Hands up if you use Dashboard on Mac OS X. I said hands up. Hello?
As for me, I installed Mac OS X Lion, discovered where they shoved Dashboard, and immediately turned it off. Good riddance.
Like iChat AV before it, Dashboard was one of those features in Mac OS X that I loved to demo. Check… this out. Boom. And then I never used it again. An informal hallway poll of co-workers regarding Dashboard revealed a consistent answer: “It was cool, but I never really found a use for it. There was never a killer Dashboard widget.”
The story of why I’m not using Dashboard is a good one. It’s a tale that demonstrates an important point about Apple design philosophy and another regarding desktop productivity. At the intersection of these two stories is why Dashboard is delectable eye candy that made no sense.
If you happen to be sitting at your desk, look around it a bit. If you’re reading this article on a train, imagine what your desk at home looks like. How many layers comprise your desktop?
There’re really two. There’s the immutable layer that we’ll call the Desktop layer, and then there’s the layer above it where you put all your stuff that we’ll call the Stuff Layer. This pedantic detail is important when we look at the desktop on your computer. How many layers are there? In Mac OS X, I’d suggest there are pretty clearly three. Let’s explore each:
Desktop is your first layer, and unlike your physical desktop, it’s mutable. You can change the picture, and, more importantly, in Mac OS X, your icons, Dock, and menu bar are a comforting fixed, but customizable, part of the layer. More on this point in a moment.
Stuff is where all your applications live. This is your workspace and in the digital world additional working space is free so you can have as many Stuff layers as you like. Features like Exposé and Spaces (now repackaged as Mission Control in Lion) show off the difference between Desktop and Stuff perfectly. Switching between Spaces moves all the stuff in your Stuff layer while leaving your desktop layer unchanged. Switching on Exposé (which has also been morphed into Mission Control) demonstrates the last important layer…
Transition, as the name implies, really isn’t a layer; it’s more of a place between places.
Exposé debuted in Panther and showed off the Transition layer as a means of displaying all running applications so you could easily jump to a different application or window. I’d argue that Cmd-Tab does effectively the same thing in the Transition layer as well. Finally, Spaces landed in Leopard and employs this intermediary layer as means of viewing and organizing your different Stuff layers. Still with me?
Back to Dashboard and why it never worked for me. Given my layer definitions, where does Dashboard belong? The issue with Dashboard is that it’s stuff shoved into a layer that my brain sees as transitional and temporary. Yes, Dashboard widgets were designed to provide lightweight and at-a-glance information. No one is suggesting you’d use a widget to build something useful… in fact, no one builds anything in a widget because when you fire up Dashboard your brain isn’t thinking “What are we about to learn or build?” It’s thinking, “Where are we going now?”
You Know How Things Work
Apple design is meant to invoke reality – they build software to look and feel like how things work in the world around you. As you stare at your virtual desktop, the more it maps to the actual desk you are sitting at right now, the less you’ll think about the fact that you’re staring at a wall of ones and zeros and focus on the task at hand.
This is why much Exposé has been lobotomized in Lion. How would you react if, whenever you were wondering where something was on your desktop, I’d show up, pull every single thing off it and show it to you in a manner completely different from how you organized it?
You’d yell, “Don’t touch my stuff!” because in an instant you’d realize how much organization was hidden inside your disorganization.
Dashboard is old news. No one is talking about Dashboard; they’re wondering why design metaphors for iOS — a mobile OS — are being shoved back into Mac OS X — a desktop OS. Now that you understand how I see my desktop, next I’ll explain why Apple’s mobile concept belongs in desktop world, why they make for productive window management, and, finally, why I love the ass-backward feature called natural scrolling.