A touch of the bloat


— 7:00 AM on June 11, 2012

When I say "bloatware," which Microsoft Office program springs to mind? Are you even wondering why I narrowed your choices to Office modules? Of course not. Because, while there have probably been more slothful programs in the course of history, none possess the ubiquity of Redmond's juggernaut. Well, Office would be a juggernaut if it could get its larded binaries off the couch and do some P90X until 2028. (And I'd pay real money to see Ballmer do the Tonydactyl.) In the almost 23 years since it debuted, Office has spawned feature after feature. I'd name some as examples, but I don't use any. Okay, I use tables in Word for ad copy formatting. Beyond that, I have no idea what's causing programs that parse words and numbers to crawl along like they're running on a 68020 emulating a 286. It's feature-creep run amok. Which is the way of Microsoft (and too many others to count, unfortunately).

Is it becoming the way of Apple, as well?

I ask this mainly with regard to OS X, because it's the more mature operating system (compared to iOS) and is therefore subject to more incremental changes and the desire to add things just for the sake of having something new to talk about at WWDC. Features for the sake of features. Snow Leopard was a nice update with a lot of under-the-hood improvements. But Lion? It's fine and all, but I'm glad it didn't cost a hundred bucks like in the old days.

(Also, I realize the term "bloat" can often be applied to poorly coded programs that gobble up RAM like something something Refrigerator Perry something 1985. I'm limiting myself to feature creep. I just like the term "bloat" better. Use it in a conversation today. Example, "I can't go to your niece's recital tonight, dear. I've got a touch of the bloat.")

Here are just a few examples of what I'm talking about. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. As if you needed such permission. I'm sure some of you will find my choices odd, capricious, or simply wrong.

No resize handle – You might think that eliminating something would be anti-bloat. Kind of like how Sir Colin Chapman "added lightness" to his Lotus cars. No, before the Esprit. In theory, not having a resize handle is cool in that you can grab any edge of a window and resize it. Assuming you know to do this. Which, unless you have your mouse tracking set to sub-glacial, is not well-indicated in normal use. Sure, you know how it works. I know how it works. Your mom went to college, but does she know how it works? And the odd thing is, nixing that little resize handle gained us an economy-sized bucket of jack squat. Yay!

Hidden Library folder – Seriously? I have to run a Terminal command to get my Library folder back? Was the Genius Bar being overrun by neophytes who had either accidentally deleted said folder or wondered why their Kindles refused to download all those sweet plist files?

Launchpad – Launchpad is great if you never install any more applications than what shipped with your Mac. Otherwise, use the Dock. Or Spotlight. Or Quicksilver, if you're into that sort of thing. I get that it's supposed to be like the iOS Springboard. I can drop apps onto each other and group them. I can make them go all wiggly and delete the 5 out of 200 apps that I installed via the Mac App Store. I can, but I don't. Because my Mac isn't a giant iPhone or iPad, and Launchpad is infinitely slower than just about any other way I know how to launch an app.

Mission Control – A confusing amalgam of Exposé and Spaces whose chief benefits are having a cooler name and not needing to use Option-e to type said name. The spaces actually seem harder to configure than they were in Spaces. Not hard, mind you, just less convenient and, here it is again, less intuitive.

Full screen apps – I should love this feature. Back in ye olde Amiga days, all apps were full screen apps. Now it just feels like a quarter-baked way of avoiding the Hide Others command. Maybe, as the kitties on the Internet keep advising, I'm just doing it wrong. But if I am, don't clue me in. I like the angry kitties.

Random animations – I'm sure OpenGL, or Quartz, or whatever the fizrock Apple calls their core animation (Core Animation?) engine these days is flippin' sweet, but I really don't need to see my Mail folders opening up and scrolling down. It's like J. Ive is still miffed that I turned off the Genie Effect as quickly as humanly possible and is now shoving animations down my throat because he doesn't have time to use actual bangers and mash. He's a busy man.

Still no window shading
– Tangent alert. I've been beating this comatose pony for over a decade now, but if there's one thing I'd actually like to see added to OS X it's window shading. And if you're too young to know what it is, well, I'll tell you right after you get off my lawn. (Yes! Squeezed that joke in! Suck it, Trebek! (That one, too!))

Disappearing scroll bars – On the one hand, not having visible scroll bars on every single window does reduce visual clutter. Which is a good thing. However, a lack of visual scroll bars is not intuitive. At least not yet. Would it be too much to ask that what window is active has the scroll bars turned on? Is there a Terminal command for that? What? You say I can turn them on permanently in System Preferences? Shut up, hippie.

Does the above list feel a touch petty? Even more insignificant than Lori Petty's current slate of direct-to-region-free-DVD releases? I will not argue. Because that's kind of the point. It's hard to stay simple. What's one more little tweak going to hurt? After all, Tim, Phil and the gang need something to talk about in those smoove videos they like to roll out every year.

I cannot lie. Well, that's a lie. I can lie, but I won't. I love OS X. I just wish, at this point, there was a little less of it to love.

Later,

Fox

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