My Turn

The Next Step for Mac OS X, Part 2

- 2002.04.18

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Yesterday I wrote about replacing the graphical user interface with something more universally intuitive. Several ideas have since occurred to me about GUIs and their potential replacements.

For the record, I am not a Unix lover. I appreciate its power and speed, but I still get a headache thinking about how it actually works, and how its components (such as X-Windows) have superseded superior technologies such as NeWS.

I use Mac OS X as my everyday OS, alongside SGI IRIX and Yellow Dog Linux, so, love it or hate it, I've had to learn a lot about Unix. Mac OS X has addressed a lot of my grudges against Unix, especially by dispensing with the X-Window system, which is the computer equivalent of emptying a truck load of molasses into your car's engine. I still prefer SGI's hardware, but for everyday use, the interface is the computer, and though IRIX is clean and has good plug and play, it still requires knowledge of the command shell.

The big thing that Mac OS X gets right - that most other Unicies get wrong - is configurability. All computers should have three basic levels of configurability. Firstly, very little for the neophyte. This would be akin to the Classic Mac OS, which allows little more than minor cosmetic changes.

It occurs to me that if we are to see new interfaces developed for pervasive computing, that we'll see this sort of permanent, "nonuser serviceable" interface. However, many of us want to delve deeper, and this is where the other two levels come in. Mac OS X allows us to do so by the use of "Advanced" tabs.

Most of us are satisfied with this, but for real tinkering you can call up a console. Now, I'm not saying that the command line is the best way to do this, but at least you can really take control. Of course, there's no reason why this kind of configurability couldn't be offered in other forms.

Traditional Unix-based OSes and pervasive computing interfaces stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Unix offers ultimate configurability, new interfaces will offer ease of use. As a user, I don't want to be locked out from the system - that's why I don't own an information appliance. On the other hand, if I didn't have to learn how to use Unix, I wouldn't have. I shouldn't have to choose.

So Steve, if your listening, as far as the GUI goes, you got it right with Mac OS X. Make sure you get it right with the next big thing....

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