10 November 2007


From this thread on the TidBITS forum:

I'm glad we disagree, because this raises the following profound question: How hard would it have been to make this a pref? Come to think of it, how about a pref for stacks, menu bar opacity, and sidebar text/icon size? This is what I really object to: not the changes, but that Apple thinks it knows better than I do what I want. Choice is good.

Three reasons not to make things preferences:

More preferences ≠ easier to use: It makes it harder to find the preference that really can improve your productivity when it’s hidden amongst a bunch of frivolous preferences. It can distract you into messing with a much of preferences that aren’t going to improve your productivity.

More preferences = more complexity: More complexity in software is bad. It means more bugs. It means more time to write the code. It means more time to test the code. It means more time to maintain the code. If you’ve ever complained about bugs or the cost of software, then you don’t want software to be any more complex than it needs to be.

Consistency: Consistency is a core principle of the Mac. Arguably, consistency has been more important on the Mac than the mouse or windows or the menu bar. Of course, total consistency isn’t really practical. If for no other reason than that today’s experiment ends up as standard practice in a future revision of the user interface guidelines. Still, consistency is important, and preferences are counter to consistency. Too many preferences means not enough consistency.

Choice is not always good. So, what should be a preference and what shouldn’t? When the usability of a choice depends upon the user, the environment, or the hardware. Otherwise, it probably shouldn’t be a preference. At least that’s how it should be on Macs.

For example: The size of text used in a user interface that is best from a usability stand-point depends upon the user, the display, and the environment. One user needs larger text because they can’t read it if it is smaller. Another user needs smaller text because they don’t have trouble reading it but they need lots of things on the screen at once.

The opacity of the menu bar, however, does not need to be a preference. It does not have a significant impact on usability. (Besides, choosing the right desktop wallpaper makes the issue moot.)

Now, I have to admit, I don’t like this conclusion. Forget opacity, I'd like to be able to swap the menu bar for OPENSTEP style menus. Edit: Probably better to link to the earlier NEXTSTEP instead of OPENSTEP.

I’m pretty sure making the menu bar translucent wasn’t a good idea, but it wasn’t so bad of an idea that it should’ve been made a preference instead. In fact, if it was that bad an idea, it shouldn’t have been done at all.

No comments: