Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Default Narrative

Watts Martin (via John Gruber):

If there’s something I could do with OS X 10.6 that I can’t do with OS X 10.8, I haven’t found it yet. My software all still works.

I wish someone would make a list, because it surely wouldn’t be empty. Spaces has been reduced from two dimensions to one. Xcode and other apps have become less AppleScriptable. Safari has become buggy. Changes to Sync Services, without adequate replacements, broke Outlook and Yojimbo. Some things have improved, for sure, but there is also a lot that has become more limited, closed, or broken.

Again, no real evidence supports this—the iOS elements that have been migrated to OS X have not resulted in OS X becoming more locked down. And there’s no reason to think that more OS X technologies won’t move to iOS, making it less locked down.

He’s apparently never heard of sandboxing. Some apps bought from the Mac App Store on 10.6 have either had features removed or can no longer be updated. It also affects apps outside the Mac App Store. For example, Mail on 10.8 is sandboxed, which affects what plug-ins can do. Locking down Safari also affected plug-ins such as 1Password. Will Aperture plug-ins be next? Spotlight is also more locked down, which broke a feature of one of my apps. Restrictions on NSDistributedNotificationCenter affect the kinds of services that apps can provide.

While iOS is locked down by comparison—and there are some things that definitely do need to be opened up with respect to inter-application communication—an iOS device is an application console. We don’t complain (much) about a PlayStation 3 being “locked down” because it’s a game console. That’s what they do.

This is circular reasoning, with an appeal to a nebulous term that Apple has never used. The bottom line is that some people have needs that the product isn’t meeting. They can either go without (and try to influence future versions of the product) or switch to a different product (which has other drawbacks). Appeals to terminology attempt to shut down discussion without addressing the underlying issues in a constructive way.

It’s like saying in the early 80s: you don’t understand, it’s a Mac. It’s not supposed to have color, internal storage, networking, multiple processes, arrow keys, a compiler, a command line, etc.

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Also, Rosetta. When I upgraded to Lion, I lost the ability to run a bunch of PowerPC programs that I've had for years. Nothing absolutly crucial; mostly old games.

@Doodpants Yeah, the loss of Rosetta also affected non-game apps such as Eudora, AppleWorks (no fully compatible way to read all those files), and Microsoft Office 2004 (which could read some files that Office 2011 can’t).

I think it'd be useful, perhaps a simple Web app.

Some more stuff I can think of, ignoring bugs:

- Exposé -> Mission Control (which I inadvertently mistyped as Missing Control, heh) losing many features, parrticularly with respect to multiple monitor and keyboard support
- Full screen
- Bizarre Finder limitations like increased minimum window sizes, confusing zooming behavior and the ‘always open in’/‘browse in’ checkboxes, which always default to the exact opposite of what I want.
- The battery menu extra, now with even less information
- Message threading in Mail reverting to a dumber implementation

The bigger issue is substantial redesigns which are clearly one-way and significantly impair functionality for dubious usability/consistency gains, like Xcode 3→4, AirPort Utility 5→6, the Safari 6 Web Inspector, iTunes 10→11 (the least offensive of these). Functionality gets seemingly arbitrarily dropped or hidden behind mystery meat navigation. Another one I ran into last week was Shared Photo Streams; it's so much worse than MobileMe's photo sharing (you can't even give photos captions?!) and manages to be overly complex, difficult to discover, buggy and feature-poor all at once.

@Nicholas Mail in Mountain Lion also has a dumbed down “feature” where if it thinks two messages are duplicates it will hide one of them, even if the headers and/or body differ. So, for example, if you receive an e-mail that was also sent to a mailing list, you can’t tell whether it was actually posted to the list.

[...] Link. Since 10.6 "Spaces has been reduced from two dimensions to one. Xcode and other apps have become less AppleScriptable. Safari has become buggy. Changes to Sync Services, without adequate replacements, broke Outlook and Yojimbo. Some things have improved, for sure, but there is also a lot that has become more limited, closed, or broken." [...]

Sandboxing is a great example of tech becoming more closed. However, the others, including Rosetta, seem to me like examples of technology changing over time. No software is supported forever, or retains the same features forever. I don't see the need to read a narrative of "becoming more closed" into the above examples.

Even sandboxing is something that, it seems to me, the jury is out on. There have been very real negative consequences over the past year. But there are also huge positives for average users in terms of trust and limiting potential bad behavior by apps. Is the underlying idea bad, or does the tech need more work? Sandboxing might be more "closed", but that may not be a bad thing when all the pros and cons are weighed.

@Nigel Yes, mentioning Rosetta is in response to Martin’s general claim about nothing being lost from 10.6 to 10.8. It’s not related to iOS or locking things down.

I think the general idea of sandboxing is good. However, Apple’s implementation has been so shockingly bad—basic framework features that should have worked in 10.7.0, which was 30 months ago, still don’t—that it seems like either Apple doesn’t care or the technology is much more problematic than they expected. The impression I get from the developer forums is that Apple engineers are only just becoming aware of some of the issues because sandboxing wasn’t thoroughly thought out or dogfooded.

That's fair. And for what it's worth, I think Apple will have a real long term problem on its hands if they don't fix these issues. It's a shame it's taken them so long just to become aware of problems when developers have been writing about them for months. Let's hope they make real improvements and quickly.

When it comes to the Finder and 10.8 (10.7), someone must have been on drugs when making some design decisions:

The Sort By an Clean Up By stuff is highly confusing (not to mention that you don't get the same result when you sort by kind and clean by kind).

And the Arrange by command is there to eliminate any hope to understand which one does what.

> …arrow keys, a compiler, a command line, etc.

…multiple users, expansions slots/ports, a non-flat file system, possibility of an external display… the list goes on.

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