Electron and the decline of native applications

Original author: John Gruber
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SwiftOnSecurity writes on the recent transition to Chromium as a Windows rendering engine:

It's not just about Chrome, it's also about ElectronJS. Microsoft thinks EdgeHTML cannot achieve full parity in functionality with Chromium to replace it in Electron applications. Duplication of the Electron engine in each program becomes a significant performance problem. Instead, they want one copy of Electron along with their add-ons.

Electron is a cancer that kills both macOS and Windows as it spreads. Microsoft should offer it a replacement with native optimizations to improve performance and resource utilization.

I do not quite share their pessimism about native applications, but Electron is without a doubt the scourge of the platform. I think the Mac will offer more resistance than Windows, because the Mac platform attracts more caring people. But still, I'm worried.

In a sense, the worst thing that ever happened to a Mac was his sudden rise in popularity ten years ago. In theory, this should be good news for the platform - more users mean more attention from developers. The more Mac users, the more we will see Mac applications. The problem is that users who are really worried about native applications, that is, they notice violations of the HIG in the interfaces, care about performance and that the applications on the Mac are correct , already sitting on the Mac. Many new users either did not know or did not care about what exactly makes Mac applications good.

There have always been bad applications. But they rarely reached any level of popularity because Mac users collectively rejected them. A canonical example is Microsoft Word 6.0. Word 5 for Mac was a favorite of users and a confident resident of the Mac platform. Word 6 was a cross-platform monster. Mac users rejected it, and their reaction provoked changes to Microsoft - on top of their greatness in the mid-90s, they completely rethought the strategy of working with Macs and created a separate line of business dedicated to developing for Mac. Microsoft's Rick Schauth described this story amazingly in 2004 :

Ok, Mac Word 6.0 was huge and slow relative to the power of computers of those times, but this was not the reason why Mac Word 6.0 turned out to be a fucking product, at least not directly.
Moreover, while people complained about performance, we heard the most discontent about the fact that Mac Word 6.0 was not “Mac-like”. So we spent a lot of time to figure out exactly what people mean by talking about “Mac-like”. We launched a focus group. Some of us hang out in Usenet communities. We talked with program reviewers and with our friends who used the product. It turned out that “Mac-like” meant Mac Word 5.0.

We spent a lot of time to solve all the technical problems of Mac Word 6.0, but we failed in creating a UI that would work as Word 5.0.
Another thing that we figured out as a result of understanding the essence of “Mac-like” was that we would not be able to implement it correctly if Office remained a single product from which both versions would be built, under Mac and under Windows. The fact that the implementation of “Mac-like” turned out to be a problem meant that there are fundamental differences between the Win Word and Mac Word markets. If we wanted to understand both markets, then our Win and Mac products should have separate marketing and product management. The lessons that we learned from Mac Word 6.0 are one of the reasons why a separate direction for Mac exists now.

I fundamentally disagree with one aspect: users saw the embodiment of Mac-like not in the form of Word 5 as such - in fact, Word 5 just followed the rules of the Mac in its design. Word 6 was rejected not because of its unusualness, but because it literally looked the opposite of Mac-like. It looked and worked exactly like Word for Windows.

How far away from Mac-like was Word 6, but even it was closer than the current Google Docs, open in the Chrome browser. Google Docs is an anti-mac text editor running inside an even more anti-mac web browser . The fact that Mac users were strongly rejected as anti-Mac in 1996 was better than what Mac users happily tolerate today. Programs no longer need to look native to a Mac in order to achieve success on it today. This is a tragedy.

Even Apple itself is already releasing Mac applications with blatant manifestations of anti-Mac. “Marzipan” apps on MacOS 10.14 Mojave - News, Home, Stocks, Voice Memos are terribly bad apps . They are bad both in functional terms and in the foreign sensation of design. I honestly do not understand how Apple decided that it would be normal to release such applications.

Another example would be the new App Store application on Mojave. It certainly looks beautiful, but a few days ago I noticed that it does not support the Page Down and Page Up keys to scroll (as well as Home and End to go to the beginning or end) in any of its screens.

Small note

После того как я написал об этом в Twitter, несколько человек ответили, что неработающие клавиши не должны быть неожиданностью, потому что современные клавиатуры Apple их не имеют. Во-первых, это неверно – на большой Magic Keyboard они есть. Но даже если у вас MacBook или просто маленькая клавиатуры, вы можете получить эти кнопки, используя Fn. Fn↓ = Page Down; Fn↑ = Page Up; Fn← = Home; Fn→ = End. Пользуйтесь!

Open the page and click Page Down, but instead of scrolling it just beeps. The only way to scroll the page is with a mouse or trackpad. And this application from Apple, used by almost everyone. Even the applications on Marzipan support these keys, because this functionality, like other standard behavior, is obtained for free with the corresponding development framework. The Mojave version of the App Store must be doing something really strange for these keys to stop working.

Small note

Пока я на полную включил режим детишки, проваливайте с моей лужайки, позвольте мне упомянуть еще одну ситуацию с Mojave, которая точно является работой юных разработчиков в Apple. Команда File → Show Original в Finder имела горячую клавишу ⌘R со времен, я думаю, System 6. (Выделите алисас или симлинк, и эта команда покажет вам исходный файл). File → Make Alias была ⌘L. В Mojave ⌘R необъяснима была переназначена на вращение вправо, а ⌘L – на вращение влево. (Похоже, они являются невидимыми элементами меню Edit? Их нет в списке элементов, но кнопка Edit подсвечивается когда вы нажимаете эти клавиши.) Горячая клавиша для создания алисаса теперь ⌤⌘A, а показ оригинала это ⌤⌥⌘A. Сами по себе новые сочетания не так уж плохи, как мне кажется, но это были невероятно давно устоявшиеся сочетания, чтобы их так просто поменять. Более того, новые кнопки не даже не совпадают с аналогичными в Photos, где они заданы как ⌘R – вращение против часовой стрелки и ⌥⌘R – по часовой. Сочетания клавиш в Photos, где вращение в другую сторону это вариант с модификатором Option(⌥) вместо использования совершенно другой клавиши, мне кажется более нативным для Mac. Preview, в другой стороны, использует названия "Rotate Left" и "Rotate Right" и те же сочетания ⌘L и ⌥⌘R, что и Finder в Mojave. Я сдаюсь.

Mojave’s App Store app definitely doesn’t use Electron. But the problem with Electron applications is not in him, but in reducing user demand for well-made native Mac applications. And it scares. The biggest threat to the Mac is not the iPad, not the Chromebook or Windows 2-in-1 tablets, but apathy towards what made the Mac applications so great. As I tweeted about the Page Down / Up situation :

Such situations for us are like canaries in a coal mine with respect to the state of the Mac platform. Even if Apple doesn’t follow the basic rules - such as Page Up / Down support, things that should work in interfaces right out of the box - how can we expect this from other developers?

The new App Store app definitely looks better. But developers at Apple and other companies need to know the design, and how it works .

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