Monday, July 6, 2020

Visual Comparison of macOS Catalina and Big Sur

Andrew Denty:

All of the screenshots below are taken on a default install of macOS and the Catalina version is always on the left. I made a conscious effort not to resize any windows or change any default settings. I haven’t captured everything, but it is a good taste of the changes so far.


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I wonder if any of the designers of Big Sur is above 35? The amount of contrast makes everything hard to read or see for me

@A as in, too much contrast? I think usually people (e.g. my dad) complain about not enough contrast. I guess this proves that accessibility doesn't have a one-fits-all solution.

I assume Apple will still have “high contrast” option in Accessibility settings.

I am concerned about dragging windows around the screen. The title bar is gone in all windows now - some apps already have this, and it’s often difficult to find a “handle” to grab when trying to move windows of that style.

@alex I meant the lack of contrast indeed :)

I wonder if any of the designers of Big Sur is actually a designer?

Seeing Big Sur side by side with Catalina (which is itself no paragon of great design) makes it even more obvious how ugly it is. Nearly all of the new app icons look goofy compared to the current ones. And the monochrome glyphs are terrible.

It's like Apple saw what Microsoft did with Windows 10 and thought "let's copy that!"

I'm starting to wish that there is a new option between "Light" and "Dark" mode called "Don't Hurt My Eyes" mode.

I don't see a SINGLE thing that I like better in Big Sur. Nothing. And it's not because "I haven't gotten used to it" as Craig Federighi would claim. There have been other previous OS X releases where I immediately thought "This new version looks much better than the old one."

And I've said it before, but why are the traffic lights in a different offset from the top left window corner in every app? Can't they just pick an offset and stick with it for every window? Especially since most apps are full screen, the damn traffic lights don't stay in one place when switching apps. Is nobody at Apple sweating the details anymore?

The icons are mostly bad, and moving from colored icons to monochrome icons is a bad trend. There are some clear contrast issues (e.g. I'm not sure I can tell the difference between enabled and disabled buttons in window headers). I also think the modal alerts are terrible. The window headers and the position of the traffic lights are just bonkers. The transparent menu bar is imbecilic, and the fact that menus no longer attach to their source is plainly wrong. It's really difficult to understand what the purpose of these changes is, what Apple is trying to achieve here. What are these people thinking? Are no good UX designers willing to work for Apple anymore?

But I do like many of the purely aesthetic changes. Overall, it looks more visually consistent to me, more modern, and the left sidebar in the System Preferences is a nice callback to the System 6 Control Panel.

I would guess that the problem here is that visual designers are doing the UX design, but then some of these icons are so amateurish that this hypothesis doesn't make sense, either.

Not only are the icons amateurish, so many of the icons throughout the interface (especially app and system prefs icons) look like they were each designed by completely different people! No consistency at all. Whoever is in charge of the icons for System Preferences should be fired. I seriously want to puke. They were already pretty awful and weirdly inconsistent in previous OS X versions, but wow... they really did it this time.

There used to be a group of individuals who drove things like the internal consistency report. It was necessary because the only incentive many engineers had to do the right thing was internal shaming and pressure. That group is long gone. Those individuals were driven off or scattered to the wind and stripped of any voice to speak for objective quality. The steady decay of the Mac is the result of that.

When SJ died, he took with him the only clear voice who would scream THIS IS BULLSHIT at careless engineers. It turns out Apple's process could not function without that spirit. Tim's softer, kinder Apple as bred gutlessness and laurel-resting. Their validation now is the stock price and Tim's precious "customer sat" number. Anyone who disagrees with those is demonstrably just a whiner.

Haven't tried it yet. From screenshots and the demos, it seems worse. It looks like the thing Catalina's Music app does (white when in foreground) is now spreading to all apps, which I suppose is good in that it corrects my current perception that the Music app always feels in the background when it's not — if it's consistent, at least I can retrain?

I will say, though, that many of the criticisms were also there when Yosemite shipped, and I think I mostly like the Yosemite style (especially over the obnoxious amount of texture in the Lion/Mountain Lion/Mavericks era). Or when early Aqua was shown. It's kind of hard to believe now, but there was a ton of criticism of the Dock. There were many of the same "Apple no longer understands good visual design" arguments.

The pattern seems to be that Apple overshoots a fair amount, then tones things down over time. And given that we have "Accessibility" options to tone it down ourselves, maybe it's just not that big a deal.

Except, of course, for narrow, centered alerts.

Old Unix Guy

"When SJ died, he took with him the only clear voice who would scream THIS IS BULLSHIT at careless engineers"

Hmm... if you saw the number of APIs they keep deprecating, breaking tons of old software, which then needs to be rewritten for no good reason, you might not blame engineering... You might put blame where it belongs: the choices of management. To quote Torvalds: you don't break user space. Even Windows manages to get this mostly right.

>It's kind of hard to believe now, but there was a ton of criticism of the Dock

The Dock was a bad idea when it was introduced, and it's still bad now. The only thing it actually made better compared to classic Mac OS is that it put the trash can into a floating UI element so it can't get hidden behind Finder windows. I think the general idea of replacing the Apple menu with a more convenient app launcher was good, but the actual implementation was a failure.

There are two kinds of Mac users: people who have gotten used to how bad the Dock is, and people who have given up complaining.

I think the best approach to take with the Dock is to hide it and forget that it even exists.

>if you saw the number of APIs they keep deprecating

Apple is clearly understaffed for the amount of software they write, so deprecating and removing APIs is a necessary measure to cut down on time spent on legacy support. It's not even clear to me that this is a management problem, it might just be incredibly difficult to hire qualified engineers at the numbers Apple requires.

@Lukas It’s a management problem either way, because Apple has been much slower than its peers at opening offices in other cities and hiring remote employees.

"Hmm... if you saw the number of APIs they keep deprecating, breaking tons of old software, which then needs to be rewritten for no good reason, you might not blame engineering... You might put blame where it belongs: the choices of management."

The disbanded team owned app compatibility too.

There is no "management" in software at Apple as a distinct class. It's engineering all the way up. All of this is Craig's fault. He had the tools at his disposal to prevent this, and he discarded them. His attitude is "I will trust my lieutenants to do the right thing" but there is virtually no accountability. It takes Maps-level screwups to trigger any meaningful change.

@Lukas - What is your problem with the dock? My favorite Linux desktop was the WMX window manager with the old Gnome dock (done away with in Gnome 2). The current (for me that's Mojave, as I haven't rid myself of 32-bit applications) Mac interface is the one that outshines WMX/Gnome. (image here if you want some nostalgia

Part of what I really like about the Mac OS interface is the integration of the virtual desktops and the Dock. I can use the Dock to switch between virtual desktops by clicking on the appropriate application icon in the Dock. I have 8 virtual desktops on my main monitor, which allows me to separate my applications/tasks but still instantly jump to the appropriate application via a single click on the Dock. My secondary monitor only has the primary virtual desktop, and I have things like chat clients and calendar on that monitor - which means those applications are always visible, regardless of which virtual desktop is active on the main monitor.

The rest of the functions that the Dock provide are mostly useful, and there is certainly nothing that I find to be "bad", so I would like to know what the functions are that cause you such grief.

Cheers, Liam

I could probably write a book about this, but I'm going to limit myself to just some of the most obvious problems.

1. It's way too tall for what it does. The Windows task bar does much more, with a much better user interface, taking up much less vertical space.
2. Things constantly shift around, so you can't build muscle memory. An app is in one place, then you minimize a window, now it's in another. It's great that the trash can is no longer hidden behind windows, but instead it now constantly moves around.
3. It can't decide if it wants to behave more like a window that's stuck to the edge of the screen, or if it wants to be more like the menu bar (i.e. actually restrict the window area); as a result, it doesn't quite prevent itself from obscuring windows, but it also leaves empty "dead space" to the left and right of itself, where you can't really put anything because the Dock might grow to obscure that space.
4. It tries to do too many things (app launcher, list of open apps, app switcher, document management, storage space for minimized windows, etc.) using the exact same UI paradigm, which means that it does none of these things well.
5. It doesn't work well with multi-screen setups.
6. Everything in the Dock that isn't an app looks the same. Minimized windows all look the same, documents all look the same, and unless you hover over these objects, you can't tell them apart.
7. It's a magnet for missed drags. When it's minimized, and I try to drag documents to a place near bottom of the screen, it often opens up while I'm dropping and intercepts the dropped document.

I could go on. I hate the Dock. It's iconic, and it looks great in screenshots, but it's an abysmal piece of UI design. It was worse in the beginning. Apple fixed some of its worst issues, but it's still bad.

And for me, it actually doesn't work well with virtual desktops. I much prefer Windows' behavior, where each virtual desktop has its own set of open applications, so if I jump to a different desktop and open Firefox, it opens a new Firefox window in that desktop, instead of jumping to a random other desktop that also has Firefox open.

I could also write a book about all of the things that are bad in Gnome. That doesn't make the Dock any better :-)

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