I’ll be taking a look at operating systems and why they suck. Every OS sucks for different reasons. I won’t be able to touch on them all, but I’ll take a shot. Let’s start with Apple’s Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard because Steve Jobs angered me with the new terms of service for the iPhone OS 4.0. Click here for why.
I am writing this on a Macbook, so I should kinda know what I’m talking about. Let’s start at the beginning. Like very beginning. Answer me this. If I had 0 experience with a computer, would I know how to use a Mac? No. Why? If I had a brand new Mac, started it up, and logged in, I would see a dock, and an upper panel. What do I do? I would probably start by randomly clicking stuff. Maybe the Apple logo. Or Finder. Or Spotlight. What if I want an application? Yes, the application folder is in the dock, but it would not necessarily be the first thing I click because text labels are not visible until you hover over an item. Let’s look at Windows (until Vista and 7 changed it). Oh, look. Start button. Let’s start here! How about Linux? In Ubuntu, there’s a nifty menu that says “Applications”. Granted, usability isn’t high on Linux’s list of pluses, but an easy to read text label is more intuitive than esoteric symbols.
Let’s go a little bit deeper. Safari, Finder, and Spotlight. Why are these names of things? Safari is the default web browser. Let’s compare with Microsoft. Internet Explorer. Oh. I get it. How about Finder? It’s actually a file and folder management system as opposed to search, which is what I thought it was when I first got it. It actually compares almost favorably to Windows Explorer, but Microsoft hides Windows Explorer within the context of the dead simple “My Computer” icon. Apple leaves Finder out (in the dock, in the panel) to readily confuse non-Mac users. Finally, Spotlight. Ok, it uses a magnifying glass logo, so that’s cool, but again compare with Microsoft. Search. Thanks. Intuitive.
I actually want to end with something that’s actually a testament to inferiority, especially when compared with Windows 7. Window management. First, cmd+tab is a usability nightmare. Example: say I’m working on a literature review, which I currently am. I keep a word processor open which contains my writing. I have several pdfs open which contain the literature. Now, say I want to switch from the word processor to a pdf. I use cmd+tab. I switch to preview. Yeah, but which pdf comes up? I know that it was the last one open, but that isn’t readily apparent. Plus, when I need to switch between different pdfs, I need to use cmd+`. Compare with Windows and Linux. When I hit alt+tab, I get to see a text label and thumbnail preview of all open windows. I can switch to whichever window I need.
This is due to Apple’s handling of programs vs. windows. In Windows and Linux, a window is an instance of a program. On a Mac, a window is a window, and a program is a program. It sounds good theoretically, but I think it’s a usability disaster when it comes to switching programs. So, you say, why not just use Expose’. Yeah, well that’s my point. Why do we need cmd+tab and cmd+` when Expose exists? If cmd+tab cannot justify its existence.
This is not to say that Expose is entirely flawless. When I hit F3, I see all my windows. I can even see windows on other desktops, if I want. But every time I hit F3, my windows appear in different positions. That can be maddening. Consistency is usability’s friend. It should behave the same exact way every single time. This is baffling, because no other program behaves in this manner, especially in OS X. Apple’s applications are created and designed with elegance and simplicity in mind. Why was Expose’ exempt from this philosophy? If I am working with many open windows with small differences in content, it’s not immediately apparent which one is where. Nightmare, I say.
I spare no vitriol for others. Look out for Windows next.