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  • Another Night Owl Rant: Why Do They Always Get it All Wrong?

    April 30th, 2007

    The other day, I read an article in which the author demanded that Apple build a new Finder. Before I read the article, I already felt sympathetic, because the Mac OS X Finder is badly broken when it comes to such matters as multithreading, the inability to remember position and view settings, and other annoyances.

    However, the article had nothing to do with the Finder, despite its title and the fact that the author kept using that word in the course of the article. Instead, he was complaining about a traditional Mac interface element, the single or monolithic menu bar. You see, he was used to the Windows and Linux methods, which put separate menu bars atop each document window.

    Despite the fact that it has been shown to be easier to access a single menu bar than a document-specific variation, which has a different position depending on the location of your document window, it still comes down to a matter of personal preference. One possible suggestion is that maybe Apple should offer an option to choose one or the other. This goes against the simplicity of Mac OS X, but I’ll grant that some of you might like it.

    But it has nothing whatever to do with the Finder. How an article expressing such obvious ignorance about how the Mac OS worked, and its most significant and unique feature, got published in the first place is almost beyond understanding. This is why I won’t embarrass the author any further by mentioning his name or linking to the piece. I’m sure he’s had enough bad publicity as it is.

    Then there is that silly headline in InfoWorld a while back — a publication notorious for some perfectly awful and highly misleading product reviews — that the recent contest, in which an alleged Mac OS X security vulnerability was exposed, killed the myth of Mac invulnerability.

    What myth? No such myth ever existed. Indeed, there were even a smattering of malware infections in the Classic Mac OS, and I encountered one back in 1989 that forced me to reformat my hard drive. What’s more, Apple releases regular security updates for Mac OS X. If the operating system didn’t have security leaks, why would there be a need for these updates?

    Indeed, InfoWorld’s headline writer clearly doesn’t get it, or was looking for sensationalism regardless of the truth.

    Now I suppose you can argue with some justification that Apple’s Mac versus PC ads convey a misleading impression about the lack of Mac viruses. I can understand the lack of precision in Apple’s claims, but it’s still true that there have been, so far at least, no Mac OS X viruses in the wild. The few instances reported so far have been largely proofs-of-concept, except for one that had little or no impact. None of the security leaks plugged by Apple have been exploited. This doesn’t make Macs immune from harm, but they are surely much, much safer than Windows.

    One more point: Consumer Reports reported a year or so ago that over $9 billion had been lost because of computer virus infections. What they didn’t say is the fact that every single dollar was the result of a Windows virus. Then again, someone inside the Consumer Reports organization once told me that their editors were heavily biased towards Windows, even though they work on Macs. Oh well.

    So much for headline writers and Consumer Reports magazine, at least for now.

    Then there was the story a few weeks ago that sales of new Macs were sure to take a dip because of the arrival of Windows Vista at the end of January. Well, my friends, that never happened. Yes, Microsoft has sold millions of copies so far, but the vast majority were preloaded onto new PCs, not ordered as standalone upgrades for older models.

    To add insult to injury, Dell has even resumed offering Windows XP on some of its PCs. Now imagine what you might think had Apple continued to offer Macs with Panther (10.3) preloaded as an option after Tiger shipped. Didn’t happen. Even worse for Microsoft, Dell clearly made this decision based on customer requests, and the power of the 800 pound gorilla from Redmond evidently didn’t phase Michael Dell and his crew.

    In the end, Apple continues to gain both domestic and worldwide market share. Now maybe it can be said that more Macs might have been sold had Windows Vista not been on the scene, but that would require some detailed customer surveys that are so far lacking.

    I suppose it’s even possible that the delay in shipping Mac OS 10.5 Leopard might also cause some of you to postpone buying a new Mac until the new system comes preinstalled. As a practical matter, I don’t think it’ll make much impact, simply because system installations on a Mac are not near the daunting process they are on the Windows platform. While some of those installations go bad, most times, they work just fine.

    In contrast, what’s Microsoft’s success rate with a straight upgrade install of Vista over XP? Will they dare even tell us? Or does it all really matter?

    Some people think operating systems are probably irrelevant anyway. It’s just the application that matters; that is until the same application is available on both the Mac and the PC. But that will only start another rant and I’m done for now.



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    13 Responses to “Another Night Owl Rant: Why Do They Always Get it All Wrong?”

    1. Michael says:

      “Despite the fact that it has been shown to be easier to access a single menu bar than a document-specific variation, which has a different position depending on the location of your document window, it still comes down to a matter of personal preference.”

      On NeXTSTEP the menus were application-centric, as with the Mac, but they could be moved around and the system would remember where they were. That might be even better then what we currently have on OS X.

      What is so odd about the Windows/GNOME/KDE paradigm is that the menus are bolted to the windows. There is no real distinction between a program and its windows. This presumably goes back to the days when systems would only have enough resources for a program to run one window at a time. It makes no sense now, but it’s too late for Windows to change. And, of course, the popular Linux desktops don’t think this one out; as per usual, they just copy whatever Microsoft does.

      It makes for some odd problems. If you drop a file into a program’s open window on Windows and the window already has contents, Windows will ask you what you want to do with the current contents. On OS X, if you drop a file onto an application’s (say TextEdit’s) icon it will simply open a new window.

      I don’t believe anyone would design a system to do things the Windows way, if he were designing from scratch for today’s hardware, could build on the foundation of a modern software architecture, and had thought much about the matter.

    2. John C. Randolph says:

      The NeXTSTEP menu button scheme was considerably better than the Mac’s menu bar. HIt the right button on the mouse, and there’s the menu, right under the cursor: no need to push the mouse all the way up to the top of the screen. It helped a lot on a NeXT machine’s 1180×832 display, and I miss it every day on my 2560×1600 Cinema Display.

      One of these years, I hope I’ll get that back, even it it’s a default I have to set from a shell.

      -jcr

    3. The NeXTSTEP menu button scheme was considerably better than the Mac’s menu bar. HIt the right button on the mouse, and there’s the menu, right under the cursor: no need to push the mouse all the way up to the top of the screen. It helped a lot on a NeXT machine’s 1180×832 display, and I miss it every day on my 2560×1600 Cinema Display.

      One of these years, I hope I’ll get that back, even it it’s a default I have to set from a shell.

      -jcr

      Do you remember Now Menus? Just asking? You could uses that to invoke pop-up menus anywhere.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Foggy T. Runkin says:

      JCR is ex-NeXT. May not have been around the Mac during the time of Now Software. And a pop-up menubar equivalent is not the extent of the NeXT scheme.

      The Lisa HI designers (the menubar originated with the Lisa) considered placing the menus in the window, but they decided against it. It took up a lot of real estate in each window, and it wasn’t as easy to hit as the menubar at the top of the screen..

      I’m betting Apple will eventually return to the NeXT menus when very large (wall-size) displays get cheap and it’s no longer efficient to move the mouse to the top of the screen. But keep in mind there are potential compatibility issues with very old Carbon apps making assumptions about the location of the menubar.

    5. Todd Partridge says:

      I understand that there are different behaviors between the OS’s that require behavior learning curves. I have used all three OS’s (though Linux is very similiar to Windows) and Mac OS behaviors are very much unsimiliar to Windows behaviors. That said Mac OS X window positions and other annoyances are a huge problem in Mac OS especially if you work in large workflows. My Dad who has always been a Mac user when put on a Windows machine is uneffective and slow, however in Mac OS he works very smooothly. As I am person who works on the computer alot, I view what I see as experts of both operating systems and I can tell you that certain things like window positions, consistent behavior are very important. I positively guarantee that an expert of Windows (or Linux which mimics alot of Windows behaviors) will b e more productive than a Mac OS user in most similiar tasks. Window positions, consitency in UI, not knowing what app you’re in and having to look to the top left of the screen, are just a few I can think of and have little to do with “personal preference”. Though I understand reading articles where many users expect Mac OS to behave like Windows and quip about it, Apple has a likely unfixed issue bringin a legacy GUI to the future.

    6. Peter says:

      I remember the NeXT menu system. I also remember the first time I used it, I ended up with a whole bunch of “menu bars.”

      Again, one of the beauties of having the menu bar tied to the top of the screen, as has been pointed out over and over and over again, is that you can’t over-run it, making it easier to hit. Personally, I rather like that versus a floating palette of menu items like NeXT.

      My poor heart bleeds for the folks like Mr. Randolph and their 30″ Cinema Displays… 🙂 But, seriously, check out the mouse tracking section System Preferences. I had similar problems with my first big-honkin’ display and adjusting this allowed me to move the mouse up to the menu bar very quickly with a flip of the wrist.

    7. Al says:

      In response to Todd,
      I disagree wholeheartedly. I would argue that the expert Mac user would be at least as productive if not more so. Not having to wait for an application to launch every time you used it would alone be enough to skew the competition heavily in the Mac user’s favor. Your fathers inability to work efficiently in Windows is nothing more than a problem of learned behavior. The same would apply to anyone who primarily uses Windows and then has to use a Mac. Productivity suffers whenever a new system is entered into the equation. This has absolutely nothing to do with the usability of either system. As to your final comment about a legacy GUI – in what way does Windows not have the same issue (not that I believe it to be an issue anyway). As an aside – I’ve used both since 1992.

      My .02
      Semper Fi

    8. DBL says:

      @ Todd
      “I positively guarantee that an expert of Windows (or Linux which mimics alot of Windows behaviors) will b e more productive than a Mac OS user in most similiar tasks. Window positions, consistency in UI, not knowing what app you’re in and having to look to the top left of the screen”

      You obviously don’t know this, but experienced mac users never have to look at the top of the screen to know which app is in focus. You just know, because you’re experienced, and you know how focus changes, and how your apps gets lined up to accept the focus when the previous app quits (which is the only time it’s even a possible question). It’s actually very simple: last in; first out. And in case you don’t know yet, what could be easier than ‘having to look to the top left of the screen’. Is there somewhere else on the screen that would be easier? At least the top left is consistent.

      @original article
      I can’t believe you labelled Consumer Reports “biased” just because they listed the total cost of viruses without trumpeting the virtues of the Mac. It’s not like they dissed the Mac — they just didn’t get into it. Expecting everyone to evangelise the Mac at every opportunity or else face accusations of “bias” is zealotry at its worst.

    9. Karl says:

      I too disagree with Todd basically for the same reasons as Al. I am more productive when using the Mac because I know the Mac. But I have noticed that people who have switched end up liking the Mac OS better as far as usability. Not to say you can’t be productive in Windows or that other people like it better than the Mac OS.

      The window theme in any major OS is flawed to the point that they take up too much screen space. Finder windows over lapping Finder windows, over lapping palettes and desktop widgets, overlapping applications. It starts to be a cluster. Expose and other utilities help but to say one is more productive then the other all the time isn’t true. It depends on how well you handle that clutter.

    10. Ken says:

      I spend most of my day in a Windows environment but use OSX at home. I personally find the single Mac menubar signifanctly more helpful than having menubars associated with each window.

      Why? Because when I work on a Word document in XP, for example, I often end up with 2 menubars near each other (doc and application), and each file menu has different items. Worse, someimes when I close a window, I sometimes end up closing the application with it.

      In OSX (and previous incarnations) I never close applications accidently, and I always know what to expect in the menu lists.

      How do I remember which menubar is active? Well, conveniently the program I’m using tends to be the one “on top”. I never need to use menubar items for programs I’m not actively using. And in general programs tend to follow interface guidelines.

    11. Why do they always get it wrong? Because the vast majority of so called journalists are lazy (or incompetent). They are too lazy or stupid to do even a modicum of research before they hit the publish button. Sad.

    12. Michael says:

      So here’s another interesting one I discovered yesterday.

      I think many users must have wished to replace a repeating pattern within a text document within a text document with another repeating pattern. That’s easy on the Mac. You open the little window for “Replace” copy-and-paste what you want to replace in its top field; then adjust the first instance and copy-and-paste that in the bottom field.

      You can’t do that under KDE.

      I tried to do it yesterday, and it can’t be done. Once the “Replace” window is open, you are locked out from Kate’s (the text editor’s) main window.

      What I did in the end was to use Open Office writer as a pasteboard.

      But the point is I’d be surprised if this *isn’t* related to the broken architecture of Windows/GNOME/KDE – specifically the way menus are window-centric not application-centric.

      I don’t mind so much whether the menus are at the top of the screen or free to move, but I think they really ought to be application-centric in the 21st century. Getting “locked out” of a window is absurd. I’m surprised the sheer primitiveness of the current non-Mac desktop environments isn’t commented on more often.

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