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RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 – Nov 4 2014

Note: The following is my unofficial eulogy for Mac OS X Hints; IDG has not announced any plans regarding the site, though I would hope they'll leave it online, even if no new hints appear in the future. The site is now officially in read-only mode; there will be no new hints. So it's officially comatose, at least.

Dearly beloved…

On this, the occasion of its 14th birthday, we're gathered here to mark the passing of Mac OS X Hints.

While it can be hard to tell exactly when a web site has died, the signs are fairly obvious. It's been over 45 days since the last new hint appeared on the site. There is no way for new users to sign up for an account. There's been one new comment posted in the last two days. A sidebar box proudly proclaims Latest Mountain Lion Hints. The site design, logo, and icons were last updated when I worked for Macworld, over four years ago. To paraphrase a Star Trek character, "it's dead, Jim."

To be fair, it's a bit more Monty Python "I'm not dead!" than officially dead, but really, the site is a dead man walking. Now that I'm done with movie analogies, let me explain why the passing of Mac OS X Hints isn't a bad thing. (Note that Mac OS X Hints' passing is in no way a reflection of its management by Macworld. In fact, the opposite is true: I believe the site would have ceased to exist years ago without their involvement.)

The simple truth is that the need for OS X hints has tapered off to near zero over the last 14 years. And that's a good thing.

When Mac OS X was new, there were millions of Mac users getting their first exposure to Unix and Terminal—not because they necessarily wanted to, but because they had to if they wanted to use Apple's new OS—lots of stuff was only possible, or worked better, only with some help from Terminal commands.

Beyond the Unix side, much of the OS X GUI was new, and so there were lots of things to find and explore. Now, 14 years in, the OS X GUI is mostly set. Sure, we get minor changes every so often, but really, it's the same GUI we've seen since the Public Beta. (Hey, Apple…how about something beyond Blue or Graphite?)

Important note: I'm focused here on OS X itself, not the applications within OS X. While the OS X GUI has been relatively stable, the apps are a different story. Just consider the changes in iTunes 12; Kirk McElhearn is regularly posting tips about the changes in the app.

Over the 83 releases of OS X, Apple has greatly refined the user experience. Many things that were hacks before have been built into the OS; other things that were hacks before have simply gone to the wayside—the 2D dock, dock pinned to screen corners, dock located at top of screen, etc. Where Terminal was once a required skill to make the most of OS X, now it's mainly useful for power users and those who live and breath Unix; "regular" users have probably never even launched Terminal, and may not even know that OS X is powered by Unix.

Apple has also made it harder to "hack" OS X, where "hack" is used in its "modify to do fun stuff" connotation. In the early days, it was possible for a bit of Cocoa code to actually modify other running apps' code—Unsanity and their haxies, for example, made use of this ability to add window shade capabilities to all apps.

Even without modifying the code, enterprising users could discover hidden OS X features simply by exporting some text from various binaries, then searching for interesting looking words.

But those strings are now stored as binary, and with the demise of gdb, not even the hard way of extracting strings works any more. So discovering what's been hidden is oh so much more difficult.

Taken together, all of these things have either—in a good way or a bad way—greatly reduced the importance of a site like Mac OS X Hints. You can see this effect over time by looking at the number of hints posted per year:

The halcyon days were in the 2002 to 2007 timeframe, when OS X was still relatively young—the number of hints per year drops off rapidly after 2007, as OS X became more mature and established.

So yes, Mac OS X Hints is dead (or close to it). But it had a wonderful run, and I'd like to think that the knowledge shared there helped make everyone's time with Apple's then-new operating system more productive and enjoyable.

I know it did so for me—and it still does, as I often find myself there, looking up some old hint that I will hope still works in the latest OS X release. Here's hoping that the site remains online, even if new activity is nil, as the database is a treasure trove of community knowledge. Thank you, Mac OS X Hints, for 14 wonderful years.

25 thoughts on “RIP Mac OS X Hints, Nov 4 2000 – Nov 4 2014”

  1. And thanks to you for working so hard on the site for so many years. It was an amazing fountain of knowledge and a lot of the hints on it are still useful today.

  2. I think it's a worthwhile testament to the site that my first reaction is "What? No!!" Mac OS X Hints has saved my bacon, at least in finding a solution or a way around an issue enough times in the past that it's worth hoisting a toast to salute it.

  3. It was a wonderful source of new ideas, hints, tips and tricks; I still surprise people with stuff you can do in the Terminal that would take ages on the web. Thanks for all your work, Rob.

  4. Pour out a 40 ouncer of malt liquor.

    I posted a few hints, and many, many comments, back in the day.

    Still proudest of my intrepid solution in the comments to this hint. Still running Snowy on my primary rig, and still using that discovery for one of my backup methods.

  5. there was too much fluff on osxhints even in its best days but it was still an invaluable resource. the notion that it's not needed is entirely wrong: if anything, it's needed more than ever with the pathetic efforts of apple q/a and the continued obfuscation of functions that used to be user accessible. now i'll never learn how to customise notification sounds on osx (easy with ios - not so much on osx)

  6. Florian Albrecht

    Rob, thank you very much for putting all the effort into Mac OS X Hints! I regularly visited the site for a very long time and have found lots of very useful information there. Keep rocking!

  7. This was my go to resource when I broke something. I'm personally grateful for the help I received from other users in the community and for the effort put into maintaining the site. As other have already stated, it serves as a great resource still.

  8. The spirit of the early years was truly incredible. I'll never forget it. The hints themselves were always great, but the community was my favorite part. Even though we're a bunch of know-it-alls, no one talked down to each other. People were genuinely psyched just to help each other out. I attribute a lot of that to you setting the tone with your infectious enthusiasm. It's one of the best clubhouses I've ever had the privilege of being a part of. You and Craig should be damn proud.

    With Hints shutting down, and Siracusa saying that 10.10 might be his last OS X review, I think we're seeing the end of an era. I'm glad I was there for the ride.

    Thanks, Rob.

  9. Thanks Rob for all of your efforts. I visited daily for years, and always appreciated the good spirit and sense of community on OSX Hints.

  10. I'll be toasting you & this evening. Just last week, I removed 'hints' from a feed listing, lamenting it's infrequent updates. Best to you and the family.

  11. What a great site. Invaluable to me. Unfortunately it was so good that it did itself in. A real gem for OSX users. Thank you ...

  12. There remains a good use for sites like MacOSXHints, I'd say, although I'm not in a position to know of the site's traffic - after all, there are still many unplumbed gems accessible only via "defaults", let alone relatively common uses like restoring the amazing vanishing Library folder. Point being, hints can have quite prolonged relevancy, even if they don't contribute to the new totals.

    And then, of course, is the self-reinforcing cycle - if a site seems to be falling away, its audience will tend to shrink back.

    Regardless: it's been a tremendous help, and whatever its future, whether expired Norwegian Blue or reincarnation, it's helped a huge number of people, from newcomers to experts.

    (And if we're reminiscing, can I make mention of Crazy Apple Rumors Site? Without par, the best there was. Gruber's about the closest for insightfulness, but CARS had such a *fun* feel to it, every time! I so miss that playfulness in Apple reporting)

  13. DOH!
    I just posted a hint. :P

    Truly! Thanks for the great work Rob, and all the staff and hint posters that made it such a great resource. It still is, but...

    I hope it will all be archived for at least hyterical reference. ;)

    RIP indeed.

  14. Looks like they've closed up the forums too now. Not even left online in read-only mode. I feel like there was just as much knowledge in the forums as on the main site. This one kinda hurts.

  15. I still think it will get a lot of mileage as a read only site. I've been a reader/contributor since 2002, and slowly dropped off over the past 4 years for the reasons you listed. I'm certain to revist as it is still my go to site in a pinch. Thx Rob.

  16. Now you're basically stuck on the front page for most things, and Google links no longer bring you to topics. So for all practical purposes, most of the information on the site is inaccessible. LAME.

    1. I'm not sure I understand what you're saying -- I just tried a search for some stuff I know is on hints, and the links I got in the results take me to that hint. (Note that I have absolutely no control over this at all; I'm just pointing out how it's working for me.)


  17. I'm sorry it's been frozen but I'm glad what was collected is still available. Today google sent me there when I was checking that a trackpad operation I'd stumbled on was really correct; it was and the hint was 1 1/2 years old (oops!). even though it wasn't perfect. Probably at some point it will go (into the pile of internet history as data for future arch-infologists.

    I do disagree that is needed (though I have my own thoughts about why its use declined) due particularly to a few of Apple's shortcomings (imho):

    1) The lack of reasonably complete documentation (or sometimes, easily locatable documentation) for OS X and Apple's own applications. I now think of it as the "If we don't document what it does then whatever it does no one can say it doesn't work right" principle. I'm always struck by the "mystery of Spotlight searches" (which I love when I get them to work right for something more complex than starting an application or such). [What percentage of user's have any idea of what particular keywords can be used to refine a search (such as kind:) or exactly what info Spotlight importers collect or what pieces of the file's name are considered to match depending on whether you put a search term in quotes or not or capitalize it or not or include a numeric versus an alphanumeric value, etc. I once took time to play with it with a defined set of files using just the name matching; after doing that for a while I began to see some of the patterns (but they weren't obvious beforehand and I only remember some of it).]

    2) I heartily second the person who mentioned the degrading QA. More and more it feels like things aren't tested or are rushed into production based on a release date versus complete testing. (Preview, which I felt was quite well done initially has gone through a series of downs and ups often leaving things that worked at one point not working as well or at all in a later release.) Recently I installed Yosemite to end up with the "slow, slower, did it stop?" syndrome. It's the first time I, myself, have had significant problems after an OS X install (though an install back around 0S X 3 or 4 nearly destroyed my client's system) and after plenty of searching around it seemed to not be a problem for everyone. So, after a number of "tries" to fix it, I now have Yosemite running pretty nicely (if I don't look at the Console log and don't ask me to recall what I did). The experience, though, made me think that a better question during the installation of OS X than "Do you want to install OS X on…" might be two options…the first being "Install…" and the second one following Google's lead saying…"I'm feeling lucky." (possibly with a roll over that warns you that you'd better be feeling really lucky!

    Mac OS X Hints always provided a way to see if that feeling of being insane was your problem or from external causes…a support group for those for whom the answer to every problem wasn't "Oops, I must have done something wrong!"

    Thanks to all who made it happen. Z

  18. Long time reader, sometime commenter, and never submitter here. Also late to the party, I know.

    For me it's not so much that OS X has reached a sheen on the user experience from years of polishing that had driven the excitement out of MOSXH. I feel like for the first several years OS X was cool and it was about discovering something else that was cool about it. Your site made me and every other person nerdy enough to use it literally smile. It was the icing on the cake.

    Now, although there are still many hints to learn and discover they're more like spoons of sugar in the vinegar. It's not enough to make me enjoy using OS X or over come the confusing interfaces of some of the core applications. I started at 10.1 and now 10.10 is the only version that I can count on to lock my machine up. And OS X Server? No comment.

    Also, some of it was having MacWorld take it over. They did a great thing in keeping it up, but it was another blow to the Mac web ecosystem that had already seen (and continues to see) long time beacons go black. Now it's just official. But it's more than just the hints. That feeling of "Us" has all but slipped away, now.

    Or maybe I'm jaded and cynical. I'm sure I've said it before Mr. G, but I'll say it again; So long and thanks for all the hints.

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