Trust Me, This Is Funny

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By Rob Pegoraro
Monday, April 3, 2006; 12:22 PM

Saturday was a big news day on the Web -- if you appreciate the art of a well-crafted April Fool's joke. And from all the made-up things I saw on Saturday, oh so many of us do.

The best entry came from the perennial April Fool's pranksters at Google (see, for instance, their lunar-base announcement): Google Romance. A tour of this online dating service explains how it would all work:

"When you do a Soulmate Search, your deeply personal and potentially life-altering search results are produced solely by computer algorithm, without human intervention of any kind. Note: Depending on your personality, you may or may not find this reassuring."

Those goofballs at Google also planted a treat for users of its Google Earth software. Search for "Area 51," zoom in, pan to the left until you see two fighter jets on the tarmac, and you'll also spot two friendly visitors. (If that's gone by Monday, this blog post has screenshots.)

The prolific tech-news site Slashdot made itself over for the day, changing its traditional dark-green banners and heading graphics to a shade of hot pink. Its usual "News For Nerds. Stuff That Matters" motto was replaced by "OMG!!! Ponies!!!"

And many of its article summaries departed somewhat from Slashdot's usual prose: "The cutest site i've ever or youve ever seen is this one CLICK IT NOW LOL!!! because they have the cutest pictures you will ever see :) :) :) Like hamsters wearing SO CUTE hats and so many kittens zomg i love kitties especially that brown one i hope they show him with hats to LOLOLOLOLOL!!! Ok I gottta go now bye!!!"

(A "Slashdot Design Changes for Wider Appeal" posting explained the changes: "Our marketing department has done extensive research over the last 3 quarters and discovered that our audience is strangely disproportionately skewed towards males. Like, 98.3% males to be precise. To correct this oversight, we have decided to subtly tweak Slashdot's design and content to widen our appeal to these less active demographics.")

The Web site of the free productivity suite OpenOffice.org had news of its own to share: Microsoft was buying the program. "The initially stunned OpenOffice.org community -- a happy-go-lucky international band numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- later turned to champagne to celebrate their newfound wealth."

Finally, the Mac newsletter TidBits explained why Apple could be getting such glowing coverage in the press, the "AJRP" -- short for "Apple Journalist Reeducation Program."

OS X, Five Years Later

Speaking of Apple -- which itself was founded on April 1 and celebrated its 30th birthday on Saturday -- my column yesterday took a look back at its Mac OS X operating system, now just over 5 years old.

I started jotting down thoughts about this topic sometime last year, when I realized that this software would hit the five-year mark in March 2006 ... and as often happens when I start piling up notes without a deadline, I came up with too much material for 25 or so column inches. So here are a few other thoughts about OS X's life and times so far:

* I don't think you can dispute that OS X deserves at least half the credit for securing Apple's long-term prospects. The company has done a far better job with hardware design in this decade, but if the operating system crashed and froze as often as Mac OS 9 did, it'd be in a heap of trouble.

* One thing I could not have predicted in 2001: How OS X's Unix foundation would have led to the arrival of so many programs originally developed only for Unix or Linux -- many of them free and open-source.

* When OS X debuted, just about every critic, myself included, fretted over how the Dock -- its strip of shortcuts to frequently used applications, documents and folders -- would work in practice. The answer, it turns out, is just fine. (But maybe that's because Windows XP's Start Menu has become such a mess in the meantime.)

* People actually should have worried about the rest of OS X's interface. Apple has put less and less emphasis on sticking to its own pattern book -- it now offers three different types of front ends for its programs, with no clear pattern. What makes an app deserve the traditional Aqua look, a brushed-metal front-end, or the borderless look you see in iTunes and the latest versions of Mail and iPhoto? I expected more consistency from a company as obsessed with interface design as Apple.

* Apple's programmers have worked some seriously long hours to crank out four major updates to OS X since version 10.0. But I have to wonder if all of those hours were necessary, given how some once-hyped OS X features have been ignored since then. Exhibit A: the Inkwell handwriting recognition that debuted in Jaguar and has ... well, I assume it's still there. But why? Will we ever see a tablet Mac or some other device that actually makes use of this capability, or is Inkwell just what it is?

(Windows XP will have its own fifth birthday later this October, and I plan on doing a similar retrospective on that operating system.)

Sunday Recap

Aside from my column, the Sunday Business section's personal-tech pages also featured:

* Frank Ahrens holding forth in Web Watch on how the Internet allows allergy-free appreciation of Washington's cherry blossoms.

* Mike Musgrove writing about Apple's new challenges as it starts its fourth decade in business.

* And in Help File, my diagnosis of a Bluetooth shortfall on the Treo 650 sold by Verizon Wireless, as well as a definition of DLL files.

I'll be online at 2 p.m. ET today to talk about whatever's on our collective mind -- technologically speaking. Stop by washingtonpost.com/technology then, or submit your questions early. If you miss the chat when it's live, you can always catch the transcript later at the same link.

And at 3:50 that afternoon, tune into Washington Post Radio (107.7 FM, 1500 AM or at http://www.washingtonpostradio.com/) to hear me talk about Sunday's column and other tech news.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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