(Ed. Note: this was copied and pasted from its original location in the now-defunct blork blog/2. I have also pasted in the comments, at the bottom, in Italics.)
When we were in San Francisco last week, the owners of the apartment where we stayed kindly allowed M and me to use their computer. It’s a Mac G4 with a nice flat-screen LCD monitor, running OSX. “Oh goody” I thought, as I’ve been wanting to try out a 21st Century Mac ever since OSX was launched.
Well, I’m sorry to say I was under-whelmed. Before I get into what I consider to be “Mac annoyances” I will state firmly that I am no Microsoft marketing hack trying to pull a “reverse switch” promo. Indeed, I believe that Microsoft is evil, and Windows is as shot full of holes as an OS can be.
The Mac OS is supposed to be way better than Windows because it is so easy to use and intuitive. That may be true in the case of newbies and greenhorns, but for an advanced user (like me) the OS comes off as stupid and dumbed down. Windows infuriates me because it is fundamentally unstable and non-secure. Mac infuriates me because it slows me down so much.
Thus, with apologies to my many friends who are dedicated Mac users, I present my Mac annoyances.
One Button Mouse
This is my longest-standing beef with the Mac. Newer versions of MS Windows are built around the concept of a two-button mouse with a wheel. I am so accustomed to using the right mouse button and the wheel that when you take away either (or in this case, both!), I grind to a halt.
Windows users understand this. Mac users almost universally go “huh?” when I bring this up. It’s like trying to explain to someone who’s never driven stick that you get more performance out of a 5-speed manual than an old-fashion four-speed automatic. They just don’t get it.
For me, a mouse with only one button and no wheel is as slow, clumsy, and irritating as a complete lack of mouse would be for a Mac user. It’s like taking away a fundamental tool. With my two button mouse and wheel I can copy, cut, paste, scroll, reload, bookmark, select all, go back or forward, and any number of other things using only one hand and without touching the keyboard (great for when I’m eating my lunch with one hand and reading blogs with the other). To watch me, it looks like I’m using only mind power because of the speed and minimal physical movement. On a Mac, I need two hands (one for the mouse and one for the Apple key — or is it the Ctrl key?), or one very busy hand that drives all over the screen pulling down menus and searching for menu items.
Some Mac users may argue that this is a bogus complaint — that one can buy a two-buttoned and wheeled mouse for the Mac. True enough, but (a) the fact that the one button mouse remains the default format indicates that Apple is still in 1987 when it comes to Mice and how they design the ergonomics of interacting with the computer, (b) because virtually no Mac users buy a third-party mouse, I am always stuck with a one button mouse whenever sit down to use a Mac, and (c) if you want to use a Mac laptop you’re stuck with that one big dumb button — unless you want to plug in a mouse, but who does that with a laptop?
That Crazy Apple Key
It’s bad enough with Windows that you have to remember whether a key combo uses Ctrl or Alt, but with a Mac you have a third option — that crazy Apple key. Given that every other OS on earth (as far as I know) uses Ctrl for things like copy and paste (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, etc.), why does Apple stick with it’s proprietary methods? What is the point of the Apple key?
Stupid Multi-user System
This anecdote is true. The first time I used that loaner Mac with OSX, I logged in as “guest” and it started up some kind of auto-initiated backup process. (It must have been on a timer.) It kept asking me to insert some kind of disk into some kind of backup drive. I had no idea what to do, so I tried to cancel out of it.
Unfortunately, I could not cancel out because “guest” does not have “admin” rights, which are required to cancel the process. Fortunately, I was able to work on top of those dialog boxes, but when I finished I couldn’t shut down the machine because it hadn’t done the scheduled backup. I could neither do the backup nor cancel it, so I was unable to shut down the computer.
In the end, I unplugged it. Now tell me: what kind of retarded OS will start a process that requires admin rights when the user is logged in as “guest?” That’s Microsoft-level stupidity, but as far as I know even Microsoft isn’t that stupid any more. Fortunately, the next time I started the system it simply scolded me for shutting down rudely, and didn’t try to start the backup process.
The Menu Paradigm
My biggest beef with Mac is regarding the menu paradigm. This is something that Mac users defend (AJ and Empey did so rather eloquently in the comments of M’s blog last week). AJ talks about the Mac being document-centric instead of application-centric, meaning it pins the active document’s menu bar to the top of the screen. The result is that you have only one menu bar visible at any given time (the menu for the application of the document that has focus).
If you ask me, that makes it application-centric! If I change focus from one document to another and the one solitary menu bar changes from application A to application B, then that is application-centric action!
On a more practical level, the idea of showing only one menu bar at a time is very 1993. It assumes, for the most part, that you are using a small 15-inch monitor and that you work in “full screen mode,” meaning you only need to see one menu at a time.
I have news for you. When I’m at work I use Windows XP with a 21″ monitor set to 1600×1200 resolution. My computer’s desktop looks like my wooden desktop — strewn with documents. It’s a busy but efficient place. At any given time I might have two email clients, two word processors, ten documents, and half a dozen Web browsers open. To go from one item to another I need only roll my cursor a few pixels, because the menus are at the top of the documents, not the top of the screen. (Another argument that Windows is doc-centric, not app-centric.) In fact, for the most commonly-used operations I’d just click anywhere in the document and right-click to have a menu pop up where the cursor is (see “One Button Mouse,” above).
If I was using a Mac and wanted to access the menu of a different document, I would have to roll the cursor across 40 miles of screen, all the way to the top. Then I’d realize that the document I want to access uses a different application than the one that currently has focus, so I’d have to roll all the way down again, click the document to give focus to its application (app-centric), and then roll all the way up again. (Can I get air miles for all that travel?)
In the meantime, the entire screen has to refresh to accommodate the switch in menus. That may be instantaneous on some computers, but in my experience it takes a half-second. Half a second adds up over the course of a day, a week, a month. The time loss is not the issue, it’s the uh! aggravating little delay, again and again and again. Plus the sore wrist from all that excessive mouse driving.
Again, this would be less of an issue if I were using full-screen mode on an 800×600 pixel monitor. But guess what? I haven’t worked like that in ten years. I never use full screen mode. (OK, that’s a lie: I use full screen mode on my vintage 1998 micro-laptop — which I rarely use — but only because its monitor is 800×600.)
It’s Not All Bad
I give Apple full marks for hardware interoperability and for “industrial design.” The iMacs sport a truly beautiful design and even those damn one-button mice are ergonomic and visual wonders. OSX seems to be very stable (with its UNIX foundation) and I hear it does networking very well. So why don’t they take a few lessons from Microsoft users (note I did not say “from Microsoft”) in how to speed up the interface? How long before the Mac OS breaks out of it’s own dumbed-down 1980s shell and turns high-performance? When will it drop the steering-column-mounted Chevy automatic and give us a finely-tuned 5-speed?
nice, non-religious writeup. the networking is fantastic, and if you look under the covers and discover darwin, you’ll find the unix power your looking for. we’ve recently added a number of powerbooks to our household of 1 technologist; 1 luddite_though_trying_wife; 2 boy technologists in training (high school & middle school). so far the addition (not switch) is going seamlessly – airport extreme (802.11g) is speedy and reliable, plus we hung a printer off it so all powerbooks can print off it. we still have windows laptops floating around on our couple year old 802.11b network, plus a windows desktop and a linux server. all are co-existing well, for the most part. for this typepad beta – i’m using both a powerbook & a windows 2000 laptop, no difference so far. we love montreal, btw & snowboarded in tremblant last winter which was a blast. bye for now…
Posted by: mike dunn | July 12, 2003 11:07 PM
I see your point about menu-bar differences. Regarding mouse diffs, apparently you didn’t try holding down the mouse button long enough to see what the Contextual Menu will pop up under the cursor — which menu differs depending on where on the screen you click, document, Desktop, background doc…oh, and doing so while holding the mysterious Apple key? Even more options!
As far as OSX, well, no experience, so nothing to say.
Thanks for your well-considered critique.
How do you like TypePad so far?
Posted by: empey | July 13, 2003 01:20 AM
Ok, about the one-button mouse..it is very stupid of Apple to still bundle the damn things with every Mac – the idea being that one button is easier for newbies – but you can go down to any computer superstore and buy a two-button USB mouse for $5 US, and a two-button mouse with scroll wheel for about $10. The Mac operating system (OS 9.x and later) automatically recognizes all these things with no configuration necessary. The minute I got my Mac the mouse became a pretty Christmas tree ornament and I substituted the cheap and efficient Microsoft Optical Scroll mouse ($20 CDN at Staples). So in effect your complaint is less that Apple has a one-button mouse paradigm – it’s as contextual-menu-filled as Windows is – but that they are too cheap to bundle a second “pro” mouse with their systems. (Truth be told, the only Windows contextual menu item that I think is missing from Mac OS X’s Finder is the “Send as E-Mail Attachment…” command, which I find supremely useful on my W2K box at work. OS X’s system is, believe it or not, much more open to modification. I’d be surprised if some enterprising haxor out there hadn’t put out a UI patch to turn OS X’s UI into a clone of Windows, Atari, Amiga or whatever you find more usable…
As for the login weirdness and the backup requirements, that seems like a particularity of the way your friend’s machine is set up, not the way OS X works. I have set up multiple guest accounts (and subsequently deleted them) for people who’ve had to use my Mac with none of the backup rigmarole or admin-level registration that you describe. You need an admin user to create a new user account, sure, but after that it’s smooth sailing…
One thing that will be quite cool in the next version of OS X, 10.3, is Fast User Switching (similar to XP) – but done a little bit nicer with an animated cube transition…sweet :)
The Apple key is, for all intents and purposes, the ctrl key on Mac. Once you get past that brain mapping, and remember that it isn’t the Start key, it shouldn’t be a problem. Yeah, there’s another ctrl key – and that’s useful because on Mac it gives you another modifier key in additon to ALT (option) and Shift. It lets you accomplish complex things in as few keystrokes as possible. In Windows, outside of apps like InDesign which have a Glyphs palette and advanced auto-typesetting features, trying to type accents, bullets, fleurons, and ligatures requires going to the Character Map and doing a copy-and-paste song and dance. How do you type a bullet in Windows? You don’t. On the Mac, I just type Apple-8.
If you’re not a typographer, in the operating system and in applications, it allows you another layer of keyboard shortcuts as you can type option-Apple-Shift-(character), for instance – which makes it quite fast once you know what they are.
Let me emphasize that:once you know what they are. I’ve been using Macs since 1990 and grown used to their quirks. I’ve been using Windows regularly for two years, so I don’t know all the quick keyboard shortcuts and tricks (at least, the ones that aren’t common to both platforms), so I’m probably slower on one platform than the other.
You got to use OS X for about a week, casually at that – if you got to spend a week using it 8 hours a day (with a decent mouse, and a properly-set up account) it would probably seem less foreign to you.
I actually find OS X more like Windows than any previous incarnation of the OS (the Taskbar-like Dock, the Windows Explorer-like Finder, the Task Manager for killing errant apps), but with a load of UNIX functionality underneath – ostensibly more of appeal to hardcore geeks, if you delved around the Utilities folder you’d see a passel of graphical applications for system monitoring, IP testing, etc. all the way up to the powerful NetInfo management application, an update of the version from NeXTStep.
Overall, I find OS X on a day-to-day basis, to be more sensible – it gets out of my way when I need it to, calls my attention to things without interrupting the flow of my work. Things like Sheets (application dialogs attached to windows) are a great improvement over non-dismissable dialogs that hijack the whole system for simple things like “save or quit”, etc. It’s a compendium of little things like that that I find useful and smart about it’s design. Granted, they originally threw out about 15 years of accrued UI niceties from OS 9, but they are gradually working them back in (things like Labels, which Windows *still* doesn’t have, are returning in 10.3).
To clarify my original statement, the menus are not document-centric, the *windows* are document-centric. There are no instances of applications that appear entirely in their own window, as in, ahem, Windows. Whether this is useful or annoying is up to the user, but, as in Windows, you can Tab between applications (using Apple-Tab and Apple-Shift-Tab to switch forwards and back among open apps). Still, this is an issue for people coming from Windows who look to the document’s window for the application menu.
What I’d like to know is, what do you consider high-performance? What Windows UI tools are missing in OS X that you absolutely, positively can’t live without? I’d bet half of them are actually in there, just in different places. So again, it’s a matter of properly getting used to it. To borrow your own analogy, you can’t easily drive stick-shift if you’ve been using automatic your whole life, but with a week of practice it’ll seem second nature.
Posted by: aj | July 14, 2003 09:37 AM
Um, and how old was the Mac? You complained about slow menu redraws. Because OS X’s core graphics layer, Quartz is based on PDF compositing, you need either a fast G4 Mac or a newer graphics card to get the best performance out of it. Older G3s tend to be a bit pokey with it – but still usable. (Ah, the old forced-upgrade gambit :) Thankfully, a company called Unsanity LLC has some nice shareware “haxies” that let you turn off the graphically intensive things like window drop shadows, font smoothing, etc. for faster performance on older machines. That’s a cool thing about OS X – it is eminently more ‘hackable’ than Windows in some respects..
Posted by: aj | July 14, 2003 09:43 AM
Good comments all. It’s all going into the ol’ OS/GI tract for further digestion.
Empey, what happened to your comment? It’s blank now…
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 10:29 AM
Huh. Weird. Empey, your comment was blank until I made my comment, and then it came back!
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 10:30 AM
sorry for the novel-length comment there :/
Posted by: aj | July 15, 2003 01:23 PM
Don’t apologize! You brought up some very good points. (Although I’ll try to blunt a few of them if I get a few minutes…)
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 02:53 PM
Hey Ed – you’re still crazy!
First of all – the menu issue isn’t that bad because the target is stable. So you know when you go where you’re going. And mouse behaviour in general is much less jumpy while still as fast as on any windows machine, so again the target is much more easily acquired. Plus – because the keyboard shortcuts are extremely stable, most mac users that I know hardly ever use the menus for everyday things.
The one button mouse is boneheaded, but you don’t have to ADD anything to the OS to use a two-button mouse with a wheel. They know about the mouse thing – it’s just a quirky company thing to insist that it’s better. Theoretically, it is; practically it’s not at all, and it is simple to deal with.
The control-key Apple-key thing is really just revisionist history on your part my friend. Even long after Apple came along and insisted on stable kybd shortcuts every application would have its own variety and in the manuals you’d get stupid little cards listing that app’s shortcuts. Windows eventually did insist on some stability, recognizing Apple’s superiority in this, but they used their crazy extra key for something totally lame – the Start key, instead of something useful.
As far as the backup thing is concerned, there’s a 90% probability that the owner of the computer was specifically asked to ensure that everything was ready for the next automatic backup before the last one quit. That he responded yes when the answer was no has nothing to do with Apple.
And lastly – why don’t you give me a call – let’s have a beerio.
Posted by: Michael | July 15, 2003 04:28 PM
Awwwww… you Mac people are just sore because I get to beta test TypePad and you don’t!
Posted by: blork | July 15, 2003 06:07 PM
Not so fast, young fella. Kindly refer to The Very First Comment Posted To This Site, wherein I exclaimed I, too, had been offered the chance to beta-test TypePad.
And I’m on a Mac!! HAhahahahaaaaa!!!
I might take them up on it. Just to show you. Hmph.
Posted by: empey | July 16, 2003 12:25 AM
See, Ed? You’ve learned what John Dvorak did a long time ago – write something slightly critical about Macs and your site becomes a lightning rod :) If you had ads, you’d be raking in the impressions…
Posted by: aj | July 16, 2003 02:37 PM
Most of that stuff is personal preference. I’m a hell of a lot more productive on OS X than I ever would be on any version of Windows. At least 70% of the stuff I do, from syncing to controlling my Mac/syncing with my cell phone to *good* video/audio chatting to *zero*-configuration networking, is either impossible in Windows… or semi-possible with a week’s worth of headaches.
(How is a multi-user system “stupid?” I’d consider it smart… and doesn’t XP have a default “guest” account, making it multi-user out of the box?)
As for switching between apps, check out Expose. Good luck getting *that* to work on Windows. Regarding the menu bar, on a well-designed app, use of the menu bar is very limited.
Oh… and Typepad on a Mac here. And aren’t Ben and Mena, Typepad’s creators, OS X users? Hmmmm…
Posted by: Michael | July 20, 2003 11:16 AM