My top X unlikely requests for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
Major new features in the upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard like Time Machine are great, but I've been thinking about all the other aspects of the Mac OS X experience that could use some spit and polish from Apple's engineers. They've done a fantastic job building a damn impressive OS over the years, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvements both big and small (besides: they have to keep their OS product cycle on a good pace). Following is a list of 10 unlikely requests I have for the next version of Mac OS X that might not be worthy of a Stevenote, but they could bring smiles and sighs of satisfied relief to many a user:
- Removing applications - and all their baggage: Deleting (or "uninstalling") an app on Mac OS X is easy: you just move it to the trash. But what about all the extra data apps create when you use them (databases, media libraries, etc.)? Sure there are 3rd party apps like AppZapper that truly remove the app and all those extras, but I think Leopard needs an integrated, obvious and thorough process for removing apps and their extra baggage (perhaps AppZapper could go the way of CoverFlow?). I can't count the number of times I've been asked how to do it by users both old and new. This method could include a dialog when dragging an app to the trash which asks the user if they want to nuke the 'extra' files like Application Support directories and preferences. I know many apps don't leave much behind, but it all can pile up, and there are at least a few apps that really know how to gobble up the mega and gigabytes. To help everyone get on the same page though, a dedicated System Preferences pane would work best.
- Don't make me eject an idle drive: This one is always a tricky conversation, and I should disclose up front that I am certainly no developer. All I know is that it seems just a little strange in the year 2006 (or 2007, once Leopard is released) that I still have to eject a flash drive I haven't touched in two hours. Mac OS X is now both smart and pretty - I don't think it should be that hard to implement some kind of smart ejection system that can eject the drive when not in use, but fire it back up when needed. Further, if we set my lazy nerd ambitions aside for a moment, I'm sure this would save the lives of countless finance reports and term papers for all those users who don't understand what 'ejecting' a drive means or why they have to do it.
- Multi-disc spanning throughout: iTunes, at least since version 4 (and possibly earlier?), has been smart about spanning data/backup burns across multiple discs if the media you're burning exceeds the size of the CD/DVD you inserted. In other words: it's darn smart about backing stuff up. I think it'd be great if iTunes would share some of its secrets with the rest of Mac OS X and its 3rd parties so *everything* can be smart about spanning multiple discs when burning. Finder - I'm looking you dead square in the eye, and iPhoto is next in line.
- Learn some things from the Windows Start button: Before you delete TUAW from your bookmarks, hear me out. The Finder's menus, especially the Go menu as well as the Apple menu, more or less all tag-team most of the same 'launch pad' functions that the Windows Start button offers, but I think they could use some fleshing out. For example: the Go menu offers shortcuts to locations in the Finder, such as the Applications menu - why not turn that Applications location into a dynamic menu that allows direct access to clickable application aliases? Why make me open a Finder window at all?
- Full NTFS friendliness: This isn't just coming from my Boot Camp-using side, as I hear woes from classmates and employees across the web, annoyed that Mac OS X can't write to NTFS drives (the default file system for the latest versions of Microsoft Windows). Sure it can read them, but it can't write anything to them - an obnoxious roadblock for those using external hard drives formatted by these latest versions of Windows, as well as Boot Camp users who can't dump files onto the very Windows partitions Boot Camp creates for them. This request is further driven by the fact that I've found cheap ($30) utilities on the Windows side for reading Mac OS X's HFS+ drives, why can't Mac OS X write to NTFS drives? In other words: it's going to be 2007 when Leopard lands - these OSes should be able to speak each others' languages. [Update: I thought I had seen a utility for Mac OS X to write to NTFS drives, but I can't remember its name and readers are commenting that it doesn't exist, in part on account of Microsoft not releasing code for it.[
- Polish your integration: This one is a little harder to articulate, but sit back for moment and think about all those little areas where application integration is such a dream, yet one little quirk brings the house of cards tumbling down. My best example: iPhoto + Desktop & Screen Saver preferences. Oh sure, iPhoto's albums appear in that System Preference Pane, but since the last one or two versions of iPhoto, they can no longer be used to randomly change wallpapers; the option grays out. Unless, of course, you select an album or a few images in iPhoto, then chose Share > Desktop. But then that produces the bizarre behavior of opening the Desktop & Screen Saver Preference Pane... you see where I'm going here? It isn't a seamless experience, and what's worse: in my example, it *used* to work properly with iPhoto '04.
- Make the screenshot process more obvious: I know this one might upset a few 3rd party developers, but taking a screenshot in Mac OS X is a fundamental yet still cryptic process. Traditional PC keyboards have a better-known 'Print Screen' key, and when you consider that nearly 50% of new Mac users are Windows switchers, you already have a good case for *something* to be done. Now pile on the fact that tips for taking screenshots with native Mac OS X tools are still circulating the Mac web, and it's clear that plenty of users both old and new are confused on the process. What's worse: an app called "Grab," buried in the Utilities folder where many users inarguably don't venture (just like the unsung Services menu), isn't helping matters either. This is another area where I think Windows, at least the new Vista, has a good idea: a dedicated, more powerful new screencapping app called "Snippets" is in the Start menu; perhaps one of the places with the best odds of catching a user's attention. [Update: yes, the *process* of taking a screenshot (cmd - shift - 3/4) is inarguably easy on Mac OS X, but I still maintain that *learning* about that process and Grab.app is cryptic for users both old and new. Besides the Help files, I can't find that keyboard shortcut listed anywhere in Mac OS X - not even in Grab.app itself. Update 2: Readers have pointed out that the screenshot keyboard shortcut is also buried in the Keyboard & Mouse Preference Pane. Touché, but I would still argue that isn't quite as obvious as it could or should be.]
- To click-through, or not to?: Another somewhat abstract Mac OS X behavior, but it makes a lot of difference to most users whether they know it or not. John Gruber has written at length about click-through in Mac OS X, as it's an element of an OS that can really smooth out the ride. In summary: click-through is a behavior which allows a button or other element of an application to be clicked on and activated when it isn't in the foreground (and it also relates to how apps in the background look, such as dimmed buttons and search fields). Windows treats nearly everything as a button, no matter which app or window layer it's sitting on, and a good portion of Mac OS X decidedly does not (this isn't the post to discuss why, but the cliff notes reason is that it's a usability desicion). However, some apps, like the Finder (and until recently, Safari), still do exhibit this behavior, and it can make for an awkward and unsure experience. While it can be argued that click-through is useful in some specific instances, such as being able to pause/play music from iTunes regardless of whether the app is in the fore/background (and I would agree), this behaviorneeds to get cleaned up across the rest of the system and 3rd party apps to help standardize the experience.
- Offers a quick tutorial for new(ish) users: Something that plays on the first boot of Mac OS X and is easy to exit, save for later or never see again. Granted, this is also something driven by the wave of new users switching to the Mac, but let's face it: users both old and new could benefit from a quick tutorial of working with Mac OS X, as well as some of the behavioral differences from Windows. This includes little things like using cmd-delete for moving files to the trash, as well as all the extra goodness Apple has baked into the OS, like FTP ability and system-wide spell checking that sometimes needs to be manually enabled (I'm looking at you, Safari). This could preemptively answer a lot of newbie questions, as well as provide a pleasant, multimedia experience for new users who have just landed on foreign territory. Bonus points for using the much-hyped new Speech services in Leopard for all the directions and voice-overs.
- Release the long-rumored 'Home on iPod' feature: Maybe this one isn't that 'unlikely' since rumors have made the rounds on the Mac web for at least a couple years now, but I've been salivating for this feature since I heard about it. iPods are getting pretty spacious these days, and users are on the go and working on multiple machines now more than ever. While the iDisk is a web-based solution good for a few documents and Quicken database backups, it really can't handle the heavy lifting that today's Mac users demand. Having an easy way to sync directories through an iPod would be the cat's meow (get it?), and it would bring relief to many a file management-induced headache.
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