APC contributor Dan Warne wrote an excellent piece here on 10 reasons why Mac OS X Lion eats Windows for breakfast. And indeed the imagery of a big bold lion chowing down on… something Windowsy… is an affable image. But do Dan’s points tell the whole story? Lets see with 10 points that show how Windows is still ahead of Mac OS X Lion.
1. Start bar
Love it or hate it… well actually everyone pretty much loves it. The Start Bar is some would say one of the truly original innovations from Microsoft that debuted in Windows 95 and has been with us since. It’s evolved in Windows 7 but the primary function remains the same: the place to launch programs through the Start menu the Taskbar to monitor running programs and the System Tray for informative widgets. The Mac OS X Dock combines program launcher and taskbar but it becomes cluttered very quickly with a lot of programs which if they’re not on the Dock need to be launched from an equally cluttered Applications folder instead of easily navigated by menu as with the Start bar. Lion attempts to remedy this with the iOS-stylised Launchpad but it’s simplistic and still not as easy to use.
2. The Taskbar
The Dock is pretty and all but the Windows 7 Taskbar can have programs pinned to it as with the Dock whilst maintaining the ability to manage running programs make use of Jump Lists and see a thumbnail preview of the window of a program with Aero Peek by just hovering the mouse over its name in the bar. Programs with multiple windows will display all open windows in the preview and any one of them can be individually closed from th preview. The Mac OS X Dock doesn’t come close to this and even though Expose allows previews it also takes up the whole screen to do it (and when it comes to Expose the Alt-Tab switching of Windows is quicker and less intrusive but that’s for another day).
The Windows Taskbar and Aero Preview is leaps ahead of anything on Mac OS X Lion.
3. No global menu
Oh I hate it. And I know you do too. Mac OS X’s global menu (simply the Menu bar to Apple) tries to make things simpler for Fisher-price users with a top menu that changes depending on which application is currently selected. But when you’re working with a few programs and more importantly on a decent sized monitor with a large resolution these days having to drag the mouse to the top bar and back to access common functions is anti ease-of-use. The global menu was borne of a time before pre-emptive multitasking when computers only ran one program at a time but that’s ancient history now and Apple hasn’t moved with the times (lets not get into those old one-button mice! Thankfully gone but I digress…)
Making the user spend more time navigating the screen instead of using the app is an impediment — the easiest to use operating systems are those that get out of your way not in them.
The problem is compounded if you use multiple monitors which given how cheap they are these days is a popular option. On Mac OS X Lion programs on a second monitor still have their menus on the main screen’s global menu making for long mouse movements to use functions. Windows by comparison has excellent multiple monitor support.
4. Jump Lists
Jump Lists are much more than Mac OS X’s Stacks providing a recently opened files list for any app you right-click on the Taskbar making it a huge time-saver for accessing the documents you work with on a app-by-app basis. On top of this Jump Lists let you select a program’s common functions specific to the app for example: launching recently accessed sites opening an independent tab or starting private browsing mode for Firefox directly from the Firefox icon in the Taskbar. You can also optionally pin entries directly to a Jump List and even exchange entries between Jump Lists if two programs work with the same file type. This applies to every app dependent on the app. It’s exactly the type of feature you’d expect Apple to implement but Microsoft beat it to the punch.
Jump Lists make accessing recent files common functions and special tasks for a program a cinch directly from the Taskbar.
5. Windows management
Lion includes the option to resize windows from any edge finally bringing it up to speed with Windows — but it still falls far short of Windows’ management abilities. As above Windows 7 has excellent multi-monitor support and you can maximise a window to any monitor with Windows 7 something Lion can’t automatically do. And Aero which drives the Windows 7 interface has features like Aero Snap to automatically resize windows based on the edge you drag them to: so you can for example compare two documents side by side by dragging them to opposite ends and having them resize to fit the half the screen each automatically.
Similarly managing running programs from the Windows Taskbar especially with Aero Peek is a simple point-and-click affair and while Expose and Mission Control try to make it easier for Mac OS X users these quickly become messy when you have a lot of programs running something the Windows Task Bar doesn’t suffer thanks to program grouping. Purely from keeping a hold things when it comes to managing lots of programs in this age of multi-application multitasking Windows wins hands down over Mac OS X Lion.
Networking is arguably not the bees knees for many home users but Windows’ Home Group feature makes it possible to share files and devices with other Windows 7 machines automatically and even stream media. Mac OS X’s AirDrop is also automatic but doesn’t allow you to browse. Homegroup still provides options to limit access selectively share files and folders or provide read-only access while still removing the hassle of configuring networking or sharing. It’s as easy as AirDrop but more functional.
The key difference with Airdrop is that it can set up an ad-hoc wireless network but connecting to wireless networks is automated with Windows anyway as is is automatically joining the available Homegroup. The closest Mac OS X Lion has to Homegroups is Bonjour which allows you to find shareable resources on the local network for Bonjour supported devices but this is a shotgun approach as it covers a wide range of services and Homegroups focuses specifically on local LAN sharing.
Libraries are a great way to group similar file types spread among different folders and even different devices. For example the Music Library can contain music from your local hard drive a connected external drive or even on a remote machine over the network. And you can work on files in the library just as with any other folder. At any time the contents reflect the available resources (so if you remove the external drive its contents in the Library won’t show up until connected again). Further Libraries are shared by default with your Homegroup so your Music Library can be automatically available to PCs on the network for playing.
The closest thing Lion has to this is Smart Folders but these operate off a search term not location and you can’t for example create a Smart Folder drawing from multiple locations.
8. Maximise actually maximises
Contrary to common sense the maximise button in Mac OS X doesn’t maximise. Or it does. If it’s a full moon and your offering is accepted by the Great Turtlnecked One. It depends on the application with some programs maximising some only partially (expanding only vertically for example) or something entirely different like iTunes which switches to miniplayer view. Mac OS X calls this ‘intelligent’ zooming — but why is your OS second guessing you? After years of *cough* feedback Apple finally changed this in Lion: but it now requires the user to hold the Option key and click. Why the extra step? Why not just do it properly? And why are apps like iTunes allowed to break with consistency? Oh and lets not get started on the ‘X’ quit application button that doesn’t actually quit simply closing the window and letting it run in the background requiring the user to forcibly close a program down from the Dock or use the Command-Q combination (again extra steps getting in the way of the user — see above re: operating systems helping not hindering).
Wait can it be? Maximise and close buttons actually do what you expect them to do? Only on Windows.
To get Mac OS X you need to buy a Mac something Dan forgot to mention. Mac hardware costs considerably more than PC hardware even from big name brands like Dell. When you add the cost of the operating system to the platform to run it it’s much more costly to go Mac OS X a problem further exacerbated for us in here in Australia thanks to Apple’s region-based price discrimination — Federal Labor MP Ed Husic has even raised this issue more than once in Parliament. Despite Apple recently dropping the price of Apps for the App Store in Australia we still pay more for apps music and Apple hardware than other regions discrepancies that can’t be explained by importing taxes and distribution costs. If you’re an Apple fan why are you supporting what is a blatant rip off for you and fellow Australians? As the saying goes a company will charge what the market will bear — send a message to Apple that its products are overpriced here by not buying until the prices drop and you won’t be fleeced.
Yes Mac OS X has had games in the past. One perhaps two. And now that Valve has released Steam on Mac and helped port titles across there’s a muc larger catalog to choose from (approximately 240 in point of fact from Steam). But it’s got nothing on Windows. There’s over a decade of quality gaming heritage (since DirectX 1 in 1995) on Windows and all new releases big or small come on Windows first and foremost. You’re lucky if any of them make it to a Mac port and even if they do it takes time.
Sure Macs are good for work but when it comes to playing Windows is your best option. And between work and play which would you rather do?
I can hear the cries of ‘Bootcamp!’ but this requires you purchase Windows in addition to your shiny expensive Mac with Mac OS X and you’re still playing games on Windows — and if that’s the case why not just buy a Windows PC in the first place and get everything a Mac does and more with cash left over (thanks to Mac products being overpriced) to buy the games you want to play?
Oh and for the record that sign documents feature that Dan mentioned of Mac OS X by holding up a piece of paper with your signature on it to the webcam is very cool.