I’m on a Mac: Operating System

As mentioned in my Third Day post, I’m using a MacBook now, every day, as my work computer.  And, well, I’ve not died nor been struck by lightning or anything.  But am I a convert?  Read my my ongoing discussion of my experiences with the platform.  This week: the operating system, Mac OS X 10.6.


Dr. Danker points out that I’m still looking at the Mac with poorly-tinted glasses.  I apologize for that, I’m trying to be as objective as I can — but I’m still Pat, I guess.

Cutting to the chase

Rather than starting with a tedious blow-by-blow, let’s just jump to the summary: Just as Windows is shackled by its awful technical legacy, MacOS is hamstrung by its legacy UI decisions.  Both products should not be afraid of a complete split from their pasts, but this is unlikely to ever happen.

MacOS has some nice, modern things, like the Dock, Dashboard, and Spotlight, a unix shell, and self-contained applications.  It has some awful nightmares like the menubars, inconsistent installers, and disk images (kinda cool, kinda odd), and exposing the user to at least 3 UI frameworks — Cocoa, Carbon, and X.

Some Detailed Examples

Ever notice Mac’s insane application management scheme?  I, as the user, have to manually close applications, even if said applications have no windows open.  I might have left open five or six applications that are just sitting there, taking up memory.  Now I have to revisit each one just to see if I had any work left in there.  Oddly, some MacOS-supplied apps do this, some don’t.  Consistency FTW.

Same goes for the disk images.  As a programmer I understand what they’re doing, and they are a powerful metaphor.  However, as a user who’s just installing stuff, I have a ton of things on my desktop I don’t understand.

App installers.  If you haven’t noticed the insanity here, you haven’t installed anything yet.

Multiple monitors and the archaic single-menu bar rather sucks.  And heaven forbid you miss your menubar click, as you’ll have to return to your app before you try again.

What is up with the search bar on the help menu?  It definitely doesn’t search that application’s help docs.

“They” told me: MacOS was a rock-solid awesome never-failing always working experience.  I constantly have trouble with resuming, sometimes I can’t even get the login prompt to show, though the mouse cursor moves around.  I’ve had hard lockups, and I’ve had misbehaving software that brings the system to its knees.  Attempting to kill these works eventually, but takes 4-ev-ar to clean up.

One thing that continues to amaze me is how much MacOS fights the keyboard user.  I’ve talked at length about the physical keyboard, but the OS is another layer of frustration.  MacOS provides a ton of customization, but only to a point.  You get a subset of functions that you can turn off, but you can’t reassign or do anything fancy with these.

I think Apple, as often as it is a paragon of keeping the user’s needs in mind, is at the same time a juggernaut that has mutilated its own software market.  For example, try to find an alternate music player for local MP3s.  This ecosystem basically died upon release of iTunes.  You might be able to find some, but they are all 5+ years old, and apparently built for some older version of the UI.  And they are also terrible.


Like I said, MacOS is a decent computer.  It’s not keeping me from doing my work (well, except for the keyboard).  It just isn’t giving me any benefits.  And I’m just not feeling the magic and amazement and simplicity I see when I use Ubuntu.

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