There's a lot of literature out there about the new features in Snow Leopard, but this article isn't covering those. It's about some of the smaller touch-ups to the UI design that they made to the interface, and initial impressions of the progression of the design. I'd say these small touches are relevant because many user interface design changes we've seen over the course of the last decade or so have been born out of updates to the OS X user interface.
How it used to be: It used to be that when you pressed the F9 key on the Mac OS X keyboard, every window scrambled to a place on their screen like it was playing a version of musical chairs. What you got as a result was an interesting organizational effect of... well... throwing all of your papers onto a desk with abandon. Windows stay at their same relative sizes, as well.
Now: The windows file in an orderly line and arrange on your screen like a well-oiled military machine. All the windows are uniform in size. I think this works better organizationally, especially when you can see all the titles to all the windows at once. One of my main qualms with the old system is if you had a bunch of finder windows open, you didn't know which was which. Now you just have to reference underneath each thumbnail. You also may notice that when you mouse over a window, instead of the of the entire window getting a screen, it just gets a simple blue glowing outline. Okay, whatever.
Also, in case you didn't notice, the dock stays at the bottom during Expose mode. This couples with the ability to show windows by application, a very nice addition, and perfect because it's not at all intrusive. Very intuitive.
Nice touch: You'll notice that up close, when you mouse over the thumbnail, the shadow of the box still overlays the blue halo. I think this is a very subtle effect, but it maintains the uniformity of the depth of the desktop.
Refer to above images
How it used to be: Flat, same-color, probably 20% opaque gray backdrop to mask out irrelevant items while in Expose mode.
New: An alpha-dynamic oblong shaped gradient. Edges are darker, and center is much less opaque. It gives a sort of pinhole camera effect. I like it. It feels more organic, though uncharacteristically behind the times design wise. I've seen this effect on the web for a while now.
New Dock Context Menu/Stacks Backgrounds
How it used to be: The context menus were uniform to the rest of the UI design. The Stacks popups were transparent and graphite. Stack had a small lighter border around it and a drop shadow.
New: Context menus now match the aesthetics of the stacks, which themselves have changed. Changes include a background that now produces a bit of blur behind it in addition to the graphite transparent. The light 1px border has also been replaced with a 2 or 3px thick transparent "frame," we'll call it. Still harbors the drop shadow, but now has the title of the folder that is currently being viewed. This is definitely necessary as now you can navigate within a stack, but I'll let someone else explain those features.
First off, I think giving the entire dock the same uniform look for context menus and Stacks is both a blessing and a curse, so to speak. I thought the old way of doing the context menus was a little more natural, given that every other portion of the OS looked exactly the same in the context menus, but the new look is very nice. The blurry background I like much more, as it helps in addition to that graphite transparency to phase out the background. The transparent frame, I could give or take. It's a nice graphical effect.
How it used to be: Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3... ad nauseam.
New: Screen shot 2009-08-28 at 8.51.20 PM. I guess this is fine enough, though I'm personally not really in the business of organizing my screen shots by any more than sequence. Generally I take one or two and call it a day. They rarely need much more organization than that. My feeling is that this change is for someone else.
How it used to be: Quicktime generally got the same UI treatment the rest of OS X did whenever there was an update, with the latest looking a lot like an extension of iTunes.
New: Quicktime goes iPhone 3GS. They've basically taken the UI of Quicktime back to the drawing board. Very minimal in terms of window interface, and controls overlay the video. In fact, if you stop moving your mouse for a second, the interface altogether fades away, and you're left with a playing picture. Very cool. I think this is the kind of interface that we always looked forward to back in the days when movies made computer interfaces we dreamed of using in the future.
I should also mention that the new Quicktime allows you to crop and edit movies with the very simple 3GS way of doing things. iMovie or FinalCut this is not, but it is good enough for anyone who wants to make a simple video with their computer's cam.
That's Weird: Did anyone else notice the Apple logo at the very bottom right of movie trailers from trailers.apple.com? This is the first I've noticed it. Seems a little imposing. Then again, they are hosting the files.
How it used to be: Appears when you drag across files. The moment you let go of the mouse button, it disappears.
New: Has a fade-away effect. This is a tiny tiny change, but it makes the OS feel more polished and fluid. Sometimes it's the little things that count, right?
How it used to be: While the wi-fi looks for a signal and connects, the indicator at the top menu bar stays a stagnant gray until connected, whence it will show connection strength.
New: A nice change that I didn't really care about until now. While the radio is looking for a connection, the signal strength bars will ripple up and down. I realize that Windows has always had this for its "connecting..." status, and I wonder now why Apple only finally changed it over in this iteration of OS X. Oh well. Better late than never.
I only feel compelled to mention these problems I ran into because I want anyone who thinks they might want to upgrade to Snow Leopard to know what they're in for.
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