OS X tools for that OS 9 feel
September 23, 2002
The Refugee Utilities for the MacOSX Interface
by Loren S. Miller
restore virtually your entire OS9 look-and-feel user experience
to your OSX environment.
You do not have to live like a refugee in the new world. You can take back your Mac.
2002 is an important transitional year for Mac designers, veterans and newbies alike, because after this year "Classic" Mac applications will no longer be offered by developers. By 2003 all new releases of major Macintosh software will be offered for OSX. Although some vendors will likely include bundled OS9 versions, don't rely on them. And don't rely on the "Classic" environment of OSX either; it's a kluge, a stopgap, something like a flatlander trying to exist in 3D space.
I'm recalling one of my younger brothers, who, at age three was placed for the first time in a brand new filled sandbox. He went into a conniption; he couldn't handle it; there was nowhere solid to stand. Then I watched Dad simply brush away sand to reveal the wooden floor just a patch and suddenly all was well; the tyke sat and started playing, and soon sand covered the floor again. Today, that younger brother is my lawyer. The other brother didn't play in sandboxes, he got an engineering degree. He can build them. There's an older brother too, but he was working with computers in the early 70's and can handle anything.
But the first time I played with it, I felt like an utter refugee in the very full sandbox of MacOSX, and I needed a familiar base. You can look elsewhere for a comprehensive list of interface complaints, they are well covered and Apple is addressing some of them. Suffice it to say, although it's a strange and wonderful new workspace, unfortunately, it's a strange and wonderful new workspace. Very little on my screen was where I needed it to be or behaved the way I expected, or looked the same. Muscle memory, motor memory, body mapping, imprinting, kinesthetics-- call it anything you like: these terms define skill and routine acquired through years of experience using one system and programs within it in certain personal and productive ways.
The Macintosh more than any other system has over the years powerfully leveraged the user's need to find consistency and predictability while allowing a lot of customization. This was codified in the early 80's though an amazing, farsighted published set of design and interface canons for software engineers called the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. Most of the AHIG's have not gone out of date. But many of them have been swept away in MacOSX and I was experiencing P.I.S.D. Phantom Interface Syndrome. Well, I have always felt that, to cope with change, help create it. And, as it turns out, a lot of third party developers feel our pain.
Pain expressed in epithets such as, "Where's my ?¿$#@! Trash Can?"
Restart, Sleep and Shutdown from the
First let me allay one Refugee-like annoyance in new Mac hardware designs: the missing Power Off keyboard button. Most of you know the Restart/Sleep/Shutdown in classic ADB keyboard designs meant simply tapping your Power key, followed by the letter of the desired function listed in the onscreen dialog. Well, Steve and his designer Jonathan Ive decided the keyboard Power button should instead poke the Power button on their shiny new flatpanel screens to light up their Macs, so to shut down, on new USB Apple keyboards under OS9 and OSX, you hold CONTROL and tap the Media Eject key to bring these features back. They never really left. And for everything else which might annoy you in OSX, we have solutions from around the globe and many of them are already updated for OSX 10.2.
To cope with P.I.S.D. I started looking for third party utilities. As part of that search, I started a MacFixit forum discussion/news thread, now at www.macfixit.com >Forums> MacOSX Troubleshooting > MacOSX Utilities, entitled "Collected Refugee Utilities Here!" which continues growing to this day. This article distills much from that source, and I am grateful to MacFixit founder Ted Landau and forum moderators Ilene Hoffman and P.A.M. Borys, for providing the venue, and to all the thread participants who have participated and contributed recommendations for their favorite re-enhancements. In the process of collecting the Refugee Uitlities for MacOSX Interface (RUMI) we are also supporting and revitalizing a small and talented Mac shareware development community who are also identified and celebrated both in the thread and here.
I proposed a rating system based upon "Tog" points, from 1 to 5 (5 representing excellence in a) Classic feature recapture, b) product design and OSX enhancement, c) price and d) overall behavior). The Tog is named after legendary former AHIG guru Bruce Tognazzini, who still rails against unfriendly interface design at www.asktog.com, a wonderful resource for all kinds of information designers. Check out his scathing critique of the Dock. It's my RUMI mission statement. The Tog points here are averaged from ratings votes on the thread plus reviews of latest available versions.
I have installed and test-driven all of the utilities recommended here. Each one recaptures some important element of the Classic Mac interface you might be missing in OSX and which Apple should have included in the first place. Some are still "beta-test" quality" but show promise, some are finished and trouble free. Some are free, some cost a pittance in one-time shareware fees. One or two have been quickly un-installed, and in fact, booting back into OS9 has proven the easiest way to dump one or two of those stubborn apps which misbehave! I call them as I experienced them at the time, fully aware that evaluation is a moving target.
This is also a quick way to give yourself insight to what's missing in OSX and if you sense a body memory issue, how to make it a nearly seamless transition for you.
Let the worldwide RUMI list begin!
Spring Loaded Folders
First, Apple itself deserves high credit for recapturing one OS behavior many users really love: the intuitive spring-loaded folders have been restored in the 10.2 "Jaguar" release of OSX. In case you've never used it, just drag a file over a disk icon within any MacOS desktop from 7.x up through 9.x. Poof! The disk window opens and allows further "drilling down" to the folder you want. Simple, elegant, predictable. No dialog boxes or copy commands. You do three things at once-- select the file, navigate to where you want it copied, and when you release the mouse everything snaps closed again (spring-loaded, get it?) without littering the desktop with opened windows. A major savings in aggravation cleaning up your desktop afterward. Since one of OSX's newest innovations is an awkward Windows-File-Manager-like Columns view contrivance which doesn't behave as expected, SLF's are a welcome "re-enhancement."
What's on the Menu?
The foremost third-party Refugee Utilities are menu restorations. From this you can discern that (in case you didn't know by now) the Apple menu as you knew it has gone away.
layers a Classic multicolored Apple icon over your pale blue Apple menu icon. It floats over it-- and you can still access the real one with a second click (should you wish to tailor your Dock) but it also allows you to stuff the menu with all the goodies you can find, even disks and volumes and servers, by filling your "Classic menu items" folder, stored within UserName>Library>Preferences folder. It was the first such shareware utility released for OSX and remains in play. 4.0 Togs.
which really does replace the system Apple icon although not fruit-striped is a handsome shareware utility packed with extras. You can integrate all the existing options (such as tailoring your Dock) and preferences but as you can see in the figure I've managed to restore most of the other things I need here from OS9. Does it look much different than your ordinary classic Apple menu list? That's the idea, except all these items go into FruitMenu's handy "FruitMenu Items" folder, which is installed in your UserName>Library folder. FruitMenu gets 4.7 Togs.
FruitMenu returns your comfortable Classic Apple menu in OSX.
Application Switcher Menu <http://asm.vercruesse.de/>
Remember the handy drop-down menu which listed your loaded applications on the upper right? It's baaack! ASM is absolutely free from Frank Vercreusse, a young programmer living in Leipzig, Germany. Although it is an add-on "menu extra" in OSX terminology, it's also absolutely trouble-free to install and use. ASM does just what you'd expect in OS9: run your mouse to the upper right screen and down drops a list of all your open applications. Select from any in the list to switch from one to another just like in the old days. You'll feel P.I.S.D. subsiding quickly. (You'll also feel like donating a little something to keep this talented developer working. He says a more wide-ranging menu utility is forthcoming. Here's hoping it removes the new "Application menu" from its annoying Bold-faced location in the menubar, which interrupts the classic Apple-File-Edit pattern which has been consistent for over a decade and assists in easy learning of new Mac application. Because of this added menu, you won't find "Quit" under the File menu anymore. Go for it, Frank!) ASM has some wonderful and very thoughtful custom options worthy of OSX. 4.8 Togs.
Application Switcher should never have left the party. It's back, with extras.
Australian Peter Li's competing application switcher menu, also freeware, is X-Assist. It's a bit richer in features, with support for unlimited levels of submenus (the usual is five), part of this utility's ability to emulate the old Apple menu. Some users may find X-assist a really good solution if they desire to leave the OSX Apple menu as they find it. I have not heard from many refugees who are willing to do so, but like ASM this utility seems very polite in mixed company. 4.6 Togs
Classic Finder Enhancements
That's right! This restores the delightful ability to zip a work window not into the Dock, but into itself right up into its title bar to clear screen space, to see anything behind it. Were you missing this? Relax, it's back. Here you can also set a double-click to make the window transparent. PhotoShop users live by it. There's also an option to remove the drop shadows on windows cast by OSX. Some users report a slowdown after this shareware utility is installed, but mine on a G4 Dual-800 tower is very well-behaved. 4.5 Togs.
This is a handsome Control Strip replacement from a British company, and, as with many re-enhanced utilities here, adds new features, but the company currently has no plans to foment outside Workstrip modules which third party developers might add through a simple software development kit, so I worry about its future. Adds useful file preview capabilities and easy-to-find system control over monitor resolution, sound, etc. Mouse responsiveness semed a little clunky. 3.6 Togs.
If you've noodled about in OSX's Columns view window you know it can behave unexpectedly. As you scroll to the right from the desktop view of available disks, revealing contents as you "drill down," you can easily lose your place. In addition there's no way to color-label files and sort disk or folder contents. Enter Coela, which adds spring-loaded file finding features and customizes view windows. It adds back file color labeling, to assist in finding stuff.. If you like Windows File Manager-like columns surfing, Coela makes it fun. Its programmer is Japanese but the application is totally English and has many fans here. It's also well-behaved. 4.4 Togs.
As mentioned earlier, Apple still supplies many applications once thought of as Desk Accessories: Calculator, CD/DVD Player, Key Caps, Stickies, etc. But somehow the lowly, ever present NotePad got away. It's baaaaack!
I lived by the simple Notepad desk accessory in classic Mac. There are several OSX Notepad replacements available, some of the best are free. I've fallen in love with the freeware Notes by Richard Scheyer. It's what Apple would have done if all those former NEXT engineers were fed enough fruit to prioritize things like this. It uses a new OSX "drawer" action (actually a NEXT-style widget in Mac clothing) to access a list of notepad pages, which can be named. Most important, talk about seamless transition! you can import your OS9 Notepad file pages! You can drag-drop or drag-switch text entries in the list, rather like managing browser bookmarks. You can import RTF text and pictures such as Tiff's, which makes this almost a missing Scrapbook replacement. I put it right into my Apple/FruitMenu where I've always put it. 4.8 Togs.
Notes from Richard Scheyer. Ah, the simple Mac conveniences are back-- on steroids!
You like sliding drawers? How about two? Dan Schimpf, a University of Michigan computer engineering student, won the first student competition of the 2002 Apple Design Awards with MacJournal, his spectacular double-winged Mac OSX freeware diary. Developed by Schimpf as a calling card, it's a full-featured little item with two slide-out drawers, one for Journal chapters and the other for Topic lists which are automatically time and date stamped. This is an amazingly rich product. This too looks good in your ClassicMenu. 4.7 Togs.
QuicKeys is back! One of the most venerable Mac products (since 1987 and now available for Windows) this macro/shortcut utility saves the day when you're faced with boring, repetitive computer tasks or badly mapped key commands. Place QuicKeys in your "LogIn Items folder" to start it automatically when you boot. Assign hotkeys for file launches. Record key sequences to automate boring batch processing routines-- it is also AppleScript-aware. Auto-type text boilerplate and email signoffs this utility is so central to "viral" marketing it ought to be included in website business plans. With updates emerging frequently, most of the classic QuicKeys is being restored in its X implementation while utilizing all the new X-like features and Aqua look. Rating withheld until more is restored but it will be high.
Arizonian Jim McKay's piPop (formerly piDock) is a freeware floating hierarchal menu utility, a favorite among many refugees because of its elegant instant "drill-down/list contents/navigate" action, akin to springloaded folders in contextual menu form. Those pop-out menus are wild. It can be a real time saver. Try it! 4.2 Togs.
Where's my ?¿$#@! Trash Can?
Yes, there's a moveable Trash Can for your desktop. This shareware installs easily and looks good when you start using it. After installing an early version, OSX wouldn't boot. I had to boot into OS9 to remove the utility because OSX has no "hold down Shift to disasble startup programs" routine and why is that missing? Version 1.4 seems functional, but offers no visual feedback when you've trashed something-- you don't see "stuff" in the trash as a reminder. TrashX can only get better as the author gets more feedback, so we don't wish to trash him. Rating withheld.
Some folks rave over this handsome-looking system-tweaking freeware product, and it seems to offer a nice friendly interface to poke at invisible files, system Font settings and colors, but 1) when I tried manipulating my system font with it, it crashed, 2) although it used to offer a moveable desktop Trash can, in the most recent version I reviewed it no longer does, because, according to its developer Apple has made it impossible to do so. That's curious! See below. 2.5 Togs.
Dragthing is the original shareware add-on Dock system for OS9 and now for OSX. If you do happen to like the idea of docking your applications, files, website URL's, whole folders and the like, with much greater customization and less rudeness than you get with the Apple Dock, here's your baby. And not just one, but as many different Docks as you like, to organize your stuff as you like. And when you hide a DragThing dock, it's not going to pop up rudely in your application- a cardinal AHIG faux paux!. But for OS9 Refugees, the compelling attraction is the bonus provided by Scottish developer James Thomson: a real live moveable Trash can you can move around your desktop, and it's done correctly so you can see if there's trash in it! Now I can rest. 4.8 Togs.
DragThing lets you custom design your own docks, and comes with a bonus:
your comfy moveable Trash Can is back.
Not everything is yet "re-available," but the gap is closing. We await a useful Scrapbook application for the Apple menu. Some folks still miss the ability to grab a window by its edges as well as its title bar. Most of us want color labelling back for list and icon views, and the ability to sort on label colors. I happen to think the Dock itself should be optional. Look for the latest of these add-ons and more on our RUMI thread, and at website collection points like www.versiontracker.com and even from Apple itself. They do listen to user needs, so make yourself heard in their website discussion forums.
With the RUMI collection your sandbox sports a solid platform from which you can survey the strange new world of OSX and acclimatize to it to whatever degree you like, while staying productive. Meanwhile OSX gets faster, more bulletproof and addresses ever more loudly the new dual-processor towers. You have little excuse to remain in the past except to save for your investment in major OSX software upgrades. And just remember, refugees from everywhere made the new world great.
copyright © Loren S Miller 2002