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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

Mac OS X Would Have Been Better Without Aqua
December 29th, 2000

Those of you who have been reading The Mac Observer in general, and my columns and editorials in particular, will probably be surprised at the title of this piece. However, I think that it is true. Apple and Mac OS X would have been better off without Aqua. This is coming from one of the biggest fans of Aqua on the planet.

The moaning, groaning, and whining continues unabated just about everywhere I go. Forums, Mac Web sites, mainstream outlets, and church newsletters all seem to be chock full of people complaining about O S X! I have gone on about that ad nauseum, so I will spare you too much more on that, but it is central to my point today.

There is an Objectivist principal that says to deny reality is irrational. An example of that would be saying that games are not important to Apple's consumer market share because the majority of Mac users are not gamers. This is an effort to deny the reality that there are more people interested in games than there are graphic artists. Indeed, I think most graphic artists also like games, but that is another issue. This holier-than-though approach is irrational by definition. I try my darnedest to remember this, and I think this is a time that I turn a critical eye on myself regarding OS X. In that spirit, just because the mindless morons of the world (I am looking at you, Mac user complaining about Aqua) should be embracing Aqua because of its elegance and beauty, doesn't mean that they will. In fact, I think that the migration to Mac OS X is going to be slower and far bumpier because of it.

The trouble is that Apple is giving Mac users too much change at one time. The move to a Unix based OS is a big enough change without making people actually have to use Sherlock to find their Classic apps or think about anything else.

Seriously folks, what is up with this pinhead writing in the forums at mainstream site IDG?

I feel like I'm the last soul on earth to get the beta. I've put it off because I needed my G4 system to finish up freelance work before the holidays. Now that I'm done, I'm still a bit uneasy to turn my G4 over to a beta test. So, I backed up my Powerbook G3 400, and am testing the beta on that.

I no longer can find anything!! I can't find or use Illustrator 9, the same with Photoshop 6. I can't find my Office. I can't find anything I used to have in plain view in neat folders. I've used Macs my whole life, as well as windows. Nothing with this OS X seems to work, and I'm bewildered and lost on my Mac. A feeling I've never felt on a Mac before. My control panels are gone, my fonts are hidden somewhere, my documents and files are out of sight. My internet connection doesn't work, and their new "mail" program sucks. This interface seems childish, elementary and unprofessional. I'm a computer whiz, and I feel clumsy, confused and helpless.

If this is Apple's way to simplify things, I'm turning to windows for ease of use.

He can't find Illustrator or Photoshop? Here's a Euro, Junior. Buy yourself a clue. Get it in France, and you might get some change back as they don't seem to have much use for them right now. In the meanwhile, use Sherlock. It's free. Don't misunderstand me here, I know that Mac OS X *Public Beta* is confusing when you first start playing with it, but this guy is just whining to hear his own voice. Come on!

Then there are the Einsteins of the world who are saying that because they shouldn't have to learn a new GUI, they are going to switch to Windows. Need I even dignify that with a response? I suppose it makes sense in a sort of pedantic "That'll teach Apple to change *my* GUI!" kind of way, but just how pathetic is that? The words "nose," "face," "sharp knives," and "spite" leap to mind.

The rub is that people like this guy are the norm, and not the exception. As my friend, and some-time antagonist, Shawn King at The Mac Show said, newbies and (real) power users won't have much trouble with Mac OS X (newbies have no prior experience to get in the way and power users are, well,power users), but woe be to the low and mid-level users who makes up the vast majority of current Mac users. They will have the most trouble, and they are going to go kicking and screaming the whole way. That kind of word-of-mouth hype is not exactly what Apple needs right now.

"Yeah, I've used Mac all my life, but I am not sure you should get a Mac. OS X is just plain too weird."

That may sound extreme or bizarre, but I can see it happening all the time. Hopefully it won't, of course.

So what should Apple have done? That's a useless path to pursue of course, but in retrospect I think it clear that Apple should have waited for Mac OS X 2.0 to unveil Aqua. Instead, they should have used the Platinum look and feel for version 1.x. Drastic change is best spread out over time. It's too bad that is the case with this situation because Aqua truly is beautiful. Indeed, as I have said before, I think it will end up being the ultimate in the desktop paradigm until we move on to the next computing paradigm.

Until then, as is so often the case, the lowest-common denominator will be the determining factor in this issue. Apple is going to release OS X, people are going to whine, and we are eventually going to make the transition, but please fasten your seatbelts, because we are in for a bumpy ride.

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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