A touch of the bloat

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.



Comments closed
    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    At least Apple’s not REMOVING essential features to FORCE you to use the clumsier new ways to do things in order to COMPEL you to like the clumsier way so much you want to do it everywhere. Imagine if Apple removed the Dock, Spotlight, or Quicksilver and left you with JUST the Launchpad. To encourage you to learn to love it and make you want to use iOS devices.

    That’s what the Start Screen/Metro is with the removal of the Start Menu.

    Now imagine paying full upgrade pricing for this. See? Things could be worse on the Apple Side. You could be on the verge of having Windows 8 crammed down your throat on every new PC sold. Things aren’t as bad as you think. Just take a stroll on the side where you think the grass is greener and you’ll realize it, too.

    • Saribro
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<][b<]No resize handle[/b<][/quote<] I don't mind it as such, at least not on W7. I does get downright f-ed up if the alternative is an Ubuntu-style (or Gnome 3, can't be bothered to find out) half-pixel border that is utterly impossible to grab hold of.

    • Welch
    • 7 years ago

    I recently had the displeasure of hooking up a mapped shared folder from a Win 7 to 2 Mac OSX machines, what a pain. To be honest I didn’t see anything I liked about OSX (One was the latest release, the other the release prior). Especially when adding two separate folders as mapped drives that reside on the same host computer with different passwords for those folders. You have to type extra crap that isn’t explained in the OS or setup “wizard”. The entire feel of the OS was just backwards from Windows, which I am admittedly accustom to. Its not any better, its just different for the sake of getting people to feel awkward when using the competitors stuff.

    As far as bloat, the Office products for 2010 did feel bloated at first, until you realize that most of us have experienced the products on older hardware than isn’t truly meant to run on. Most people think they can throw Office 2010 onto any old dual core and be good to go. Bring it up to Core i3 dual cores and its as smooth as glass. I had the same impression when I first had it on my old laptop with a TL-64 dual core AMD and 4gigs of DDR2 ram. Now that I’m running it on a Core i5, its flawless. I will say that some of the plugins that Microsoft has attempted to add to outlook and the likes I hate. Outlook for instance is (in my opinion) a business piece of software for the most part. I don’t want a freaking social networking plugin to get feeds about what friends are doing. I get enough of that crap thrown at me surfing around the web. I also HATE the Microsoft Live “essentials”, what a waste, and the Bing bar installer via Windows Updates… stop shoving your crappy branded junk down our throats. I love most Google stuff, but I don’t even want Google Desktop shoved down my throat either.

    Even though things are upside down in Ubuntu, things feel so much more intuitive on Ubuntu than on OSX in my opinion. Some of the functions on the OSX machine just plain out made no sense or were overly simplified to the point that doing more business like things resulted in more steps than should be necessary. Why hide so much information from your users? Just give them proper prompts that warning them not to change something if your afraid they are incapable of configuring things.

    I’m all down for the two going totally different directions as far as their interface IF there is a benefit one way or the other, but it just feels like Apple is trying to be different for the sake of being different.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      You should not need even a dual core CPU for basic Word, Excel or Powerpoint stuff (complex Excel can obviously eat up cycles, but we’re talking about consumers here).

      Office 95 running on a Pentium 1 could format documents just fine. What has MS added to Word that makes it so much better that it needs an i3?

    • glynor
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Hidden Library folder ... 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?[/quote<] Yes. Talk to any of them about it (not while they're at work), or talk to any corporate IT department that supports Macs. I hate it too, for my own use, but fixing it permanently is only a single chflags command away. And, yes, there is the handy Option-Go tip for when you need to get there on someone else's machine. But the real answer is: Yes. They were inundated.

    • indeego
    • 7 years ago

    My first experience with OSX was bouncing icons, and that was all the “bloat” I needed to see to know I didn’t want it.

    • willmore
    • 7 years ago

    I have family members who are or have been Mac people from time to time. As the computer guy, I get called upon to ‘take a look at’ various thing to see if I can fix them. So, this has given me a slideshow view of MacOS and OSX over a long period. (favorite version: 6.0.8, least favorite? Probably whatever they’re shipping now) Over that time, I’ve noticed that they’ve changed how uniform apps are. Back in the beginning (Mac 128K), everything was pretty uniform. Then things drifted–MacOS 7.x and 8.x were probably the peak of that–and many apps went their own ways. The split between PPC and 68K probably made that worse. From there, things seem to have been coming back together–which should be a good thing. Sadly, I’m not fond of the direction they’re going.

    Someone seems to be applying rules that make sense in one context to others where they don’t make sense. One example Jason touches on. Disappearing scroll bars. I sort of like this. Once you get used to the concept of scroll bars and needing to move the mouse pointer to the scroll bar area, having the bar itself appear and dissapear is no big problem. It might be nice to have ‘training wheels’ mode for people really just starting out. Having the scroll bars hide gives a little more horizontal (and maybe vertical) space which is a positive.

    But, someone took this idea and applied it to the ‘close/minimize/maximize’ buttons. Now, what’s the benefit of that? Do you gain more screen space? No. Does it simplify the screen a microscopic bit? Yes. But, since the buttons are low spatial resolution ‘jewels’, there’s not much to be gained by hiding them. But, the down side is the delay added by the insertion of several eye-brain-hand feedback loops added to the process of closing a window. Normally we have to look for the ‘x’ and go into closed loop control mode of the hand to move the pointer to it and click on it. Now, we have to stare at the upper corner of the window and guess where about the buttons might be. Then we need to go into closed loop hand control mode to move to the button area. Once near there, we have to watch for the buttons to appear. Once they do, we have to do another eye-brain-hand cycle to do terminal guidance to the right button. Until you can train your hand to have good enough muscle memory so that you can go to the exact spot the correct button will appear at, you’re stuck with a slower and more distracting process to do a simple task–for very little gain.

    My comments aren’t meant as a comparison between OSX and Windoes nor anything like that. I’m just saying “Things should get better and this isn’t better”.

      • End User
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Now, we have to stare at the upper corner of the window and guess where about the buttons might be.[/quote<] [quote<]Once near there, we have to watch for the buttons to appear.[/quote<] The buttons are always visible provided you are not in full screen mode.

    • End User
    • 7 years ago

    I find OS X to be very minimal. The stuff you don’t need is easy to push out of the way. Stuff like Launchpad has no impact on performance nor does it take up much storage space (301 KB). I’d hardly call it Bloat.

    [b<]No resize handle[/b<] – It is the default behaviour in every major desktop OS (well, that I am aware of). Thank goodness Apple finally implemented it. [b<]Hidden Library folder[/b<] – Hold down Option when viewing the Go menu [b<]Launchpad[/b<] – Never use it [b<]Mission Control[/b<] – Totally awesome on both an 11" MBA and a 27" iMac [b<]Full screen apps[/b<] – The only way to roll on a 11" MBA. I could not live without this feature. I even use it on my 27" iMac at work [b<]Random animations[/b<] – Barely notice them

 [b<]Still no window shading[/b<] – zzz [b<]Disappearing scroll bars[/b<] – Mega awesome. Visible scroll bars are but a setting away.

    • 7 years ago

    Launch Pad – Works great for seldom used apps – if it wasn’t there it wouldn’t bother me, but it is and it still doesn’t bother me.

    Mission Control – Couldn’t disagree more – It’s the very best high level, multi tasking, power user, desktop manager available anywhere in the known universe.

    Full Screen Apps – Again, no problems here – Hell in Windows 8 the Full screen Metro apps are completely different bits. Now that’s bloat.

      • peartart
      • 7 years ago

      What can you do in Mission Control that you couldn’t do in Spaces and Expose? I can think of a bunch of things you can’t do; not to mention that it simply looks less elegant now.

    • Chrispy_
    • 7 years ago

    Bloat is usually a reason for people to switch to another product.

    It’s a real shame that aren’t OSX-compatible OSX alternatives, or Windows-compatible Windows alternatives, since there’s no competition. We are tied to the platforms by our software choices/contracts and so we have to put up with all of the stupid changes for the worse whether we like it or not.

      • Shambles
      • 7 years ago

      Certainly you must not be talking about office productivity software since there most certainly is many alternatives on Windows. I can’t speak to OSX.

      Software contracts? What on earth are you installing on your machines?

        • Chrispy_
        • 7 years ago

        The article is about OSX (If you didn’t read it properly, the first paragraph is a red-herring).
        My comment is about OSes, using OSX and Windows as examples.

        So no, I am not talking about office productivity software 😉

    • Norphy
    • 7 years ago

    While all of the points above are valid, I’m not sure that any of them count as bloat.

    Protip, you don’t need the terminal to access your Library folder, if you go to the Go menu on finder and hold down option, it magically appears in there.

      • willmore
      • 7 years ago

      Just a comment, don’t use the term ‘protip’ unless you want to sound like a steaming pile of noob.

        • eitje
        • 7 years ago

        protip: “just a comment” means “protip”.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 7 years ago

        Protip: Most people who write protip are doing so facetiously

    • yogibbear
    • 7 years ago

    Got halfway through the article till I realized you were discussing OSX…. OK I’m out. Thought the no resize thing was funny and just stupid to not have that functionality and thought someone had released a mock-up of Office 2015 or something that removed this feature… till I read the titleblock. :/

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      Have you read Fox’s blog before? It’s all Apple-related. OF COURSE he’s talking about OS X. Seriously.

        • superjawes
        • 7 years ago

        I suppose he could have been talking about Windows v Mac…the picture is a little misleading since PC is bloated while Mac is fine. Guess no one’s done that photoshop on Justin Long.

          • BIF
          • 7 years ago

          I agree! The pic was misleading to this reader, and neither the pic, nor the title, nor the first sentence of the article were quite parallel with the subject.

          I got there eventually, but this article did require some mental gymnastics.

      • Game_boy
      • 7 years ago

      It’s a long road to -34 my friend.

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