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Three things OS X could learn from the Classic Mac OS

Editor’s Note: Apple made a clean break from the classic Mac OS in 2001 when it introduced Mac OS X. The operating system switchover was not without its bumps, but few would argue that Apple’s move to OS X has helped the Mac platform grow in exciting new directions.

Which is not to say that OS X shouldn’t take a lesson from its predecessor. We asked John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame to list some Classic Mac OS features that Apple should revive in OS X. Here’s what he came up with.

WindowShade

WindowShade debuted as a standard OS feature in System 7.5. (Before that, it was available as a third-party system extension.) The idea was simple: double-click in the title bar of any window, and that window “rolled up” to show nothing but the title bar. Double-click in the title bar again, and the window contents would “roll” back down. In OS X, WindowShade was replaced by the concept of minimizing a window to the Dock. That, though, is far inferior to WindowShade. WindowShade let you get a quick glance at the contents of the window behind the front one. Double-click, look, and then just double-click again to go back—all without ever moving the mouse. Minimize a window in OS X, and you’ve got to move the mouse all the way down to the Dock to get it back.

Predictable Finder window behavior

Before OS X, Apple had inherited two approaches to file management: In the classic Mac OS Finder, each folder could be opened as one, and only one, window, which always remembered its size, location, and display options. In the Next Workspace Manager, each window was its own file browser. With the Mac OS X Finder, Apple tried to implement both concepts and wound up with a jumble that does neither well.

File names were just names

The rules for naming files in the classic Mac OS were wonderfully simple. You weren’t allowed to use a colon, and that was about it. (And in case you couldn’t remember even that rule, the system wouldn’t let you type a colon in a file name.) There were no weird rules to remember or get in the way of your work. In OS X, however, files without file-name extensions sometimes no longer work. More irritatingly, Mac OS X always and automatically treats any file whose name starts with a dot as “invisible”—behaving like a Unix system from 1971. So it’s still harder to edit and manage files with names like .htaccess (common in Web development) than it was in the Mac OS of 15 years ago.

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