Saturday, January 13, 2007

The OS X Address Book: Part of the dark side of Apple

I've a post pending on the dark side of Apple. I've been looking at that Darkseid recently, after configuring a Mac Mini for my mother, watching the Mac-free MacWorld and the iPhone, and, most recently, trying to do something real with the OS Mac OS X Address Book. First, the Address Book.

I've used the Address Book intermittently for years, and never thought much about how bad it really is. Then, a month ago, I configured a Mac Mini for my mother. I could tweak most of the key applications to be usable, but the Address Book was intractable. There's no configuration of the icon bar, it doesn't "remember" the single card UI preference, the integration is memorably bad, and it basically fails every usability test one can imagine. It stinks. The best I could do was tweak the insanely complex and backwards default input template.

Then I bought a Motorola RAZR, implemented a brilliant hack that lets it work with iSync, and discovered it could hold a mere 500 addresses. I needed to do some major maintenance on the 1600 addresses I have in Address Book. It was horrible.

There's no way to bypass the 'are you sure' delete confirmation (option delete doesn't work). There are no sorts, no filters (unless you use Apple's almost undocumented Automator tool -- the one with the web page that says "an error occurred while processing this directive") -- precious few ways to help with selecting 500 rows of 1600. It's very easy to double click and open ten address views -- all of which must be closed. It's easy when command-clicking to accidentally lose all selections. It's not good for one's blood pressure.

Address Book is a flaming bucket of rank incompetence maddeningly obscure and undocumented, but since it's bundled with all machines, and deeply integrated into the OS (the information in the User address card tells Widgets what time zone to use), there are no real alternatives. That's part of the DarkSeid of Apple -- to produce a defective product that eliminates all alternatives, and then never to fix it.

More on the DarkSeid later, I have to see what I can do with Automator. I'll also be looking for alternative UI solutions that can work with the Address Book data structures. Updates pending.

Update 1/13/07
: In all my research, amongst which I learned about Automator and did some more AppleScript work, I discovered the Address Book includes Smart Groups. Which goes some way to redeeming it.

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