Monday, September 21, 2020

A Visual History of System Preferences

Arun Venkatesan:

Early versions of OS X until 10.3 included a favorites bar at the top where users could drag and drop their favorite settings. In 10.4, this was removed and replaced with the search feature that highlights matching icons as you type a query.


In the first OS X Public Beta, a shade drawn over a window represented Energy Saver. Before release, the now recognizable light bulb took its place.

Over the years, the icon has represented the most efficient light bulb technology of the time. So, in 10.5, the icon changed from an incandescent bulb to a more efficient compact fluorescent. Then, in 10.10, the light bulb changed again to an LED design.

Via Nick Heer:

I particularly appreciated this explanation of the two different dates often seen in Apple’s calendar-related icons[…]


Update (2020-09-28): Ken Harris:

You can see exactly the moment in 2013 when @Apple said “fuck it, I’m just gonna make this text GRAY” and then “oh yeah? HOLD MY BEER”

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Personally, I liked System Preferences better before Apple devoted a fifth of its real estate to a "services" nag screen.

I still miss the favorites bar...

When Tiger went beta, I was annoyed that the favorites bar was removed, but I haven't really actually missed it in practice.

The thing this evolution really highlighted for me, though… they added categories in 10.1 Puma. Then they removed the category headers in 10.9 Mavericks(??). Then they changed it from four to two (five to three, if you have third-party panes) categories in 10.15 Catalina, with a new iCloud/Apple ID category (that's problematic in terms of monopolizing Apple's own account system, but it's well below my threshold of outrage).

But… what do those new categories mean, really? The top one is Apple ID, sure. The bottom one is third-party panes, if you have any. And then what? Current user account vs. all users? Nope, security affects all. Software vs. hardware? No, Software Update isn't really hardware. Higher-level to lower-level? Security & Privacy seems fairly low-level, though.

And even within the categories, there's no obvious sorting.

So, since 10.4 Tiger, there's been a fairly good search, but that's no substitute for an obvious organization, and… I just kind of don't see it?

That’s a good analysis of the evolution of the System Preferences ‘categories’! Though I find that for me it sort of doesn’t matter if they are actual categories or random groupings of preference panes. The main value for me is visually breaking up all the icons. There are few enough of them, that I think one becomes familiar with their position through use. This familiarity is a much quicker way of finding the preference pane you’re looking for than thinking about what category it’s in and then looking along alphabetically.

@Sören I find the categories and sorting in macOS 10.15 confusing, too. I’m not sure that the previous layout made that much more sense, but at least it had been mostly stable for a while. The new layout is very different.

Tip: go to View -> Organize Alphabetically to get rid of the categories. Works at least up through 10.14; I avoided 10.15 so not sure if it still works with the System Prefs reorg in that version.

@Nigel Great solution, thanks. I don’t know why I keep forgetting about that option.

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