Stop the Noiz

Apple Products: Better by Design

Frank Fox - 2008.02.27 - Tip Jar

In the old DOS world, were things were entered at the command line, you had the power to format a hard drive, wiping out of its information, by typing the following: format c:. One simple command, 8 characters, and everything is gone. That is both a direct and powerful solution once you learn the correct word.

It was also very dangerous. A novice could format the wrong drive and cause all sorts of problems. At least there was a confirm dialog before it proceeded.

Unix is similarly direct at the command line. At least with Unix, they did put in limits by establishing "rights" to files and folders. You can't delete certain things without logging in as "root" or entering a password for sudo.

Protect the User from Himself

Mac OS X has this power hidden away. The average user, who doesn't have the experience, can't mess up the computer. (Mac OS X Leopard is fully POSIX compliant. The powerful tools are there for those who take the time to learn how and when to use them.)

But the Apple people have chosen to lead people to a less direct and more user friendly - in my opinion, more "idiot proof" - solution. The first step is to remove the command line. No random typing or amateur antics will cause a drive to be formatted. Next, remove all access to the format command away from the Finder and any drop down menus; this prevents accidental selection. Then build a separate program to handle these functions, and then hide it in a folder inside a folder. This shows that to use it you need to know where to look. (The program is Disk Utility, which is inside the Utilities folder, which is inside the Applications folder.)

This is how Apple put up some serious guards to prevent accidental data loss on a grand scale.

You won't need the Disk Utilities program very much. Possibly you could get by without ever using it, but many have to use it to format a new drive, and a few will want to use just because they can. Apple put plenty of guards in place, but they gave the power back in a smart way.

Apple didn't have to write a disk utility program. They could have gone cheap and given instructions on how to do this seldom used task by opening a Terminal window and entering the information at the command line. Instead of trying to teach Bash shell commands to a novice, they created a simple but powerful application for doing just these types of tasks and then put it in a safe place until the user needs it.

...and the Kitchen Sink

Even the Windows and Linux crowds gets the idea of wrapping a command line tool in a nice application with a graphical interface. They fail by then continuing to throw in every possible tool and feature until the novice user is again at risk of messing things up. They forget that the purpose of the disk application was to simplify things in order to prevent dumb mistakes. Instead, they get so caught up in making their program better or giving it more bells and whistles that they total screw up the goal.

The subsequent criticism of Apple is that their designs are missing features found on other hardware or software. Duh! These people can't seem to understand why an iPod sells better than an MP3 player with a built-in radio, or that a MacBook Air is just fine without a DVD player, or that Mac OS X comes with most services turned off by default. They want to claim that it is just great marketing by Apple, or that Mac users are brainwashed into accepting whatever Apple makes.

Apple's DNA

The brainwashing is partly true. Mac users have come to trust Apple to make things simple but not underpowered. It is the "DNA" of Apple to seek better solutions and implement them in better ways.

The iPod was a success not because an MP3 player was a new idea, but because Apple created iTunes to support it. They made the device "idiot proof" and stuffed all the powerful features into iTunes; how to delete songs, make playlists, buy music (with DRM to appease the recording industry), rename files, etc.

Without iTunes, the iPod would have been a flop. The iPod was simple and fun to use, while iTunes is bursting with choices and power over your music collection. Success on the PC side didn't happen until iTunes was ported over to Windows. The iPod alone was only half of the design.

Better by Design

This is why Apple can do what others cannot. They control both the hardware and software. When they find a need to balance the power of the hardware with good software, they can go after it. They don't have to wait for Microsoft - or any other software vendor - to do it for them. They don't have to accept bloatware.

What they really want is a simple solution that is "idiot proof". When you control both sides of the solution, you can pick and choose where the action happens and cut away the useless features. This isn't mindless throwing out of features, but generally savvy choices to make what remains work slightly better.

Until next time, have fun formatting your hard drive. LEM

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