15 May 2005

Mac Moments

At my workplace, the Mac platform is often derided by what I consider typical “PC guys.” These are technically savvy folks who for whatever reason feel very strongly that the Mac platform is poor, or should go away, or that Windows has definitively proven its superiority. Sometimes these same people are also very skeptical of Microsoft, but usually not. It’s strange, though, that someone can feel so ambivalent about Microsoft yet so strongly negative about the Mac. Recently, the success of the iPod has served to greatly increase the bitterness and spite felt towards the Mac by such people.

Anyway, since I’m often asked at work, “Why do you love the Mac so much,” I decided to try to answer it. I am unable to give detailed reasons on the spot, so I thought I’d keep it in the back of my mind, and blog about it when something occurred to me. Besides, most of my reasons are very mundane and subtle interface design issues that sort of accumulate in my mind into a positive feeling over time. When one of these small things happens, rather than let it fall through the cracks, I hoped to catch it for a segment I call “Mac Moments.”

Before proceeding to the Moment, let me add that I am also a heavy user of Windows and Linux. There are great things about all three platforms, and I’m a competent user of all of them. I own a fast PC because I like playing the latest games, which is the same reason I own an Xbox and a GameCube. I don’t hate Windows, in fact I think I have the most balanced opinion on the pros and cons of these systems of anyone I know! But of course, look who’s telling me that. Okay, I hope that addressed any fears you may have had that I’m a serious Mac zealot. On to the Moment!

My first Mac Moment is very small.

In the Mac OS, when you Command-click on the titlebar of a window that’s not in the foreground, you can move that window around without bringing it forward.

In my case, there was a progress dialog for a movie file I was processing in the background, and I was working in a text editor in the foreground. I wanted to slide it to the right a bit in order to see more of the progress bar, so I could monitor the progress while I worked. I didn’t want to bring the whole movie application forward, I only wanted to move a background window. On the Mac, I’m able to perform this common, mundane task. On Windows, there is no such thing as modified clicks on window frames. Any click will bring the window forward. In the worst case, this can be expensive, causing a redraw of the window as it comes forward, and then another redraw when you switch back to what you were doing. Moreover, if you were working in Word or a text editor like I was, the click to bring your work back to the front might move the cursor from where you were working, forcing you to reposition it.

Like I said, this is a small issue. But over the course of years, you come to appreciate the extra thought that went into the Mac. A Windows user typically doesn’t even recognize that this sort of user-centric way of working even exists. Basically, a Mac user expects the machine to work the way they do, while a PC user is expected to mold themselves to the machine. We’re so used to doing that sort of adapting these days that we come to expect it. But it’s not just I who expect more — many others do as well, and all it takes is a little more brainpower when designing the OS.