Giving in and not giving in

The longer you use computers, the more set you become in the ways you use them and the more certain you are that your ways are the right ways. There are, of course, people who disagree with you. Normally, these disagreements result in nothing more serious than a good-natured flame war, and you can continue to use your computers the way you want. But sometimes the disagreement is with the people who make the hardware and software you use, and that’s when things get tricky.

The opinions of the people who make the products you use cannot be dismissed as easily as those of some randoid on Twitter. If they think you should doing things this way when you’ve spent years doing them that way, they can make it hard for you to stick to your guns.

If, for example, you’re an iOS user who prefers to use a third-party email client or calendar or web browser, there will be times when that preference gets is an obstacle to getting things done. You’ll take some seemingly innocent action, iOS will launch the standard app, and you’ll have to take several steps to extract yourself from it and switch over to the app you want. By which time, you may have forgotten what you were trying to do.

Is this extra friction worth the advantages you find in working with the third-party apps or should you just give in and use the Apple apps? At the moment, my answer is mixed. I’m using the standard mail, calendar, and browser apps, but I’m using Interact instead of Contacts.

Back when Apple overhauled the Mac’s user interface in OS X Lion, it changed the default way the scroll wheel worked. Lots of people hated it, and a cottage industry arose to explain how Apple didn’t know its ass from its elbow and how to go into Settings and change the scroll wheel back to the “better” way.

Mouse preferences

At first, I hated the new direction, too, and changed my Settings appropriately. But I preferred Apple’s default for scrolling on the trackpad, so for a short while I had a mouse on my iMac that worked one way and a trackpad on my MacBook Air that worked the other. That proved to be untenable, so after a week or so I bit the bullet and switched my mouse setting to what Apple wanted. It took a few days, but I adjusted. In this case, giving in was the path of least resistance.1

On the other hand, I’ve never capitulated to Apple’s desire to have me put my documents in the Documents folder. When I returned to the Mac after using Linux for several years, I brought with me a particular organization scheme for my work files: a “projects” folder in my home directory and within that a folder for each individual project. I had written a bunch of scripts for project management that relied on that structure, and I didn’t want to rewrite them.

Both Apple and third-party developers have tried to get me to use the Documents folder. It’s the default location for saving new documents when you launch an application for the first time, and some apps keep going back there even after you’ve continually saved your files to other locations. Luckily, the apps that refuse to let go of Documents are few and far between, and I was able to hold onto my preferred file and folder structure without much work.2

I don’t want to give the impression that Apple is the only software maker that tries to corral its users into certain habits. For past four years, Twitter has made it increasingly difficult for third-party Twitter clients to give their users the full Twitter experience. Twitter Cards and Twitter Polls, for example, are features available only in the official apps that I’d like to have access to, but whenever I try out the official apps the rest of the “full Twitter experience,” as it is currently defined, sends me back to Tweetbot (iOS and Mac) within a day or two. The corporate petulance that prevents me from seeing Instagram photos inline adds clicks to my day that I don’t want, and the nonlinear chronology of replies drives me batty.

So I haven’t given in to Twitter yet, but it’s pulling at me. I imagine that someday the features it offers will overwhelm the distaste I have for its design, and I’ll leave Tweetbot behind (with regrets).

I could give other examples of giving in (Apple Maps instead of Google Maps) and not giving in (switching my entire text editing workflow to BBEdit because I couldn’t handle the changes to TextMate 2), but you get the idea. If developers would just ask me what I want and do exactly that, the world would be a better place.

  1. Lion was also the release in which Apple killed the Save As… command in favor of Duplicate, a change that I thought I could adjust to but which still gives me fits. I’ve been meaning to write a post about that for months. 

  2. Recently, I put my projects folder into my Dropbox folder so I’d have access to all my work files more or less automatically. That move did force me to rewrite several scripts (which is why I didn’t do it earlier), but I did it anyway because the benefits outweighed the costs. Very different from moving files and folders into Documents.