Blog Post

Sorry Redmond: Too Little, Too Late

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 (s aapl) 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 (s msft) 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.

24 Responses to “Sorry Redmond: Too Little, Too Late”

  1. Wow! i thought i was the only one. I used mac’s in school as a youngster but when i got to the real world PC are everywhere. and i got comfortable with PC. but then all of the crashing (Blue Screen of death), bugs, ctl-alt delete’s, i wanted a more stress free experience. and one day a friend of mine was in need of some help and offered to sale me his MacBook pro for $500!! of course i did what any friend would do… i grabbed it. and let me say I WILL NEVER GO BACK TO PC… Mac’s are so stress free, yeah they are not cheap but to me it’s like ford (PC) or a High End Benz (Mac) and to me it’s that easy. hell even the iPhone is running laps around any windows mobile device. and i start with the htc6700 then the 6800 and i got sick of WMobile and went to the iPhone. I can say with out question i’m a Mac 4life….

  2. Just had to comment on this, since I moved to Mac too, after like 14 years on PC. (Was even building my own boxes…)

    I somehow love this article. Because it really says nothing about why Mac is good. And thus just beautifully portraits the Mac—it’s good, but you can’t really say why. It’s a _feeling_.

    It’s like you really like films. So you go to the theatre and you pick a cool film by David Lynch and you pay the somewhat expensive ticket and sit down and just enjoy. Then, half-way through, some annoying dude comes in and starts asking questions “Why are you watching this movie, and not Ski School 7? This movie sucks! I mean, nice lighting, but that’s it. Do they even have special effects in it?” You answer “Ahm no? But I like this one!” He goes on “Well if you like this one, you’ll love Ski School! It’s got it all! Bikinis, jokes, special effects, skis, soundtrack and even nudity! It’s just much better!”

    How do you explain to someone that you think Ski School 7 is just plain bad? When technically, it compares to and even exceeds the movies you like? You can’t. Cause you’re really dealing with a person who doesn’t assign any value to the actual experience. Who doesn’t feel. I guess.

    Don’t know why I wrote this comment rly lol. Cheers! :)

  3. Hi,

    I am from Amazon Rain Forest ( Belem, PA, Brazil). In the recent past was illegal to have a Apple computer or other foreign hardware. Now I have a iMac and macbook = what wonderful world! But few apples here, but growing.

    It’s hilarious, howbeit, when I see north americans and europeans put windows versus mac os. You have great and fantastic universities, cool cars, urban transport. But you use Window like us. Bad, bad people. Are you crazies? Mac OS X it’s a wonderful OS and, certainly, one day will be surpepassed. But, certaily too, not for windows, linux or chrome os.

    “Think diferent”boys.

  4. I agree with you about the importance of experience, Liam. I recently moved over to Mac, after practically growing up with Windows everywhere when it came to computing for me. Apple’s system certainly brings more to the table in terms of what you get for what you pay. This is what matters to me most – the value of the system. Windows is usually loaded with a bunch of bloatware on the majority of new PCs, whereas Mac comes with the stuff you need, or can use, without having it be some “trial” thing. Great writeup!

    • Henk, does anyone who is properly informed and reasonably-minded *really* consider iWork and iLife bloatware?

      Rahul was, I suspect, referring to the limitless supply of third-party rubbish OEM’s habitually install on new PCs – the majority of which is heavily branded, badly-coded and functionally poor. This is the definition of bloatware (at least in my book!) and I wouldn’t – for one moment – put iWork and iLife in that same category.


  5. :D i switched to a Macbook Pro in 2009 :D one week before the SD-card slot one was released. Haha. I have a Windows PC at home with 7 (RC1) and I got to say, I really liked 7, because I moved to it from Vista. It became my primary operating system.

    But when I got my Macbook Pro 2 in June, I stopped using the PC altogether. I love this computer! The only thing i am upset about is, since I am a gamer, in order to play games like Left 4 Dead on Garena, I need to move to my PC. I did not install windows on my mac, as, I felt doing that will violate the sanctity of it. Hahaha

  6. Well stated! I totally agree. I switched to Mac at home in 2008, and while I still use Windows in the office … I no longer really think about it. It works, it’s the platform available to me, it’s mostly stable – but it’s much too little, much too late.

  7. I use and like both. I can’t see 7 having enough in it to tempt a switcher back either. Frankly, I don’t think MS aimed for that. Maybe in 8 they will. But 7 was primarily about fixing Vista for their XP upgrade business.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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

    • 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?

  14. 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.