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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

Why Apple Was Brilliant For Showing Aqua Now
March 24th, 2000

There has not been so much controversy in the Mac world since the days of the Clone Wars. I am referring to the hubbub over Mac OS X's Aqua interface. You know, the lickable thing. In the face of mounting ignorance on what Aqua will actually be like, the voices of the Mac Ignorant have risen from the void in an attempt to fill it with something. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, and some Mac users have come rushing in.

Apple has showed us bits and pieces of the interface, and other images and information have come from various sources. Mac the Knife's report is by far the best of those sources. It is these bits and pieces that have formed the basis of the many opinions that have spewed forth on the Internet. Few of the people who have expressed these opinions have actually used Mac OS X and Aqua. A notable exception would be David K. Every at MacWeek in his excellent series called Analyzing Aqua.

What does this have to do with Apple being brilliant? I am getting to that.

Let's look at why people have reacted so negatively to Aqua. The first issue is that it is different from our beloved Platinum/Classic Mac look and feel. We have held the Mac look and feel to be precious for some 16 years. We have put a lot of effort in lording how much better it is than the Windows look and feel. That sort of emotional investment is hard to leave behind.

Above and beyond the loss of the Platinum look is the simple, and primitive, fear of change, any change. I hate the fear of change. When we first covered Aqua, I said that there would be short term grumblings based on the fear of change, but I simply had no idea how vehement those grumblings would turn out to do.

Here's how the fear of change works. People who become entrenched in the status quo resent any change that threatens said status quo. Once the change is announced, those entrenched scream and holler about how bad that change will be, how it will negatively impact them, how it's the worse thing to ever happen in the history of the universe. Many of these people will do passive aggressive things to resist that change once it actually occurs, little bits of sabotage here and there to delay the change from fully taking affect. It's almost always nothing more than an ineffectual attempt to delay the inevitable. Eventually the change takes its course and becomes the new status quo. Then we see the irony of these situations: those who once denounced the change as the work of Satan become its most strident defenders, especially when something new eventually comes down the line to threaten it. I have seen this process on several occasions and I frankly think it's pathetic.

This is where Apple's brilliance comes in.

The above process takes time. People simply have to get used to whatever new ideas are being brought in. By showing us what Aqua looks like some 6-9 months before Mac OS X will ship, Apple is giving the hard core user base the time it needs to cope with the big change. It's going to take X amount of time for Mac users to embrace Aqua, no matter when it happens. Had Apple waited until the release to unveil the new look, all the bitching we see now would have been taking place as the product was first being shipped. This way Apple should have the troops in line by the time it comes to hitting the streets.

In the meanwhile, most of the noise being made in the Mac community is not being noticed by the mainstream press. The mainstream press would have picked up on the negative opinions if Mac OS X was shipping. "Mac Users Hate New Interface In Mac OS X" would have been the headlines to grace at least some publications. As it is, they simply don't care because the product is so far away from being released. By the time Mac OS X is released, many of us will have come around to liking Aqua. In fact, many of those who attack the interface now will be its most strident defenders should any outside forces attack it once it is released.


Don't get me wrong, it is doubtful that Apple could have sat on Aqua forever. Under Steve Jobs, Apple has done a remarkable job of suppressing information on new hardware offerings, but Operating Systems have to be seeded to developers, and they eventually have to get extensive beta testing. The beta-testing phase requires hundreds of participants, and it is during this time that Aqua images would have eventually leaked. So call the early introduction of Aqua killing two birds with one stone. It is a path that I think will prove a good one.

For the record, I think Aqua kicks ass. I am still not too keen on the browser like file system in Mac OS X, but then again, I haven't actually used it... 

Your comments are welcomed.

began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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