Do switchers now rule the Mac?

With Mac OS X Leopard's improved support for Boot Camp and other Windows-centric standards, Apple hopes to keep "switchers" happy. However, longtime Mac users point to some Windows-like features creeping into the Mac interface. Is this progress or is Apple kowtowing to this growth segment?

Do switchers now rule the Mac?
Switchers keep gaining in importance to Apple and that's easy to see in the company's advertising campaign during this holiday season. Almost all the stories are aimed at switchers and Windows users: one compares the many Vista SKUs with the single Mac Leopard SKU; another tells Windows users not to give up on Vista; and several present characters telling Mr. PC that their relatives have bought Macs.

The most recent 'vert is Misprint, which points to a recent PC World review that says "the MacBook Pro outperformed the rest of the notebooks we tested, all of which claim Windows as their primary — nay, their only — operating system." In the ad, Mr. PC howls that this is a "serious misprint!"

However, some see in the Mac interface, Apple's growing affection towards former Windows users.

At last week's meeting of the BMUGWest user group in San Francisco, several attendees pointed to new behaviors in Mac OS X that appear aimed at switchers rather than the installed base. This came up in a discussion around changes to the Dock in Leopard.

One attendee, a longtime Mac OS users said such changes were due to the "League of Windows Users." This was said with tongue in cheek, still, it brought the point home.

During the discussion, I related a recent discovery made when copying a file. What I wanted to do was to copy the name of a file. So, I selected the file in the Finder and copied it using the keyboard Command+C combination. Then I pasted what I thought was the contents of the Clipboard — the text of the name — into the Mail application.

To my surprise, the Finder then copied the file itself into the message as an attachment. Mac users have traditionally either dragged files from the desktop into a message or used the file picker interface to select the attachment. In addition, I found that in Tiger, I can copy a file on the desktop and then paste it into an open folder.

I understand that this copy-paste feature has been in earlier versions of Mac OS X. But I never knew it.

In the long-ago Classic Mac OS, dragging was the way to move items on the desktop or in and out of an document. Copying one or more files and then pasting the group into a document was an easy way to create a list of the files or folders. There were many interesting features that helped users navigate through the Desktop while holding down the mouse button on an item.

At the same time, I found that this copy-paste feature works differently in different applications.

For example, RedleX's Mellel word processor pastes the icon image of file, rather than the file itself. Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac pastes only the name — this shows that Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit still honors MS Word's heritage, not from Windows, rather, from the earliest 128K Mac days. (You can see the Mellel behavior in the image below.)

Mellel behavior

Now, adding Windows-style behaviors isn't necessarily a bad thing. For example, after using Windows for years, I was all for the support for multi-button mice that offer contextual menu selection with the a click of the right-side button. But in the case of the copy/cut-paste into Mail and the Finder, the behavior wasn't what I had expected.

I've used the Mac since its introduction and I believe in moving the interface along. It shouldn't be stagnant. And perhaps it's a good thing to provide a change in a behavior to improve the acceptance of the Mac by switchers.

Still, dragging and using the mouse is a deep part of the Mac experience. I'm always shocked when I meet Mac users who don't take advantage of a significant productivity enhancers such as Expose, which was introduced with Panther. This is one of the great advances in the Mac interface and it blows onlookers away when you can reveal and access documents and applications with just a flick of the wrist.

Don't take my word for it. Here's what interface guru Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini said about Expose:

This is the first instance I’ve seen of a major OS making purposeful use of corners to carry out major activities. I applaud Apple for this. The point directly below the current position of the mouse is the easiest target for users, prompting the rise of contextual menus. Next in line are the four corners. Throwing the mouse in the general direction of a side will result in the mouse arriving at the exact point of one of its corners. Corners have been languishing, largely unused, for the last 25 years.

However, by my recent install of Leopard, I find that this important feature is turned off by default. Certainly, that will mean that many Mac users, especially new ones to the platform, won't discover it. This is a shame.

Perhaps it would be best for new and old Mac users for Apple to make strange copy/cut-paste behaviors an option in the System Preferences and to turn on by default such important interface features such as Expose?

For more posts on the Leopard Update, check out:

  • Leopard Time Machine: Don’t trust it yet
  • Leopard’s installer: The case of the disappearing volumes
  • How much do you LOVE Mac OS X Leopard?
  • Apple says to Archive and Install Leopard
  • Planning for a Leopard migration
  • Leopard pounces, don’t get mauled