Getting on Apple's ship list

There's one thing that I'll probably never understand about MacHack. I'm not talking about speeches that start at midnight, nor about arcane software tricks; all that makes a certain amount of (twisted) sense.

There's one thing that I'll probably never understand about MacHack. I'm not talking about speeches that start at midnight, nor about arcane software tricks; all that makes a certain amount of (twisted) sense. No, the part that I don't understand is the forum that used to be called "Bash Apple" (now "Apple Handshake" in these kinder, gentler days). Since when did the Mac community, particularly programmers, ever wait for a formal forum to tell Apple exactly what was on our minds -- sometimes in graphic language?

Anyway, last week's MacHack conference in Dearborn, Mich., produced its usual list of ransom demands ... er ... helpful suggestions for the crack team in Cupertino, Calif. Inspired by the participants' efforts, I thought that I'd prepare my own irrational, totally subjective and slightly whimsical To Do list for Mac OS X.

1. Keep the look and feel
When I fire up my Mac OS X system, I want it to look, feel, quack and breathe like a Mac. With few exceptions, the Mac OS interface is the simplest, most elegant, most logical GUI in existence. Don't agree with me? Spend a few days on another OS, and you'll see the error of your ways.

Reports that Apple has been showing a cascading directory-tree folder interface give me a serious case of the shakes. Programmers may dig that kind of jive, but to the rest of us, it just looks like long lists of gobbledygook. Memo to Jobs: Yo, Steverino, remember how you felt the first time you cruised through the PARC labs and saw a GUI interface? That "I've been hit over the head with a new way of seeing" feeling? When you can come up with an interface that revolutionary, it will be time to retire the Mac OS. Until then: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

2. Lose the extensions

Extensions, extensions, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

i. I'm no programmer, but allowing folks to patch the basic system software just seems like asking for trouble.

ii. How many times have I restarted with the shift key down while trying to resolve a conflict, only to realize that I can't access something essential <flame>LIKE MY CD-ROM DRIVE</flame> without that extension in place?

iii. I'm all for creating opportunities for third-party developers, but the fact that we have an entire category of software dedicated to managing the innumerable bits of crap populating our system folders is a bad sign.

iv. At the very least, make system software add-ons dynamically loadable modules. Need a bit of software that you didn't run when you started up? No problem; just double-click, and away you go. Shouldn't be a problem with that spiffy new microkernel, right?

3. Add some tools
The Apple System Profiler wins my Cool Utility prize for this week. This nifty little gadget checks out your system from stem to stern and presents you with a detailed report on what's there, from which applications are on your hard drive to how your RAM banks are populated.

That's great, but why stop there? Give us some more diagnostics and tools so that we can tune our systems. My No. 1 request in this department: a utility that graphically displays the space files and folders take up on my hard drive so that when I'm scrounging for extra space, I can head straight for the worst offenders.

And isn't it about time our hard drives automatically defragmented themselves every month or so?

4. Games, please
Admittedly, this isn't going to make or break anyone's Mac purchase, but how about a few tiny, quick games to chew up a few minutes when I'm not busy saving the world?

Windows users get a little Hearts game, a couple of types of Solitaire and a version of Minesweeper. What do we Mac users get? In chronological order: a sliding puzzle and a jigsaw puzzle. Yeek. No wonder so many people buy Windows machines.

How hard would it be to cook up a couple of card games? Better yet, make some freeware or shareware author's life by bundling their minidiversions.

5. Faster crash recovery
Now I know that once Mac OS X ships, no Mac system will ever crash again because we'll have true multitasking. Sammy Davis, Jr. is also going to show up with his collection of edible tableware, and we'll all teach the world to sing on the way to the Emerald City.

But crashing wouldn't be so bad if Apple would just speed up that post-train-wreck automatic disk-repair utility. Maybe the software could save some time by just doing a quick scan and offering to repair damage if it's truly bad? Just a thought.

What's on your wish list for future Mac OS releases?

FutureTech is a weekly column that explores trends and technologies that are just inches away from transforming the way you use your Mac. MacWEEK.com Contributing Editor Cameron Crotty is a tech journalist based in San Francisco, and he welcomes tips, tech, gadgets and feedback at to futuretech@crotty.net.