The Charm of Disintegration

Let’s start with one thing: I’m a linux user. That doesn’t mean I approve of the open source world all the time, in fact in a lot of ways this community can be petty, stupid, and sheeplike, just like any other set of end-users. I was, and I suppose, am still a Windows user, but again I don’t like everything about them. And while I adore the look of Mac OS X, I’ve tried (very hard, I might add) to like the way it works, but some things just require too many precise clicks (read: resizing and positioning windows), so I am not a mac user.

That said, lets talk about the application designs in these systems. In Windows, it seems that everything is about integration. We have a mail application–oh wait, no, it’s also a calendar, and a contact management system. In fact, if we’re Netscape, let’s go ahead and throw an html editor and a browser in there for good measure. They have a file browser that also understands HTML, CSS, Javascript, embedded applets, and of course the dreaded ActiveX, which allows a “trusted” web site (say, microsoftupdate.com) to modify your operating system.

This is not a bad thing, it’s a frame of mind called “Integration” that is fairly pervasive in both the Windows world, and the Open Source world. For a linux/OSS example, Ximian Evolution is in fact almost an exact one-to-one equivalent of Microsoft Outlook. They had the Mozilla Suite, which was effectively exactly what Netscape was. KDE’s Konqueror Browser is every bit as stupid as Microsoft for throwing an integral operating system piece — the file browser — at the unpredictable internet.

But OSX has something new, something everybody is quickly realizing is a good idea, and something other companies have been reproducing ad nauseum to varying effect: Widgets. The widget is a small program that does exactly one thing, but when doing that one thing it runs like the wind.

Why is this good? Let me explain the concept of Disintegration. If I want to browse the internet, I open firefox, not because it’s the greatest web browser ever, but because it’s just a web browser. It opens quickly, and if something on the internet breaks it, Oh no! I might have to reinstall it. Nothing else can be easily affected by its failure. The fact is, I don’t want to wait for my email server before I can quickly add a new homework assignment to my Gnome Calendar, because I’m forced to use Ximian Evolution to update it.

OSX doesn’t only do this in widgets, it separates everything. Mac Mail is a mail client, nothing more. iCal is a calendar, with no nonsense. Safari is a web browser that does one thing extremely well. Why can’t we learn from them? All of these programs are light, fast, and do exactly what you want without doing anything you don’t: I’ll tell my computer if I want my mail. Right now all I want is my calendar.

Integration is okay when it’s modularly integrated. An application that works with another application to use data from it is a good idea. An application that shares libraries in order to access common information from the Operating System is a good idea. But a single application that controls everything is not.

Let me finish with a cry for help: Ximian Evolution sucks. I want Gnome-calendar to let me update those extremely useful calendar views on the system clock without it. Pretty please?

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