- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

User Friendliness Versus Hype

When Windows 8 ships this fall, you can bet that Microsoft will tout the interface formerly known as Metro to the skies. Look at the wonderful, colorful tiles. See how they run across the screen, endlessly. Forget about pointing and clicking; just tap here and there and everywhere and you’ll experience the joys of Windows 8.

What Microsoft won’t tell you is that the way touch works differs depending on which end of the display you tap. They won’t tell you that even shutting down your PC will involve multiple steps that aren’t, at first glance, obvious. Sure, the Start menu may have been a questionable name for a function that also includes restarting or shutting down your PC, but at least the interface was crystal clear as to what you could accomplish. You didn’t need a cheat sheet or a good memory.

And what happens when you click-through the interface formerly known as Metro, only to discover a toned down version of the traditional Windows desktop? All right, there are icons in the tray, but no Start menu there either. And how to do return to the tiled interface anyway? Click on the lower left corner of the screen, a hot spot that brings up a tiny popup menu labeled Start. In Windows 8, the desktop is just another app that you can move in and out of, once you find the secret handshake; make that hot spot. Yes, so intuitive.

What will probably confound many users of Windows 8 is the schizophrenic interface. One app uses the interface formerly known as Metro, while the next runs in an almost traditional Windows environment. Having fun?

True Apple dealt with two operating systems early on with the first versions of Mac OS X. You had a Classic environment, a separate document window where you could run many of your older Mac apps with decent performance in an emulator. Only the line of demarcation wasn’t hidden in a hot corner. Classic, as I said, ran as just another app that you could leave or enter with a click. It wasn’t hidden away.

Unfortunately, in trying to seem flashy and sexy, Microsoft cannot understand consistency, or the need to make things easy to discover by their user base. Most businesses will probably avoid Windows 8 like the plague, and tech pundits who usually praise Microsoft now seem almost to want to bury them.

More seriously, Mountain Lion, despite those 200 new features, is regarded as a minor system update by some. That’s because most of the fundamentals of the tried and true Mac user interface are still there. Sure, there are curious changes that may or may not have logic to them. Consider the loss of Web Sharing. All right, I don’t think many of you used this feature, which dates back to the very first version of OS X, and allows you to run an Apache web server on your Mac.

Maybe Apple felt that there would be less to support, but the command line tools that let you activate and configure Web Sharing are still there. I suppose they could disappear with OS 10.9, or maybe Apple will get the message.

They did, after all, restore Save As in the face of customers who said that the Duplicae function that’s part of the Auto Save feature, which debuted in Lion, was an unsatisfactory solution. Yes, I suppose Mountain Line’s Save As feature is still not quite the same as the Save As that we all know and love. But it’s also possible for Apple to make a few more changes even before Mountain Lion’s successor appears.

I have to tell you, though, that Mountain Lion’s entire Modern Document Model can sometimes be inscrutable. Tech writer Matt Neuburg has a piece at TidBITS where he attempts to sort things out in a way that makes sense. However, I came away feeling that Apple had somehow become temporarily possessed by a team of Microsoft engineers when enhancing Auto Save. The interactions between two options related to document handling in the General preference panel seem to vary illogically depending on which combination you engage. You almost wish Apple would have left well enough alone.

At least you can rest assured that most third-party apps have yet to add support for Auto Save and other key Lion and Mountain Lion features. But I would hope the more confusing elements of this feature will be revised before a new version of OS X arrives. I suppose that depends on how many of you are complaining about it. Obviously, Apple listens, which is why a variation of Save As has been restored.

For the most part, however, Mountain Lion appears to be a surprisingly stable release. There are issues to be resolved, such as the reports that some of you are suffering from substandard battery life on your Mac note-book. But with published reports that Apple is soon to begin testing an 10.8.1 update to fix that and other issues, you have to think they are not going to abandon suffering Mac users.

But with all its imperfections, Mountain Lion is a lot nicer place to be than the interface formerly known as Metro.