible, and Save As in most, if not all File menus.  I just used it a few minutes ago in iPhoto, because I wanted to mark up a photo, but keep the original clean.

russell

You don’t have to be non-techie to enjoy things that work - I love the “it just works” stuff - it really makes my day when well designed things just work as they should.  And I don’t mind having to jump through a couple of hoops to get to Sys Admin level command line UNIX when I need that instead.  Bad or missing help/documentation is a FAR bigger issue than following several well documented steps.

One of the real benefits of a huge mass market is price - OS X upgrades are now very cheap indeed, based on huge volume sales.  If ever it gets so that UNIX isn’t usable underneath I’ll run Linux on the now very reliable and also cheap Virtual Machine software at the same time as running Mac and WIndows.  Good modern VM is another example where most of the time “it just works” and if I have to choose between an all-feature OS X and really good VM software then my vote goes for the flexibility and adaptability of VM solutions every time.  Feature limited consumer iOS plus Linux plus Windows on a laptop - with full comms and cut and paste between them, and reading each others’ file systems (maybe iOS not reading other stuff even) would be a potential model I could deal with.  Pretty much off the shelf already and very welcome.  Bloatware is awful - e.g. iTunes - if I need to run more than one OS as a precision tool then I have no issue with that any more since VM solutions have been affordable. Better that then OS X bloat so it does everything for everyone.

There will always be third party geek software tools for anyone who needs them, written by the sort of ?bergeek who has a feel for what is needed much more than consumer device manufacturer Apple.

Like Isaac Newton i find the view pretty good when standing on a giant’s shoulders.  I prefer not to complain about how far up off the ground those shoulders are.

Russell.

JonGl

John-

You do know that Pathfinder has a terminal window built-in, right? It’s a bottom tab that slides down below your window, and typically defaults to the currently visible folder. Very slick for many things, esp. file manipulations/movements, but I’ve even used it for compiling little ditties, or MacPorts items.

-Jon

Andhaka

Some programs still don?t have good GUIs for plug-ins, manual transfer of preferences from another system is useful, It can be helpful to ?reset? a demo license, if you download it, play with it for a weekend, and ten don?t get back to it in the 30 day window, and most programs don?t bother to take their preferences with them when you delete them.

To manage preferences like that you can use a simple app like AppCleaner which idetifies every file associated with a single app so you can move ore delete them with precision. wink

Cheers

Larry

Frankly, I just wish I could find an easy way to make the user Library folder visible.

I never noticed the change because I’ve always had Library in my sidebar, and Mountain Lion didn’t change that. I can’t verify that this will work if you didn’t already have it there, but you might try making it visible one time, then sticking it in the sidebar.

John C. Welch

The hooey in this is amazing:

Starting with OS X ?Lion,? Apple started thinking differently about OS X as a UNIX OS. For starters, the UNIX promotion and literature at apple.com started to disappear. We were no longer reminded that this is A 100 percent POSIX UNIX based on BSD. Bertrand Serlet left Apple, and I can only guess why.

You don’t have to guess why, the reasons were stated:

“?I?ve worked with Steve for 22 years and have had an incredible time developing products at both NeXT and Apple, but at this point, I want to focus less on products and more on science,? said Bertrand Serlet, Apple?s senior vice president of Software Engineering.”

Of course, it’s not very tinfoil-hat satisfying, but sans evidence, not supposition based on nothing, to the contrary, I’m going to go with what he said.

In terms of the UI, UNIX file constructs like Save and Save As ? that caused customers to lose personal work started to come under scrutiny.

Because only Unix had those.

Software facilities that were originally part of the UNIX standard trade like X11 and Java were removed to enhance security for the every day user.

You have not one scintilla of evidence to support that X11 was removed from the standard OS install for security reasons. You also are wading into FUD with regard to Java. By making the *maker* of Java, aka Oracle, the source for it, as it is for every other platform, Apple no longer has to duplicate Oracle’s work and the delta between security updates being released for Java and being available on Mac OS X will actually DECREASE.

Same thing with X11. By making XQuartz the prime source, X11 users on Mac OS X come out ahead in terms of updates.

Unless you can point to publicly-viewable evidence that says the only reason, or even the PRIMARY reason X11 and Java are no longer distributed by Apple, you’re just making stuff up.

Sandboxing, which can cripple the capabilities of a robust OS X app, was introduced in the name of customer security, not a UNIX heritage of power and interoperability. Holy cow.

Yeah, because with Sandboxing, there’s no way for an application to communicate with another. In fact, in mountain lion, you can’t use any command-line applications at all…oh wait, none of that is true. In fact, a sandboxing feature has been available in Linux since 2005, and there are other similar implementations for Linux. And, unless you distribute via the MAS, you don’t have to sandbox.

But, hey, why let facts get in the way of ramping up the worry.

oh and this one:

Starting with OS X ?Lion,? Apple started thinking differently about OS X as a UNIX OS. For starters, the UNIX promotion and literature at apple.com started to disappear. We were no longer reminded that this is A 100 percent POSIX UNIX based on BSD.

A) the number of people who ever cared about this was a rounding error.

B) It’s disappeared so much, it’s only in the lead for http://www.apple.com/osx/what-is/

John Martellaro

John, That was poor wording on X11.  It got lumped in with Java, which has had a rash of security issues.  None that I know of for X11.  Just simplification there.

BurmaYank

“Frankly, I just wish I could find an easy way to make the user Library folder visible. I can understand why Apple would want to keep casual users out of it, but since upgrading to Mountain Lion from Snow Leopard. I have had at least 4 instances where I needed to get into the Library.”

My favorite way to keep all my invisible files always visible everywhere within Finder windows is to use “Cocktail“‘s “Show Invisible Items” checkbox under its Preferences/Interface/Finder tab.

So far, I’ve always been keeping all my invisible files visible everywhere with it in Lion, Snow Leopard, Leopard, Tiger….(etc.) since before OSX 10.0 IIRC, with never a problem.  And it’s designed to do this in Mt. Lion (which I have not yet installed), too.  It’s one of those apps I would hate to do without.

I don’t understand why no one here has talked about it in our other discussions of the ordeal of living without a visible Library folder in the iOssified Mac OSes.

iJack

@ BurmaYank ~ Because it’s dangerous?  Invisible files are invisible for a reason; to keep people from accidentally deleting, or relocating them, and causing who-knows what havoc. 

They even show up on the Desktop.  Who wants to see that mess?

John C. Welch

John, That was poor wording on X11.? It got lumped in with Java, which has had a rash of security issues.? None that I know of for X11.? Just simplification there.

But that STILL wasn’t the *primary* reason. All the information I’ve seen was that as long as Apple had to do all the work, there was *always* going to be a delta between Oracle releasing Java updates and Mac users getting access to them. Didn’t matter what the updates were for, as soon as you have another agent involved in the update process, you have a delta. It’s unavoidable. By doing the sensible thing, and handing that all off to Oracle, Mac users can always be on the current version of Java, or no version of Java, and Apple doesn’t have to replicate all the work Oracle is doing *anyway*.

Letting the people who maintain Java actually do so, even for Mac users, removes a HOST of problems for the folks who need to use Java and be current with it. This isn’t just, or even primarily a security issue.

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