Distracting, frothy and addictive

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 10/91 item 03 - scanned

It's a source of great frustration to me that I have to sometimes write my MacUser column on a PC. The trouble is that the Mac is in the house so that Mrs Tebbutt can use it from time to time. You won't be surprised, therefore, to learn that I work indoors on the Mac whenever I can. Unfortunately, Mrs T doesn't really like having me under her feet so she periodically suggests that I clear the office of rubbish and work out there.

Needless to say, I've just done that so I'm now sitting in this cold, poky, seven foot cube which we call 'the office', using a Toshiba notebook machine to write for you. I could have been using a nice big PC with VGA graphics and DOS 5.0 (or Windows), except that Mrs T uses that too and she doesn't like coming out here to work any more than I do.

None of this has a great deal to do with the column, but I just thought I'd get it off my chest. At least there are no distractions with a PC. You can just concentrate on your work. You haven't got a nice little control panel to change the sound from Monkey to Boing, or a MultiFinder icon which helps you see if you're still in the middle of doing something more interesting. Nope, the way I use a PC, all I can see is the current application.

I could use DESQview or Windows to make the machine more like a Mac, but I really can't see the point. It's a bit like pretending a Reliant Robin is a Ferrari. And, anyway, I'm beginning to think that a lot of stuff I do on the Mac is a complete waste of time. It's the only machine I know that I can sit at for hours and come away having achieved precisely nothing.

Let me give you some examples. In the summer, I went off to Cupertino for a couple of weeks. I went there to learn what I could about Apple's human interface research and to enjoy a long Labor Day weekend in the company of friends. I came back armed to the gills with floppy disks and CD-ROMs full of programs and demonstrations. You can imagine how much time I spent rummaging through that lot - several days in total. And guess how much of it is still in use? Almost none.

The first thing that attracted me was the Sonic Finder. Nothing new about that, I hear you say. This is true, but it's something I'd heard a lot about but never actually seen. It struck me as a jolly good idea. It was, for the first few minutes. And it was again, when I showed it to my sons. Soon all the bongs and whooshing noises simply became tedious. They added nothing to my ability to use the Mac. They just gave Mrs T another reason to want me out of the house. It was difficult to remember what all the different noises meant and, anyway, I could see what was going on in front of my eyes.

Another gizmo I acquired, called Fruits of Passion, allowed me to change the little Apple logo in the top left hand corner of the screen. I could turn it into, among other things, a banana, an apple with diagonal stripes, a miniature Mac or a Windows close box. With so much of the Mac user interface being 'soft', I like to escape from the compulsory Apple logo. And, despite the fact it takes up memory and does nothing for my productivity, this is the one gizmo that I didn't get rid of. My monochrome SE has a rather fetching cherry in place of the Apple logo.

TailDragger was written by Dan Venolia of Apple's Human Interface Croup. It swings the pencil and arrow cursors around the active point castor-style. When I first saw it, I thought it could be useful as well as being fun. You can keep the arrow or the pencil in full view even when you're at the edge of the screen. Or you can avoid concealing screen information by taking a different approach path. The software looks at the current cursor position and the last one, and lays the arrow or pencil along the extension of that line. A tiny twiddle of the mouse can easily swing the cursor to a new position. My problem was that I kept forgetting that I was moving the point, not the whole arrow. This might sound stupid, but it actually reduced my mousing accuracy.

I love the Mac for the real applications I can run on it, but I've found these frothy extras a complete waste of time.

The three I've mentioned just happen to be the latest batch. In the past I remember being impressed by the Switcher, which slid the screen to one side as you changed applications. I never used it, but I just know it would have driven me mad after a while.

I can't understand why I keep being seduced by these programs, these computerised one-night stands, if you like. I'm excited by them, attracted to them, get them, use them and wake up in the morning having lost all respect for them.

Anyone know a cure?