Man, despite its warts, I loved MacOS 8/9. The whole Applescript / app dictionary architecture blew my mind, and in a way still does to this day.
Interesting to watch Windows crawl out of the primordial ooze, and only in the last few years with Powershell develop scripting interfaces that come anywhere near what Apple had decades ago.
I don’t know whether AppleScript and PowerShell are comparable. I guess they have similar functions, but the implementation is entirely different. AppleScript is a language for writing scripts, whereas PowerShell can be used for that or for executing operations one at a time, shell-style. Even macOS doesn’t give that level of access to the AppleScript interface.
I think that’s a little harsh. It was never as widely supported and had quirks, but OLE Automation, in concert with WSH, made automation on Windows fairly painless. The main thing missing (or that I at least didn’t know about at the time) was an equivalent to AppleScript dictionaries and their documentation, but PowerShell doesn’t have that either.
Well, that’s my point. Sure, OLE, and other mechanisms like DDE etc existed - but actually making use of them in any meaningful way was rather difficult as far as I can remember.
For instance, umpteen years ago with Applescript, I could say “Hello application, what are your verbs?” and get a sense of what the scripting interface for an app could do. As far as I know, such a thing wasn’t available or at least not as readily accessible in OLE.
Please do correct me if I’m wrong. I find this stuff fascinating.
Also interesting to me that UNIX never adopted anything like this that I’m aware of outside of KDE, and Gnome’s doomed Corba integration.
I loved MacOS 8/9
I came to the Mac late by virtue of having grown up in a country (South Africa) where Macs were not common (IIRC Apple didn’t allow their products to be sold officially during the apartheid years). I tried hard to like classic MacOS but it never quite sat right with me (One button mouse! No CLI!). In contrast, I do like OS X but that’s probably more to do with its NeXT underpinnings than anything else.
If you’re looking for more screenshots of Mac OS 9, here’s a site with a pretty good set of screenshots.
@4ad - this is super insightful. Thanks for posting! I didn’t know that NextStep had remote display capability. Neat! Was that a result of its Display Postscript underpinnings?
Very good question! I have no idea. Sounds very likely, especially since the loss of remote display correlates with replacing Postscript with Quartz.
I’ve always assumed it was the Postscript primitives being sent across the network and rendered locally. But that’s my naiive assumption!
I am the opposite. I liked NeXTSTEP a lot, and feel like a lot of ideas were lost when merging with the Mac. Although, to be honest, even more ideas were discarded more recently, after the merge with the Mac.
Just curious what you see those most recent losses were?
I’ll start first with features lost during the NeXTSTEP (OPENSTEP actually) to Mac OS X transition.
The biggest loss is of course detachable menus. Detachable menus meant any user could create whatever GUI required out of any application. Dynamic GUI controlled by the user! For free!
IIRC Rhapsody (the pre-release intermediate version between OPENSTEP and Mac OS X Server 1.0) had a menu bar, like the subsequent Mac OS X, however, it still provided detachable menus, giving you the best of both worlds. I wish we retained that.
On NeXTSTEP you could also run applications on one machine, and display their interface on another machine, sort of like X forwarding.
Now, about more recent changes, it’s not as much about removing existing functionality, but rather a shift in the culture. The model of interaction has shifted dramatically. NeXTSTEP was document-oriented, and multi window applications were the norm. It was very common for applications to interact with one another. Today, the world-view is application-centric, and most applications are single-window. Support for full screen applications is deeply enamored in the system.
This is particularly visible with Photos.app, an application that essentially manages multiple documents, but which offers a single-window application-centric interface. They even hid the documents (files), you won’t find them in Finder.app unless you know where to look in the .app container.
This transition has happened gradually, and it continues.
Tear-off menus were also a feature of the classic Mac OS (though they were nowhere near as universal or useful as the NeXT ones). I miss them both in macOS.
I think that interaction shift is ultimately down to the web, not the merger with the Mac. The original Mac was document-oriented as well (within an over-riding “active app” paradigm). But people have come to expect to interact within a single window, either a browser or a mobile device, and that’s utterly changed desktop apps as well.
The thing I miss most from OS 9 is the tab drawers in the Finder. Well, the whole Finder really. And the Chooser. For all the stick it got, discovering local services was never so simple again.
document-oriented as well
There was a big focus on documents across the board in the 90s - I remember all of the Microsoft hoopla about Cairo and later WinFS that were supposed to enable it. IMHO we’ve gone backwards over the past few years - a lot of modern productivity applications make it more difficult to work with multiple documents.
I know I sound like a bit of a stuck record but my perception is that desktop UIs have stagnated over the past 10-15 years, perhaps longer. In the 80s and 90s we had a lot of different platforms pushing different paradigms but today we have Windows 10, fundamentally the same as Windows 95, and mac OS 10.12, fundamentally the same as 10.00. Unfortunately the mainstream open source desktop platforms do their best to adopt/clone/tweak their closed source counterparts. Yes, we have the web, but a lot of it is just making prettier versions of the same desktop UIs we had in 1994.
They have absolutely stagnated. I don’t think documents is a fruitful route to take, to be honest — they’re a concept rooted in a world where most output was destined for a printer — but we can surely, surely have an alternative to the current paradigm.
Yes, documents, as envisioned in the ‘90s are dead. But I would want a data-oriented workflow, rather than an application-centric universes, where each application manages its own opaque data silo, or manages some data stored somewhere unknown in the cloud.
I wish the concepts of data, data representation, and data storage were clearly delimited and independently manageable.
Of course Plan 9 is one possible incarnation of these concepts, albeit not one that can provide what people expect in this day and age. But there are others possible incarnations, I’m sure.
In Plan 9 the user is in control where data resides, and where the computation happens, the namespace is the mapping between these resources.
Data can be on some remote file server, and can be processed by the local CPU, or it can be on some local file server and be processed by a remote CPU; it works just as well. Of course, preferably you chose to run the computations close to the data (both the data and the computation being remote), but you are in no way required to do so.
Of course typeless bag-of-bytes type of files are not what the general population expects today, but it doesn’t take much imagination conceiving having rich data providers communicating with data consumers through open protocols. The user can pick and chose who provides these independent services, or he can provide them himself (or some subset of them).
The protocols can even be application-specific protocols, as long as they are open protocols. They don’t even need to be restricted to network I/O. Perhaps it is desirable to run the computation closer to the data that the internet can provide. I mean protocol in the general sense of two systems talking together through whatever means, which could even mean some form of running two services under the same kernel instance, as long as there is a standard way to do this.
And then the user can chose what application to use, to display this data managed by some system, and processed by another, through another protocol (or the same protocol).
Classic Mac OS had the beginnings of this, and the unquestioned regression in handling of files and data from Classic Mac OS to OS X (file extensions? Are you FOR SERIOUS?) was the worst sin of the transition, in my opinion.
Call me crazy, but I feel like GUIs from the mid-to-late 90s were the best-looking. Things we’re…cleaner. More straight lines, heavier contrast. Buttons that looked like buttons!
The most beautiful, to me, is probably BeOS, though I also loved NeXT.