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Commentary on MetaTools Bryce Meta Mac-like interface

When Apple computer introduced the Macintosh, the real novelty was not so much the hardware, but the operating system, and a new standard for software interface design. Every home computer user back in 1984 had to control their computer's operating system (or disk operating system, hence DOS), or any software running on the computer, with commands typed into the keyboard. Apple's Macintosh was the first home computer to largely do away with the so-called command-line interface.

What Mac users got instead, was an interface that allowed computer control via certain visual (graphical) metaphors, thereby reducing the conceptual chasm between the user and such abstractions as "file" or "input variable". Files became icons visible on the screen, and input variables could be set interactively by dragging the mouse (instead of typing numbers on the keyboard). But the Macintosh software interface standards are mostly over ten years old, now, and are beginning to show their age.

The Bryce interface takes advantage of the hardware (input: mouse / output: screen) much more aggressively than the original Mac interface standard allows - to the benefit of the user. Thus, some call it "unintuitive." Sure, to a Mac user, it is unintuitive because it is not Mac-like. But back in 1984, the Mac system was unintuitive to all personal computer users - that did not mean it was not a better interface standard.

Let me give one or two examples of where Bryce's interface shines compared to the Mac-standard equivalent. To pick a color within a typical Mac-like graphics program, take several steps: click a button, work with a dialog box that comes up - drag sliders for colors, saturation, brightness - click OK to set the values. To pick a color in Bryce, click and drag on a button that immediately transforms into a field which shows all permissible color values. Once you have dragged to the color you want, release the mouse to set the color. There is no dialog box, no ok button, no cancel button (hit command Z to cancel) - you have made your selection with just one click and drag. This may be non Mac-like, but it is better!

Bryce also implements some graphics tools in a more efficient, albeit non Mac-like fashion. Take the "hand tool", for example, or any other tool that allows you to control the view angle and/or position of your artwork. Say you want to move your artboard on the screen (change your viewing position). In Mac-like programs you may select the "hand tool" from an on-screen palette by clicking on it, then take your pointer (cursor, "hand") over to the artwork, click again and drag the art to a new position. Then if you want another tool, you go back over to your palette to click on another one. Once again, in Bryce only one click and drag is needed to accomplish all of these steps! Click and drag right on the tool palette to simultaneously select the tool and apply the drag to the artwork. When the mouse is released, both the change to the artwork is implemented, and the "tool" is released.

Meta-, used as a prefix, means "beyond." Meta Mac-like means beyond Mac-like. MetaTools has created an interface for Bryce that is indeed beyond Mac-like. It uses the Mac's innovative (though no longer unique) personal computer hardware interface (mouse/screen) in a more advanced and efficient way, even as it builds upon interface standards first introduced to the personal computer by Apple.

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