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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

QuickTime 4's Woes
June 1st, 1999

When Apple introduced QuickTime recently, it created some excitement about the new features and capabilities of this standard and powerful multimedia software. However, there is a major flaw: the user interface.

Before the release of Mac OS 8.5, Apple trashed the Appearance themes called Gizmo and Hi-Tech. We heard that the company refused to make the user interface more complicated, despite the fact that Mac users everywhere were clamoring for this ability. Moreover, Apple specifically wanted to stick with a consistent Platinum look throughout the MacOS "look and feel." Consistency is the word they used to tell interface freaks like me that the power user would not have the opportunity to customize his Mac with his own Appearance themes.

Then comes the contradiction. On April 19, Apple announced a public beta for QuickTime 4.

The new QuickTime Player destroys the interface standards Apple gave us for years. Where is the title bar? Nonexistent. The only bar feature you can use from the player's window is Close. Where is the windowshade button that allows me to make my window as small and convenient as its title bar? Oops, I forgot that the latter is not even present! You cannot minimize the window with a single click either. You have to use the bottom-right part of it and drag. Where are the contextual menus? You can control-click as much as you want, you will never see any. Sorry sir, you will have to hunt in the menu bar to do what you want with QuickTime 4.

The big question is where is Apple Platinum in all of this? The new metallic look is great for designers who love this stuff, but why did Apple refuse to create something that is Appearance-savvy? The Appearance control panel requires 1460 kilobytes of RAM on my computer. Hey Apple, do I load this at startup for nothing or what?

Look at the thumb wheel to adjust the volume. I want to see what a newbie can do with this. Hilarious. Imagine people who use a Kensington Trackball. They should have a lot of fun adjusting their volume! I would laugh at this if it weren't so sad!

When it comes to the user interface, a crucial aspect of providing a good one is not only consistency, but offering something intuitive. The best example of this lack of intuitive design is the "shirt button" located on the right side of the Player's window. Who knew that this was to adjust balance, bass and treble before giving it a click? Normally, you should know what it does when you see it. This is what intuitive means. QuickTime 4 is simply not intuitive. Sorry sir, you will have to figure out what the new buttons mean to use QuickTime 4 to the fullest.

Did I mention that the favorites drawer is useless with many of the movies I have loaded into it? The icons taken from the movies that start with a black frame show up as black icons! Is this helpful? Darn!

Bright. Really bright. Apple refined its user interface with Mac OS 8 and improved it big time with Mac OS 8.5 and the engine that runs Appearance themes. Then we hear several versions. First, it will remain consistent to avoid confusion for the user, so we cannot make our own Appearance themes. Later, the company breaks its own policies with a software release that does not respect the "consistent user interface".

Come on Steve, will you let such contradictions reign on the Macintosh platform?

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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