About Mac OS 9

2006-06-05 06:21:00 UTC

No! Wait! Come back!

Simone Manganelli‘s -1st post references an AppleXnet article he wrote in response to an article that Matthew Paul Thomas wrote.

I agree with the AppleXnet article on the whole, but I do have some rebuttal to it.

Apple sanctions the use of “extensions”, which modify the use of the operating system in unintended ways that often lead to conflicts with other applications and extensions, one of the worst usability problems of Mac OS 9. Troubleshooting extensions is one of the worst things to have to diagnose.

Trivia: Extensions were originally unsupported. They were only for Apple to use to patch the OS without requiring a full OS update. But third-party developers figured out how to do it. Apple made it supported so that they could set forth certain ground rules to help ameliorate the problem of extension conflicts.

For disabled users, there is no way in Mac OS 9 to click any menu item or drop down any menu without using the mouse or buying additional software. This makes using the operating system very difficult out of the box for many disabled Mac users.

OS 9’s Easy Access control panel offered a feature called Mouse Keys. You use the numeric keypad to move the cursor, except for the 5 and 0 keys, which click the button. OS X has it too, since Jaguar.

Exercise for the reader: Figure out how Mouse Keys changed between OS 9 and OS X. (Yes, there is at least one change.)

While admittedly minor, some applications’ menus are white colored, from the System 7 days, while other ones are gray colored, the new color scheme adopted by Mac OS 8 and later.

The applications with white menus used custom MDEFs (menu definitions), most commonly an old version of Mercutio. These custom MDEFs were usually employed to allow for exotic key combinations that Apple’s MDEF didn’t allow until 8.5.

Mac OS 8.5 and later, and OS X, allow any key combo.

A remnant from earlier systems from Mac OS 9 is the desk accessory, which violates many of the regular human interface guidelines (even though it’s usually just a small application). For example, the Calculator has a black menu bar…

First, you mean title bar.

Second, its appearance is because it’s a desk accessory. DAs didn’t always behave like applications; before System 7, they floated on top of the active application. The reason is that DAs were the very first way in which you could do things that weren’t actually part of the application you were in, invented because this was before MultiFinder allowed multiple applications to run at the same time.

Third (and irrelevantly to UI issues), DAs are not applications. They are device drivers. (Yes, really. That’s how they were loaded when you could only have one application running at a time.)

Sounds a little like input managers, actually, now that I think about it…

The Apple menu and application menu under Mac OS 9 are curiously not located at the top-left and top-right corners of the screen, respectively. For some reason, Apple decided to put about 10 pixels between each menu and the side of the screen, violating Fitt’s Law in the process.

But you could click on them anyway.

Immediately after startup after a crash, the Finder often places “rescued items” in the Trash. This is wrong for multiple reasons: …

Ostensibly, the application saved your unsaved work to a swap file that it would have cleaned up when you saved or closed the document, and you could recover this data from the Rescued Items folder after the restart. Unfortunately, even when there was such a swap file, I was never able to open one and recover anything.

Good idea, but it didn’t work out.

OS X does have the same feature, but most applications do not use the Temporary Items folder anymore. I think developers figure that Macs have too much RAM for it to be worth anything anymore.

Pop-up windows violate most of the normal expectations that a user has when interacting with them.

Ah, but they were so handy. :)

It has not one but TWO resize widgets.

Clearly-defined resize widgets.

For no reason at all, the icons of desktop printers cannot be changed.

The reason is that the icon may change to reflect information. Most of these can be accomplished by badging, but what do you do for the black stroke that means “default printer”?

It’s puzzling why an application called “Finder” doesn’t contain a feature that does what it’s name implies, instead relegating that to Sherlock. (Earlier versions of Mac OS X also carried over this problem, but it has since been rectified in Jaguar and improved in Panther.)

And ruined in Tiger. :(

Good thing there’s NotLight.

Many diehard Mac OS 9 users that I’ve met seem to adopt an attitude of thinking that Mac OS 9 is perfect and should be Apple’s current operating system, when Mac OS 9 was full of more usability problems than the current version of Mac OS X.

I was there. The first time I used OS X (10.1.3), I hated it for all the ways that it was different from OS 9. Eventually I went back. But I came to miss all the things that were good about OS X, and also wanted to start writing Mac applications (an expensive proposition on OS 9, except with MPW, the compiler in which was creaky; free on OS X). So, after getting a newer G3 (333 MHz; my previous one was 267 MHz), I installed OS X 10.1.5, and never looked back.

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4 Responses to “About Mac OS 9”

  1. Simone Manganelli Says:

    Sorry about that broken permalink (regarding my -1st post) … it’s a bug with iBlog that I’ve run up against multiple times, and I always forget to check if the link works. But you seem to have found the correct link anyway. (At least that’s probably what you were referring to regarding the “-1st” post.)

    About OS 9’s Easy Access — sure you can use Mouse Keys, but there was no easy way to access just the menus and interface items with key combos. Using mouse keys is kind of akin to using GUI scripting in AppleScript. Sure, it works, but it’s a kludge and a workaround for true functionality. (I’m pretty sure OS 9 never had any sort of “Full Keyboard Access” feature built-in, but correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Yes, I meant title bar, and yes I realize it’s a desk accessory. I was being pointless and meticulous in the problems I was pointing out, just like mpt was in his entry criticizing OS X. It sounds like you probably realize I was being a bit sarcastic. ;) Interesting trivia, though — I do remember the story about the Puzzle desk accessory and how it was written in assembly code to get it down to 600-or-so bytes.

    About the Apple menu: this is incorrect. I just started up Classic, and you definitely cannot activate the Apple/application menus by clicking on the 10 pixel areas that don’t get highlighted. Unless there’s something different between Classic and Mac OS 9 proper, but I highly doubt it. (This is where Mac OS X, specifically Tiger, gets it right — the 10 pixel areas don’t highlight, but you CAN click them to get the Apple/Spotlight menus to activate.)

    Pop-up windows and two resize widgets, desktop printer icons: again, me being pedantic on purpose.

    Spotlight: eh, I’m not so angry towards Spotlight. I realize there are some pretty horrendous UI issues with Spotlight, but I’ve never really wanted any capabilities other than a strict find all search terms, combined with the “kind:” attribute that you can use in the Spotlight menubar search field. I may try out NotLight, though, since you recommended it.

    As for the switch to OS X, I initially tried the switch to Mac OS X 10.0, but I just couldn’t do it. I excitedly bought the public beta, too, and probably would have swallowed the $30 fairly happily to have been able to play with OS X before the final release. Even the final release, though, was way too slow (this was on a 450 MHz G4 cube), and there were many features missing like DVD playback, CD burning, etc. Mac OS X 10.1 in September finally provided me the ability to switch over full-time, since it pretty much solved most of the dire problems.

    I have always been a Mac user ever since our first Mac Plus, and I’ve been fairly proficient at fixing Macs — I was pretty much system administrator at my junior high while I was a student there (’96-’98), and I had also learned a few things about Macs in the later years of elementary. I never got into the rumors/MacWorld stuff until about 1999. Despite all this, though, I never seemed to be so attached to Mac OS 9 per se, just the Mac operating system in general. I guess that’s kind of why I was able to switch over to Mac OS X so easily, while others had a lot of trouble.

    … and between mpt’s original article, my response, the comments over at AppleXnet, my responses to those comments, your entry, and my comment to your entry, I think there are probably more words wasted on this topic than were really necessary. But whatever. :P

    — Simone

  2. Mac-arena the Bored Zo Says:

    I didn’t see any borked permalinks. Maybe you got to it before I did.

    Correct, OS 9 did not have FKA.

    I seem to remember that OS 9 did allow hitting the Apple/Application menus from the corner. It’s not unreasonable to expect that Classic breaks that – for that matter, Classic changes the menu bar height, from 20 px (OS 9) to 22 pt (same as Aqua).

    A 450 MHz G4 Cube is still my only computer. It still runs everything (games excluded). I love it. :) I will switch to an Intel-based Mac mini, though, as soon as I have one. The only loss will be Photoshop (and occasionally ResEdit).

  3. Simone Manganelli Says:

    Just so you know, somehow the link to my post changed, perhaps because I moved the post into a category. Might want to update this post and link directly to the article (now that your AppleXnet link doesn’t work either): http://homepage.mac.com/simx/technonova/C1700219634/E20060919035353/index.html

  4. Peter Hosey Says:

    Thanks; both links are updated.

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