Mac vs. PC

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.

“Windows”

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.

Hardware

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.

Afterthoughts

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.

Responses to “Mac vs. PC”

  1. Fab, I’m curious; please explain what technology it is that deserves it?
    Is there something special about x86 PC technology compared to other types of computers?

  2. Joen says:

    Well, in defence of Fab, the software itself can also be “technology” :)

  3. ” standing up for the PC. The technology deserves it.”

    I understand that as it being the PC technology we are talking about.
    Otherwise I’d expect:

    ” standing up for WinXP. The technology deserves it.”

  4. Joen says:

    Found via Technorati, and interesting blog post with counterarguments to this article — thought it was worth linking up.

  5. Asad says:

    Which reminds me, for those who haven?t tried this yet, try on Windows, to place your Start bar at the top of the screen for a week or two. It makes SO much more sense. Suddenly everything you need is always at the top of the screen, all toolbars, all programs, everything.

    Wasn’t that how it was on the old Windows by default? 3.x?

    Although i don’t place the start bar at the top, i do place the shortcuts i use most at the top in a horizontal line.

    And i’m at college, but i don’t own a computer myself, so i use NT, XP, and OSX regularly – with restricted privileges unfortunately, and on old PCs and eMacs – and i would consider myself fairly neutral. I don’t own an iPod and i don’t play video games, so those are not an issue, but i do have a personal website and a modest blog [using Kubrick =)] and i prefer to maintain them, and use photoshop, on an eMac.

  6. In Windows, if you open an application and while it’s loading switch to another app, the opening application will, when it ‘opens’ so to speak, become the topmost active application. Effectively interrupting your work with whatever you chose to do while waiting for it to open.

    In OS X the opposite is true. The application will load in the background and not interrupt you.

  7. bob says:

    well your right abou a lot and wrong about very little

    i am a mac user and have compaired windows to mac

    i have found that a windows cost more in the end

    gives less and is detrimental to society as it even allows

    other users to delete files belonging to the master user

    and there are several links to say the same but i will refer

    to a debate curently going on with at

    http://www.overclock.net/showthread.php?t=17973&highlight=mac

    and i was hopeing you could help her explaine macs better

    becouse she is having a tough debate here grammer and spelling

    were a little bad in the first few posts but thats changed now

    and i was hoping that you could partisapate in the disscussion

    P>S sont forget to read all the posts it make excelent reading meterial

    and its very informative

  8. You love that enter button, don’t you :)

    Joen, I’m just adding stuff as I come up with it, as this seems a good place to keep a list of these things.

    Safari is, with the 10.4.3 update, the first non-beta browser to pass the Acid2 test.

  9. kendo says:

    you say:

    “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.”

    this definitely was true, but the current model of notebooks now does offer touchpad gestures – i’ll point you to the Powerbook G4 15″ for example. in the tech specs at the bottom of the screen, listed under “keyboard and trackpad,” is this:

    “Solid-state trackpad provides precise cursor control; supports tap, double-tap, drag and scrolling capabilities”

    -move one finger to scroll this way and that; user enables tap, double-tap, and drag; i believe the scrolling capability is on by default (use 2 fingers to scroll a window up and down or to the side)

    this feature has been present since one generation before the current model.

    :)

  10. Joen says:

    this feature has been present since one generation before the current model.

    Damn! I have less and less cards on my hand. If this trend continues I’ll have nothing left to argue!

  11. Long Nguyen says:

    Almost a year after this was written, I read it for the first time and all the things there, including all the comments, are valid today.

    The Intel-based Mac did happen and it wasn’t long until Mac could run Windows, but the Mac on PC thing won’t happen for a while apparently.

    Also, in Windows, Photoshop CS2 allows its Windows to be moved outside of the main window. From that aspect, aside from the menu bar, it pretty acts the way it always did on a Mac.

  12. David says:

    I don’t see anyone talking about the PC’s ability to run Mac OSX. I guess not many Windows users care for Mac OSX, as do Mac OSX users for Windows. Ironic isn’t it?

  13. Joen says:

    David said:

    I don?t see anyone talking about the PC?s ability to run Mac OSX. I guess not many Windows users care for Mac OSX, as do Mac OSX users for Windows. Ironic isn?t it?

    Isn’t OSX on Windows pretty much a hacker thing?

    But personally, no, I do not care for OSX.

  14. I think that you analysis has a big bias: you look at the OSX interface in “some” details that you think are worse… just because you’ve tried Windows first.

    Examples.

    (1) While I could agree on the rollover for the three icons of the window, I greatly disagree on anything else.

    You talk about usability. Ok. Usability tells us that we read from left to right. Due to this, it’s better having the control buttons in the top-left corner. Also, the window controls are usually in the top-left corner: your mouse is already there and you can close the window faster. So, it’s logical to place those keys in the top left, because it’s faster and cleaner. Any other opinion is due to any Windows experience.

    (2) The “” icon isn’t clear? The symbol “” means more, add. So, it has already a matching meaning with “bigger”. What’s the meaning of a rectangle with a bigger top border, as maximize in window? Don’t be biased: no meaning. A rectangle has clearly no meaning. And even if you recognize it as a “window”, why a “window” should mean “maximize”? “Hey, I’ve already a window, why should I click window again?”. You notice how the Windows icon is clearly worse?

    (3) While it’s true that “yellow” and “green” doesn’t mean anything related to minimize and maximize, you clearly notice that’s better than… no distinctive color, as in Windows. And “yellow” and “green” aren’t so bad choices. Also, if you don’t like it, just use the Graphite skin that uses the same color for all the three buttons. In any case, Windows is worse.

    Applications.

    (1) The bar on top has clearly disadvantages, and it’s the biggest problem for a switcher, for sure. But it’s a compromize. First: you know clearly what’s the top window. Second: you maximize the reachability of the buttons: top. Fitt’s law tells us that this means infinite height. And exactly, the Mac menus are WAY faster than any Windows menu, where you have to AIM at a few pixels.

    (2) The no-frame windows are one of the best features of OSX about windows handing: no frame, no wasted pixels. The window is distinguished without any waste of space.

    (3) The active window is clearly distinguished: bolder shadow, colored taskbar. Add to this that the titlebar matches the Application name and any other application needs to be activated, because… drums …OSX is Application based, while Windows is window based.

    That’s because…

    (4) The red X for the window means “close window” and not “close application”. Usability, again: why in a multiple window application the last X should close also the application? That’s giving two meanings to the same button: one for “close window” and one for “close application”. This is common in the Windows world, on OSX only some applications, usually single-windowed ones, use the “x” as “close application”: that’s because it’s its only meaning! No modal operations!

    (5) Notice also that this means having effective control on the application: if I use Firefox all the day, is plain stupid that each time I close the last window Fx closes as well. Raargh. On OSX you choose to close the application, if you need to.

    About the rest…

    (A) Gestures are an “addon”. There are application that gives this feature. Get Quicksilver on OSX (free) and you’re done.

    (B) Eject “it’s a problem if something goes wrong” is plain Windows behaviour: why something should go wrong? In an extreme situation, there’s a way (not “easy”, but there is) to remove the media. In other cases, you’ve got 4 ways to eject (right menu, Command-E, keyboard, trash).

    © Apple in the last MacBooks and with a free application on the previous notebooks added “two fingers rightclick”. That, again, while it’s surely worse as usability, once learnt it’s faster: touching with two fingers and clicking a big button is faster than using two hands or twist the hand to right click.

    In the end, there are surely some problems, but at the same time many of your compliants are due to your windows experience, not because “usability” issues, as you are saying.

    And still, many things are missing about OSX vs Windows (that I hate to do, because, you’ll see, there’s always something wrong :P). I’ll give you a little usability detail to think about: the position of “up-down” arrows in the scrollbar under OSX. Clearly better. Think ;)

  15. (1) Ok. Usability tells us that we read from left to right. Due to this, it?s better having the control buttons in the top-left corner

    Ah, but the often-used scrollbar is always on the right. Certainly on browsing the web or mail, it’s the most-used part of the screen. Thus, your mouse is already on the right side, ergo, it makes sense to have them on the right.

    (1) The bar on top has clearly disadvantages,

    In my mind – not having a Mac myself – it’s actually one of the biggest advantages, as it’s always there. Always in the same position. Always the same metaphores. It leaves the window itself clear to have window-specific icons/menus.

  16. James AkaXakA said:

    Ah, but the often-used scrollbar is always on the right. Certainly on browsing the web or mail, it?s the most-used part of the screen. Thus, your mouse is already on the right side, ergo, it makes sense to have them on the right.

    Sure. The meaning was that any point of view has its pro and cons. ;)

    We could also add that OSX has the scroll arrows on bottom, that we (means: any pc or mac) have a mousewheel or touchpad two-fingers scroll, or many other things. Or also that OSX is very keyboard wise (Command-Q,W,,M, etc). So, include these factors and you could favor or not one choice or the other.

    It’s a mere matter of choices. :)

    James AkaXakA said:

    In my mind – not having a Mac myself – it?s actually one of the biggest advantages, as it?s always there. Always in the same position. Always the same metaphores. It leaves the window itself clear to have window-specific icons/menus.

    Yep: those are the pros. Surely, the top bar has MANY pros, but also a few cons. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is perfect for anyone. :)