The conventional wisdom on both sides of the computing platform wars is that Microsoft Windows is basically a decent operating system that struggles but fails to match the Mac OS. Of course, you can’t ignore the prevalence of malware and the billions and billions of dollars Windows users have lost as a result of security issues.
You could also discuss rampant driver conflicts, and the draconian upgrade process to go from Windows XP to Windows 7. But these are problems that usually have solutions. In the first, you wait for Microsoft or a third-party company to deliver compatible software. For the second, buy a new PC. That’s what Microsoft wants you to do, because they’ll get far fewer phone calls from disgruntled buyers seeking help.
The real problem with Windows, however, is usability. That’s a subject that the PC-oriented reviewers at Consumer Reports magazine never dare touch. They don’t put people into little one-way glass rooms to see how they fare handling routine tasks, nor do they conduct surveys, so their reports about personal computers remain fatally flawed.
What’s strange about the particular shortcoming I’m about to discuss is that Apple solved the problem with the very first Mac in 1984, and Microsoft clearly isn’t paying attention, despite spending tens of billions of dollars to make Windows into a reasonably stable, productive operating system.
I’m talking about mouse tracking!
I can see where most of you are wondering what I’m talking about and it may well be that you don’t notice any such problem, one that has existed in every single version of Windows I’ve ever used. It doesn’t get any better, and fortunately it hasn’t gotten any worse. But why are the tech pundits ignoring this serious shortcoming? What about Apple when they create those Mac versus PC ads and online comparisons? It’s not there, and you wonder if maybe they’re afraid that Microsoft will wake up to the existence of the shortcoming and do something about it.
Indeed, I pretty much put this question in the back of my mind, until David Biedny reminded me of it during my interview with him for this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.
I’m even going so far to say that very few of you ever notice this problem. It’s not terribly obvious when you handle normal work on your Mac and PC, such as email, word processing, or building a spreadsheet. But when it comes to performing a task that requires precision movement of the mouse cursor, you will see what I’m talking about.
It doesn’t matter what tracking speed you set, what kind of device or driver you have as an input device. On the Mac, the motion is ultra smooth, and you can make the pixel by pixel alterations to 2D or 3D artwork with relative ease. On the PC, the mouse movement is erratic, and precision is nonexistent. Sure, you can still get your content creation done on a Windows box, and the results you achieve may even be comparable to what you do on the Mac, but the work process is seldom as smooth or trouble free.
And, no, don’t remind me about the problems caused by a defective Mac or buggy software. I’m assuming all things are working as intended in making this comparison.
This Mac versus PC disparity may be a trivial matter, but it represents the sort of microcosm that defines the differences between the two platforms. Microsoft is all about producing the 80% or 85% solution, something that is almost as good as the product they struggle to imitate. They seldom equal the competitor, and even less frequently surpass the opposition.
When you bring any of this to their attention, the Microsoft executive, any executive, will basically deliver the same mantra. Yes, they know the current product isn’t terribly good, but not to worry. There will be an update in a year or two that’ll be far better. That would be fine if the competition stood still, but imitating a 2007 iPod touch in 2009 isn’t the answer to Microsoft’s woes with the Zune, and that’s only one of the products they still can’t excel at.
In a few days, Windows 7 will make its debut. They are even, believe it or not, scheduling house parties to honor the occasion, as if one truly wants to celebrate such a thing. Then again, that sort of promotional scheme comes from the same company that delivered those pathetic TV ads about nothing featuring 1990’s sitcom star Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. In fact, when I first heard about the Windows 7 parties, I got to thinking about the celebrations one might have in the 1950s, in the “Ozzie and Harriett” era. That sure ages me, but it also demonstrates just how out of touch Microsoft is to believe that such a lame marketing campaign is somehow going to make Windows 7 warm and fuzzy.
Yes, warm and fuzzy. Tell that to the people who want to upgrade from Windows XP and confront the need to backup their files, wipe the PC’s hard drive and reinstall everything. That’s sure something to celebrate, right?