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

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.

Leopard's Preview 4.0

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