Will technology ever catch up?

Archive for October 29th, 2006

Vista: Still missing OSX’s 2 best features

Posted by cascadehush on October 29, 2006

I’ve been running Vista for a couple of weeks now. I must say I don’t see the point. It doesn’t seem like an upgrade, rather a side-grade. Different for the sake of being different.

Vista tries to include some of the visual flare of OSX but for the most part fails to actually include anything genuinely useful. But it’s not visual niceties for the sake of aesthetics that are OSX’s biggest asset.

There are two particularly silly and amateurish shortfalls that continue in Vista from earlier Windows.

The first problem is it’s continued use of drive letters to identify disks. This idiotic carry-over from the days of DOS 1.0 creates several problems.

You can never tell what drive letter you’ll get when you plug a removable disk in into the computer. This makes it difficult to work with removable disks with some programs, and adds a layer of complexity if you want to automate tasks.

If you install a new HD, your other drives (including optical drives) can be re-assigned and some programs will have to be re-configured or may stop working.

An even more insidious problem is where windows fails to assign a unique drive letter to different devices. I have a USB card reader that I can’t use at work because windows tries to assign it a sequence of drive letters (one for each type of card slot). When some of those drive letters clash with already assigned drive letters, that card slot is unusable. There is no work around for this. It is common for windows to try to assign drive letters to USB devices which are already taken by network shares.

OSX avoids all these problems by using volume labels to identify drives. This allows me to keep my iPhoto Library on a removable HD and transfer it between my 2 Macs. My card reader only shows up when I actually have a card in the device, so there is no hunting around to find the drive letter for the card.

The second problem is the Taskbar. The Taskbar comes to us from Windows 95, and is a great way of switching between about 4 programs. Back then people were grateful to be able to run more that 2 programs without the OS crashing. Any more than 4 and the taskbar is a mess. Even with a wide-screen monitor it’s not really much better.

You can re-configure the bar to give you 2 rows. This is the first thing I do when I use a Windows PC. But it’s still a mess. Microsoft tried to fix this in XP by allowing you to ‘Group Similar Taskbar Buttons’. This is just adding frustration to injury.

Is it any wonder that so many programs offer some method of hiding their presence from the Taskbar by only showing up as a System Tray Icon next to the clock.

OSX has the Dock and it has Expose.

The Dock is great because the user knows where a certain program is. If they want to run Firefox (for example) they click on the Firefox icon. If they have minimized or hidden Firefox and want to get it back, guess where they click – the Firefox icon. If it’s running, OSX is sensible enough to bring the program to the front. If it’s not, OSX launches it. This is next-generation thinking. The user doesn’t have to worry about whether a program is running or not and act differently.

Expose is even better. A user can choose a window by looking at all windows and choosing the one they want. It’s a natural, human way to work. Vista tries to provide a thumbnail view of running programs in three different ways, none of which are as useful as Expose. They could have just ripped off Expose. They should have.

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