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Inside OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion: a Preview of how Apple plans to revamp the toolbar

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Preview, Apple's simple, utilitarian image and PDF viewer, offers insight into how the company plans to change the standard toolbar in this summer's release of OS X Mountain Lion, organizing actions more efficiently and adding a context sensitive, iWork-style Format Bar.

Apple began experimenting with the appearance of the once standard Aqua OS X toolbar around 2003's release of OS X 10.3 Jaguar, which introduced the "Brushed Metal" look first pioneered by QuickTime and iTunes into bundled apps including iCal and iChat.

The then-new Safari subsequently introduced a new toolbar style featuring simple grey square icons, a look that began finding its way into the Finder and a variety of other bundled apps.

In 2005's OS 10.4 Tiger, Mail introduced its own, distinctive style of rounded, glossy buttons which were later, in 2007's OS X 10.5 Leopard, also adopted by several other bundled apps, including Preview (as shown below). However, both have since adopted the same toolbar appearance as Safari.

Tiger's Preview on the left compares to Leopard's revised toolbar layouts on the right, for graphics (above) and PDFs (below).

Preview follows printing user interface

In Mountain Lion, Apple is making two big changes to Preview's toolbar: first, its buttons are no longer customizable, as they are in today's Preview, and in Safari, Mail and most other apps that use the "Safari-style" toolbar.

Preview isn't alone in dropping its toolbar customizability; the new Print and Scan user interface of Mountain Lion (shown below), which has just shifted to a Safari-style toolbar, is also given a fixed icon arrangement. It's not only fixed as in 'non-customizable,' but also in utility, with a more logically organized set of simple controls that doesn't need customization.

Preview's other toolbar change parallels that revamped icon layout of the new print and scan user interface. Rather than presenting a variety of buttons that aren't usually even relevant, and forcing the user to pick items from button drop down menus (obscuring common actions), the new Preview 6.0 reorganizes its toolbar to simplify and highlight the functionality users are most likely to want to access depending on the type of file they are working with.

The image above contrasts the new Preview 6.0 tool bar with the customizable toolbar mess of today's Preview, pictured within the window. Today's default Preview toolbar has ten icons and a search field (which is useless when viewing graphics).

On page 2 of 2: Preview's new document relevant toolbar

Preview's new document relevant toolbar

Rather than presenting a single, configurable toolbar for all documents, the new Preview uses one icon layout for graphics files (with a View pulldown, Zoom, Share Sheets, Crop, Rotate and Edit buttons, as show above) and one for PDF documents (which replaces Crop and Rotate buttons with a Markup tool for underlining, highlighting or striking through text and a search field, shown below).

The new Edit button displays a Format Bar of editing tools (shown below), making it easy to access draw buttons (to add a rectangle, oval, line, arrow, text, thought or speech bubbles); style buttons (for a color picker, line weight, and font panel); selection buttons (for making rectangle, oval, lasso, Smart Lasso or Instant Alpha selections) and controls to display an iPhoto-like Adjust Color panel (second window below) and display the standard Adjust Size sheet (third window below).

The new design indicates a new direction in making the default toolbar relevant and functional so that users don't need to rearrange it just to make it sensible. The View menu, reminiscent of iWork apps, shifts the window appearance to show Content Only, optionally add Thumbnails in a gutter to the left (first window below), alternatively present a textual Table of Contents (for a PDF), list Highlights and Notes (also unique to PDF), or display a Contact Sheet (second image below). The View can also pick between Continuous Scroll, Single Page or facing Two Pages views, and a final option shows or hides the image's or document's background.

Preview's new toolbar is a reflection of Apple's increasing efforts to simplify the user interface without reducing its feature set. In fact, Preview 6.0 is now far more useful simply because it's easier to navigate the user interface. Features that are present but hidden behind clumsy pulldown menu buttons in today's Lion are now obvious and accessible because they're easy to find.

Office 2011 vs iWork 09

This iWork-style toolbar direction is a marked contrast from Microsoft's Ribbon user interface, which seeks to display all the buttons and control options a user may ever want to access into the document window.

However, the new Mountain Lion toolbar isn't the only thing that's changed in Preview 6.0. The next segment will highlight what other innovations Mountain Lion makes available to modern apps, using Preview to highlight examples of these changes.