I’m a Mac user, and have been for almost 20 years, since the first day in 1986 when, as a humanities undergraduate I discovered the Mac Plus’ in my college computer lab. I later worked briefly for Apple, and have made a living in and around the Mac market for ten years. My last computer purchase was a Mac – the glorious Mac mini, in my opinion one of the best designed computers ever made.
Yet I’m also a Windows user. The last time I needed a new laptop, I found that there was nothing that fitted the bill from Apple. I wanted a laptop that was small, light, and that I could write on – so a tablet from Acer (the C111) fitted my needs exactly. Ten inch screen, weighs next to nothing, and so on. It wasn’t my first Windows machine, but it’s been the one that I’ve used more than anything else – and it’s the one that’s made me learn all about the pros and cons of Windows.
The truth about Windows? It isn’t bad. There’s lots of areas where it’s not as good as Mac OS X, and it doesn’t have the sheer pleasure factor that you get from using a Mac (well, I do at least!) but it’s not the worst product in the world, and generally it works.
Given that they use the best operating system around, then, why do a certain creed of Apple fans have to try and take an axe to Windows at every point? Why do they have to constantly belittle the efforts of Microsoft to make it better? Read the Mac blogs, and you’ll find, over and over again, articles that claim that everything Microsoft does is copied from Apple, or that every Windows machine is riddled with spyware and viruses, or whatever.
It’s weird, because what the Apple sites tend to do is the very thing that they often accuse Windows advocates of doing: spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about the platform. I simply can’t get my head around why they bother, but perhaps that’s because I believe that buying something should be based on informed choices rather than prejudice.
A lot of the time, they show a combination of lack of knowledge about the history of computers, combined with a lack of knowledge about Windows, and a lot of determination to bash Microsoft at all costs. Take, for example, a piece at one of my favourite sites, The Apple Blog. The story, “Redmond, Start Your Photocopiers”. is full of half-researched comments, and it’s worth going through it to show the kind of FUD that, bizarrely, gets spread about about Windows and Microsoft.
As should be clear from the Windows Vista web site (especially this page),
Microsoft is placing great emphasis on look and feel in the new OS,
presumably given that Apple has demonstrated that this kind of thing
really does matter to user, and it appears that Microsoft has at least
been “inspired” by Apple in this area.
You can argue (and I would) that Microsoft has not done a great job of look and feel: But you can’t argue that it’s long known that look and feel is important, and that it’s been improving the look and feel of its operating system since the release of Windows 1.0 in 1985.
Consider the new display model, where all the work of slinging text and
buttons and windows onto the screen is handled by the graphics card.
Vista will have this, and Apple has been working towards it in Mac OS X
since Quartz Extreme in Jaguar (10.2). Tiger has introduced many
refinements, and whilst Apple’s system is still wholly bitmap based
(and thus resistant to easy scaling), it is here now, and it works well
on very average hardware.
This is part true, and part false. Quartz Extreme is a great system, and accelerates graphics very nicely. But the notion of passing off graphics work to the card is nothing new – Microsoft itself does it in both parts of GDI+ and Direct3D. What is great about Quartz Extreme isn’t that it’s a major innovation, but that it’s implemented very well.
A fully vector-based display model is a nice idea, make no mistake
about it (and you could call it innovative). It may well be less
radical by Q4 2006,
It’s more than a nice idea: In a world where we’re finally moving towards true resolution independence, it’s a necessity. But it raises an interesting point: if, in Mac OS X 10.5, released a little before Vista, Apple introduced a resolution independant Quartz, will people claim Microsoft "copied" Apple with this one?
but it does seem that it will leave users of older
machines out in the cold. What of the millions of office PCs out there?
While the previous comment was largely correct, this is simple FUD – and BAD FUD at that. First of all, it makes a classic mistake that Mac users often do when talking about graphics: The assumption that 128Mb graphics memory (the recommended amount for Aero Glass is "top-of-the-range". It’s not. The only machines you ever see these days with less than that are either dirt-cheap PCs or low-end laptops. 128MB graphics cards cost from around £25 if you don’t have one, and 256Mb cards from about £30. If you can’t afford that, you’re unlikely to be spending £100+ on buying Vista anyway.
What’s worse is that final line: "Are they all going to need top-of-the-range ATI or nVIDIA cards just to
run Word?" A quick read through any of the developer stuff about Windows Presentation Framework would tell you the answer: Of course not. If there’s no supported graphics card available, it falls back to using older display methods.
Flip 3D, mentioned below that, appears to be a take on Exposé, whose
simplicity has attracted many users, typically the less experienced
type who find shortcut keys (like Command+Tab) hard to remember. It
will be interesting to see how this manifests itself in the final
version. Thumbnailing for Alt+Tab switching too seems to have its roots
in Apple’s Exposé.
This is just nonsense, as a cursory glance at the picture of the screen grab of Flip 3D at Softpedia shows. Flip 3D is nothing like Expose: you hit Windows + Spacebar and your open Windows appear in a stacked, 3D view that has more in common with a souped-up alt-tab view than Expose. It addresses the same problem as Expose – the need to manage large numbers of open windows – but in nothing like the same way.
Oh, and finally for this bit, Microsoft Gadgets. Ho hum.
The cheap response is, of course, "Konfabulator, anyone?". Although Dashboard is based on different technology to Konfabulator, it’s clearly "borrows" the look and feel – something that the pre-existence of Desk Accessories makes no difference to. It’s certainly not the first time that Microsoft has dabbled in HTML-based small applications: Active Desktop, introduced with Windows 98, is a good example. And Gadgets owe at least as much to a Microsoft research project called Sideshow (not to be confused with the new SideShow, which is a method of displaying key information on small devices), which was first mentioned in a published paper in 2001.
Then we get on to Virtual Folders:
“New organizational concept?” Who to? By Longhorn’s release,
Tiger users will have enjoyed this functionality for over a year and a
half. It will be interesting to see if this is implemented at operating
system level, like, arguably, it should have been in Tiger (so that
search results could be accessed from the Terminal, etc.). It seems
more likely that Microsoft will adopt the same approach as Apple –
after all, why innovate when you can just copy? It’s less effort.
Virtual Folders are indeed like Smart Folders, in that they’re XML files that contain dynamically-created lists of files from a database search. However, Microsoft’s attempts to do this date back to the first demo’s of Longhorn in 2003, when they were implemented in the interface as Stacks rather than folders. This makes Apple’s "invention" somewhat lesser: The idea of implementing this as a folder isn’t exactly huge.
Internet Explorer is evidently seeing some additions too – tabbed
browsing and RSS feed access, two never-before-seen features which will
put Microsoft ahead of the game. Fair enough, Apple cannot claim credit
for tabbed browsing, which has streamlined the web browsing experience
for so many people, but Safari in Tiger is leading the way with RSS
integration. In Windows, it’s still a year off.
I believe that Firefox had RSS integration before Safari – which means, according to the rules our author is playing by, that Apple must have "copied" it – but that’s by the by. What the author ignores is that RSS integration in Vista goes way beyond the browser, and far beyond what Apple has done so far with Mac OS X.
RSS in Vista is integrated directly into the OS, and available as an API for developers to use. For example, Virtual Folders can be shared via RSS – a really smart feature. Desktop search integrates support for RSS, so you can search RSS (or Atom) feeds from the desktop. Microsoft has also made available a set of extensions to RSS that allow you to represent ordered lists – extensions that the company has made available using a Creative Commons license, in case you think it’s a case of "embrace, extend, exterminate".
The most interesting feature here is what Microsoft is currently
dubbing Metro Docs, which is a clear assault on Adobe’s PDF format and
a response to Print dialogue box PDF creation in Mac OS X.
The second bit of this is correct: Metro serves the same purpose as PDF creation print dialogue box in Mac OS X. But just as that ability hasn’t killed Adobe’s sales of Acrobat on the Mac, so Metro won’t dent sales on Windows. In the words of Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan, "PDF is not going away. We’re solving a much
narrower set of challenges for IHVs (independent hardware vendors) and
ISVs (independent software vendors."
There’s more, but most of it is simply sniping. Ultimately, it all just leaves me a bit baffled. Microsoft is trying to improve its OS. In some areas, it will leapfrog Apple, just as Apple leapfrog’s Microsoft. That, surely, is good for everyone – as it means there’s competition, and competition drives improvement. When Apple was faced with the genuinely poor competition of Windows 3 and 95, it floundered around not improving its OS, making the disaster that was Copland. Once it had real competition, in the shape of Windows NT (which was infinitely more reliable than 95) it was forced to shape up. I for one welcome any and all improvements to Windows – and I’m not going to run around crying about them.