Haxies & Usability

Unsanity’s products always seem to spark debate in the Mac web-sphere. From some of the more vocal members of the development team to the rather roundabout ways their products interact with Mac OS X, they are a company that polarizes the community surrounding them. Negative attention is turning toward the company again as Apple is making it clear in their developer’s mailing list that they officially do not support systems on which Unsanity’s Application Enhancer is installed.

George Warner:

Our (Apple’s) official policy is that we don’t support APE’d systems. Period. The data miner that parses all the crash logs that are sent to us automatically ignores any report that has APE api’s in the backtraces or dylb lists.

Likewise If DTS receives a crash incident with API in the backtrace or dylb list we will not investigate it. Our “standard answer” in this case is to inform the developer that we don’t support APE and that we’ll only be able to help them if they can reproduce the problem without APE installed.

The simple fact is that APE works some strange mojo on your Mac to do its magic, and some users resent that. Others point to serious problems APE can cause on systems. Just search for “Application Enhancer” or “APE” on the MacNN forums for a good idea of what I’m talking about.

Regardless of the risks, I have to admit to being an Unsanity customer since the early days of my Mac OS X adoption. I can hardly remember what it was like using OS X without APE installed and a couple of its companion products (called “haxies”). I have registered four of Unsanity’s haxies, but I only actively use two. One product is ShapeShifter, a theming utility for OS X, and the other is FruitMenu – the utility that keeps me coming back.

After transitioning to an Intel Mac, Unsanity’s haxies were seriously slowing my system down, among other factors, and I ended up removing them and the APE module from my system. No buyer’s-remorse was involved. I had gotten years of use out of the products and was perfectly okay with leaving them behind. However, once Mac OS X 10.4.9 was released, allowing for a more efficient version of APE to be released, I found myself reinstalling these utilities primarily for a single feature of FruitMenu. Allow me to illustrate.

If I’m working on a project for work or this site, I typically have several applications open at once, and I’ll cmd-Tab between them as needed. I imagine you might have a similar workflow. Unfortunately, look what happens to the menus as applications change:


Menu headers jump around based on the length of the application’s name. This is most noticeable with the File and Edit menus, which appear in nearly all windowed applications. This means if you are a clicker (like me), there is a moving target on top of the screen, especially in the case of Word in this illustration.

FruitMenu has an option in its Preference Pane to use applications’ icons to denote the application menu in lieu of the programs’ names. Take a look at how this alters the menu bar:


Now the menus remain much more static, thus improving the overall usability of the menu bar. The File and Edit menus stay exactly consistent. Some might raise the concern that it is not ideal UI design to use an icon for a menu because it is not immediately apparent that the icon is a clickable item. However, I would say Mac users are used to icon-activated menus due to the Apple menu in the left-hand corner and the various other menu extras that appear to the right (not pictured). I personally think that the usability gains granted by turning the application menu into an icon trump the negatives.

In short, this feature keeps bringing me back to Unsanity’s APE modules. It really surprises me that this behavior isn’t the Mac OS X default, and FruitMenu will stay on my system as long as it performs reliably. Between the release of 10.4.9 and Unsanity’s resolution of APE’s pre-binding issue, I perceive no performance lags on my modded system, so I guess I’m okay with some system mojo happening just as long as everything is sailing smoothly and I get to have my Menu bar the way I like it.