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Getting Your Feet Wet With Aqua
Pages: 1, 2

Aqua is already a success

Aqua is not only a big step forward for Apple and its users, it is a giant step forward for the computing industry. Apple has broken every metaphor, graphical link, and limitation from OS 9 that they could get away with. The question is, will we be daring enough to embrace change or are we too afraid to accept something new? Will we regress into the same old structures? Will we hack OS X to make it function like OS 9? Apple feels it is time to move forward, and I happen to agree. The old GUIs out there have grown stale. I can't believe that in 20 years of GUIs there isn't anything better than what we have. Time to move forward.

Aqua is already a success because it challenges the way we look at computing and our expectations of a computer.

I think the hardest aspect of adapting to Aqua isn't for the users, but for the developers. Apple is asking them to rethink how they conceive and build software. They've asked them to stop thinking of image and size restrictions. They've asked them to break from the idea of what an icon represents and what it can do. Software developers can no longer view themselves as just code-cutters. Apple is asking developers to evolve with Aqua.



Aqua is art. It requires that we learn to embrace ideals and concepts that illustrators, video artists, editors, painters, animators, composers and publishers have been using for years. It is no longer enough for software and hardware developers to write code and build solutions, now you have to actually embrace media and artistic concepts. Looking back on the release of the iMac, iBook, and Cube, the organic design of the hardware and the resemblance to OS X was no accident. With Aqua, developers have to take their art a step higher, and I think that is the true beauty of this interface. It will force the industry forward. Aqua is already a success because it challenges the way we look at computing and our expectations of a computer.

Elements of design

I have been working in some form of design for over 10 years. I have always had a sweet tooth for organic designs found in Bang & Olufsen, Goudi, Porsche, etc. I love things that are fluid, simple, and intuitive.

I spent many years working in publishing, animation, interactive design, software and web development, and video editing. The one discipline I learned from all those art forms was that every detail counts. In the past 20 years, every piece of professional media created on a Mac meant something to the designer and every detail mattered. For the first time in history, you find their attention to detail in Aqua. This isn't just a bunch of goofy special effects and resource wasting toys, this is a level of detail unparalleled in the history of computing. There is method behind the apparent madness.


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For example, one of the most controversial items is the genie effect. While some find it annoying, I find it informative. It just told me where I can find that window when I need it. As a power user, I don't require it, but for newbies and people who never dig too deep into how their computer works, the window concept can be baffling. Silly to us, but empowering to others.

Media mavericks

What Apple has done is given developers an open hand at building out and participating in the evolution of X. We now have a blank check to try new things and break some rules that always held us back before. I've heard a lot of people ask why we need 128x128-sized icons. Who knows, maybe we'll have giant projection Macs in our homes in five years. The point is that Aqua has room for growth.

Where do we go from here?

In future pieces we are going to dive head first into the meat and bones of Aqua and get our hands dirty. We'll be looking into new terminology and what it means. We will dig into new metaphors and concepts. We will even build interface elements and icons. Finally we'll discuss Aqua with some developers who have been working with it for some time. I'm going to do my best to make this series informative without boring you to tears. However, if you feel moved to tears because of the eloquence in my discussions on Aqua, then I think you need to get out more.

Alan Graham is the creator of the Best of Blogs book series and is a frequent writer on the O'Reilly Network.


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