Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can the Mac survive success?

[Old entry that apparently never made it to the blog. Still relevant.]

This column, way more articulately (if somewhat obscurely), raises a point I have hoped to worry about for years.

From the beginning of the Macintosh, Apple promoted user interface guidelines to encourage developers to accept and adopt common look-and-feel for common operations. The premise was that users of applications should be presented with familiar interfaces for commonly performed operations, so that the learning curve for adopting a new application would be as shallow as possible.

A simple case in point is file-open and -save dialogs. Apple strongly promoted adopting a standard user interface to this common operation, so that users of new applications would not have to learn new ways to perform a common operation. This was drilled into early Mac developers, and accepted as common wisdom.

By contrast, when MS-DOS developers became Windows developers, there was less of an ethic for consistent user interfaces. I distinctly remember Windows developers at Lotus seeking to implement "better" file-open and -save dialogs than those standard to Windows.

This sounds trivial, but it's fundamental: in those formative days, Mac developers defined themselves by how well (and, sometimes, creatively), they could adopt the platform standards, and Windows developers focused on how they could perform common operations "better" (i.e., differently).

As time went on, the Mac community, users and developers alike, embraced the guidelines and held developers accountable. I remember this as a developer of Lotus 1-2-3 for Macintosh, presenting the product to users at MacWorld Expo and listening to their critiques. I saw it again as the architect of Symantec C++ for Power Macintosh, representing the product to our customers (other developers), and being held to the same standard.

The Macintosh community, users and developers alike, mandated adherence to platform standards, and became informed judges of what was acceptable innovation. From my point of view, this worked to benefit of all Mac users.

Today, the Mac is being adopted by large numbers of former Windows users, and there is a lot of pressure to accommodate those users by addressing their sensitivities. In other words, there is a point of view that the Mac platform should adjust itself to the expectations of the legions of former Windows user who are now adopting the Mac.

I understand the logic, but I think it's a horrible idea.

People who have been attracted to the Mac have, by definitions, accepted a certain degree of change. I don't think we, as Mac developers, should give into the temptation to accommodate the expectations of neophytes.