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Getting Your Feet Wet With Aqua

by Alan Graham
04/20/2001

Of all the Mac OS X topics to cover, why did I choose Aqua? Simple: Aqua is the most important factor in the success of OS X. More important than Linux, native applications, ripping Napster files, or watching The Matrix on your Mac.

Before you start writing me flame mail, let me tell you a little bit about my swim through Aqua. Then I'll resume my argument on why I'm going to write a series of articles for O'Reilly on this very subject.

I began my journey by printing out and reading what seemed like 500 million pages of reference materials regarding Aqua, Quartz, and Carbon/Cocoa. During my migraine, I started to ponder where I would begin this series and what I would cover. I couldn't possibly pull all of it together in a series of articles, but maybe I could paint a broad enough picture that, in retrospect, developers and end users would have enough fuel for the fire.

The technical aspects of working with any OS are staggering, so instead of attempting to cover every facet of Aqua, I've tried to fashion an overview that attempts to tie together the Apple Human Interface Guidelines for Aqua, discuss the nuances between 9 and X, and show how to build a successful Aqua interface. I am going to do my best to pull together not only the technical information required by Aqua, but to meld that with the philosophy behind its structure. I have already begun the daunting task of deciphering the Apple Human Interface Guidelines for Aqua. Sure enough, the butler did it.

So, briefly, I hope I've given you some idea of where we'll be going in upcoming columns. Before we begin that swim, however, I have a few personal observations about this huge risk taken by Apple.

Aqua is a daring move by Apple

Aqua is the biggest step forward in computing since the first Macintosh rolled off the factory floor. If anything, it certainly is the largest gamble that any computer company has taken in the past 20 years. While other companies have played it safe, Apple has poured years of research and plenty of cash to roll out the biggest craps shoot in the history of computing.

I say let it ride.

By next year OS X will either be a huge success or a dismal failure, and it all hinges on Aqua. A bold statement considering that most analysts are preaching that the success resides on third-party hardware support and native applications. I disagree.

Regardless of what is under the hood, if Apple's Aqua interface can't capture newbies and die-hard users, then Apple is done, for real this time.

While all of that is extremely important, what is the number one reason people have consistently purchased a Macintosh in the last 20 years? It was not the ability of its software; we've seen those options ported successfully over to other platforms. Was it because of the hardware? The new Apple designs have helped to save the company, but prior to that we had beige boxes like everyone else. The number one reason people still use a Mac to this day is the ease of use that revolves around their Graphical User Interface (GUI) and the Macintosh "experience" that it creates. Apple didn't just create an interface, they created a culture. Gosh darn it, it was Dogcow. Moof!

What always made a Mac was not the hardware or software. These things continued to change and evolve drastically over the years. What makes a Macintosh is that lovely chime and smiling Mac that greets us at start-up. It's the familiar feel we get seeing the little Apple in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and the all-knowing Finder in the opposite corner. There is our familiar trash can, our control panels, our little hard drive icon, and our cluttered desktops. Apple has always been about the OS and the OS has always been about the GUI. Regardless of what is under the hood, if Apple's Aqua interface can't capture newbies and die-hard users, then Apple is done, for real this time.

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