It had been a long time since I tried to use Microsoft Windows.
Occasionally, there’d be times at work when someone with a Windows machine had a problem. I’d look at the screen, do a web search, and followed instructions. (That’s what they pay me for!)
But I really didn’t work with Windows. I haven’t actually fiddled with Windows since XP, about two decades ago.
My impression back then: Windows sucked. It was just a legally-distinct poorly-implemented Macintosh OS clone.
A couple of months ago at work, due to an administrative error, we received two units of an inexpensive Windows laptop. One unit went to the user who originally ordered it. We could have returned the second unit, but we decided to keep it as a spare.
(Tangent: Every once in a while someone at work asks me if we have a spare laptop for them to use while their own is being purchased or replaced. We do. They’re all Macs that were abandoned by their owners when they started to malfunction. The newest is at least eight years old. I install the latest version of the Mac OS and MS-Office they can run. But anyone who borrows one becomes really anxious to get their own laptop after about five minutes of using the spare.)
I’m still working from home. I take a trip to the office to pick up the Windows laptop. My goal is to configure the laptop and install the software we typically use at work: MS-Office, Zoom, Mobaxterm.
As I said, it was the first time I seriously worked with Windows in years. Had it improved? Could I finally lay aside my judgemental attitude and embrace the most commonly-used desktop/laptop operating system in the world?
I spent a few days working with Windows 10 and upgrading to Windows 11. I came to an inescapable conclusion:
No big insight there, but that begs the question: Why does it suck? Thousands upon thousands of person-hours have been poured in that OS over the years. Why hasn’t all that effort made a difference in my perception of Windows?
That’s what’s annoying to me: Windows now sucks for the exact same reason that the Mac OS now sucks: It’s trying to duplicate the phone/tablet experience on the desktop.
User-interface issues have always been a problem with Windows. When Microsoft released its first version of Windows over three decades ago, they could not legally make it look like the Apple Macintosh operating system. Apple had poured money into researching human interface usability (e.g., the optimal position of menu items in response to mouse movements) that Microsoft could not legally duplicate.
On the other hand, Microsoft did not have to worry too much about usability issues. They had the lock on the market. If people were unhappy with Microsoft products, they weren’t about to go to the Macintosh. And by “markets” and “people,” I mean the business world. Businesses had cast their desktop-computer fortunes with IBM desktops running MS-DOS, because IBM was a recognized name in the business world, and IBM PCs were running Microsoft software.
As far as I was concerned, the Macintosh Finder and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines provided a user experience that Windows could not match.
As I complained about in my earlier post about upgrading from Mac OS Mojave, Apple has abandoned their Human Interface Guidelines to make their desktop look more like the iPhone and iPad interfaces. And it appears that Windows has done the same thing, to make their desktops look more like their Surface tablets.
This doesn’t make sense to me. Microsoft’s appeal has always been to the business market, to the corporations that will spend millions on site licenses so their users have access to MS-Office, Microsoft Exchange, and other services. Apple’s appeal has been to the design and creative market, to those business that will spend millions on site licenses for Adobe Creative Suite.
Phones and tablets are great; like many others I use my iPhone constantly as a tool. When I use it, I touch buttons with my finger. But I can’t imagine using it to do the things I use my desktop for: writing computer code, maintaining operating systems, designing 3D models, balancing my checkbook, handling my email, and even (if I may say so) writing long and essentially meaningless blog posts.
To do these things, I need a full-sized keyboard. I need a mouse (actually a trackball). I need a full-sized display. I can’t imagine doing my work on an iPad (or a laptop, for that matter, but that’s a different tale).
On the Microsoft side, I suppose there is a sales advantage for their consumer tablet market by having the desktop and tablet experiences be almost the same. If you know how to use Windows 11, you (almost) know how to use a Surface tablet.
On the Apple side, I don’t see the logic. iPhone sales are huge, Mac laptops/desktops have a small share of the market compared to Windows machines. If you know how to use an iPhone or an iPad, are you seriously going to contemplate purchasing a Mac laptop, which costs at least twice as much as its Windows/ChromeOS counterpart, because the user interface is similar?
The conclusion is, once again:
But now the Mac OS sucks too.
It’s just that the Mac OS sucks somewhat less than Windows.