At Ease: Launchpad’s grandfather

At Ease was an alternative to the Mac Finder’s Desktop, developed by Apple in the 1990’s. It was meant to give new and young users one-click access to applications and documents they used most often, while restricting access to others. At Ease supported tabbed, color-coded browsing of software, files and removable media. An At Ease administrator could manage document sharing between account holders and other user-specific access privileges. An advanced workgroup version offered features like client configuration and network access control. Back when I worked at a Mac-friendly school, we used At Ease on several classroom machines.

It’s interesting to note that At Ease introduced multiple users to the Mac OS. It was released when Macs were running System 7, which did not support multiple users. However, At Ease’s multiple-user feature let folks log in with their credentials and create documents that would be hidden from other users. Of course, the Mac OS gained built-in support for multiple users with Mac OS 9.

Today I see aspects of At Ease in Launchpad, one of Mac OS X Lion’s marquee features. The tabs and document support are gone, as well as a UI that commandeers the Finder, but the single-click access to favorite apps is in place. In fact, even iOS shows the family resemblance with its no-frills, touch-to-open UI.

Launchpad certainly isn’t At Ease II, but it’s fun to step back and observe the evolution of Apple technology.