Tag Archives: user-interface

Which is More Usable – a Mac or Windows PC?


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During live calls the other night, I had a guy ask me whether I felt that Macs are becoming more mainstream than Windows machines. He went on to say how he knew that in the past Macs weren’t very “user friendly,” and that he feels they are much more so now. The user interface on a Mac has certainly changed over the years, yes.

But you have to look at it like this: it’s still completely different than what Windows users are used to. Many long-time Windows power users give up when trying out a Mac. They feel they cannot find their way around. I’ve seen it happen many times. With that said, though, it all comes down to a matter of opinion and preference. I cannot possibly tell you which is better for you – or anyone else – to use. It depends what your likes and needs are.

I made a change to Mac as my primary system back when I was completely disgusted with Windows Vista. Vista had zero usability as far as I was concerned. The Mac operating system had what I needed, and works well for me. I don’t have a problem with Windows 7. In fact, I have a machine right in my office that runs it. For my needs, though, Apple builds a better system.

The only similarity between Microsoft and Apple is the fact that they both create an operating system. That’s where it begins – and where it ends. Apple makes a piece of hardware to go with that software and attempt to control it. Some people don’t like that. However, as consumers, we SHOULD like it. We know who manufactured each and every part inside of our Mac system. We know who to blame if it goes wrong. We know who to contact if things go awry.

Apple is pretty much the only company on the planet that controls everything from stem to stern… hardware, software and service. Don’t get all freaked out because you have to pay for Apple’s One Care. You have to pay for ANY extended warranty, right? It doesn’t fail me – ever. Every problem I’ve had was covered under the repair system. I don’t have to question “who is to blame for this problem?” It was all made by Apple, and it all goes back to Apple.

If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that HP will come the closest to being what Apple is as a company. Its problem, though, is that it currently has to support another company’s operating system.

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Is the Windows UI Important?

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It’s kind of funny. The 45 minute long video I recorded ranting about Windows Vista still gets a ton of traffic to this day. Ponzi isn’t too happy with Vista. It makes her feel stupid, according to her. She’s run into quite a few walls, even with SP1. She’s very frustrated, to say the least. She likes the way it looks, though. I’m also kind of “famous” for my Windows Vista feedback post.

I had been asked to give feedback for Beta 2, long before the product was even officially released. I was going through it and couldn’t believe it. Fonts were off. Pixels were all over the map. There was no consistency. I was noting all of this as I went through it. It took such a toll on me, because I felt like I was doing this for literally no reason. I was sure that none of it would get fixed. There were so many bugs with Windows Vista UI, I couldn’t see past it.

Recently, Long Zheng initiated a Call for Action. He’s asking the community to highlight some user interface inconsistencies… you know, things that bug us. Things that he’s complaining about now are the same things that I ranted about back then. Ed Bott even tried to take a small potshot at me. He said that instead of my ‘personal list’, Long is inviting the community to participate. Well, anyone could have posted this same list. Nothing on either list is something new and unique. They are the same grievances that many MANY people are having.

If you care a lot about the Windows User Interface and want to have a say in attempting to help shape the future of Windows, head over to Long’s TaskForce. You can vote on, and leave comments for, different bugaboos with the Windows experience. Here’s the thing, though. When I posted my list, people raked me across the coals. They thought I was nuts for nitpicking seemingly small things. But it was about the big picture. All those little things add up. These are the same things that Long and the community are now up in arms about. I guess my list was just bad timing, since the product wasn’t even out yet.

I see user interface inconsistencies in every operating system. It’s just that with Vista, I was genuinely trying to make it better. That’s the reason I posted it when I did. Some of what I had to say did make it into the product prior to shipment, and for that I (and everyone who uses Vista) am grateful.

I’m a huge UI guy. It’s got to be clean. It’s got to be consistent. It’s got to be usable. I’m a power user. But if the User Interface makes me think… it’s a bad program. Period, end of story.

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Who Needs Windows Vista?

The idea of a breadcrumb bar in the Windows Explorer is fantastic – it’s one of my favorite features of Windows Vista. It’s not “killer,” but it’s certainly useful – and it’s also available for Windows XP through the free Explorer Breadcrumbs extension. That’s one less reason to upgrade to Windows Vista when it goes gold in a few weeks. I installed the Vista RC1 refresh yesterday and discovered only incremental improvements. I’m having sushi with Dave Vronray in the near future – where I’ll be able to point out thousands of Vista UI oversights (in person).

Rubbing XGL in Windows Vista's Wounds

Everybody went ga-ga over the video I linked to the other day – showing XGL running on KDE in some random flavor of Linux. Some of you suffered from motion sickness after watching the entire thing, but I don’t think typical usage would require or necessitate that much desktop movement in such a small amount of time.

No matter, I went on a quest to find a live CD distro with XGL pre-infused – just to see how well it would work. Because of GPL violations, most XGL-enabled live CDs have been taken offline. I tried installing XGL on my own, following “simple” instructions I found for various distros online – and wound up remembering why I dislike Linux so much in the first place: it’s not easy, no matter what anybody leads you to believe.

GNOME makes Linux easier to navigate, which is why I think so many people have fallen in love with Ubuntu. If Linux is ever going to win over the hearts and minds of the status quo, the GUI must continue to improve. I think XGL gives power users enough eye candy to give Linux another stab – but I couldn’t come close to recommending Linux over OS X for reasons other than economics at this point.

I scoured the BitTorrent directories for XGL-enabled live CD ISOs. Wow, that was probably the geekiest sentence I think I’ve ever written. Anyway, I discovered an XGL-enabled distribution called Kororaa. You can download, burn, reboot, and run Linux without installing it on your hard drive. Grab the torrent for Kororaa Linux Xgl LiveCD 0.2 before it disappears.

Go ahead, try XGL on your own PC – you’ll be amazed. I ran it on Ponzi’s laptop, which has a lame-ass Intel video card. Every one of the XGL effects I tried ran smoother than I ever would have anticipated.

And yes, I believe GNOME looks and works infinitely better than Vista (especially with XGL enabled) for common, everyday tasks.

Windows Vista RC1: a Piece of Sith

The last thing I wanted to do upon returning from Alaska was rip Windows Vista “Ultimate” a new one. I also don’t want to go through my list of Vista UI nitpicks, as several of them still have not been addressed – and likely never will be. Even after installing RC1, I find myself feeling like I did after I first saw Star Wars: A Phantom Menace. For whatever it’s worth, I left the theater disappointed and dejected.

Sadly, the first release candidate for Windows Vista feels more like an alpha to me (or early beta, at best). I’m not talking about performance issues, which will most likely be improved upon before this OS goes gold. No, it’s all about a cohesive user experience / user interface for me. Vista fails on most UI fronts. It doesn’t look or behave similarly across any part of the operating system. Even more sad? That’s by design, folks.

I never thought I’d say this, but… we’ve finally seen the day when KDE / Gnome look, work, and feel “better” than Windows. Vista is schizophrenic, and that disorder has been further enabled by the range of vigilante software development teams who are providing code to the core without cross-checking with other teams for UI consistency. Unless Microsoft is sitting on major detail revisions, I’m afraid they’re sitting atop a “Phantom Menace.”

If OS X had a decent desktop PIM, I think Vista would push me to switch. As far as the inconsistency of Apple’s UI is concerned, that’s already been UNOfied. There’s no such app for Windows Vista, and I’m not holding my breath for Stardock to produce anything I want to use for longer than 3 minutes at a time (sorry, but 99% of Windowblinds skins are bloated and inelegant).

Robert and Robert: Duh!

McLaws says Vista Needs More Time and Scoble says McLaws is right on Windows Vista ship date. Pirillo has been saying this for several months now, and has been labeled a “nitpicking whiner” for his attacks on Windows Vista’s UI and UX. Welcome to the club, boys – I’m happy to no longer be standing out here alone. I’m singing the “I Told You So” song today, which sounds a lot like the Blackeyed Peas hit: “My Humps.” Microsoft Windows is bleeding influencers like never before. And now, further commentary from the memetic echo chamber:

Windows Vista will not be a failure on the scale of Windows ME – but it’s certainly looking to be one of those “Growing Pains” releases that Microsoft must bounce back quickly from. And by quickly, I mean: Microsoft must issue a significant upgrade of the OS within a year’s time. Security is important, but future service packs best be laden with performance increases and feature refinements. I tried telling y’all long before the McLaws admission – VIsta just ain’t comin’ together.

George is getting very upset!

Windows Vista: Lipstick on a Pig

I wish I was making this up – I really do. I also wish that someone at Microsoft would wake up to the fact that the user experience in Windows Vista is 10x worse than it was in Windows XP (if only because they couldn’t get developers to adhere to XP guidelines, and now Vista apps look even more Frankenstined). I wish Microsoft would hire somebody to look at this stuff before it ships – and do something about the problems before the world has to deal with them.

I wish users didn’t have to put up with this level of sloppiness from a multi-billion dollar company. I wish I didn’t have to play the “bad guy” and point out that Classic Mode is still the only way to experience a clean, consistent Windows environment. I wish more people would look past Vista’s translucent veneer to see that it’s nothing more than lipstick on a pig. I wish people would see that I care more about this product than most Windows users do. I wish geeks cared more about UI… so that I wouldn’t feel like such a sore thumb here. Thanks to Brandon for posting this – and thanks to Ryan for pointing out that Windows 3.1 is still alive and well in Windows Vista (screenshot).

Users vs. Developers

In prepping for my talk at BloggerCon tomorrow, I thought I’d incite a riot tonight. Most of the world won’t be there, but you can tune into the live stream at some point right after lunch (when I’ll be leading the discussion). I put all of this in tonight’s Lockergnome report for the Windows Fanatics channel, but I figured it was worth repeating here… where I’m likely to get flamed out of existence.

What would the world of software be like if the inmates were running the asylum? I’d argue a lot more useful, and a lot more beautiful. But users are usually in the back seat when it comes to the evolution of a utility – from beginning to end. We have all the control in the world, but few of us ever choose to exercise that power. We are expected to treat developers like they’re gods – but they’re no more important in this cycle than the average user. Let me put it to you this way: software is useless if there isn’t anybody using it. There are certainly users who are content to take whatever programmers hand to them, but I don’t believe that this Utopian level of interaction will exist for too much longer. The world of software is getting larger by the day, and more people are finding new and different ways to improve lives with digital code. I got sick and tired of meeting programmers and developers with attitude, so I decided to get an attitude myself – as a power user. I expect better, I expect faster, I expect smarter, I expect more.

Base functionality is crucial – but I would argue that software should look twice as good as it runs (which should be fast to begin with). I’ve been labeled a “nitpicker” for pointing out font inconsistencies and pixel discrepancies. But if you don’t complain about the things you’d like to see change, how do you ever expect them to change? Developers develop, users use – but it’s up to both parties to communicate with one another. When I see a new piece of software that holds promise, I call out its shortcomings in the hopes it will be closer to perfection with the next revision. Programmers believe that they’re in charge – but I believe the true power lies within the user. Years ago, when I started Lockergnome, there were few people writing publicly about good (or bad) digital tools on the desktop or the Web. The blogosphere has since exploded with a flood of positive and negative opinions – and if you’re not a part of that revolution, then you’re missing out on an important part of history. I’ve seen countless developers struggle to get their apps recognized – but most of those same programmers suffer from an overinflated ego and miscalculation of a uesr’s wants, needs, and desires. Users don’t talk – but I’m asking you to start flappin’ your electronic gums for the sake of making the software landscape better for all of us.

FWIW, I love developers – couldn’t live without ’em. Can’t live with ’em, either. 🙂

User Interface

Dinner with Lili Cheng and her band of Merry Men (and Women) indicated that there were still a few more Vista UI fixes coming down the pike in pending releases. I’ve been reporting and recording as much as humanly possible, but until Microsoft officially assigns Lili as the Goddess of ‘All Things UI’… we’re screwed. Guess what else is probably not going to be fixed in Vista? Errant ToolTips. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy – but this is an oversight that will likely slippy, slippy, slippy.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Lili’s team needs to be given the final say on whether (or not) an app is ready for core inclusion BEFORE it’s included. As of right now, there’s no UI accountability; any team can submit any code they want at any time – with nobody signing off on UI. Since this isn’t handed down from on-high (where I believe Lili sits anyway, but not with a true ability to clean these problems before the world sees them), we’re left with the classic Microsoft “it works, therefore it’s good enough” mentality. The inmates, indeed, are running the asylum.

…and I get labeled a “nitpicker” for pointing out ways that Windows Vista can look better? Give me a break. It’s obvious that some of Microsoft’s developers aren’t designers – painfully so. The only people who have the right to call me a “nitpicker” are those responsible for user interface and user experience. IMHO, Jim Allchin’s legacy isn’t necessarily Windows Vista – it’s the power he hands to people like Lili moving forward [a thought that is equally shared with Ed Bott].

“User Interface” isn’t just about software design – it’s the communications gateway between a company and its most vocal supporters.