I was recently asked in a tweet, “Have you completely abandoned Windows now?” I realized, with some genuine surprise, that not only had I stopped using Windows in any meaningful way, but actually stopped using it the moment I got my hands on my first (modern) […]

I was recently asked in a tweet, “Have you completely abandoned Windows now?” I realized, with some genuine surprise, that not only had I stopped using Windows in any meaningful way, but actually stopped using it the moment I got my hands on my first (modern) Mac in 2008. So, in the aftermath of last months much-anticipated release of Snow Leopard, I find myself thinking about the move I made between operating systems, and my experiments since then with Microsoft’s latest offering.

First, a little background. I flirted with Macs in high-school Graphic Art lessons and then again, very very briefly, in the late 90s when a colleague handed me a PowerBook and said “Here, you could use that if it’s any good, but I don’t know if it even works…” It did work, but to be honest, it really wasn’t any use to me at all. Anyway, even if I had wanted to use the Mac, everyone I knew was working on a Windows PC of some flavor or other, and though the PowerBook had a working copy of Microsoft Office (such as it was in those days) incompatibilities were an ever-present problem.

Here’s an example of a conversation I had, many times, with the one person I knew who used a Mac;

Gloria: Liam, that file you sent me…
Liam: Yes, the Word document.
Gloria: It doesn’t work properly. I’ve lost all the formatting.
Liam: What do you mean, you’ve ‘lost’–
Gloria: It’s a mess.
Liam: Did you open it using Word?
Gloria: Of course I did! Look, will you just paste the text into an email for me, yeah?

I used to think the problem lay not with her computer, but more with her inability to use it. I later saw for myself, however, that she was absolutely right. Word documents created on a Windows PC didn’t fare well in Word on her Mac. Crazy.

The short of it is that I used Windows for everything and I had no compelling reason to want to switch. At home and at work, even on the road with my Windows Mobile devices through the years, I was 100 percent a Microsoft customer. Throughout those years, every experience I had with the Mac was a bad experience. And it was usually, as in the example above, related to the same tedious issue — incompatibility.

By 2005 I’d certainly heard about Mac OS X, though the closest I came to it was reading Paul Thurrott’s reviews and opinions on his SuperSite for Windows. He spoke of a decent OS, but reassured me that I was missing nothing. Then Apple released the iPhone and, despite my aversion to all things Apple, the Geek in me couldn’t resist and I bought one.

The experience on the iPhone was simply amazing, far better than any I’d had on any other device in… well, forever. It made me question my assumptions about the Mac. So in the summer of 2008, I wandered into the Apple Store on London’s Regent Street and spent a half hour pratting-about on different machines. I left with a MacBook. And on that very day, Windows died for me. Leopard was a breath of fresh air.

But let me be clear; I didn’t switch because I felt the Mac was a superior platform. Honestly, I feel that, for the majority of people, it’s no better or worse than Windows at the mechanics of making email, word processing and web surfing possible. I switched because it offered a far superior experience in doing those everyday things. When I think about Windows and where it fails for me, it always comes down to that same issue; experience.

Despite the “XP” in its 2001 OS name, it was only with Windows Vista that Microsoft finally seemed to “get” that user experience matters. Yet, beyond Vista’s eye candy there’s not a lot in the way of a unified, cohesive and organic experience that makes me want to use it as my everyday computing environment. This isn’t blind fanboy-ism talking; I used Vista since its Longhorn days right up until last summer, so I know I gave it a long-enough evaluation!

The user experience in Windows 7, too, has not changed since Vista, save perhaps for the addition of some fiddly new UI gimmicks (Aero Peek anyone?). To me, 7 ‘feels’ just like Vista did. I keep moving around the OS hoping to have an epiphany; “Aha! There’s the cohesive, rewarding experience I was searching for!” — but it just doesn’t happen.

I want to like Windows 7, but after trying various beta builds for the last year and repeatedly doing my best to enjoy it, I found myself feeling relieved whenever I returned to the elegant lines of Mac OS X.

I don’t hate Windows 7. I don’t think it’s shoddy, unattractive or fundamentally flawed. But just as Thurrott would say of Snow Leopard, when it comes to Windows 7 there’s just not much there. Windows 7 is a perfectly capable operating system that looks nice and gets the job done. Ultimately, however, it’s just not very interesting and, for recent switchers to the Mac, it’s too little, too late.

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  1. Charlie Robinson Thursday, September 10, 2009

    I switched in 2006 for the exact same reasons, and even though I buy mostly apple products these days, I don’t hate windows it’s just that if I have a choice I prefer to use the mac for just straight up simplicity and a little style doesn’t hurt either.

    The Aero Glass look always seemed to me to be a bit goofy looking and well kinda girly. But that’s just me.

  2. I have to say i totally agree in regards to switching from Windows to Mac, i had pretty much the same reasons, In my mind after a day at working on Microsoft Windows it was nice to come home and sit down on my Mac and just Relax, I have to say while Vista was a major PITA i do like Windows 7 but like you wont be flying back to Windows because of it and with Virtualisation i dont think i will ever be rid of my Mac

    1. Same here – I work with PCs all day and constantly reminded how user-unfriendly there are. Using a Mac at home, I`m not fighting a zillion damn dialogs warning me of imminent doom when I click on something, anything.

      Honestly – I just put Window 7 on an laptop – installs fast, looks great – but for an everyday user I can see flaw after flaw.. especially around `Security Alerts` – and yes, of course you can switch them off, but does the average-joe know or even want to to this?

  3. A world without Windows at least that is how I use computers since 1976!
    In all these years I never used Windows on private use.
    The only time I had a PC with Windows 3.11 the later was swapped to first versions of Linux the first weekend I owned the PC.

    Even this year I bought a Netbook and immediately replaced Windows with Leopard!

    In my job I try to teach my students the advantages to know not only Windows but other OS as well.

    In the last 3 years I persuaded about 10 friends to switch from Windows to another system.

    So a World without Windows is possible! Even my wife used Linux when Windows refused to continue on her laptop!

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  5. Same for me. I bought an iPhone 3G when it was released in Canada and was blown away by the experience. I snapped my first Mac shortly after that, in October ’08 when the unibody MacBook was released.

    It’s become my work machine altogether, replacing the clunky Dells and Lenovos that IT provides here at work… and I run Windows through virtualization. And now with Snow Leopard bringing Exchange support to Mail and iCal, I was even able to dump Entourage!

    Because my trade is to be a developer with the .Net platform, I cannot completely get rid of Windows (win7 is ok), but I definitely enjoy the Mac like I never thought I could an OS/platform!

  6. Henk Duivendrecht Thursday, September 10, 2009

    It’s indeed fascinating to see that windows just never really changes. I guess it’s just not possible for a system that has gazillions of hardcore business users to switch over to a completely new operating system. Therefore, MS will always be stuck with just adding some tweaks here and a new properties panel there, instead of really reinventing the windows user experience from scratch.
    Snow Leopard is a perfect example: many mac users bought it the second it was available, while most windows users are hardly interested in upgrading unless they really really have to.

  7. Same feeling, just had it with Ubuntu Linux. But I completely get the point. :)

  8. Sadly I am using Windows more and more lately. I am taking some programming (C# right now) and game design courses that require it. Every time I boot my MacBook back into OS X I feel like someone has lifted a large weight off of me and let me out of a small box all at once.

  9. I think your comments are spot on. I share a similar path to yours regarding switching to a Mac. Had been using all flavours of Windows to that point, so can speak objectively. It is precisely the lack of Microsoft focus on usability and user experience that leaves me thinking that they really are not serious. I’ve installed 7 on a machine at home (and now abandoned it) because of the point you make – they have concentrated much on the party tricks that the user interface can do, and done nothing to improve the useability experience. I tried adding a network shared printer onto 7. It went off on a discovery and came back a few minutes later saying there were no network shared printers. That was because it couldn’t jump from the workgroup it was on to the other (I run 2 WGs at home for the Win machines). So I re-set the WG on the 7 machine, re-booted, and this time it saw the shared printer on that WG. But now it complained that the drivers were incompatible – (XP to 7) – fair enough – so it went to find an update to the driver, came back after 5 more min saying sorry could not find a driver (to a recent Canon Pixma IP500 inkjet). End of that.
    The iMac is different. To add this printer, I simply go to the Printer utility, add a printer from the Windows tab (because that’s where it’s shared off), it discovers all workgroups in less than a second, shows me the assets on each WG, then I select the one which the printer is shared off, and it immediately shows me what the prionter is, select the printer, select the driver from the drop list, and do Add. Done in 10 seconds.

    That’s kind of the difference in useability between os X and Win 7. So I share your view completely that MS has done nothing at all even in 7 to improve user experience – just added UIO party tricks.

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