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iPhoto 6: the source list

Like Mail and iTunes before it, 2006 saw iPhoto embrace a new style of source list (or sidebar, if you like). And when I say style I naturally mean decorative style… because there’s really little functional difference between it and any other source list you’ll see in OS X, zany inconsistencies notwithstanding. It’s just kinda blue.

Fundamental to adopting this new style is the complete trashing of vertical window chrome and introduction of a new split-view resize widget. “New” in the sense that it has not traditionally been employed in split-views, but has been seen in the Finder since the earliest days of OS X and is essentially just a horizontally-constrained cousin of the window resize handle — the likes of which you will find at the bottom-right of almost every window in Mac OS, Windows, and Linux alike. The indented parallel lines of the resize widget are supposed to give the illusion of ‘grip’, as though this part of the window affords grasping and pulling This pleases me in the way that only the reuse of an already-familiar interaction model can, and cuts down on the chunkiness of the UI. Despite the HIG often demanding massive window margins from both Brushed Metal and Aqua, it was never really popular with the Aqua crowd. It looks like it’s even less popular in Burnt Aqua.

The funny part about this across-the-board reduction in window chrome is that it has nothing to do with making the UI any ‘lighter’. Weight was never a concern during Brushed Metal’s infamous march across the desktop, and I don’t see it being so now. No, this brave new minimalist chic is a product of the very-fashionable vertical gradient. Yes, an entire generation of software is being designed on a foundation no less capricious than women’s footwear. Try running a vertical gradient down the entire length of a window (upward of a thousand pixels, these days) and you’ll come off looking the fool, so they’ve cut it down to the bare minimum: top and bottom, title bar and status/tool bar.

The 2006 Calendar pane’s splitter looks out of place with its Aqua theme Naturally, with all the focus on eliminating vertical chrome, nobody seems to give a damn about excess horizontal chrome; even less about misplaced, out-of-theme, goofy looking horizontal chrome. Obviously I’d like to see them do a little more with our new pal Resize Handle, if he’s up to the task. And I think he is.

Photocasts get their fifteen pixels of fame in the new sidebar, showing up in classic Smart Album Purple alongside a fairly stringy-looking refresh button. Subscribe to more than one and they’re automatically grouped into a Photocasts folder, which is nice, but uh… you can’t actually look at the folder.

iPhoto’s sidebar lists your library, a few special albums (like your last film roll), the trash, and then as many folders as deeply nested as you’d like to organize all your photos. Except for photocasts… they’re somehow special.

Click on a folder, any folder, in iPhoto and it’ll show you the aggregate contents of every album, slideshow, book, and subfolder within. It’s really neat —and I did just say neat— wielding the power to build frightening photographic taxonomies and drill down, layer by layer, to your desired specificity. I don’t do that, of course, but I could. You bet your ass I could.

Not so with Photocasts. The Photocast folder doesn’t even accept clicks. Click on it and you might suspect your computer is taking a nap, or is simply stressed with all the new jargon it has to memorize. Not even a highlight. Or a beep. The disclosure triangle does its job, and each individual photocast will show you its contents, but you can forget trying to view them all at once. Click me once, shame on you. Click me twice…

Worse still, they’re all stuck in that darned Photocasts folder for good. There’ll be no mixing and matching of syndicated and static content, nosiree. And though the advertising copy claims “Aunt Sophia can use them however she’d like”, I would’ve hoped filing them as she pleased would be on top of that list. You can copy them to your library, sure, but while they’re considered foreign material they’re put where they’re put.

And finally, I’m pleased to see iCal’s “this one is published” icon get another day in the sun after iCal sharing went out of vogue, but as I’ve already alluded: I wish they’d do the same with iCal’s “you’re subscribed to this one” icon ( …it looks like a curved arrow. It’s nothing special, but it’s simpler and looks a hell of a lot better at such a small size ) and ditch those stringy sync arrows.