Dogs and cats, Windows and Mac users

Dogs and cats, Windows and Mac users

Summary: A longtime Mac user picks up a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and discovers good and not-so-good things about Redmond's new mobile platform and Windows 8. Oh, and then there are the observations of what makes Windows users tick.


A Mac user of more than two decades, Lukas Mathis, the Swiss-based programmer, UI designer and author of Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web, found himself in an interesting place a while ago. He wasn't so pleased with Apple's iPad solution and decided to try out the Windows alternative, a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Horrors! He likes it.

Dogs and cats, Windows and Mac users

Mathis recently wrote a very long and thoughtful piece on his Ignore the Code blog, about his experience (and rationale)  as well as criticism of the iPad, especially for "productivity" applications.

Apple has decided to make the iPad as simple as possible, but sometimes, this simplicity comes at the expense of power. Not having any kind of window management or split-screen view makes the iPad much easier to use, but it also means you can’t look at an email and at a Pages document at the same time. Preventing apps from interacting with each other cuts down on complexity, but it also means that it is difficult or sometimes even impossible to use multiple apps in conjunction on the same task. Not having any kind of system-level concept of a file or a document means that people are less likely to lose track of their files or documents, but it also means that you are often very limited in what you can do with the things you create in an iPad app.

I get Mathis' point. When developing its mobile computing strategy, Apple decided to bifurcate its platforms: there's the MacBook mobile desktop series and the iPad. Two distinct hardware platforms and two software platforms, which are joined by a growing set of UI gestures, some crossover software titles, and Apple's XCode IDE, which lets coders leverage a single codebase to make the two kinds of programs.

So, the fundamental tradeoff with a laptop is that it's not as powerful and expandable as a desktop machine. The tradeoff with the tablet is that it's small, super-portable and great for collaboration, but not as powerful and useable as the laptop. Of course, programmers can make compelling products for both platforms but there are always tradeoffs. (I wrote about this in a post about possible Apple ultralights ages ago.)

What Mathis really wanted was a machine in the middle. Certainly, that middle ground isn't Apple's strategy! It appears that he found it — somewhat — with Microsoft's Surface Pro 2.

Mathis said he loves Metro and its pen for input (it's as good as his Wacom Cintiq, he says). He appreciated Metro's easy way to group apps according to user preferences and personal workflow. And he's up on live preview.

Almost everything that happens inside the Metro environment is fantastic. It’s clean, fast, and powerful. The apps are easy to use, but still offer a lot. The gesture-based user interface requires you to learn a few new things, but takes very little time to get used to.

And Mathis likes Metro's split-screen mode.

iPad owners often note that the iPad’s «one app owns the screen» system is a good idea, since people can’t multitask anyway. But that ignores that people often need multiple apps to work on a single task. I can’t count the instances where I’ve used split screen mode just in the last few days. I’m in a meeting, taking notes in OneNote while looking at last week’s meeting notes. I’m responding to an email while looking at a spec. I’m making a drawing while looking at a reference. I’m changing a mockup based on feedback in an email. I’m taking notes during a Skype call.

However, Metro as a desktop interface is not as elegant, he says. While he's glad to have its capabilities at the ready, Mathis questions a number of its usability issues.

A bigger issue is Metro’s split screen mode. This works great on a widescreen tablet, where it seems to cover most use cases (at least in my subjective experience). On a desktop PC with a larger screen, more proficient users might want to have more power than that. There’s also no concept of multiple desktops, which would make a lot of sense in combination with split screen windows.

I think this is a solvable problem, though. Split-screen mode is a first step in the right direction, and there’s nothing preventing Microsoft from expanding on that concept for devices with larger screens.

I was very interested to read that Mathis, a UI designer who understands the Mac, didn't think that "Microsoft’s idea of having a single system that works on desktops and tablets is inherently flawed." He thought it was a good idea!

There's a lot of contention in the Mac community over the migration of UI paradigms and programming architectures from iOS to the Mac. The recent release of Mavericks and crippled iWork '13 applications was worrisome and provided further evidence of a grand strategy at Cupertino to merge the two platforms.

See: Will Apple's success kill the Mac as we know it?

What brought a smile to my face was Mathis' description of the typical Windows user and the reaction by Windows longtime Windows users to Windows 8 and his commentary. Here's a Mac guy saying Windows 8 is good for the general user — heresy to Macphiles. However, Mathis predicted that Windows fans will say that he just doesn't understand the genius of Windows.

I think that’s the problem with Windows. There are people who enjoy tinkering with their BIOS, playing around in DOS, and installing bootloaders. And that’s fine. I think it’s even great. I think everybody should have the freedom to install whichever bootloader they want. The problem comes up when these people see something like Metro, do not like what they see, and then tell everybody else how terrible it is. When it’s really not terrible; it’s just not for them.

The things I love about Windows 8 are exactly the things that the most vocal Windows users hate, and the things I hate about Windows 8 are the things they love. So maybe the problem with Windows 8 is that Windows 8 appeals much more to me, a Mac user of 20 years, than to your typical Slashdot-commenting Ars-Technica-reading Windows user who frequents online forums to talk about Windows. And because these people are the most vocal Windows users, and because they tell their friends which versions of Windows to like and which to avoid, that has real effects on Microsoft’s success with Windows 8.

Of course, this is just what a Mac guy would say. This new mobile Windows platform and interface is a bit more like a Mac, perhaps? Or really, not so much. It's something in the middle.


Topics: Apple, iOS, iPad, Laptops, Operating Systems, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8

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  • There is nothing wrong with Mathis liking W8 UI

    if that suits his paradigm and his needs. However, it does not suit everyone and I suspect that it does not suit most. So, as much as there is nothing wrong with liking the W8 UI, there is also nothing wrong with disliking it!
    • Powerful statements from Mac user

      The statements by Mathis are more than just religious arguments, they are very compelling and intelligent. He backed his opinions with facts and observations. I think most Windows 8 supporters on ZDNet have been trying to say what Mathis outlined for along time now. Most Apple products are just to dumbed down, your better off using Microsoft products in an age where computer expertise is an asset.

      "the iPad as simple as possible, but sometimes, this simplicity comes at the expense of power"
      Sean Foley
      • He's just another person

        Who thinks a tablet is just a really small and light weight laptop.
        • are you saying it isn't?

          Granted, the limitations imposed by iOS and Android prevent tablets from being fully functional devices, but there is no reason why a tablet can't be a full replacement for a laptop.... again, except for the limited mobile operating systems that many run.

          A laptop is just a small lightweight portable desktop. So why should tablets remain crippled consumption only devices?
          • because...

            A laptop makes more sense as a work tool or heavy lifter for a portable PC. The tablet, for limited chores and fun, is fine. The apps are cool, and you can use a voice assistant to get answers to question. Using this site as example, I fine it much easier to have a real keyboard, mouse and regular browser to post this. The tablet is more like a large smartphone. I consider the smartphone as my second go to device and the desktop still as number one. The iPad I have is an interesting bit of technology, and has a wonderful display for showing photos and such. It is still third fiddle however.

            The article is comparing an iPad to a Surface Pro, which is two totally different devices. The Surface Pro is a super netbook. It is too heavy to be a tablet, and when used most effectively is in landscape mode, with the kickstand, mouse and keyboard. Somewhat of a super netbook / laptop. As for Apple, they have PC / laptops for that. With Windows you still have the battle over viruses, and many updates to constantly do. If a person wants a 10.6" screen super netbook, the Surface Pro will be a good choice for those liking Windows.

            The Surface RT comes closer to being a tablet and lightweight OS. Will see how ieBooks and other devices play out, as they battle ChromeOS. The Surface 2 is too expensive and lacks a keyboard included in the purchase price. Perhaps we see a $399 deal soon which includes a keyboard / cover.
          • The only difference is the operating systems

            The only reason people have lowered expectations for what some tablets can do is based on the operating system installed on them.

            Even you display this when you say the Surface Pro is a totally different device.... why? Being a few ounces heavier than most tablets doesn't make it not a tablet.

            Essentially this article could have been about any number of windows8 tablets that do compete in the same space as the iPad and the author would have said the same things.

            Forget WindowsRT. $350 can net anyone a full windows8 tablet that is 1.2 pounds, 11 hour battery, 64gb storage, 2gb ram, 10.1 screen and comes with a keyboard dock that converts the tablet into a full clamshell notebook. It does everything that a WindowsRT tablet could do and more.

            That removes the need to justify the limitations that mobile operating systems suffer from.
      • That's actually not what Mathis was saying

        He didn't say "Apple products" he said "iPads." And there is a difference.... a Mac is a UNIX workstation that can do anything a Windows machine can, and is not dumbed down in any way.
        • Think deeper

          Even if you think a Mac system is as good as Windows, Apple is still missing an entire segment of enterprise products like SQL, Point of sale, Servers, Virtualization, etc. I stand by my statement that Apple products are too dumbed down, Microsoft offer way more advanced software. (especially if you want an IT career)
          Sean Foley
          • What has that got to do with what kind of computer you have?

            SQL Server, etc. has nothing to do with anything.

            Apple does not make servers, but why should this mean an OS X desktop computer (i.e. a Mac) must consider itself dumbed down? I know of no evidence this is so. If you're saying there are no databases you can work with, or web development paradigms, I can assure you, you are quite wrong.... the entire LAMP stack, the dominant web development paradigm of our current era, runs quite nicely and natively on OS X.

            And as for IT careers, you're just as apt to get yourself hired if you are among the rarer developers who know xcode and Objective C (by people desperate to make apps) as if you know Visual Studio (who are somewhat dime a dozen, I'm afraid.)
          • Getting away from the point

            People that purchase a Surface computer, aka Microsoft product, tend to want more advanced capabilities for productivity, and Microsoft offers a lot.

            People that purchase an iPad (and many Apple products) want tech out-of-the-way, aka dumb-it-down for me please.

            People that purchase a Windows PC want a full feature machine, best bang for their buck, and a system that can run anything.

            People that purchase a Mac are constantly defending their overpriced, limited option, trendy system and are trying to avoid buyers remorse. Or they work for Apple?
            Sean Foley
          • I own four Macs

            I have no buyers remorse and I do not try to justify my purchases of them to anyone. Why? Because I purchased them.
          • @SeanFoley

            I don't understand your statement. Yes iPads are "dumbed down" if you want to put it that way. But Macs are pretty advanced. I'm a developer and I use the Mac for very large projects. The Mac has all the tools I need to do Ruby / Rails (RubyMine), C/C++ (Xcode), Java (Eclipse), and Dart (Eclipse/Google plugin). I'm not even developing for the Mac platform in particular!! The iPad addresses different needs and this discussion is about Surface and iPad. You may dislike iPads, that's fine, but you can't say Macs are dumbed down unless you use a Mac.
          • Mac Server Software

            Apple may be surprised to know they don't sell a server. Actually they sell an OS X server software program. I know nothing about its quality or speed, but a search shows that Apple still sells server software.
          • Who says he needed all of that?

            I am fully with you that Windows *IS* the enterprise OS and trying to use anything else is an exercise in frustration.

            But for private or home users that are not part of a 100+ group, OSX works well. Using a iMac 27" and this thing is gorgeous and its not even new but 3 years old.

            But I also love my Windows machines, esp. my Surface and now Sony Flip.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • Well said...

            What it is all coming down to is variety, which is a beautiful thing. Wait... wait... it gets better all this technology is getting cheaper so you can have Win 8.1, Windows Phones, IPhone, Android phones, Apple Mac's, IPad, Surface RT/Pro, and Android tabs and ultra books and dabble to your hearts content because its all getting cheaper. The options are as varied as the human race. Hurray for diversification!!!
          • You may want to rethink that a little.

            I've been running a Mac OS X server with MySQL for over 10 years.

            The beauty is that I spend almost no time managing it. It may be dumbed down, but it works just fine and, has had amazing uptime, only restarts have been for building power shut downs.

            I'll take dumbed down and working over more advanced and time consuming almost every time. My career is not really IT, but I am able to manage this because its so easy and reliant.
          • Not dumbed down

            Macs are not dumbed down - they're just not Windows, which can be a good thing.

            Is a Win machine dumbed down because it has no native ssh or xterm? Can it share an AFP share?

            Macs can arguably connect to the most services/hosts - Mac OS X has native Microsoft Exchange support capable of hooking up email, calendar, and contacts right out of the box (or App Store as the case may be). Does Windows?
          • Infinite loop

            varase - Macs can connect to Microsoft Exchange, which runs on Windows. Windows can use outlook to connect to exchange, to send an email to a user running on a Mac who opens the email with Exchange support... Ouch this hurts my head, and I still don't get your point. Except that Mac's need Microsoft, but Microsoft doesn't need Mac.
          • Don't follow

            Exchange is one of only many mail servers.... Notes didn't go anywhere for instance. None of the others require Windows. You got a point in there somewhere?
      • Not what he was saying

        "Apple products are just to dumbed down, your better off using Microsoft products in an age where computer expertise is an asset."

        What he said was that the *iPad* was not a productive product, good for what it is but not build to be productive. I assume if Apple were to build and release a OSX touch enabled tablet, he would probably be back in the Apple camp.

        The real point of his comments were "what's all the complaining about W8.1" and that it seems to be Windows fans that are the biggest complainers.
        Rann Xeroxx