Geeks & Designers, Getting What They Want

In the list of things that are important by generalists, this is a thing that doesn’t even come close to appearing. A shampoo discussion among bald men is more important.

But, Apple released Leopard 10.5.2 today, and addressed something that many people bitched about when Leopard came out: the alpha (transparency) component in the Mac OS X menu bar (remember, Winders folks, the Mac menu bar is at the top of the screen, and is, I believe, the single biggest contributor to users’ increase in productivity vs. Windows).

And you know, I was one of the bitchers, too. It just flew in the face of that notion of productivity item, making it less prominent by blending it with the Desktop Picture (that’d be Wallpaper to you Windows folks). I didn’t like that the Desktop Picture created visual noise. Gruber didn’t like that it bollocksed up the idea of properly anti-aliasing the text of each menu title. Many others just didn’t like the change because it was, well, change. You know, the ironic ones.

Before 10.5.2, which arrived yesterday, and in the absence of third-party hacks to return the menu bar to its “beloved” 100% opacity, the menu bar looked like this:

<br/> AlphaMenuBar.png
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And now that you have the option to turn translucency on or off, setting it back to pre-Leopard looks like this:

<br/> OpaqueMenuBar.png
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Now, I never went looking for hacks, nor did I modify my Desktop Picture to have a 20px white band across the top of it: see, when you use white as the background in the area under the menu bar, it “reverts” to appearing solid white, but still doesn’t address Gruber’s issue. Apple restoring proper opacity does result in proper anti-aliasing.

So one of the first things I did was go to that System Preference Pane and turn off translucency:

<br/> SysPrefMenuBar.png
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I thought I’d feel that little rush of proper design mixed with bittersweet nostalgia. But I didn’t. I went back and thought about it, and the reason that I think—despite the apparent graphical insult and apparent UE injury—the menu bar has been diminishing its importance, instead moving slowly towards a region-of-interest-type user interface. Palettes nearby, contextual menus (which I hate, but they are there), larger displays, etc. This is completely a personal choice, and it seems like everyone would disagree with me, but I went ahead and set the menu bar back to translucent.

If all this sounds anal-retentive, well, it’s this kind of attention to detail that helps make a Mac a Mac: sustain the illusion of context and activity and try your best to get the UI out of the way of a user’s goal: the best UI is the one that never enters the user’s conscious thought, shattering the illusion.

So after wondering what the hell they were thinking, I find myself wondering why I hadn’t thought of that.