Thursday, September 9, 2010

Apple Rants

I first played with an Apple computer in the early '80s at a local computer store. My next experience was with a Macintosh an employer purchased to play on. Over the years, I've worked on mini-computers, S-100 based computers, PCs with various versions of DOS, Unix and Windows. Despite friendly jabs I may give friends, I don't really consider myself a computer or operating system bigot. I've watched the maturing of Apple computers from the side-lines, fairly impressed by the changes I've seen over the last 10 or so years. I have a number of friends who are Mac fans and have observed the improvements over their shoulders. I saw a lot of Apples as Windows machines at a recent Microsoft conference. More than once I've heard that the MacBook was the best Windows laptop around.

Given all this, when I recently needed to get a new computer I decided to take the plunge and get a MacBook Pro. I was pretty excited to get something so different than my usual fare. It arrived last week and I've spent the better part of the weekend and last couple days configuring it and a new Windows server I got at the same time. Overall, I really like it. The hardware design, the look and feel, the fit and finish are superb. It feels really solid. It feels like a BMW or Mercedes compared to the Dell's Chevy or Ford feel. As good as the hardware is, the operating system software doesn't seem to match up. The following paragraphs rant about some of the issues I have with it.

The biggest issue has to be the Copy/Cut/Paste key mappings. Why are they different than Windows and Linux? What was the reasoning that said they should do something different from the rest of the industry that has no real value? To be different? In my opinion, this is a major impediment to people new to OS X feeling comfortable with it. On I did find a hint to be able to remap the keys, so they now work as I expect. I wonder though how many people just put up with it as frustrated users.[1]

The next issues seems like a huge anachronism. Circa 1985, before windowing PC operating systems had multi-tasking, each application took over the screen. In those days, putting the Menu bar at the top of screen made sense. However, as soon as you could have more than one application open at a time and visible on screen, basic user experience guidelines dictate the menu bar should be with the window it controls, not at the top of the screen. Given their big emphasis on design in some areas, why Apple thinks violating basic user design principles of keeping similar functions close to where they're used as it relates to the menu bar completely escapes me.[2]

Microsoft has used the SMB protocol for computer discovery and file sharing for a long time. It has become the defacto standard. I find it incredible that there is no way to browse the network and find computers dynamically on the Mac. It seems one can only connect to a networked computer if you already know the name. And to connect to it you have to use a fairly cryptic "smb://computer_name:139" syntax. Really? ... Really? Linux has "just worked" in this regard for many years. And it's worked overall better than Windows itself has. It's about time Apple caught up to the real world.

Finally, Snow Leopard just seems less stable than Linux and Windows have in a long time. Its stability feels like Windows did for the Windows 95 release. Several times in last couple days things have gotten wonky that were fixed by rebooting. A number of times when this happened, shutdown didn't work. It just hung after clearing the screen; I had to power down by holding the power button until it powered off. I can't remember the last time that happened on a Windows or Linux box.

Given all these rants, I don't want to give the impression I don't like my new machine. It is speedy. It is solid physically. And really, overall, I haven't had a ton of problems. Perhaps the problems I have had are more remarkable and obvious given the cleanness of the rest of the system. I'm not yet ready to do as some have and install something else as the base operating system and run OS X in a virtual machine.

2. See "The Structure Principle" at Principles of User Interface Design. Many people talk about this principle such as this one and this one.

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