Don’t worry Windows lovers, the next post (update: here) will be 10 reasons why Windows is better than OS X. I use both extensively, so hopefully I’m in a good position to judge impartially. Despite the post’s title, I’m not advocating one system over the other, just pointing out strengths and weaknesses,
1. The menu bar
This is a love-hate thing, but I personally think the top of the screen is the perfect place for a menu bar. On a practical level, this position means that windows can be simpler — no need for a fiddly menu bar at the top of each window. Microsoft have half acknowledged that menu bars don’t belong in the window — look at IE or Office. On Mac, you still get the menu, which is great for power users, but it’s in a consistent place that doesn’t clutter up your windows. Maybe I like it best because I’m nostalgic for the Commodore Amiga ;-)
2. Back to Mac
I have Mobile Me. I also have an Apple Airport Express router. My iMac at home has sharing turned on (which is nothing special — it takes literally two clicks to turn screen sharing on). Incredibly, when I’m at work and I fire up my MacBook Pro laptop, I can see my home computer in the little panel on the left of Finder. With no bother at all, I can connect to it to access files and remote control the desktop, just as if it were there next to me. I know Windows has remote desktop, which is great, but that doesn’t help you if you need to quickly connect to your computer at home — the magic here is the way that it automatically configures everything to give me full and transparent access over the internet, all via my Mobile Me account.
This is as much about the Apple hardware engineers as it is about OS X (and in particular, the engineers they acquired when they bought an innovative little company called Fingerworks), but it has to be said that multi-touch support in OS X is nothing short of amazing. Tap with one finger to click. Tap with two fingers to right click. Tap and move three fingers to move icons or select text. Tap and swipe four fingers to quickly show the desktop or all of the windows laid side-by-side. If you haven’t used it, you probably think this sounds a bit weak. If you have used it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The worst thing about multi-touch on Mac is having to go back to a Windows laptop — you get so used to two and three finger taps that it’s nearly impossible to stop doing it!
4. UNIX and Terminal
This is a geeky inclusion, but as a techie it’s a crucial point: Mac OS X is the only certified UNIX you can get for desktop computers today. Because Linux is very Unix-like, OS X runs pretty much all open source software flawlessly and, of course, it comes with all of the Unix command line tools and a well-built Terminal app for running them (which really puts the Windows command prompt to shame — for one thing, you can resize it horizontally). Microsoft have developed ‘Powershell’ to try and make scripting better on Windows, but it’s no substitute for the simplicity, consistency and sheer versatility of a Unix shell.
5. Built-in PDF reader (and support for creating PDFs from any application)
Not having to install Adobe Acrobat Reader to open PDFs is just fantastic. That PDFs can open instantly and not cause your computer to grind to a halt is actually quite surprising when you first go to Mac from Windows.
Spotlight is a little magnifying glass that lives on the far right of the Mac menu bar. It lets you search your Mac, and it works extremely well. For example, I have Mail setup to access my Gmail account, which is brimming over with 7 years worth of emails. I can find literally any email in seconds, using spotlight. It works just as well for files, browser history and even applications. The shortcut key is CMD + space (CMD is Apple’s equivelent of the Window’s key), so it’s always easy to start a new search.
You might think that Windows Search is Spotlight’s equal, but you’d be wrong. Windows Search is improving, but it still isn’t integrated quite as seamlessly as Spotlight, and Windows Search is a resource hog. A real resource hog. Spotlight doesn’t consume 1.3GB of memory on my Mac, whereas Windows Search does on my workstation.
7. iLife (GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie, iWeb)
These productivity apps are fantastic, and they come for free with every Mac. It means that when you first turn the computer on you actually have a great set of genuinely useful productivity applications to play around with. I love GarageBand, iPhoto is incredibly useful (we use it for my wife’s point-and-shoot, but I prefer Aperture for my dSLR) and iMovie is great too. Being a web developer by trade, I don’t have much use for iWeb, but from what I can tell it works pretty well.
A few weeks back I needed to connect to a color laser printer for the first time. In OS X, from the standard print window I clicked ‘Add Printer’. There it was, listed. I clicked it. It worked. I was amazed. By comparison, adding the same printer to my Windows 7 64-bit workstation was a real pain. It took a lot of effort, and I almost gave up before I stumbled upon the right download on the HP website.
Anyway, this led to the realization that I simply never have problems with drivers on Mac. And it’s not just printers — because the Mac hardware is so tightly controlled by Apple, OS X includes all of the drivers for everything, from graphics to USB, and things just tend to work.
9. Universal Access
This doesn’t affect me directly, but I am a programmer and I like to think that the software I create is accessible to everyone. However, it’s only thanks to the work of other companies that a blind user, say, can actually interact with my software. Apple have built an incredible system for blind users right in to OS X. It’s called Voice Over, and Austin Seraphin explains how impressive it really is far better than I ever could.
10. Time Machine
Backing up a Mac is as simple as plugging in an external disk and answering ‘Yes’ when OS X asks if you want to use it for Time Machine. From that point on, it’ll take care of everything (assuming you either leave it plugged in or remember to plug it in every now and then). You can use Time Machine to recover files from a point in time (of course), and you can also use it to recover a Mac if you have to install OS X again (like if you have to get a new hard disk fitted). This is exactly how backups should work.
The situation isn’t nearly so simple on Windows — The only people I know who backup their Windows machines are techies and geeks who know about this stuff. A few weeks ago someone posted a question to engadget about the backup software for Windows. You just need to glance at the comments to see that the best solution — Windows Home Server — is no Time Machine.
So that’s it! My 10 reasons that OS X is better than Windows. I purposefully limited myself to 10 things, but a few runners-up that just missed the cut deserve honorable mentions, I think: programming languages nearly made it, because Macs come with Ruby and Python installed, and an incredible C/C++/Objective C development environment on the OS X CD. I also wanted to mention the dock, because the new task bar in Windows 7 simply isn’t as nice. Fonts are very good out-of-the box on Mac, and I particularly like that Helvetica is installed on every Mac.
Anyway, check back in a few weeks (or months, at the rate I’m currently posting) to see my top 10 reasons that Windows is better than Macs. It’ll be interesting to see if I can think up 10 reasons (I wondered if I’d make 10 in this post).