2335 words on X.4 Overview
A few more notes on little things from all over X.4, in no particular order.
The new iChat version doesn’t impress.
Since X.3 OS X has contained the Image Picker that lets you set an icon for yourself in iChat, an image for the people in your address book or for new users (Although I’m not 100% sure that all of these applications actually use the same service. It looks like iChat contains a separate copy of it which gives slightly different results.) It’s quite a nice tool that lets you do basic image manipulation and scaling as well as accepting video input.
But it had and still has major problems with doing good scaling and with preserving transparency. My favourite iChat icon is one of the grand Dr. Zoidberg which I also use as an icon for a hard drive partition. It works perfectly there. But when dragging it to the Image Picker, it’ll end up at a by far too small size for reasons beyond my comprehension. That’s not a big deal as I can easily rescale the image with the tool. Unfortunately, rescaling will destroy the transparency information and thus Dr. Zoidberg starts living in a white box rather than hovering over whatever background there is. The scaling done with the images is also quite bad for icon style graphics. All the edges start looking jerky after having been scaled.
I really hope, Apple fix this one. It’s a nice tool and a good idea. But technically it still needs some work.
The jerkily scaled icons with lack of transparency can be seen in the Fast User Switching menu. It’s original incarnation had the obvious design flaw that it always filled half the menu bar with the user’s full name. Not particularly useful but nothing that changed in any of the X.3 updates where it should’ve been fixed. In X.4 this problem has been solved and you have a selection of seeing a user’s full name, short name or just an icon for the Fast User Switching menu. That’s acceptable, I suppose. I might be able to abandon the shell script I kept handy to Fast User Switch.
I’m not using Fast User Switching a lot. Mostly when wanting to test something on a ‘clean’ account or when wanting to make clean screenshots without having to rearrange my normal work environment. But I seem to remember that with some revision, Fast User Switching and iTunes would let you continue listening to the music of the account in the background. Somehow things are a bit strange in that area now. When switching to a second account the music running on the first account will stop being played. Indeed, my first account will not emit any sound as long as the second account remains logged on. That sounds like a bug.
Furthermore, the whole process of Fast User Switching sounds like it may not be perfectly engineered. While doing the Fast User Switch, shortly before the login panel appears I can hear the music from the background accont which will then be abruptly stopped. If all this were about a user’s permissions, this shouldn’t happen for sure.
Finally, I note that the German localisation of the login window is buggy in that it has about double the width it should have and thus looks out of proportion and rather ugly.
While Apple’s Help application is starting to be reasonably speedy, it still carries some old bugs in it. In just over a week of using X.4 I already needed to trash its Caches, so it would start up properly and not eat all of my CPU time while displaying nothing.
I don’t like that the drawer with all the available help books is gone. Particularly with a large number of help books on the system it was a much more convenient way to browse through them than using a menu.
Looking at Mail suggests that drawers are going out of fashion. I’m not writing an extensive report on Mail as that would just be upsetting. My bottom line is that a formerly lean and elegant application has become more bloated and much more ugly.The only thing I really wanted from Mail X.4 (actually from any E-Mail application for years) is the following simple thing: Mailboxes that are associated to a person. While Mail does offer Spotlight based ‘smart’ mailboxes now (and ignoring that these are much slower than proper mailboxes) these would be a pain to set up as you’d have to add every single e-mail address belonging to each person rather than just being able to drag a person from the address book to Mail’s mailbox column and have everything kept in sync afterwards. To me this looks like a very obvious and natural feature – but nobody implements it. I find this particularly disappointing as I’d consider this ‘low hanging fruit’ with Spotlight being available.
In fact these fruit are so low-hanging that I made the tool to just insert these smart mailboxes into Mail: Mailboxer. Not quite as convenient as having the feature built-in, but a step in that direction anyway.
The bottom line is that I would have happily kept the old Mail application.
There’s this new window type in X.4 which can be used like metal windows but doesn’t look as crappy. If only they had replaced all metal windows with the new type!
Apple’s Bug Reporter has become more powerful. The developer tools now contain CrashReporterPrefs which let you set up how you’d like the Bug Reporter to work. Only in developer mode you’ll get to see crash reports. Depending on what crashes the Bug Reporter also offers to open a Terminal window and collect even more information about the hanging application. And finally you get to see a progress bar when sending them to Apple. There’s even a thank you note when you’re keeping an eye on it. Sending a bug report while being off-line might also crash the Bug Reporter which I considered ironic.
If you want to be freaked out, try playing with VoiceOver. It can do lots of funky stuff like read things off the screen and enlarge whatever you’re selecting. It looks like good technology but really gives me a headache.
Basically the Finder remains the mess we’ve gotten used to in OS X. It just feels a bit smoother and faster in some places and lost its habit to not display localised names when you want to see all file name extensions (which I’m not quite happy with as I don’t know the German names of many applications from the years of other behaviour that we’ve seen so far). We’ve also got new copy dialogs which I like much better than the old ones. It would have been nice for all the copy, uncompressing, disk image mounting and trash emptying progresses to finally live in the same window, though.
What annoys me the most at this very moment is that mounting and unmounting volumes will change the width of the sidebar in the Finder’s metal windows. I’ve got this set up so it only displays the icons and doesn’t show any text and want it to stay that way.
And the networking capabilities seem to be worse once more. Since installing X.4 I haven’t managed to see any Windows computer on our home or the university network. I do see a lot of empty ‘WORKGROUP’ folders though.
The improved CD burning from ‘folders’ introduces yet another concept and I find it both confusing and terribly slow with large amounts of files dropped on those windows. Why can’t I simply click burn on any folder and have the Finder handle the rest properly.
X.4 seems to bring a real worsening of the sleep mode. Going to sleep is a bit odd. I usually hit the power button and then use the upcoming dialogue to send the computer to sleep – usually pressing ‘S’ on the keyboard. This has worked perfectly since System 7.5. But in X.4 the dialog sometimes takes a few seconds to appear on screen which really irritates me. Perhaps it can get swapped out now and couldn’t before?
When waking up from sleep, it seems like the computer needs longer time to come back to life. While the screen’s contents will be back immediately, it often takes quite a few seconds before I can use the trackpad again.
Performance is difficult to judge and document. Particularly when concerned with the ‘perceived’ performance which is about whether using whether running feels smooth. In total X.4 seems smoother to me than X.3. Particularly things like scrolling work more smoothly and quickly. On the other hand there seem to be more glitches now where the mouse cursor just hangs, the Dock moves jerkily or iTunes pauses. Very strange.
The removal of the AIM man does leave the iChat icon as Just Another Blue Blob, of course.
Hehe, I thought about mentioning that and taking up my old course of bitching about the blue icons world again.
But somehow my Dock looks more colour balanced these days than it did back then.
Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.