Given the absence of an expressly articulated strategy, it seems reasonable to assume that this is an instance of user interface design put in service to marketing — always a part of usability engineering, sure, but here it’s in a greater proportion than we’ve commonly seen in major operating systems. Taken together, the three dominant chrome styles available in Tiger are pretty clearly making emotional appeals to various segments of the user population. What they represent is a vocabulary, if you will, of imperfectly reconciled expressions of usability — they’re vehicles through which the developers are sending right brain signals about their products.
So, while on the train to the D.C. area a few weeks ago, I jotted down some notes about the way window chrome styles are used and to what purpose, and I tried to decode what it is exactly that a developer is trying to say when they choose one style over another.
What follows is a brief and dramatically unscientific table that outlines my interpretation of each usage, divided up between Apple and, um, the rest of the Macintosh developer universe. It’s a gross division, to be sure, but I think it’s a decent summary of the messages that I’m hearing, at least. I would actually be keenly interested if others, especially independent software developers, are interpreting these things differently.
Interpreting Window Chrome Usage in Mac OS X
Window Chrome Type
What Apple Computer Is Telling You When They Use It
What Third Party Developers Are Telling You When They Use It
“We don’t consider this piece of software to be
particularly important or a very convincing tool to sell new Macs, but here it is anyway.”
“We have reluctantly given in to the Aqua sensibility, but we still don’t buy that trendy
brushed metal or other fickle nonsense.”
“This is a really, really important piece of functionality, so you should pay close
attention, even if we don’t fully understand it ourselves.”
“It’s not clear how best to use this trendy brushed metal stuff, but you should consider this software
to be as cool as anything from Apple.”
“Okay, we grudgingly admit that not everyone is crazy about brushed metal, so here’s something
more subdued but still a little fancy.”
“We can’t stand brushed metal, but we want to keep up with the times, so here’s something
a little fancier than a plain old window.”