Whenever applications are dusted or updated, it is common practice to give their interface a facial lift as well: even when no widgets are fundamentally moved around, buttons are updated, made more colorful, sometimes even unified in an effort to get rid of a chaotic past. Yet, one service escapes that rule: .Mac! Join me for some interface archeology!
Long term .Mac users will without doubt remember the distinctive iTools interface: Apple Garamond, subtle blue highlights, blobby, aqua-y buttons and plenty of white space made iTools the poster child for classy, modern web applications. Then came .Mac with its flatter interface, metal highlights and semi-square corners, not wholly unrelated to the iTunes window of today. Fast-forward to Panther and buttons were set in the metal, edgier, with a more massive aspect. We also saw the arrival of a revamped Mail interface, new Myriad lettering and experimental use of animated GIFs, in lieu of AJAX feedback. To wrap it up, the last .Mac update brought us a very “blog-like” interface with gray gradients, subtle highlights and a lighter blue shade.
All in all, a rather gradual transition, and an interesting shift in perception, from trying to make .Mac “Apple like” to making it “Mac OS like”. In that, despite its apparent classicism and lack of reactivity to online trends, .Mac was ahead of its time and understood that fundamental rule of online experiences early in the process. By using metaphors (drives and folders instead of volumes and directories) and interfaces (the HomePage web interface is reminiscent of iPhoto or the Finder Column view) closer to what a beginner would know than to what a web administrator is expecting to see, .Mac has, from the start, been a “friendly web application” — and a frightfully complex one in the backend at that.
What .Mac never really got around to doing, though, is unify its interface. Today, even after the deep cleansing, exfoliating treatment it just got, old crusty layers of interface still pop up. Apple Garamond in dialogs, Panther buttons mixed with Jaguar terminology, non anti-aliased images… When clicking around the site, an average user will probably see about 3 “eras” of design at the least, without even taking the many touch-ups we Mac users notice into account.
.Mac is a rather neat service and I wish it, as I have said in the past, only good things. Nevertheless, it is in great need of a deep interface cleansing to ensure these pesky “Kid Safe” mentions disappear, along with Mac OS X beta and Panther buttons. No matter how messy the backend is, this will make the whole affair look a lot better. Hey, it works for the computers, why not apply it to the web applications?