Gestalt Selectors List

The system's going to pieces; so will users without info

MacWeek Issue: 10.24.94 (Page: 26)
By Henry Norr

Apple is moving quickly to "componentize" its APIs and other system software, company officials said at an upbeat briefing last month on the status of OpenDoc.

"Hooray," I thought to myself, reciting the litany of virtues so often ascribed to modular software.

Then I remembered my System folder.

Like mushrooms after a rain

The fact is that I already have more system-software components than I know what to do with. An "Easy Install" of System 7.5 put 23 files in my Power Mac's Control Panels folder and 43 in the Extensions folder. Adding PowerTalk and QuickDraw GX raised the numbers to 29 and 59, respectively -- not to mention 20 ColorSync profiles in my Preferences folder and a new PowerTalk Data folder containing files with user-friendly names such as WSBTree and IPM Bin. Apple Remote Access installed dozens of other files. Before I'd done a lick of work, my System folder tipped the scales at more than 25 Mbytes.

What bothers me even more than the space consumed is the problem of managing all these fragments, especially as the inevitable updates start popping up on AppleLink and elsewhere. I can't even keep track of what version of everything I've got in my own brand-new System folder -- imagine the challenges facing Mac managers and technical support staffers.

I set out to alleviate the problem by getting rid of the pieces I was sure I wouldn't need. In some cases it was easy: for example, the ImageWriter LQ driver Apple thinks every user should have and then the four different LaserWriter II NT printer descriptions I found.

But try as I might, I simply haven't been able to discover what some of my new system-software components do. Take the PowerPC Monitors Extension -- is that something I need? (I do have a PowerPC and a monitor ...) I checked in System 7.5's skimpy manual, but it's not even mentioned there. I searched the Macintosh Guide, only to receive an error message saying "Can't find the word: PowerPC." I tried Apple's help line three times, but it was always busy.

The information rage

It's incumbent on Apple and application developers to provide clear and accessible information about what each component they install does and for what purposes it's necessary. Windows 95 will have a central registry designed partly for this purpose; I'd like to see something like that from Apple. Or maybe the expanded Get Info windows reportedly due in the Copland Finder will do the trick -- assuming Apple finally gets around to making sure all the information stored there will survive a desktop rebuild.

Unfortunately, Apple currently doesn't seem much interested in helping users understand their systems: About This Macintosh no longer even distinguishes among Mac models; according to a recent Tech Note, the company will reuse existing Gestalt IDs and remove model names, thus preventing even utility developers from working around the new policy.

If Apple brings that attitude to the coming age of modular software, it could become a systems-management nightmare.

Henry Norr, editor emeritus of MacWEEK.