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.