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Thursday
Nov102011

Apple, Please Don't Forget the Mac

Apple has prided itself in making things easy to use, wonderful, and magical.  The Macintosh was herald as their first.  After all, before the Macintosh, there was no graphical user interface or a mouse (at least not something you can buy at the store - just for those who will cry "Xerox").  It lost to Microsoft and their Windows 3.0, and then Windows 95 since it was left to languish without Jobs at the helm.

In the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson, Steve had asked Mark Markkula for advice on to make Apple a company that will endure the test of time.  Mark told Steve that it would have to be able to reinvent itself.  He gave Hewlett Packard as an example, where it started as an electronics instrument company, then a calculator company, and now they are in personal computers.  (I should also mention Nintendo used to make playing cards.  Look at them now!).  Mark said Steve should reinvent Apple as a consumer product company.

Steve took his advice.  Where Apple used to be just a computer company, they broke out of this mold by making the now iconic iPod.  From there, they went on to make other things that were decidedly not traditional PCs and laptops, such as the iPhone and iPad.

They are wonderful and delightful to use.  There is still one product line that Apple need to pay more attention and that is their Macs.

 

What's Wrong with The Mac? 

"What?" you say?  Hear me out.

Apple, after you create and market the next best thing in television (oh, we're already anticipating this), maybe you should start focusing on the Mac.  Specifically the OS.

Don't get me wrong.  Lion is a good step up from Snow Leopard.  What I like is how they implemented the multitouch trackpad in a way that it feels natural and iOS-like.  It's hard to make a desktop-based OS feel that personal, responsive, and agile.  I still don't get the iOS home screen launcher, though.  But I do love after getting used to it) how the "realistic" scrolling gesture feels (after getting used to it), as well as the way Safari now takes multitouch gestures further.  The way you can use two fingers and flip pages back and forward (I wish they would implement this in iOS's Safari).  The scrolling of pages has a bounce when you reach the top or bottom, and zooming in with pinch is smooth like on the iOS.

I like the way they implemented Spaces, too.  Not many people used Spaces before.  I sure didn't.  But now, with simple gestures to flip between the different Spaces paired with Mission Control, I use Spaces every chance I get.  It's like having multiple monitors without actual physical monitors!

But that's just adding spit and polish to an old interface.  It needs to be revived.  Rejuiced.  Renovated.  It needs to be reinvented.

 

I'll Tell You What's Wrong

"What so wrong?" you ask?  I hate Finder.  I also hate windows management.  I hate their network resource management, namely accessing shared folders and printers.  I hate that there is no central application management for uninstalling apps that insist on actually "installing" itself instead of just being content with being dragged and dropped into the Applications folder.

I've given the Mac OS a chance to convince me, but it still hasn't.  How much of a commitment did I give?  I spent $1000 for a late 2009 13" white MacBook (without the multitouch) as a toy.  iMovie sucked me in, but I hated the trackpad.  Seeing that the trackpad was a huge experience I was missing out, I sold the MacBook a little over year later for a real one - an early 2011 15" MacBook Pro.  The one with Thunderbolt.  The one that's been spec'd out to cost over $3000 with Apple Care.  Don't tell me I didn't give them a chance.  With that kind of commitment, I was ready to give myself completely to Mac OS X like I already did with iOS.

As stated before, there is a lot to love about Mac OS X, especially Lion.  However, there are still things I just hate.

 

Finder

File management is horrendous.  Finding out file details in one view shouldn't be this difficult!  Windows Explorer allows a view where you can see the full filename, file size, date created and modified, and other necessary info all in one shot without needing to view them in Properties window.  Why can't Finder?

After spending so much time with Mac OS X, I fell in love with the quick preview (hit space key on a file).  It's not perfect (hit space key on a folder and I would expect to see a sample list of files in that folder), and a bit quirky, but it's effective and productive.  However, hitting the enter key and not actually opening the file or app seems unintuitive.  Instead it allows you to rename the file!  Windows, Ubuntu, and other OSes have trained users to expect the Enter key to open or run whatever is highlighted.  Not with Mac.  After a year, I'm still not used to this.

Being different for the sake of being different isn't the way to go.  If they can add a simple double pane view with a folder tree on the left, and a files/folders list on the right, I'd be happy.  But as they have it now, I find it hard to browser files and folders quickly.

Multiple Finder windows are also hard to manage, especially when they aren't minimized.  That leads me to...

 

Windows Management 

When there are multiple windows open and on screen somewhere, it's hard to switch between the two easily.  It's not just switching between the two, but interacting with the two, such as dragging and dropping items from one window to another.

This is why Windows 7 was the first OS that I actually had personal connection to.  Yes, I'll say it.  I fell in love with Windows 7.  I haven't said anything like that about software!  Apple made me feel that way with the iPod Touch (my first Apple product), which was both hardware and software.  But Windows 7 was the first software that made me feel that way.  And it was a Microsoft product.  On a PC.

The Aero Snap feature is simply awesome. You move the window to the left, and another to the right, and they snap into place and give you side-by-side view of two apps.  Double-click on the top of the window, and it will expand vertically, but leave the horizontal alone.  And of course, double-click on the title bar itself, and the window will just maximize and take up the entire desktop.  You rarely have to resize the window manually.

And that's the problem.  In Mac OS X, I constantly have to fiddle with the window size manually.  I need the edge snap feature badly, at LEAST.  Traditional "full screen" (maximizing) isn't there.  Instead, Apple decided to go full bore and make "full screen" truly full screen, ala iOS style.  That's a nice option, but can you make it just that?  An option.  Sometimes I want an app to take up the full space of the desktop, but leave the essentials alone.  By essentials, I mean access to the Dock and menu bars.

The old Expose on Snow Leopard was decent.  I actually liked it.  I wish Windows had it.  But the new Mission Control was supposed to be better.  It grouped similar windows together.  I hate that.  It actually made finding a single window harder when that window is a part of a group.

Windows has a taskbar that shows icons for every application that is running.  This makes it easy to switch windows, even if it's hiding behind another window.  On Mac OS X, only minimized windows show up on the Dock.  Opened apps that aren't minimized only show up as an icon with a dot under it.  What's worse?  If you think you closed an app, you didn't.  It will still be on the Dock with a dot underneath it.

The Dock itself is a problem.  Because it's just floating there, I find that it gets in the way when I resize the app window to take up most of the desktop space.  In Windows, when I maximize, it takes up the entire desktop space, but leaves the taskbar anchored at the bottom.  The Dock needs this as well.

For now, I made the Dock auto-hide.  However, it's still annoying when I move my mouse close to the bottom, and it pops up, even though all I wanted to do was to access buttons or items at the bottom of the app window, not the Dock.

It's a visual cluster F***.  There is no simplicity.  There is no elegance.  I actually find Windows 7's taskbar more elegant and simple.  And useful.

Oh, and that menu bar that keeps changing depending on the window in focus.  That's annoying, too.  Again, I've dedicated myself more than a year to the Mac OS X, so it's not just me getting used to the ways of Windows.

Although that thought entered my mind, too.  If Apple wanted to gain market share, they need to steer existing Windows users to them.  The population of computer virgins (that is, people who never used a computer before, not nerds who never scored) is shrinking.  To gain market share, you now have to steal users away from other platforms!  So don't design an OS that alienate Windows users!

Which leads me to...

 

Windows Network Resource Management 

Face it.  Most networks are dominated by Windows computers.  My main file server at home is Windows-based.  Even Linux-based shares like NAS boxes use Samba (a way to allow Linux to share files and folders that emulates Windows shares).

The Mac does too.  However, it's not very elegant.  I had to drop down a menu to type in "smb://fileserver" and add it to a list.  Every time I want to access any shared folders and files, I have to navigate to that list.  "Go, Connect to server" is the path you'd have to take.

Windows has a place for servers with shared resources just show up!  Why can't we have that?  Even Ubuntu is easier to browse the network.

And shared printers?  Even following the steps provided by Apple's own web page, I can't get it to work.

 

Why Don't You Go Back to Windows? 

The Mac faithful will probably tell me to just go back to Windows, or that I don't get it.  To those blind to their faith, I say "it's you who don't get it".  Adding those features to make Mac OS X more complete and more usable for Windows-oriented users won't make Mac less Mac-like.  As some of my friends would say, "it won't bother you none!”

The truth is, Mac OS X is very flashy, and I like that.  It panders to the normal users with great fan service.  The overscroll bounce, the zooming, the multitouch gestures.  They're great!  But doing anything more than just surfing the net, or more than one thing at a time, and I find it frustrating.

There are other oddities, too.  The reliance on iPhotos and iTunes for photo and music management is one of them.  There are photos and other JPGs I want to incorporate into my movie, but iMovie seem to only want to see resources available only if they were imported to one of its media cataloging siblings.  What if I don't want to import the picture assets into my own personal photo album?  What if I don't want these sound effect files mixed in with my music collection?

I can drag and drop them from folders, but they aren't really integrated into iMovie.

The largest barrier for me is the windows management and file management.  They are preventing me from doing things I need to do.  I do like the fan service. I really like the spit and polish.  Now, I want substance behind it all.

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