The classic system software of yesterday’s Mac may not have had the fortified UNIX underpinnings of Mac OS X, but it did have a transparency that has been lost on modern operating systems.
On the classic system software of yesterday’s Mac everything had an icon and users were encouraged to explore the filesystem. On modern operating systems, like Mac OS X, the foundation of the OS has been hidden from view, and a facade of shortcuts encourages users to stay in the confines of their home folders. On yesterday’s Mac if a user wanted to access a application, file, or folder they would leave the Desktop, click on the the Hard Drive icon and discover the locations of applications and files. On Mac OS X Apple has hidden the Hard Drive icon and replaced it with a pre established list of shortcuts that offers speed of access at the price of user confusion. Should I go to the Dock, or the Finder’s sidebar to launch my application or open my file? How about a Spotlight search? With so many possibilities it is no wonder Mac OS X users are often confused about where their files are located. And with no Hard Drive icon on the desktop, no inviting icons at every level of the filesystem how can we expect users to look past the pre established facade and educate themselves about the file hierarchy underneath? The terminal is not the answer.
Yesterday’s Mac trained users on how to navigate the filesystem, while modern operating system like Mac OS X discourage its use. The gap between the abstraction of user space, and system space is widening. As computers become more like appliances the underlying operating system is becoming harder to access. iOS devices now hide the filesystem from users completely, and although these devices may be seen as easy to operate users have a hard time understanding where their data is stored and how to move it between applications. The next major version of Mac OS X, 10.7 Lion, introduces an additional layer of user abstraction with its iOS inspired application launcher Launchpad. Since the Finder, a Macs traditional way of navigating the filesystem, hasn’t seen a feature update since the introduction of 10.5 in October 2007 would it be safe to say that LaunchPad will supersede the Finder as the way users access the content on their computers? How long before the filesystem is lost altogether?
I for one miss the days when their was a unique icon for every file and directory on the Macintosh, and users were invited to learn about their computers through exploration. The Mac filesystem, clicking on little pictures of files and folders to find out what’s inside is a big part of the reason I became a computer enthusiast. I realize the benefit of making computers easy to use, but the trend of pushing ease immediate access through abstraction over self exploration is weakening users. The power of self education, and the notion that users have a greater potential than a facade of pre established shortcuts in one lesson from yesterday’s Mac that should not be forgotten.