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Re: Look and Feel

From: Jesse Ross
Subject: Re: Look and Feel
Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2005 08:48:24 -0600

It will be easier to sell (GNUSTEP/Objective-C) to developers if some of apple's well thought out interface ideas are adopted.

NeXTstep introduced a lot of gui improvements (they were able to learn from the design errors of MacOS/MS-Windows). Some of these got into MacOS-X, but others were left out because of the difficulty of changing the habits of the existing userbase when Apple tried to move people to MacOSX. Basically Apple tried to make NeXTstep look as much like MacOS as they could, in order to minimise disruption, but that meant throwing out some improvements.

So at present in MacOS-X we have a user interface consisting of -
Many features inherited from the early MacOS, some bad, some good.
Some features introduced by NeXTstep to fix early MacOS errors.
A few features introduced recently which are genuinely new.

Exactly. I've been a Mac user exclusively for about 8 years, and when I first touched GNUstep, the left scroll bars seemed awfully awkward to me. Are the NeXTSTEP-style scrollbars a user-design error, or am I just so accustomed to the left right scroll bar that it's habit?

The Mac interface was designed first. A lot of it was ripped off by MANY other OSs (see http://www.aci.com.pl/mwichary/guidebook/interfaces/featured for a historical collection of OS interfaces). What was established was a standard, and people got used to it. Therefore, it's familiar, but is it best?

NeXTSTEP was designed next, so they could correct any problems with the Mac interface. But they also had to be distinctive. Were the UI decisions they made based on usability or on defining a "look" for themselves to stand apart? So now whether the interface is better or not is somewhat nebulous.

When Mac OS X inherited both the NeXT environment and the Mac environment, it had certain design decisions to make. It's debt was mostly to it's current Mac user base, so naturally it had to keep a lot of Mac-isms. Some were good, some not so good. But that's the problem with interface design: there is no perfect interface, and you can't base your own design exclusively on anyone else's.

With any interface, there are three factors:

 1, Usability
 2. User's expectations
 3. Marketing (Standing apart from the competition)

We want GNUstep to be usable. We want to make user's feel comfortable. We want to stand out. Sometimes we have to make decisions that favor one over the other.

A prime example is the top menu bar. Research has proven that it's a much more usable interface than a window-attached menu or a palette menu. However, if GNUstep were to provide a top menu bar as the _default_ (it can be an option all we want), it may get into the habit of copying a lot of other Mac-isms and then become little more than a Mac clone. The palette menu is one of GNUstep's strongest identifying marks. Do we go with the usable option, or the distinctive option? There will always be two camps here on this issue -- but we have to somehow reach a decision on what the default option is and all stand behind it and push it like it's the best interface ever.


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