I’d like to talk about something that has been talked about a lot in the Mac community (well, at least in the circles of those who care about user interfaces or are just really fussy about the way their desktop looks). Since Steve Jobs has premiered the new OS X Leopard operating system features for the Mac in June, the new and refreshed user interface (UI) has been received with mixed feelings–some very negative, especially regarding the transparent menu bar at the top of the desktop. I’d like to tell you why I think the general public opinion is wrong, why I think Apple has gone with this design decision and why I think people will end up liking it.
Unlike the previous incarnation of the operating system (OS X Tiger) which had a collection of different styles thrown together in its UI, from brushed metal to light plastic and shiny aqua watery bubble buttons, Leopard has one unified metal interface. There is no longer a chaos of styles, but uniformity, which seems to have been well received. The new 3D dock has also been very welcome (for the most part). One element that has received mostly negative feedback–and I mean really negative–was the new menu bar. The menu bar was made transparent and seemed to be out of place. Why did Apple do this? What was so wrong with the current menu bar that they thought they should go ahead and change its beautiful looks? Did they just change it for the sake of making changes?
The answer I think is no–they didn’t just change it for the sake of changing it. The menu bar actually mimics the new dock in a way. It is a similar shade and is also transparent. The reason it mimics the dock is because it shares a similar function to the dock–it is also a general use utility permanently stationed on the desktop, and while the functions are slightly different, it sits right there with dock on your desk giving you access to extra application functions when you need them.
The reason it was made transparent was to firstly, mimic the dock, and secondly, to fade away into the desktop. Apple has really focused on getting the computer interface away from the user to let them work with less effort and focus on the task they are doing. The menu bar is for the most part not a regularly accessed utility (at least not as regularly as keyboard shortcuts and buttons that sit right on the application windows). Apple has tried to let the desktop breathe more and let the UI fade back. Looking at it, it seems to do the trick–the UI just fades lightly away into the desktop, giving more focus to the actual applications that are running.
Yesterday Apple released a new developer seed in which they updated the gradient of the menu bar to make it look a little more like the rest of the interface. This is a great addition and should please many people who have hated the original look. They kept the transparency because they wish to retain the idea I highlighted above–they want their interface to be less prominent on the desk in order to allow you to really focus on your app instead of a list of tools that you may not need. Apple are right to do this, and if the menu bar still remains usable while being semi-transparent then they will succeed with that objective. This is why I think when Leopard arrives on our desks, many of us, and even those who are currently displeased with the way the menu bar looks, will enjoy the user experience that OS X will provide.