Reminiscing about the Early Mac's Interface

(Josh Centers) #1

Originally published at:

Are contemporary computing interfaces making us crazy? Fast Company’s Mark Wilson finds inner peace in the interface of the Mac operating system circa 1991.

(Richard Rettke) #2

For real inner peace, I remember the original Mac OS, January 1984. Back in the day when User Interface Guidelines were created and followed.


To this day I still miss the little Apple pull down menu on the upper left hand side.

(Laine Lee) #4

OS 9 wasn’t so early, but it seems incorrect to me that we could simultaneously open multiple control panels
in a system that wasn’t supposed to be multitasking, yet we can’t open more than one sysprefpane at a time. And I agree about the User Interface Guidelines. For example, if you press control-eject to get the shut down dialog, the check box setting for “Reopen windows when logging back in” is remembered when changed even if you cancel the dialog.

(Dennis Swaney) #5

??? I just clicked on the  on the left side of the Menu Bar and there still is a drop-down menu there. What EXACTLY is missing from it for you?

(Diane D) #6

I was just going to ask that. Did it go away in High Sierra?


(Dennis Swaney) #7

Don’t know about HS Diane, but it is still in Sierra. From top to bottom it has: About This Mac; System Preferences; App Store…; Recent Items; Force Quit; Sleep; Restart…; Shut Down…; Log Out…


Dennis Swaney

    May 7

??? I just clicked on the  on the left side of the Menu Bar and there still is a drop-down menu there. What EXACTLY is missing from it for you?

It had all your desk accessories in it, and you could tear off parts of it, rearrange and relocate them, and reattach them at will. It was neat and discreet, and could live at the bottom of the screen if you wanted it to. There wasn’t this big span bridge sitting there all the time.


(Phil Seymour) #9

Yes. There was a design format that allowed us users to know how to use any program that was introduced on a Mac. Recently, (Mavericks through today), even legacy Apple programs have been reworked by programmers who never used a Mac in their life. Standard controls are either gone, or moved to inconvenient locations that disrupt creative flow.
I remember there was a program called Growl that mimicked the annoying notifications informing you that your computer was doing this or that, popping up while you were writing, recording, editing, or anytime you were using your Mac. You know, like the latest versions of Mac OS. The thing about Growl was you could uninstall it and all the annoying crap went with it.

(Diane D) #10

Ahhh I’d have to see it again. I’ve been using Macs since 1987 but you know how it is when you haven’t seen something for years….


(Jolin Warren) #11

The good news is that in all recent Mac OS versions, you can completely disable notifications and that will remove “all the annoying crap”, so in this case nothing’s been lost!

(Phil Seymour) #12

I am going to guess that you don’t record audio and video of live events, edit and produce the resulting media on CD’s and DVD’s using GarageBand and iMovie?

(B. Jefferson Le Blanc) #13

Right. Of course most current Mac users never worked in OS 9, let alone OS 7. There was a lot of grousing back in the day when OS X first came out and the Apple menu lost its familiar functions. Of course I’ve now had time to get used to the more limited selection of system operations in the Apple menu. For a while there were hacks that restored the Apple Menu on the right side of the screen. But these were eventually deprecated and disabled. If you are willing to take the time to build your own list of favorite folders, Default Folder X can add an item to the menu bar that will list them, along with recent files and recent folders. And, of course, it has a wide variety of Open and Close dialog features.

The main reason the Apple Menu changed is that system organization changed and gradually became more complex; the old Apple Menu no longer applied. But that was little consolation to Apple Menu fans. The old Apple Menu was not unlike the Start menu in Windows: It provided access to the entire system in one way or another.

What we have now is the Finder window sidebar, which can be used to access our important stuff if properly organized. At a minimum you have your desktop, applications, documents, downloads and user folders, which can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Alternatively, you can put them in the Dock—some are there by default—if you want to access them without opening a window first. In short there are plenty of ways to get around the system even without the Apple Menu.

(Phil Seymour) #14

Exactly. What once could be accomplished with one click now takes as many steps as windows.

(B. Jefferson Le Blanc) #15

On the other hand, there are many things about OS 7 that I don’t miss. The Chooser in particular, which in the early days could not run your dot-matrix printer and 28k modem at the same time. There was no multi-tasking or multi-processing. The OS would choke if you didn’t manage your memory with an inch of its life. You had to quite one app before you started another. And even then the old app might not release memory the way it should and the system would freeze. This was usual, not unusual behavior.

As for the black and white interface, that’s only restful in comparison to some of the fancier UI elements today (in fact the Mac OS returned to a more or less black and white interface when Lion banished color from much of the system). At the time the Mac OS was intimidating to just about anyone who wasn’t a programmer. Remember, computers were far less ubiquitous in 1991 than they are today. They intimidated people then every bit as much as they now. And, oh yes, the screen was all of 9 inches wide, on the diagonal.

Still, life was simpler then and, generally, more labor intensive. Rotary telephones were still common. And, like the Model T, they came in any color you liked as long as it was black. :wink: Colored touch tone phones had begun to take over, but they still had long tangled cords to trip you up. Cars got eight or nine miles to the gallon of gas. TVs still mostly used antennas on the roof to bring in a grainy, red or green tinted color picture. Even black and white pictures were grainy and out of fucus much of the time.

Mac OS 9 was great at the time. Now it’s little more than a toy.

(Jolin Warren) #16

Maybe I’ve misunderstood what it is you were talking about. I was responding to the comment about Growl (which I loved back in the day before Apple introduced notifications). It provided notification bubbles in the top right of the screen. Apple has a similar built-in feature now, and these can be disabled, which removes the same things that uninstalling Growl did. What does this have to do with GarageBand and iMovie?

(Phil Seymour) #17

Yes, I may have been too general in my description of notifications. The notifications that popup anywhere on Mac screens since Mavericks remind me of Growl. Growl didn’t last because Mac users didn’t want to be notified of every action the computer was taking.

You see, people bought Apple stuff because the computer took care of computer stuff, “Magically”. The user simply wrote a book, produced an Oscar winning movie or mastered Grammy winning music, or made a fairly good amateur video that they uploaded to YouTube without having to do the things a smart computer was programmed to do.
If creative people wanted to use windows computers, they hired a computer person to program the computer every time they wanted to use a computer for production.

Apple eliminated that ‘extra step’ in the creative process by making a smart computer that would do ‘computer stuff’ while the producer created music and art through the interface.

When this user wants to use GarageBand to record a live band using mixers and interfaces, the fancy new iMac computer using GarageBand doesn’t remember it has done this before, so it takes the focus away from music to instruct the computer how to record. If the computer is unsure, it will stop the process with a notification requiring the users attention. These kinds of notifications cannot be eliminated.

I hope I wasn’t too long winded in my explanation, but I felt I needed to clarify.

(blm) #18

I’m not sure what you mean by “notifications that popup anywhere on Mac screens”. Apple’s notifications (and Growl’s) appear in a consistent location and behave (somewhat) the same. Of course applications can draw stuff wherever they want on the screen, but that’s not Notification’s (or Growl’s) fault. And Notifications should remind you of Growl, they’re almost a direct ripoff of Growl. On why Growl didn’t last, that’s not how I saw it. Growl didn’t last because once Apple added the Notification system, a lot of reason to use Growl went away. Growl is still much more configurable and useful than Notifications, but when the OS does 80% or so of what an added application does (even if it’s worse at it), the added application doesn’t stand much chance. Also, Growl was fairly popular in its day, so I think Mac users do want some consistent notification system (rather than have every application implement it, all in different ways, with various degrees of configurability and often completely different UX), and Growl made it easy to turn off those you didn’t want, or even turn off notifications from entire applications. And obviously Apple thinks users want some sort of notification system, because they added it to the OS and have continued to maintain it. Brian

(Simon) #19

So if a HS user wants to turn off notifications, does he/she actually have to select no notifications from every single app in the list? There’s no global shut-up switch? I see there’s DND, but that wants a user to select times — not exactly a leave-me-alone-forever switch.

(Doug Miller) #20

Well, I suppose you could DND from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm, but you can also just highlight each app in the pane in System Preferences and press delete to remove the app from Notification Center. You don’t have to select it, select no notifications, etc.