The Griffiths of the Deep

Friday, 2007-12-07; 22:53:00

Rob Griffiths has gone and done something that I never thought imaginable from the guy: he’s trolling for hits on MacWorld. This afternoon, he published an article entitled “Choice additions to OS X”. Let's dive right in.

Here’s what Griffiths is imploring of Apple:

It wasn’t too long ago that I was lampooning the multitude of Vista versions, as compared to the two (basically) versions of OS X. Well, I’m here today to eat my words, to some extent. So here we go: Apple, please offer an additional, premium-priced version of OS X. There, I said it. Let's call it OS X Choice, because Advanced, Ultimate, Supremo, and Extra Special all sound too stuffy. How much for OS X Choice? Let’s say $229, a $100 premium over OS X.

This first paragraph exhibits one of the primary elements of a troll: appeal to objectivity. Griffiths takes a reasonable conclusion that’s widespread in the Mac community – that multiple versions of an operating system end up confusing users and make you pay more for all the features – and points to an article showing that he came to this reasonable conclusion.

Then, he turns that very same, reasonable conclusion on its head and says that it’s wrong. And he points to his previous article where he came to that reasonable conclusion, to ostensibly support his argument that that conclusion is wrong.

Astute readers, however, will notice the problem. If the original conclusion is valid, then the opposite of that original conclusion is not. That you previously came to the reasonable conclusion does not lend more credibility to your current article, it damages it. By the end of this first paragraph, most readers should be (rightly so) highly skeptical of anything that comes afterwards.

Griffiths continues:

Now you might be wondering just what Apple could include in OS X Choice to justify selling a version at a higher price than the standard $129 version. Microsoft, for instance, can offer Vista Ultimate because it holds back features such as remote login, scan and fax, and drive encryption from its lower-priced versions. But not OS X—it already comes with everything in the box, including features that you won’t find on Vista, like an industrial-strength Web server, virtual desktop support, and a multi-version automated backup solution (Time Machine). So what would Apple have to throw on top of all that to justify offering OS X Choice at a higher price?

My answer? Nothing. In fact, what I’d really like Apple to offer is less—well, less in the way of more, as it were.

Ah ha. Another classic trolling technique: appeal to philosophy. Here, Griffiths asks the same question that highly skeptical readers already have in their heads. He then uses a cliché to answer it. Less is more. That totally clears things up for us. Those words completely took away all doubt I had about his ideas.


I have an idea. Let’s get a bong and smoke some weed, too, so that we can come up with some more philosophical ideals that this “OS X Choice” needs to include!

Are you confused yet? Perhaps some examples of what I’d like to see included in OS X Choice will help clarify things.

Ah ha! A third classic technique of seasoned trolls: appeal to openness. Obviously the first three paragraphs have done nothing to assuage the skepticism that most readers will have at this point. In fact, he’s probably amplified them. But that’s not a problem, because Griffiths can say that everything will turn out well in the end. You just have to keep reading all the way to the end before you will get this magical revelation. You have to have an open mind to understand Griffiths’ idea. Duh!

First off, OS X Choice would include the full OS X Client version, with just one new application: Choice. (If Apple can name the zones within the Spaces application “spaces,” then I can name the new OS X Choice application Choice!) Behind the scenes, of course, there would be code changes required to support the Choice application.

Wow. We’ll have an entirely separate app that’s dedicated to changing system settings. It will be an entirely new application! Where you change system settings! It’ll be awesome!

You know, like System Preferences! Except... not!

And what would Choice give you? Exactly what its name implies—the ability to choose how you would like to interact with OS X. Choice would allow that by providing user control over a number of features that have historically had control at all.

Fourth display of classic trolling techinque: appeal to long-winded explanations — because long-winded explanations are always right and well-informed.

We’re in the sixth paragraph, and the reader still has no idea what this “OS X Choice” is supposed to be. Remember, in the fourth paragraph, Griffiths tried to assuage our fears with his article, and he explicitly noted the confusion that the reader undoubtedly had. But the fifth and sixth paragraphs actually do nothing to clear up that confusion.

The definition of choice is, according to Leopard, “an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities”. In other words, it gives the user control over something, the power to choose. In the above paragraph, Griffiths is basically defining the word “choice”, as if his readers don’t already know what it means! He also tries to win over less tech-savvy readers by saying that there will be “code changes require to support the Choice application”.

Finally we come to the “meat” of the article. Here’s where Griffiths finally goes into specifics about what he wants. He lists 19 specific things that he wants in “OS X Choice”. These include being able to set the translucency of the menu bar, place scroll arrows “together at both ends of both scroll bars”, choose “from additional professionally-designed ‘appearance’ themes, beyond blue and graphite”, “position the dock at the top of the screen”, “choose between Stacks and hierarchical folders in your Dock”, “enable a tabbed Dock”, “easily choose between a 2-D or 3-D dock on any screen edge, with proper perspectives and shadows applied based on location”, etc.

So basically Griffiths wants to be able to customize the user interface. He wants to be able to change various aspects of the appearance of objects that appear on the screen, like windows or menubars or the Dock. He wants power user control over what features he can enable and disable, and he wants individual control over them, not all-or-nothing switches for entire categories of items.

Fair enough. The only problem is that you can already do a lot of these things. You can turn off the 3D Dock, with a hidden preference, if you don’t like it. You can position the Dock at the top of the screen, also with a hidden preference. A third-party app called Quay provides hierarchical menus in the Dock, menubar translucency can be turned off via another hidden preference, and system-wide fonts can be changed via TinkerTool. And you can position both scroll bars at both ends of scroll bars, also with a hidden preference. And the translucent floating clock can be brought over from 10.4 if you really want it.

Granted, not all of Griffiths’ suggestions can actually be done at this point in time, and those that can be changed don’t offer as much control as Griffiths would like. But is Griffiths’ wanting them reason enough to include them in OS X? Should Apple really spend the engineering time to allow an extremely small minority of users to customize the interface? Should Apple really confuse consumers by offering two different versions of OS X just because Griffiths wants control over the user interface in his operating system?

For some reason, Griffiths includes a few more feature requests in the paragraph following the list (even though he could have easily included them in the list itself):

The above merely touches on the surface of some of the things that I think Apple could and should offer in OS X Choice. Other things that come to mind include wireless synching of the iPhone; the ability to name spaces (“Work” and “Fun”, for example, instead of “1” and “2”) within the Spaces app; improved keyboard navigation of the menu bar; control over font faces for the interface in programs such as iTunes, Mail, and iPhoto; the ability to colorize folders in Mail’s sidebar; and many more.

Some of these suggestions are pretty stupid to include in a more expensive version of OS X. Wireless iPhone synching? Why not ask Apple to offer that to all iPhone users? The ability to name spaces? Why not offer that to all Mac OS X users? Simple feature additions like this can be integrated into the existing version of OS X as a point upgrade (e.g.: 10.5.2) or a major upgrade (e.g.: 10.6) without problems.

The things that he mentions in this paragraph are useful features that I think many users would want in OS X, whereas the features in the list are not. But again, why integrate them into a separate version of OS X called “Choice”?

But how about you? What user-controllable features would you like to see added to OS X Choice? And more importantly, would you consider spending an extra $100 for it, or do you think this is something that Apple should have available in the standard version of OS X, even if it made the system more complex and harder to configure for many users?

Ah ha! Here we come to the fifth classic trolling technique: appeal to readers. Griffiths slyly implies that the premise of his entire post — “OS X Choice” — is a good idea. He implicitly does so by asking readers what they want in “OS X Choice”, as if it’s a foregone conclusion that Apple is now going to make it because he suggested it.

Now, there’s one important trolling technique that I haven’t addressed yet, but Griffiths deftly uses this technique; it's hidden in the actual premise of his article. Suppose you have two options, A and B. A is more desirable. A is also more likely (but not necessarily probable). For which option do you advocate, A or B?

Naturally, any reasonable person would advocate for choice A. Even if A hasn't happened for several years — if A is still more likely at a certain point in time, you would still advocate for choice A.

Now what if it’s actually not your choice, but you’re just writing about it. In this case, an important detail changes everything: option B is actually more entertaining. Which do you write about? Which option gets you more hits?

If you’re a troll, you write about choice B. And that’s exactly what Griffiths has done here. Read the comments on the article. Griffiths makes it clear that he would prefer that Apple integrates his suggestions into Mac OS X 10.6, rather than creating multiple versions of OS X. That’s his preferred option.

It’s also the more likely option. Apple has publicly lampooned Microsoft in keynote speeches and in ads because there are multiple versions of Windows for consumers to choose from. Obviously, Apple (and I think almost everyone in the Mac community) agrees that offering only one consumer version of OS X is highly desirable compared to offering multiple consumer versions. It reduces confusion, and Apple doesn't try to extract as much money as possible from the consumer by offering the multiple versions. Offering only one version of OS X creates good will.

So if integration of Griffiths’ desired features into OS X 10.6 is more likely, and Griffiths actually prefers that, why didn’t he simply ask Apple to integrate these features into the next version, rather than asking Apple to create a premium version of OS X? Because that isn’t entertaining. Because everybody’s heard all of the interface complaints, and because Apple’s lack of customization in the interface has been written about many times over.

But option B! Option B is a godsend! “OS X Choice”, option B, is far more compelling, because it’ll get more hits from readers for being such a wacky suggestion! Never mind the fact that it’s a ridiculous suggestion. Never mind the fact that “OS X Choice” is more unlikely. Never mind the fact that it would place OS X in the same boat as Vista. Never mind that it’s completely stupid.

Because “OS X Choice” offers choice! Woo! Yay! Party!

Seriously. Griffiths, stop being a troll, and don’t write lame-ass articles like this again. You almost always have good things to say, but this article definitely isn’t one of them.

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