An Interview with Ivor St. John Clarke About Aquafying Office X
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Alan: What advice or tip would you give other developers looking to build an application under Aqua?
Ivor: Keep it clean and simple. Many developers see the stunning new look of Aqua and the new graphics, and they get caught up in trying to create a really shiny, graphics-laden user interface. However, what Apple has done really well with Aqua is to use these new graphical elements sparingly and to avoid shoving it in the user's face. Users will respond much better to a clean, simple interface than they will to something that is cluttered in an effort to show off the skill of a graphic designer.
Alan: As you look forward, what elements of Aqua excite you for the future of your application/developments?
Ivor: I'm really excited that Apple is starting to take accessibility features seriously. The improvements that are coming in this area promise to move Apple to the front of the pack when it comes to delivering an outstanding experience for users with special needs. Most importantly, the small amount of extra effort that developers will have to invest in creating an accessible UI will only serve to improve the experience for all users.
Alan: What is the most important element you consider missing from Aqua?
Ivor: There are a handful of polish issues that Apple is working out, but I think that what is really missing is a mechanism for supplying system-wide utility tools. Although the UI was a little awkward, the control strip in OS 9 provided some really cool functionality. Dock utilities still don't get the job done, and Apple isn't making it easy for developers to add tools to the menu bar.
Alan: What do you think Aqua does well?
Ivor: A significant part of what Aqua does well is to tie user actions to the computer's response. Some people have complained about what they see as "gratuitous animation," but I think that Apple really has the right idea in reinforcing process through animation. Sheets and the genie effect are two strong examples of this and we wanted to make sure that we realized the advantages they have to offer.
With the formatting palette, we had learned from Office 2001 that many users would close it at some point, only to hunt around later on to figure out how to open it back up. We realized that the genie effect would be a great mechanism to show users the toolbar button that turns the formatting palette off and on. The problem was that, unlike sheets, Apple provides no API to allow third-party developers to implement the genie effect.
One of my teammates then took the time to videotape the genie effect in action on Finder windows (sadly this was before Snapz Pro was released), print out a whole bunch of the images, and figure out the algorithm used for the transition. Our development team then used the information to generate a custom version of the genie effect that Office could use. Of course, as soon as we finished that work, Apple added the scale effect ...
The elements that required changes in the transition of Office to OS X included:
- 25 million lines of code
- 50 shared libraries
- 8,257 files
- 800 dialog boxes
- 500 icons
Note: Since I wrote this piece, Microsoft announced an update to MS Office X, which includes Quartz Text Smoothing (when combined with Mac OS X 10.1.5 or newer), FileMaker Server integration, ODBC integration, and improved performance and stability. The genie-effect performance in the Formatting Palette in Word X, Excel X, and PowerPoint X has been improved significantly. For more information visit http://www.microsoft.com/mac/.
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