Thursday, October 04, 2007

Re-Switcheroo: One good thing about re-switching back to Windows is the broader range of software available. Picture editors in particular. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements primarily. If I had the time, I'd master editing to the point of needing full-on Photoshop CS (although that may be in my future). Photoshop Elements, like its big bro, is available for Mac of course, but what is not is Google's Picasa which is not so much an editor but a viewer and manager and has become my new best friend. It's truly slick, even more so than the freely provided MS picture editor; even more so than the freely provided Mac picture editor iPhoto. Recommended.

Also not usable is OS X are many of the music sites, especially the subscription ones. I have been intrigued by subscription music services -- you know: $XX a month and play anything you want, but you don't have anything to keep. On the Mac, you pretty much only get iTunes, which has no subscription option. I've purchased stuff off iTunes Music Store, but I often wonder if I would use a subscription service more. I could probably figure out a way to have the subscription stream through the Roku Soundbridge, then, for a small monthly fee I would have literally hundreds of thousands of songs I could play through my stereo without having to manage a truckload of .mp3 files.

Another cool thing about Windows is the availability of better file manages. OS X has Finder which is pretty lame. Windows has Explorer, which is marginally better. But in OS X if you want something more capable you have to shell out money for Pathfinder. In Windows there are a ton of free options: Free Commander, ExplorerXP, File Ant, etc. All have different little bells and whistles.

Actually, if MS did just a couple of things with Windows, it would have no obvious shortcomings versus OS X.

• Fix the security model: this is not to say it's insecure (Vista is, I think, petty darn secure) but the OS X way of verifying actions is much better. On OS X, you just enter your login password anytime you are going to do something that a shady program might want to try to do without your knowledge. In Vista it's an are-you-sure verification message or two, or three, or four. I don't doubt that it keeps you functionally safe, but it is awkward, ungainly and annoying.

• Stop with the pop-up messages, suggestions, and bloatware. This is truly obnoxious. A lot of this you can turn off after you see it the first time, although sometimes it's not exactly clear how to do that. And not only does MS get to be a busy body, but the bloatware freebies that are pre-loaded get to annoy you too (although that may be HP's fault, not MS). I would pay a small premium to a notebook manufacturer who would ship a nice clean Vista install with all the intrusions shut off.

Clarity is not MS strong suit in their software design. The very best example I can give you of why people tend to appreciate OS X for its simplicity and elegance is the file overwrite warning message. On a Mac, in Finder, if you are about to copy a newer file over and existing one (an act I do almost daily in backing up my current work to a USB drive) you get a confirmation message along the lines of, "An older file with the name foobar.txt already exists, do you want to overwrite it?" which is just about perfect. You get a verification that the file you are about to wipe out is older than the one you are about to save, which is the key verification because lord knows I've had a file up in two different finder windows and have accidentally tried to copy the older over the newer more than once. You can either go ahead or cancel out of the action and figure out what it was you meant to do.

In Vista, the message is:
There is already a file with the same name in this location.
Click the file you want to keep

Copy and Replace
Replace the file in the destination folder with the file you are copying
Size 10k
Date Modified 9/30/07 (newer)

Don't Copy
No files will be changed leave this file in the destination folder.
Size 10k
Date Modified 9/28/07

Copy But Keep Both Files
The file you are copying will be renamed "Foobar.txt(2)"

Ye Gods! Let's make a simple task stunningly complicated, shall we? I'm sure it seemed to someone at MS that offering three options instead of just yes/no was very clever, but it's mostly just noise. In the exceedingly rare instances where you want multiple copies of a file, would you really think to do that by just dragging and dropping a copy into the same folder as the original? And the fact is, I don't need to know the size and the name of the file or even the date. We can assume, I think, that I knew what I was doing when I initiated the copy command. I just need some reassurance that I am replacing the correct file. Why do I need a paragraph on "Don't Copy" when I have a cancel button? The single piece on information I need in that text is "(newer)." If I see that I know I'm doing what I meant to. Instead, I have to read War and Peace to get there. Oh and by the way, you are not "clicking the file you want to keep" like the instruction says, you are clicking the action you want to take. Can Bill Gates not afford an editor?

Now, this is not an enormous deal. Once I know what is going on I can zero in on the information I need. And as a software development manager in my day job, it probably bothers me more than normal people. It's just one of those graceless, awkward things that keeps companies like Apple and Google in business.