Apple and Mac OS X

Mac OS X v. Windows XP

This is in response to Dan Pouliot’s webpage on Mac OS X versus Windows XP.

“Minimize Bias” My Ass
The funny thing is that Pouliot spends a considerable amount of time explaining what bias is and how he tries to limit his bias and avoid biased techniques (such as overemphasizing the faults of one system while overlooking the faults of the other one). In the beginning of his analysis, he seems fairly even-handed. He speaks both positively and negatively about both systems and recognizes their quirks and unique strengths. In fact, for a while, I wondered whether he actually was successful in eliminating bias.

Once he began talking about window sizes on desktops, though, it was immediately clear to me that he was a Mac user who had only dabbled in Windows XP. The bias was coming through because he clearly knew all the shortcuts and possible customizations of OS X but took XP’s default settings at face value.

Fake Problems with Windows
Here’s where the bias really comes into play: he says XP’s windows are annoying because sometimes you don’t realize they’re maximized and you want to resize them and can’t. Uh… if it fills up the whole screen, it’s maximized. And, actually, even if you extend the window manually to fill up the whole screen (unmaximized), it appears differently (borders and edges visible) from a maximized window (borders and edges invisible). All this fuss about maximized windows (which are wonderful things, by the way, especially when viewing webpages), and he overlooks as a minor inconvenience the fact that some OS X windows have to be moved in order to be resized (because the stupid dock at the bottom of the screen gets in the way of the window’s right-hand corner—which is the only place that can resize an OS X window).

His other stupid points are that XP bunches up windows of a similar application on the taskbar. Well, so does OS X! If I have three Word documents open in OS X, I can’t easily click on one item on the dock in order to locate a particular document. Also, since Pouliot is not an experienced windows user, he doesn’t realize that the beauty of Windows over Mac is its ease of customization (sure, you can customize Mac, too… if you’re a programmer). A simple right-click, which does all of nothing on the OS X dock, leads you to properties, where you can uncheck “Group similar taskbar buttons.” That way, every single window you have open will be not only an application, but a document within an application.

Real Problems with OS X
Another problem with the OS X dock is that clicking on the application icon does not launch a new instance of the application if the application is open already. It merely sets as the current view the application that is already running. There should be (as there is in XP) a clear distinction between a launcher and a window indicator. I can click on my window indicator with a document, folder, or application name to pick the window I want to see. I can click on the launcher to launch a new instance of that application. Let’s look at this practically. If I want to open my web browser with three separate windows I can:

In XP, click the web browser “quick launcher” three times, and the browser will open almost instantaneously with three separate windows.

Or, in OS X, click the web browser dock launcher once, and, once the browser is open, use the shortcut key or drop-down menu to select “new window” twice.

More Fake Problems
Some of Dan Pouliot’s gripes about XP are unfounded or simply not factual. For example, he says that if you search for photoshop, the actual application itself will not show up in the search because it isn’t photoshop; it’s photoshop.exe. Actually it does show up in the search, and even shows up in his search box. If you search for a filename, XP will find that file name with any extension, unless you’re looking specifically for photoshop.exe or *.exe. By the way, for all you Mac users out there, is there an easy way to do the Mac-equivalent of *.doc or *.*? Just curious. There probably is, but I don’t know it.

More Real Problems
Contrary to Pouliot’s assertions, in Mac it is often quite difficult to find things. First of all that little search box in the upper-right corner of Mac applications did not, at first, even appear to me to be a search box. It was so slick-looking, it looked just like decoration, and what I assume now to be a magnifying glass looked more like a fancy letter Q. I thought it stood for Quicktime. The other day, at work, I was looking for the print center on a Mac OS X computer, and it was nowhere to be found. I looked in the Apple menu under recent applications, system preferences, etc. I even tried browsing through the hard drive itself. There was nothing resembling the comprehensiveness of Windows’ Control Panel. I tried searching for printer in the hopes that the printer preferences area would pop up—to no avail. Eventually, I had to search for the word print to find the Print Center. XP has a handy menu in the Start button called All Programs. It also has a handy link/menu in the Start button called Control Panel. OS X’s recent items or recent applications (both of which Windows also has) just doesn’t cut it.

Pouliot also neglects to mention that Mac does not have an intuitive or easy way to get back to the desktop. “Finder” basically does nothing. If I have four OS X applications open and I choose “Finder” in the program list, it will select a folder if I have a folder open. Otherwise, it will dim the applications I already have open. Big help. If I have four Windows XP applications open, and I hit the show desktop button on my taskbar, all open windows and applications will minimize so I can get a clear view of what’s on my desktop (desktop shortcuts, documents, etc.). [Note: I am aware that there is a way, apart from “Hide other applications,” to get the desktop to appear, but it is not immediately obvious to even intermediate users of OS X; I eventually found it by searching for “keyboard shortcuts” on the internet—and, as far as I know, there is no one button you can press to show the desktop on OS X. P.S. I did eventually find, throught trial and error, one button that will show the desktop—it’s one of the F-keys, F9 or F10. 12/07/05]

The other problem with Mac is that right-clicks are not standard. Sure, there are some Macs that come with mice equipped with a right-click, but those are few and far between. It’s quite annoying to have to click and hold in order to get a menu to show up, especially when sometimes the click-and-hold method doesn’t even work. That’s the problem with OS X, actually. There aren’t enough easily available options. Sometimes you can right-click (or click-and-hold), and sometimes you can’t. In Windows XP, anything, anywhere on the screen can be right-clicked. On the screen I have open right now, I have the option of right-clicking the top of my open window (to resize or minimize it), the inside of my open document (to copy, paste, or format it), the taskbar itself (to adjust its settings), the Start menu (to adjust its settings), the quick launchers (to delete or rename them), the windows indicators (to resize or minimize them). [Note: This is another thing I found a way to get around in Mac, again by searching the internet—which one shouldn’t have to do in order to get basic functionality in an OS—but hitting control and mouse click is not nearly as convenient as right-clicking, as you have utilize both the keyboard and the mouse]

Yet another major OS X problem is the lack of functional screen space. I always have felt that on Macs the screen is so cluttered (especially since I can’t maximize any windows). Even whe
n the screen is a high resolution one, Mac uses the resolution to make the images super-crisp and defined rather than providing more desktop space. There are some Mac monitors that are extra large (and extra expensive) that provide a lot of desktop space, but the standard is one window, all the space. Just about any computer I’ve seen running XP has had plenty of desktop space to view at least three open applications comfortably.

My last big gripe about OS X is what the techie guys at my old job called “the rainbow circle of death.” Sure, Windows used to have the blue screen of death (particularly in Windows ME, which has to be the worst operating system in existence), but XP is by far the most stable Windows release I’ve ever seen. I have never encountered a problem that Control-Alt-Delete couldn’t fix. On OS X, though, many times, I’ve had to do a forced shutdown that did not necessarily resolve the problem.

Devil’s Advocate
In all fairness, though, Dan Pouliot does bring up some good points about strengths Mac OS X has over Windows XP:

  • The dialogues are, in fact, more to-the-point. Save, Don’t Save, Cancel makes more sense than Yes, No, Cancel
  • Windows operating systems are more virus-prone if you’re not careful
  • OS X does look “cooler” than Windows XP. Macs have always looked cooler.

Whereas it seems that Pouliot may have dabbled a bit in Windows, he clearly did not take advantage of Windows’ biggest asset: its ease of customization. Most of the things he complains about are, in fact, faults of Microsoft in design, but not design for the applications themselves and their functionality; they’re faults of design as far as default settings are concerned. The search menu, with its stupid animated dog, is hard to use. Well, with a few mouse-clicks, you can, for the life of your system, change the settings to look for hidden files or to allow you the option of picking your own file types by file extension.

Sure, I accuse Pouliot of merely dabbling in Windows when I myself have had at least ten times more Windows than Mac experience. Nevertheless, I have had to work with Macs considerably in the last two jobs. In fact, at my last job, I had to use a Mac exclusively for two years straight. I also taught in a school where all the students used Macs (to write in-class essays, for example), and I had to help troubleshoot their problems quite often (including the dreaded rainbow circle of death). What does it say about the two systems that at my last two jobs (both in education), the students all used Macintosh, but the tech support people all used PCs (some with Windows, some with Linux)?

There are all sorts of little quirks about Windows that can make you feel like a developer, even when you’re far from being one. I love defragmenting the hard drive and watching all the little bits and bytes follow each other. I like the different ways you can view folders (a feature Pouliot makes light of but that is really handy)—list, details, thumbnails, icons, etc. I like to be able to see 100 files at a time sometimes. Sorry, OS X.

“What’s the bottom line, No Name?”
Yes, ultimately, it comes down to user preference. I think computer illiterates, for example, actually would have a better time with OS X, as it has icon animation in the dock, and it looks cool and slick. Mac has better support for point-and-click and drag-and-drop (as Pouliot documents well). It also does not bother you with the details like keeping library .dll files when you’re uninstalling applications or like modifying system files.

And, of course, there are things that annoy the hell out of me about XP. The default settings, as I mentioned before, are terrible (for me… I’m sure for some users out there, they’re perfect). I just did a fresh Windows XP reinstall after playing around with Linux, and it took me forever, not to install the applications and programs but to adjust all the settings to my liking (getting rid of annoying animated characters, changing the desktop picture, selecting my own quick launchers, etc.). It’s also annoying that you can’t get rid of Internet Explorer, even when you’ve replaced it with a far superior browser. I don’t like that you have to lower the security settings in Internet Explorer in order to download Windows updates.

Final score: Unthinking computer illiterate wowed by slick-looking displays, OS X; wannabe programmer looking for basic functionality, Windows XP. I say wannabe because I think real programmers actually prefer Linux, Unix, or Solaris as an operating system and actually hate anything Windows-related. Semi-illiterates like me can pretend we know how to do stuff, just because we can defragment hard drives…

P.S. My wife just had to get a new Mac Powerbook for school, so we’ve had to get to know OS X a little better. My verdict still holds true. Even though, after you get to know OS X, you can do most of the same things as XP, none of it was obvious. For example, there was no immediately simple way to get thumbnails of files to appear in folders (I actually had to go to Pouliot’s site to figure out how to do this). Still, several things irk me about OS X.

One annoyance is the fact that the closing of the last window of an application does not close the application. I constantly have to remind my wife (as I did my students) to open-Apple-Q instead of closing the window. It makes sense that after the last window of an application is closed, the application itself would close. Not so with Mac. Pouliot would probably chalk it up to user-preference instead of deficiency of design, but some defaults do, in fact, make more empirical sense than others.

Another problem is that when we downloaded and tried to install it, it would not install, really, but merely reside on the desktop as if it were a network connection, CD-ROM, or temporary storage device. Eventually, we figured out that the application had to be dragged into the “applications” folder to function properly.

Also, in order to get into the actual files of an application, one has to right-click what appears to be the application itself in order to find the underlying files. This is another thing I had to look up on the internet. Microsoft’s “Help” options are often weak, too, but most of the time, customization is intuitive and easily accessible—not requiring an internet lookup for extra help. 12/04/04

P.P.S Have spent hours fiddling around with the Mac Powerbook and also doing online research to try to solve this problem. Still have not found the answer. In Windows it’s so simple, and Icons view is just plain stupid and should not be a default. Who wants to go in and manually change every window to List view?

Another problem is we had to download a special extension in order to turn the start-up noise off (you can’t even change what the start-up noise is, but with the extension you can change how loud it is). How lame is that? You can customize a Mac if you’re a programmer; otherwise, live with what they give you. 12/19/04

A few other things have come up to bother me with OS X as I use it more and more:

  1. There’s no keyboard way to bring apps into focus once they’ve been minimized or hidden. If I cmd-tab to an app that’s hidden, the window stays hiddden. I tried looking for keyboard shortcuts on Apple’s site. I even went to Pouliot’s site to ask the Mac zealots how to do it, and they couldn’t tell me. Why does cmd-H hide windows when there’s no keyboard shortcut to unhide them?
  2. One of the best things about XP’s search functionality (and maybe this is addressed in Tiger—I don’t know) is that o
    nce you’ve done your search, you can view the search results as icons, details, list, etc. OS X gives you only one option.

  3. Another seemingly simple thing you can’t do in OS X without either editing a .plist (and if you’re wondering what a .plist is, then you’re not alone!) or downloading third-party software is show hidden files. You can search for invisible and visible items in search, but you can’t just browse and see hidden files without hacking the preferences by hand or getting so tool from the internet. OS X… OS X…

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