It wasn’t until I silently entered the blogging community some year ago, that I noticed just how saturated it is with love for The Mac. Browsing weblogs, I see the influence everywhere. The Aqua look – drop shadows – iTunes playlists and a most surprising zeal in following new Apple products and keynotes. Specifically, the Mac Operating System — OSX — is hailed all around as the best OS yet.
In this article, I will explain why I respectfully prefer the obvious alternative.
First I must admit that this article is way overdue. Whenever I reveal that I use PC/Windows and even prefer it to Mac, people stare at me in disbelief. Or, at least their emoticons do. Also, while I don’t own a Mac myself, I truly enjoy reading John Gruber‘s articles on mac nerdery, but I suspect this has more to do with quality of writing, rather than the fact that he’s writing about The Mac. With this out of the way, let’s begin.
OSX vs. Windows
Both OSX and Windows are Operating Systems, meaning they are the interfaces with which you control all aspects of your computer system. This is an important detail, because controlling aspects of the hardware such as sound, visuals and input devices should be as straightforward as possible. Other aspects, such as the hardware ports, IP addresses etc. need to be tucked away, but still in a logical way so as to be there for the power user.
These things are handled differently by the two OS‘s. Even the smallest details can make a huge difference.
The word, “window”, has become a metaphor for an open folder or quite simply an open application. Such a window usually has a close button for removing the window, a minimize button for hiding the window, and a maximize button for utilizing the maximum amount of screen real estate. While this method of displaying content may be flawed, it has become the de-facto standard way of presenting information on massive operating systems. Standards mean concepts, and concepts mean generally accepted norms and practices. For better or worse, Microsoft Windows has fine tuned this practice. While some would say they’ve stolen their ideas elsewhere, this fact is something we have to deal with when designing usable interfaces; meaning: if a design decision breaks the norm, it has to be for the better, and not just to be different.
Here are some of the things about Mac OSX that strike me as odd and annoying.
- Buttons for Close, Maximize and Minimize are in the left of windows
This is not only the opposite side of what Windows does, but the reverse order. My problem with this is two-fold.
First of all, it’s a learning curve for new users who will, with probable Windows experience, press the top right button of a window, which rolls it up to fill only the header.
Secondly, and more importantly, in the western world, we read from the left to the right. That means we start on the left, and end on the right. It is illogical, and I don’t think the decision to place the close button to the left was to accommodate the middle-eastern way of reading.
Update: Michael sent me a screenshot of the Mac buttons. I added in the PC counterparts for comparison.
- The symbol for the Maximize button is a plus
To me, the plus symbol means Switzerland, first aid, or the mathematical concept of adding numbers. While Jonas explains that plus is also increase, I think the Windows icon reads better:
- The button colors for Maximize and Minimize are yellow and green
I can’t argue with the red color for Close: it means “stop”, that makes sense. But yellow means “wait”, and green means “go”. What do these colors have in common with expanding or contracting a window?
Additionally, these colors have to stand on their own since the symbols for close, maximize and minimize aren’t visible until rollover. My analysis: the design team got a little too focused on “less is more”; this decision sacrificed some usability in favor of style.
- Applications have no boundaries
This is a core issue. Applications on Windows have their own window and header. Beneath this is the menu bar: “File – Edit”, etc. The window can be maximized to fill the entire screen save for the Task bar. It is easy to distinguish what is Windows, and what’s the application.
On the Mac, however, an application is a little less tangible. Basically an application is one or more floating Windows, and a custom title bar. Especially the title bar is confusing. Click the app, and the topmost, permanent title-bar changes to fit the active application. Click outside the application, and the title bar changes back to the default OSX title bar.
It gets worse when you close the application, because “Quit” and “Close” are two different things. For instance, closing iTunes with the close button will not exit the application. It will only remove the iTunes application window — the iTunes title-bar will remain. To exit iTunes you must in fact click File > Exit (_or click Cmd +Q on the keyboard_). Needless to say, I find this rather confusing, as do new users I’m sure.
Finally, the fact that there’s usually no “background” for applications — no framing or borders, adds to the confusion of which is active: the application or the desktop. This also makes the effect of the Maximize somewhat strange, since the application may vary in extent / amount of windows.
- Replacing a folder erases the old folder first
This has been discussed at length before, John Gruber with the most insight. Simply put, on Windows “Replace” means “Merge”. I lean towards the “Merge” method because that’s what I’m used to, but I see Gruber’s wisdom that moving replaced files to the trash instead of instantly deleting them would make the most sense. Either way, the current way of replacing folders does more bad than good.
Since both Macs and PC essentially have the same interior hardware (more-so when Mac switches to Intel processors in the future), it is crucial just how the operating system treats the hardware. Here are some of the things that annoy me the most about how Mac treats the hardware.
- No touchpad gestures on the Powerbook
I expect to stand corrected once the keen Mac reader reaches this point. I expect him/her to point me in the direction of some clever software that will add touchpad gestures to the Powerbook. I will still mention it here, because gestures were not present by default on the Powerbook I tried.
A touchpad gesture is a gesture with the hand that has a desired result in the OS. One such gesture could be gently tapping the touchpad to produce a click, or gently double-tapping for a double-click.
In my honest opinion, such gestures should be enabled by default.
No right click on default mice
Timing is crucial. As of writing this, Apple has just announced a deliciously looking multi-button mouse. Even so, for decades the Mac has generally been without both the right-click button and lately, the scroll-wheel. My kudos to Apple for finally getting with the program.
- No Eject button
I realize the Powerbook has an eject button in the top right of the keyboard, but generally, the Apple has no physical eject buttons next to their CD/DVD drives. The method with which to eject media is, instead, to drag the media icon present on the desktop, to the trash can. This is a huge usability blunder, considering we’re working with physical media; at least supply a physical eject button. Another problem is when a Mac crashes due to the media inserted: how to remove the media when the OS won’t boot? I’m sure there’s an “emergency eject maneuver”, but this is clearly not user friendly.
While this entry has focused mostly on the flaws of the Mac, it is prudent to mention the fact that Mac has many great things going for it. In general, the hardware is a delight to look at. The visual design is top notch, even inside the operating system it’s a feast for the eyes. The design of the Mac is a reason in itself to own the hardware.
There are also many aspects of OSX, where usability shines. For instance, complex operations such as setting up networking is a breeze. It just works, the way it’s supposed to be.
In the same way as the Mac has it’s pros and cons, Windows has it’s own share of problems.
In the end it comes down to a mix of considerations. Which OS does one prefer: OSX or Windows. How about the hardware: elegant but pricey and sometimes slow and hard to upgrade? Or ugly, sometimes noisy clunky and impractical, but also cheap, fast and easy to upgrade? How about the software cycle: is it worth running OSX, knowing that software, especially games may take months longer to reach the Mac (if ever)?
For me, the choice is as easy as the Powerbook is nice. I’m with the PC all the way.