When I had my first computer, we didn’t have graphical user interfaces, at least not in the way that we have come to know them. Mostly, it was a bunch of colored ANSI/ASCII. Pretty lame, really. Certainly didn’t help productivity. Frankly, I came to resent GUIs. When Windows came out, I installed it but rarely used it. It always slowed me down relative to just typing out commands in the shell. Still, more and more programs were being developed specifically for Windows and so it was a necessary evil.
Then, one fateful day, I installed Windows 95, rebooted, and exited the program into the DOS shell. I typed some command and it said "wrong version" because bloody Bill Gates took over my shell and dumbed it down. It was at that point that I decided that anything was better than Windows. Looking for other alternatives, I had a certain love/hate relationship with Linux . I loved its power and tweakability but I struggled to get the sound card to work, even with the more user friendly distribution Red Hat.
Then, I discovered that the Apple folks had hacked a *nix variant called FreeBSD and made it their own as an open source project called Darwin. Even though it lacks some taken-for-granted features (has anyone noticed concat is missing?) a standard *nix distro comes with, unlike Windows 95 DOS, you can add to it whatever you want (for example, I have installed mplayer so that I can play music within the shell). So even though OS X-equipped Macs are super user-friendly, they’re completely applicable to the power user as well. It’s the best of both worlds, really. Though I certainly spend time in the shell, I find that many things can be done a lot faster/easier with the GUI, which is an experience unique to OS X in my experience.
But despite all their genius and even despite the fact that their first product was a blue box that allowed for illegal free phone calls, I can’t give the differently-thinking Steve² all the credit. One of the major elements that a GUI can give to an interface is organization. It’s often pretty difficult to organize pure text. Sure ircII and vi/m had split windows but tabs are the best implementation I have seen yet. They leave the desktop uncluttered and yet everything is easily accessible at a glance. Even though tabs have only been in the forefront for a little more than half a decade, the GUI just doesn’t seem the same without them.
Case in point: last night I was working with some text files and was about to pop open my favourite tabbed text editor when I thought I would give Aquamacs Emacs a try. Though my *nix editor of choice– just for ease of use and accessibility– is pico (Darwin uses nano, which is a pico copy) I’ve used vi and especially emacs before, as well. I thought it might be cool to have a super powerful *nix text editor with an Aqua interface. So I popped in my first file and then hit Cmd-T for a new tab and got the old "Funk" sound. So I searched through the menus, tried different options, to no avail– no tabs. Screw it, I went back to Smultron. Ironically, it was in 1988 that tabs were first introduced.. on an implementation of emacs.
That being said, here are my favourite tab-friendly OS X programs, though plenty more exist:
- Safari – native web browser
- Shiira – another WebKit-based browser with some brilliant extras and a great pricetag: free
- Firefox – a free, extensible great browser for any OS
- Linkinus – awesome Shareware Internet Relay Chat client which is worth it over Colloquy, especially if you pick up a free license
- Adium – a highly tweakable multi-protocol libgaim-based freeware Instant Messenger client
- Vienna – awesome freeware Really Simple Syndication reader
- iTerm – a really nice freeware alternative to Terminal with bookmarks!
- Smultron – freeware text editor with syntax highlighting
- jEdit – free extensible multi-platform Java-based text editor, especially good for programming
- Journler – a donationware program will do a lot of miscellaneous things, blogging included, but its main function is being a journal, which it does quite well
- Nvu – another freeware, this time a WYSIWYG HTML editor with nice FTP capabilities
Luckily for those of you that are not convinced of what a joy OS X is to work with, there are plenty of tab-friendly programs for other platforms. However, so much of the OS X GUI is about approachability and functionality, tabs seem to go hand in hand with it. Maybe with Leopard steadily approaching public release, now would be a good time to see it for yourself if you haven’t already!
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