After Hours

QuickTime - not ready for prime time?

Apple Computer has changed the way the QuickTime control panel works, and users are not happy. Ilene Hoffman shares her input on this drama.

There's a brouhaha brewing on the Internet. It’s not a life threatening complaint against potential scientific madness, such as the black hole experiment in NY coming in November. It’s not a political movement to help some beleaguered third world country feed its starving masses. No, it’s a design and interface issue. Simply put, Apple Computer, Inc. changed the way the QuickTime control panel works, and users are not happy.

QuickTime is multimedia movie and sound player/editor created by Apple. QuickTime files may be movies, MP3s, audio, video, animation, or even streamed video from Web sites. The professional version ($29.95) allows the easy creation and editing of multimedia, too. Players are available for Windows and Macintosh, plus Web browser plug-ins are available so you can post QuickTime files on your Web sites.

One of the key factors in the differentiation between the Macintosh operating system and all others is the consistent user interface. How we work with applications or software is basically the same, no matter what company developed the product—with a couple of notable exceptions, such as Metacreations and games ported over from the Windows OS.

Apple may not have the most perfect interface design—but it’s close. The Mac OS interface has been consistent over the years, so we're all subconsciously, if not acutely, aware of how things work. I always liked the way Apple "trained" us to expect certain aspects of all programs to work in expected ways. Essentially, all Mac users are trained to work in basically the same framework. We can think differently, but ironically, we've been taught to handle a computer in pre-determined ways. It’s true, we can choose to use keyboard commands or menus, and customize many features to our individual tastes; but within a very defined framework.

The not-so-new QuickTime 4 application departs from those user interface guidelines, and users have a problem with that. Just last week, Salon magazine posted an article that chronicles some of the disgruntled interface design voices. Funny thing is, when I first tried to use QuickTime 4 and found the interface confusing, I did what I thought most users did—I looked around for something different to use. I was able to get SoundApp and MacAmp to play MP3s, and only use QuickTime to view movies. I went to Netscape's plug-in page and downloaded other plug-ins to handle audio streaming, and basically just wrote it off. Then again, I'm not a developer, nor am I someone who used QuickTime very frequently. I wrongly assumed that it was just me. Lo and behold, it’s NOT me!

Somewhere along the hierarchy, Apple decided to use what it considers a more recognizable design similar to stereos and televisions for the new QuickTime controls. Where it got the drawer idea for saving frequently played files is beyond me, and why they neglected to include a way for me to name the icons I DO save, is even more confounding. Even Human Interface expert Bruce Tognazzini said, " 1. It is OK to mimic real-world objects. 2. It is okay to innovate, even when a new appearance is significantly different from what came before.

“The QuickTime player does both of these things; it just does it badly. It would appear it does so either because the team failed to user-test or the team ignored the result."

If you're a serious techie, you may want to read the lengthy article at Isys Information Architects' site in their InterfaceHall of Shame .

What do you think? Is the new QuickTime interface intuitive only for a serious couch potato who has never used a computer, or is it just a big boo-boo?

Ilene Hoffman, MS, is a Macintosh/Internet writer, trainer, and consultant based in the Boston area. She is Senior Editor at, Contributing Editor at MacTech Magazine, and the perpetrator of the Hess Macworld Expo Events List . She also hosts weekly Mac conferences on Talk City and AOL.

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