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Mac OS X DP3 Dock Feature and Aqua Report

THE DOCK

Using the dock is an experience all to itself, and can't really be explained in terms of Mac OS features. The dock is a graphical representation of the desktop, the Apple Menu, and the process menu all in one, with a number of other enhancements.

The dock works like a lot of different Mac OS technologies put together. While it takes much away from what this piece of technology does, you can think of the application launching aspect of the Dock to be quite similar to the Mac OS Launcher. Users only have to click on an application once, and it launches with that familiar growing rectangle animation.

Anytime an application is launched from either the Dock or the Finder, a white line shows up underneath the application icon. A yellow/gold line under an app's icon denotes the active application. Most interesting is if a user launches an application that does not have an icon in the dock already, an icon is added to the Dock for them. When a user quits that application, the icon is dismissed from the Dock, and it readjusts it's size and location.

There has been much made of the required ability to know which elements are actually in the dock. Apple has implemented pop-up labels. Whenever a user's mouse cursor is over any of the dock elements a text description (either the application's name, or the window's title) pops up above the item. When a user moves their mouse away, the text label dissolves into the background.

The "genie effect," also displayed at Macworld SF '00, is just as impressive as it was on the screen, and has proven to require a small amount of processor time. While the computer seems to slow when the minimized window slides down into the dock, or vice versa, background (not current) apps experience only a trifle slowdown.

Adding, removing, or repositioning icons in the Dock also features a very neat animation. With adding tiles, the tiles closest to where the user's icon is being added automatically slide in either direction to allow the user's new addition to enter. Removing resizes the overall size of the Dock, if need be. And repositioning moves the tiles to either side of a user's intended destination for them to drop in the document. In fact, if a user drags the icon along the width of the Dock, this animation will occur between every two icons along way.

The Dock looks as fashionable as it appeared in Steve Jobs' MWSF 2000 demonstration. What's most impressive of all is that users can alter veritably any element of the Dock.

There exists a customizable option for the magnification of the tiles in the dock when a user's mouse pointer is placed over them. This is most useful when users are using a Dock filled with a number of items. Users can control the magnification of the tiles with the Finder preferences, from around 64 by 64 pixels up to around 128x128, and down to 2x2.

Mac OS X users also have the ability to hide the dock except for when they truly need to access it. When a user slides their mouse over the area of the screen where the Dock should be, the dock will slowly rise up from beneath the screen to present itself. If you're familiar with Windows 95 and up, this is the same idea as the auto-hide of the Start bar, but much nicer.

AQUA

Apple's brand spanking new interface is truly an amazing bit of engineering. And no matter what you may have been led to believe by other people who haven't used this new interface, Aqua is as amazing as the hype would lead you to believe.

The stoplight is an incredibly effective mechanism for closing, minimizing, and maximizing windows, even though we have found that the buttons are a little too small at higher resolutions. When users minimize windows into the dock, the icons themselves show a smallish picture of the contents of that window.

In addition, single-window mode works very well, but only with true Mac OS X applications. We tried to use OmniWeb 3 (before 4.0b1 for DP3 was released), and single-window mode had absolutely no effect on it. Otherwise, when users click on the right-hand side (which turns it a very lush purple), all other windows are minimized into the dock. However, annoyingly, after a user has finished working with single-window mode and clicks the button again, all of the windows that were originally on the screen STAY minimized.

However, some of the more criticized Aqua elements are truly annoying in real life. The Apple logo in the center of the menu bar does not do anything…it doesn't move when an application with a large number of menus fill across the menu bar to approach or move past the Apple logo. In fact, the menus just wrap around the logo, which looks VERY strange.

However, the positives are many. The system font has been changed to a much more pleasing font, and it is displayed at 14 point, not 12 point. (Hint, hint — Apple's still using 72 dpi for display). Any element which either displays a popup menu or a pull down menu dissolves whenever the user makes a selection, or whenever the menu is no longer needed, it slowly dissolves into the background — a very impressive display indeed.

The menu structure of "true" Mac OS X applications is as different as has been covered in the Aqua Layout Guidelines. Application-specific options are held in the new Application Menu, which has replaced the Apple Menu. This takes a LOT of getting used to, and even after you do, you are left wondering whether this is truly the best way to go about laying out a menu structure. But it is handy when users are only looking for something that is application-specific. However, it is likely that Apple may offer a backwards compatibility option in personal settings.

Menus (either System or pull-down) also retain the "sticky" sticky properties added in Mac OS 8, which keeps them selected after a single click for 15 seconds after a user selects a menu and doesn't move the mouse cursor.

The new graphical elements in Mac OS X are appealing, and they are definitely a step up from the current black, white, and gray elements in Mac OS 8/9. All disabled elements are grey, while all active elements are a very lush blue. All buttons feature that "gel" look you have seen from pictures of Aqua.

One of the drawbacks to Aqua is that the buttons are much larger than their Platinum counterparts, so any applications that hasn't been Aquafied will need some work. Otherwise, buttons that look just fine in Platinum look will overlap very unattractively in Aqua.

There are some other problems which show the relative immaturity of the new Windowing system in Mac OS X. Windows, which now resize and update their window content on the fly, resize very unresponsively and slow the system considerably. And Windows that go from being the active window to a background window and then back to an active window can end up retaining the transparent window of a background window. Pull-down menus with many elements end up displaying invisibly, until a user runs their mouse over where the menu elements should be. These "bugs" are solely maturity steps, and do not seem to be intentional elements.

The two largest complaints thus far about Aqua are two things unexpected to change anytime soon:

One is that Aqua has a very bright-white appearance to it, which can be very annoying when you are working with it for a couple of hours in a row. Trust us on this one — using Aqua with a headache is a horrible experience. When you're using Aqua, and you get tired of its bright display, you actually start to long for Platinum…

The second major complaint is that Aqua, even at higher resolutions, sucks screen real-estate left and right. And up and down, and everywhere that it can. It was very difficult to function easily with multiple windows open at the same time, unlike Mac OS 8/9 where having four or five significant windows open at any one time is easy. For professionals, this will be a very demoralizing note since many Mac users need multiple of windows open at one time.