Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 2.07
July 1996




Download ATPM 2.07

Choose a format:

The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

Chicago? I Don’t Want To Go There Today

I now use Microsoft Windows 95 five days a week, and I've noticed that it's not as bad as Mac users would have you think it is. You see, the best part about Windows 95, is the excitement that results after a day of using it when I arrive home in the evening and fire up my Mac. After turning everything on from the keyboard, I am greeted by a lively guitar chord, followed by the sight of that timeless face smiling back at me. Instead of seeing a startup screen that says Microsoft not once, but twice and contains a hypnotizing blue bar across the bottom, I'm soon greeted by the colorful Mac OS logo, a progress bar, and several rows of icons. The PC at work loves to bring up messages at startup about a network card that still doesn't agree with its system. It kindly offers a button to enter DOS so that I can locate the problem, or at least attempt to. Even after four major versions of Windows, Microsoft has not been able to rid people of DOS. Actually, I kind of like DOS. It reminds me of my IIGS, and despite its limitations, can sometimes be more intuitive than Windows 95. It is certainly more predictable.

I go to the kitchen to get a quick drink of water, and by the time I'm back, Emailer has downloaded and filed my e-mail, Netscape has presented a list of recent info-mac uploads, MacTools AutoCheck has brought up a dialog box telling me that it fixed a problem in the desktop database, and NewsHopper has started downloading new postings to Usenet. You see, the best part about the Macintosh is that it blends into your working (or playing) style. Using a Mac is more like having an assistant you can trust, than like having a machine that's in constant need of repair. I can organize folders and partitions on my hard disk into groupings that are logical to me, and the Mac OS will oblige. I tried this with Windows. Documents lost links to their creators, and applications lost access to their data files, prompting me to remove, and then reinstall applications. The same thing happened when I tried moving an application to a Bernoulli cartridge. I now have a inkling of why Uninstaller has sold more copies on the PC than RAM Doubler has.

I understand now why so many people are afraid of computers. It's because with operating systems such as Windows, they're forced to change the way their mind works to agree with the operating system, not the other way around. If I double-click a text document on the Mac, it will open the application that created it, not just *any* application that can read it. Furthermore, double-clicking another document of the same type and creator opens that document in the same application. Under Windows, the application that is mapped to the document's file type is opened, even if the original creator is present. All text documents like to open themselves with NotePad, even if they are too large for it to read. Opening the second document opens a second copy of the application, even if the document is dragged onto the icon of the already open application. This is a 90s operating system? The IIGS was smart enough to handle types and creators.

The operating system that was supposed to leap ahead of the Macintosh with preemptive multitasking still does not even match it in this area, or in most others. File copies and Recycle Bin empties have a progress bar for each file or folder, rather than one for the entire copy. There's no way to tell how far a task has until completion. These are accompanied by corny animations that frequently skip frames. Of course, since Windows supports advanced multitasking, these operations can be placed in the background. In addition, the number of things that you can do during a copy are limited. For instance, it is not possible to modify, or even view files or folders that are being copied. You cannot copy a file while it is open in an application either. Furthermore, double-clicking a folder while it is being copied results in zero feedback. There is no dialog to notify the user of *why* they can't look at it.

While the multitasking is barely on par with the Mac OS, Windows does best it in one area: memory protection. I don't know the details of the Windows memory architecture, but it certainly seems more advanced than on the Macintosh. When one application crashes the machine, you can (usually) force-quit it, leaving the rest of the system intact.

I thought it was pretty cool to see that Microsoft had emulated CopyDoubler by allowing copies to background, until I noticed that the pointer had stopped moving. In a few seconds, it jumped to the other edge of the screen, and then froze again. The mouse must be near the end of the line for processor time. In fact, even under normal circumstances, when there are no processor tasks, the mouse doesn't move as smoothly as on the Mac. And the (white) pointer likes to hide itself. I suppose that's why Microsoft included a cursor locator in the mouse control panel.

Speaking of mice, it was necessary to install a new mouse driver in order to upgrade my machine to Windows 95. Unfortunately, it no longer works in DOS. It doesn't really matter though, because I never used it much for typing in pathnames anyway.

Dialogs that look modal, aren't. Sometimes there is both a cancel button and a 'close x', with no indication as to how their functions differ. Other times, there are yes, no, cancel, and close buttons. The latter three all serve the same function: dismissing the window, and confusing the user.

Most control panels and preferences dialogs abound with tabs. These can work in relatively simple programs such as Claris Emailer, but imagine an interface that's an extension of Word 6's preferences dialog box, complete with several rows of tabs. It seems that almost all Windows 95 programs do this. Some even feature tabs that scroll from right to left in one long row with arrows at the ends. I'm sure that this idea never would have passed an Apple Human Interface standards.

Clearly, clumsy interfacing and most of the other oddities that I've discussed are in of themselves not earth-shattering reasons to switch from Windows to the Mac, or to remain on the Macintosh platform. However, they can be a great nuisance. What is more significant, is that there are many more where they came from.

The fact is, Windows 95 is a great step forward from Windows 3.1. It's easier to use, and much more Mac-like. It is not however anywhere near the Macintosh in terms of ease of use, intuitiveness, or elegance. I hope it never is. The interface is still in need of a major overhaul, and all in all, it is worse than the sum of its flaws.

The Mac is still a more productive, more consistent, and perhaps most importantly, more loved platform. Its interface is intuitive, elegant, functional, and fun. Beyond that, it offers an unbeatable integration of hardware and software. This complete user experience is why Mac users are so devoted to their computers, why they think of their computers as more than silicon tools, and why *they* will not be fooled by imitations - even though they are a form of flattery.

"The Personal Computing Paradigm" is ©1996 by Michael Tsai,

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (0)

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article