Thursday, February 16, 2006

Windows weakness

I mentioned before that I was planning on getting a new laptop and debating between getting one of the new MacBooks or a MSWindows machine. For various reasons, I broke down and got a Dell Latitude 610. Asside from not being a Mac, it is a great machine. Fast (2.13GHz Pentium M and 7200rpm drive!), especially where my old PowerBook was slow: Java development. Also, it is smallish and light-ish, yet still has at 1400-1080 screen. And the nail in the coffin? I got it off DellOutlet for a steal. Almost $1k less than a similarly equiped MacBook!


So now that I have succome, and using it a good bit, I'm really starting to find annoying the lack of some of OS-X's niceties. If I knew people on the Vista shell team, I'm be pestering them, but from what I know of the schedule, all the features are long ago baked and noth'n that ain't a critical bugfix is open for consideration now.

So what do I miss? Beside the slick elegance of OS-X...

  • F11 – Hide everything to let you get at the Desktop. Yea… Windows has the desktop thingy in the QuickLaunch tollbar, but it never seems to work as I would like. F11 doesn’t ‘hide’ windows like normal, so there is no way to end up with all you windows left hidden, which is what happens to me with the QuickLaunch icon. I tend to keep at least a half-dozen windows open and another half-dozen minimized 99% of the time. For example, I’ll often have 3-4 CMD windows open, so that I can cycle through compile/test/run without with just a flick of the alt-tab. Now if I hit the show-desktop icon, they all hide, but if I do anything other than just stare at the desktop, they all _stay_ minimized and I have to manually un-minimize each window! On my Mac, I would hit F11, and if whatever I did on the desktop launched a new app, all the windows returned to their places, with the app on top. Perfect! So how do I get that on a PC?
  • Application/Window dichotomy. OS-X and Windows have very different abstractions of document, windows, and apps. Windows UI was obviously designed when MDI was king. (Can I inject that I have _never_ liked MDI? Tabs make MDI acceptable, even desirable for some apps, but the older style was abysmal.) I say this, because the window-manager/shell basically assumes that each top-level window is its own application. Think about it… alt-tab, the TaskBar.. everything about their design makes much more sense if you think of each window as an individual application. The problem is that many modern applications are not written that way. Word, Excel, Outlook, InternetExplorer, etc… I really got to like how with OS-X, I could just use Cmd-W to close the current window. If the app used tabs, it would close that tab, otherwise it would close the current window. To close the app, you need to actively quit the app. This is apparently a large source of confusion for new users, but is a huge boon for people like me. On windows, I find myself always having to stop and think whether to type Alt-F4 or Ctrl-F4. If I want to leave an app around, but not have a window open? No such option on Windows. I’m not sure what Gnome/etc do, but I suspect that it is more similar to Windows, since under X11, the window manager doesn’t have the concept of an app, it only knows about windows. I never would have thought of this, but after using it a while, I strongly prefer the OS-X way.
  • Copy/Paste keyboard shortcuts in CMD. I tend to use CMD more than most people. It is _really_ frustrating that I can’t use the normal ctrl-c/ctrl-x/ctrl-v shortcuts. I understand why (What if the app wants access to those keys? Or I want to use ctrl-c to break a command?), but it is still damn annoying.
  • I tend to use iTerm on my Mac, and really like being able to group my shells into a single window with tabs for each shell. A few years back, I tried some hacks to try and host a CMD window inside another app, and never got it to work.

That is just 1 week of regular use. Windows has so many great applications, and is a great development platform… but I find that it lacks the subtlety of OS-X. With some luck, in a year and half or so, when I’m looking for a new laptop again, Apple will have its act together better.

3 Comments:

Blogger Aristotle said...

If the app used tabs, it would close that tab, otherwise it would close the current window. To close the app, you need to actively quit the app. This is apparently a large source of confusion for new users, but is a huge boon for people like me.

Actually, it only really confuses novices who were used to Windows before. Some of the people who grow up on a Mac have this problem too, but they are few.

Another advantage is absence of click-through: generally, windows that are not in focus do not react to clicks (other than by coming into focus). They also tend to be visibly out-of-focus. Together, this means it’s easy to keep track of what’s going on, even when you have a lot of windows open.

On Windows, lack of app/window dichotomy and pervasive click-through soon teaches novices to keep all windows maximised at all times. On Mac, noone does that – it’s no coincidence at all.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Rowan said...

BTW windows+m is the keyboard shortcut to minimise all windows. What do you have on your desktop that you need to see anyway? I find it best not to have any shortcuts or the like on the desktop, however I guess that may be contary to your common usage pattern coming from OSX.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kind of late to the party, but what the hey... actually, Windows + D is a much better way to hide windows. It's a toggle.

4:01 PM  

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