posted by Scot Hacker on Mon 17th Dec 2001 17:34 UTC

"A Lot To Like, First Impressions"
Pulling a new G4 out of its box is not like uncrating an x86 machine. The styrofoam is contoured to the gently rounded shape of the machine. Even the printed material is designed to seduce. The CD tray glides open when you touch a key on the USB keyboard. Other keys control volume for the built-in Harmon-Kardon speaker (which sounds heavenly compared to traditional built-in speakers). Pressing a volume control key causes a subtle visual to appear over the desktop before fading gently into the background. Brushing your hand over the glowing dot on an Apple Studio or Cinema display brings up the OS's display preferences panel. The power button on the monitor doesn't just turn off the display -- it puts the machine to sleep with a single wave of the hand.

Hardware aside, it is difficult to describe how visually beautiful OS X is. Screen shots don't do it justice. Much has been said about animated elements in OS X -- dialogs that slide into position, the "genie" effect upon window minimization, the poof of smoke that appears as you drag an item out of the Dock, etc. But the important point about these animations is that they aren't just eye candy. Each of them is a carefully designed quantum of feedback. The OS is informing you non-verbally where something has gone or what needs to be done next. These UI cues are clear enough to speak for themselves, but unobtrusive enough not to annoy power users.

Visually, OS X is stunning. Not just in the unusual "lickable" appearance of the Aqua UI (which I don't mind at all, though I know others do), but in unexpected areas. Because the Quartz display engine is vector-based, it's possible to do things like providing sliders that adjust the size of the photo-quality icons from miniscule to immense with no dithering.

I have mixed feelings about all the transparency in the OS. On one hand, it's novel and attractive, and is sometimes genuinely useful. For example, it's great to be able to see what iTunes is currently playing even when it's behind another window. And thanks to Tinker Tool, I've got a partially transparent Terminal window as well, so I can work at the command line and see what's going on in the Finder at the same time.


Transparency effects in OS X are pretty pervasive, and are a weird mix between useful and annoying. On occassion it can be useful to be able to read a URL or other snippet of data behind an app at the front. But overall, the purpose of transparency seems to be mostly limited to looking cool. Which is fine by me.

On the other hand (and this was actually pointed out by an Apple engineer), people in the print industry pay good money for paper opaque enough not to let other pages show through, while OS X spends valuable CPU cycles to enable the opposite effect. Transparency can sometimes make things look cluttered and hard to read.

Unfortunately, OS X's UI is currently not customizable. BeOS does let you switch between the appearances of BeOS, Windows, AmigaOS, and Mac OS 9, but that's about it. So much for window dressing. What about the guts?

Table of contents
  1. "Out of the Frying Pan..."
  2. "... And Into the Fire..."
  3. "Smells Like Home Cookin"
  4. "A Lot To Like, First Impressions"
  5. "Networking Nirvana"
  6. "CD Burning, Disk Images"
  7. "Applications"
  8. "iMovie, iDVD"
  9. "Browsers and E-Mail"
  10. "Power Editors"
  11. "Community"
  12. "The Bad and The Ugly"
  13. "File System Shoot-Out"
  14. "Application-Binding Policies"
  15. "Alien Filesystems"
  16. "Miscellaneous Moans and Groans"
  17. "All Told, Life Is Good"
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