Miscellaneous Ramblings

A Flameless Response to Russell Beattie's 33 Criticisms of Mac OS X

Charles Moore - 2005.10.04 - Tip Jar


A couple of weeks back, Russell A Beattie, a Mobile Telecommunications and Internet Applications Developer who works for Yahoo! in Sunnyvale, California, posted "Why I Might Switch Back...," a blog explaining why he might switch from Mac OS X and go back to Windows. Beattie wrote:

"I've been using Macs almost exclusively now for about 7 months - since just after I joined Yahoo! and got my PowerBook to go with my mini at home. Now that I've been using Macs for a while, I'm wondering if they're all that special. The hardware is nice, but OS X can be as slow, buggy, non-standard, frustrating and annoying as any other operating system."

He went on to deliver a critique of OS X with 33 explicit points. I hope Russell didn't get flamed too severely by Mac defenders, which I expect would do little to change his mind - and only make Mac fans look fanatical and stupid.

Actually, I found much to agree with in his criticisms, although I don't concur that they constitute sufficient cause to do something as drastic as switching to Windows.

Here is what Russell Beattie had to say with my comments interpolated.

1. Anyone who says that Macs are more stable than Windows are smoking dope. I have two brand new Macs and they regularly go wacky and need reboots.

I run two Macs with OS X 10.4 Tiger installed and am a moderately heavy and demanding user. While while I have experienced the odd kernel panic over the past three years with my iBook running earlier versions of OS X, it was never a major issue, and Tiger has been very stable. I've gone as long as 23 days (I think) without restarting in daily production use.

2. My mini and PowerBook are 1.42 GHz and 1.5 GHz, with 1 GB and 512 MB respectively. They are both sloooooow. Though the PowerBook is a bit better, neither is as snappy as my two year old Celeron, and not anywhere near the cutting edge x86 laptops.

Hmmm. I don't think Russell would be very happy at all with my 550 MHz G4 PowerBook (and upgraded Pismo) and 700 MHz G3 iBook, and his point is inarguable. If you're after raw power on the low end, the PC is currently way out in front. That will be rectified over the next twelve months or so as the Macintel transition progresses.

3. Also, the graphics power suck. ATI Radeon 9200 is anemic in 2005. Playing Halo on either computer is a drastically reduced experience than on my Celeron 2 GHz Toshiba.

Can't gainsay this one either. The ATI Radeon 9200 is indeed anemic - and it doesn't even support Core Image in Tiger, but the only Mac that still uses it is the mini. Hopefully Apple will ship more powerful video support in the low-end Intel machines.

4. I don't like Mail or Safari. I much prefer Thunderbird and Firefox, both of which don't get much attention on the Mac platform.

I'm not that crazy about any of these applications myself. I do use Firefox, but my favorite browser is Opera, and I'm a Eudora fan from way back for email. I'm just glad that there is such a wide choice in these categories for OS X users.

Editor's note: My favorite browsers are Firefox and Opera. My primary email client is GyazMail. As Moore notes, Mac users have a lot of good software choices. dk

5. I really dislike iPhoto. I much prefer the Windows thumbnails.

I have to say that I'm not a real big fan of iPhoto either. I do most of my digital photography editing and management in Photoshop Elements 3 and ToyViewer, plus several freeware slideshow applications. Again, there is lots of choice if one is not enchanted with the Apple application software.

6. I hate the Finder. I thought the Windows Explorer was bad and wacky, but I had no idea. Finder makes me want to hurt someone. I especially love when folders don't merge, but replace.

Aside from its appearance, which is attractive, I don't care much for the OS X Finder either compared with the wonderful old Mac OS Classic Finder, whose spatial predictability and stability is much missed in OS X. However, at least the Finder isn't butt-ugly like Windows is. I would find it dispiriting to have to look at the Windows interface all day.

Editor's note: Folders not merging is a common complaint from Windows users. In Windows, when you copy a folder to one with the same name, the operating system adds the contents of the dragged folder to the existing folder. On the Mac, the OS replaces the existing folder with the one being dragged. Apple really should add an option that asks, "Do you wish to replace the existing folder or merge the contents of this folder into the existing folder?" This would make switching much easier for Windows users. dk

7. Trillian is so much better than Adium or Fire, and iChat is non-starter.

I use MSN, but I'm not a heavy instant messaging user, so this is not a big deal issue for me.

Editor's note: Except for voice & video chat, I have to agree on iChat. My messenger client of choice is Adium, although I have been playing with Proteus a bit lately. I especially like the way these clients can work with the Address Book. I can't comment on Fire, since I haven't used it since version 1.04 (it's now at 1.5). dk

8. I'm not a musician, GarageBand to me isn't particularly compelling.

I used to be an amateur musician, but chronic health issues have put an end to my guitar playing, so GarageBand isn't especially compelling to me either, but it's still very cool.

9. Like it or not, it's a Windows world, and interop[erability] has to be a priority. If I take a few screen shots, paste them into a PowerPoint for Mac presentation and send them off, and no one can see them because the images have defaulted to some wacky QuickTime tiff? That's bad.

Windows world? Regrettably so. I've always found myself most comfortable swimming against the current, so this argument doesn't speak convincingly to me. The QuickTime issue is more of an idiosyncratic problem for particular users. I can't argue with Russell if it's a problem for him, and it sounds like something that Apple or Microsoft should address pronto.

10. Keynote and Pages are both interesting, but non-standard. I wouldn't do any real work with them because I'd be afraid of trying to send documents to my coworkers.

I don't use either. Text editors are the ideal tool for most of my text crunching, and I don't use presentation software. Russell's point is valid. For better or worse, PowerPoint and Word are the standards. However, both are supported by the Mac, so compatibility in this context would be no reason to switch.

11. Yahoo! Products work better on Windows: Yahoo! Messenger and Yahoo! Music Engine are awesome on the PC. Yes Y! could concentrate more on Mac products, but they're hardly alone here.

I don't as a rule use Yahoo! products or services, partly because of less than scintillating performance on Macs, and indifferent Mac support. Something Yahoo! should indeed concentrate on.

Editor's note: I've been using Yahoo! Messenger for years. The current version is 2.5.3, and it hasn't been updated since 2003. It barely supports webcams - and then at a maximum frame rate of 1.67 per second. Although Macs have had standard audio input since 1992, Y! has never supported it, so only Windows users get voice chat. Messenger for Windows also allows you to send IMs to a group of people, but the Mac versions only lets you send out one at a time. Yahoo's Mac client was the main reason I bought my first Windows PC - the Windows version is that much better. dk

12. In fact, most stuff is available on Windows first, sadly. And I'm a bleeding edge junkie.

Russell is correct. A prima facie topical example is the recent release of Photoshop Elements 4 for Windows only, although Adobe has announced that a Mac upgrade is in the works but over half of the refreshments and enhancements to version 4 would apply only the Windows version anyway. I'm quite comfortable living somewhat distant from the bleeding edge (witness my antiquated computer fleet).

13. I like UltraEdit 32 over TextWrangler or TextEdit

TextWrangler is excellent for some purposes. TextEdit isn't especially exciting. My favorite production application is Tom Benders wonderful, AppleScript optimized, Tex Edit Plus, which isn't available for Windows, which would be a major inhibition to my ever switching away from the Mac OS.

14. You know, .mac is interesting, but way too expensive.

I agree and have been saying so ever since Apple terminated the free mac.com email service. While some users may perceive that they are getting fair value for their money, I certainly would not. As Russell says, some of the .mac features are interesting, but they fall well short of being $100 a year interesting in my estimation, and Gmail provides an excellent free email service.

15. The widescreen on the PowerBook is completely overrated. Web pages and documents are tall, not wide. Because the wide screen lowers the viewing center of the screen, I end up getting a crik in my neck looking "down" at the wide screen, rather than more straight ahead on PC based laptops.

This is valid commentary. I would be more excited about the availability of a portrait formatted screen (perhaps rotatable?) than I am about widescreens. I also find the vertical limitation more annoying more often than the horizontal, although it is convenient to be able to open to documents side by side.

Editor's note: It all depends on how you work. I typically have two windows side-by-side, and anything less than 1152 pixels wide negatively impacts my work flow. 1280 pixels is better. For those who want a rotating display to use with their Power Mac, Mac mini, or PowerBook, Dell makes a nice 17" 1280 x 1024 flat panel display (the 1704FPV). I have one. I love it. But I haven't seen any reason to pivot it yet. dk

16. Having to remember my DVI to VGA adapter to hook up my PowerBook to an overhead is a pain in the ass. The wide-screen to 800 x 600 presentation view is also jarring and painful.

The first part of this is a bit nitpicky, but I don't dispute that it would be convenient to have a VGA adapter port on PowerBooks. I agree that the 800 x 600 view is essentially useless.

17. What is the friggin' deal with the .dmg [disk image] files? The install process is so broken. Unzip .dmg.gz, mount .dmg, copy to Applications, unmount .dmg, delete .dmg, delete dmg.gz. Bleh.

Apple addressed this back in 2003 with the introduction of an enhanced kind of disk images called Internet-Enabled Disk Images. When you download one of these puppies, the .dmg file automatically decompresses to the Desktop and then the file automatically trashes itself. The problem, I suppose, is getting developers to use them.

18. Do you know how long it took me to get the idea that I had to empty the Trash before I disconnected any external drives, memory cards, etc.? Otherwise the files just stayed wherever they were. And those fucking .DS_Store files...

Is this really such a major issue? I think I prefer leaving Trash emptying with the requirement for positive authorization, than to have the system decide for you, which is a global criticism of mine about Microsoft software in general.

19. I don't use iMovie. It'd be nice if I did, but it's not a plus as I don't have a DVD burner, and if I wanted to buy one, it'd cost me a ton.

They aren't that expensive. I have a SuperDrive upgrade in my PowerBook. I don't use iMovie myself, but I might sometime in the future if I ever get spare time to mess around with video.

20. Everything for Macs cost more. From my $50 Mighty Mouse to my $150 iSight camera.

Usually because the quality is better with Mac peripherals than it is with the bargain basement PC stuff. You certainly don't have to pay $50 for a mouse. Most PC mice will work fine with a Mac.

21. I thought having "Unix" underneath would be an advantage. But it's not Linux. Linux is what I know; the wackiness that is OS X confuses the hell out of me. I can barely figure out what's running and not running. I installed some HP Printer software drivers months ago and the control panel starts up automatically every day and sits in the Dock, despite my best efforts to track down where the HELL it's started from.

I can't speak to this, as I am a command ignoramus, so will not argue, except to say that some Unix jocks contend BSD superior to Linux. I wouldn't know.

22. I thought Exposé was cool at first, but then realized I was going blind trying to find the right window. Spatial memory, what? Exposé just randomly throws the windows around the screen, it's nuts.

I partly agree with Russell about this one. I love Exposé for its ability to quickly clear the screen of open windows, of which I usually have two dozen or more windowshaded, but I virtually never use the all windows display function. Just too hard to see.

23. I hate the Dock too. Each app responds differently. So some apps you can click on and the window appears at the top, others it ignores. And if you Minimize the window, well, it never pops up. WHY?!?! Urgh. Thank god I discovered Command+~ to swap between windows of the same app . . . I was losing my mind for a while trying to find things.

I'm on the same page here. I have resigned myself to semi-peaceful coexistence with the Dock, but I still dislike the wretched thing, especially when your target folder or the Trash fiendishly ducks away from something you are trying to drag to it. I absolutely loathe minimizing windows to the Dock and don't know what I would do without Windowshade X.

24. The hardware support isn't great. I've got several devices which just are completely ignored by the Mac, including a WebCam and several USB devices. And my iSight doesn't play nice with anything but iChat. WTF? Why isn't it just a DV device?

Apple definitely has more work to do in this context. However, I continue to be amused by the frequent distinction between the PC and Apple instructions respectively for installing peripherals. Plug and play is still much more of a reality on Macs.

25. iSync is only marginally better than nothing. I thought it was a holy grail . . . it's really not. In fact, I tried to sync my wife's phone and wasn't being careful and it defaulted to a destructive sync and blanked out my wife's phone. ARRRGGGH. WHY!?!?

I don't use iSync, so I have nothing to say other than that the experience related sounds very annoying.

Editor's note: Standard iSync behavior when synchronizing a device for the first time is to ask whether you want overwrite information on the device with date from your Address Book, copy the information from the device to your Address Book, or merge the two sources. dk

26. I really don't like the fact that some apps close when their window goes away (like System Preferences and Windows Video for the Mac) and other apps stay there in memory forever until you notice them by accident...

This inconsistency is perhaps a bit jarring. It doesn't bother me a great deal, because I am inclined to windowshade windows if I'm not through with the application rather than closing them.

27. Spotlight isn't great. It's slow and doesn't seem to find what I'm looking for.

I agree completely. I only hope that it will improve with subsequent versions. I find Spotlight so frustrating that I have mixed feelings about whether it is better than nothing.

28. Dashboard is pretty useless as well. I've installed Yahoo! Widgets (Konfabulator) and that's much more what Dashboard should've worked like.

I'm not a heavy user of Dashboard, but I find it reasonably serviceable. I have never used Konfabulator, but if someone likes it better, it supports the Mac, so what is the problem?

29. Does anyone use Sherlock any more?

Not me, but then I never did except for directory searches.

30. Windows Anti-aliasing for LCDs is more refined than OS X. You'd think it'd be opposite, but to me Macs seem fuzzy.

I can't comment on this. I don't have enough frame of reference.

31. OS X mouse tracking isn't great. Why is that? Didn't they invent it? Why do I have to go get separate mouse drivers for my Microsoft, Logitech and Mighty Mouse mice? That's insane.

I emphatically I agree on this one. I continue to be frustrated and puzzled by the crummy mouse tracking and clicking support and sporadically erratic behavior in OS X contrasted with the rock solid input device support in the Classic Mac OS. This aspect has improved substantially in Panther and Tiger compared with the earlier versions, but there is still plenty of potential for improvement.

32. Rendezvous/Bonjour works as advertised . . . but since no one around me uses a Mac, it really doesn't matter except for iTunes, and the Windows version supports that functionality anyways.

I don't use Rendezvous/Bonjour either.

33. Hitting F11 by accident is a wonderful way to lose your mind. "AHHH!"

If this is a problem, just reconfigure the keyboard shortcut. Exposé toggling on my Macs requires the Control key modifier.

Russell does concede that there are benefits to running Mac OS X, which you can check out by reading his essay, but he suggests that "Apple has sacrificed their vaunted simplicity, usability and consistency in the face of sloppy Windows competition," which I think may be the case as witnessed by the rough edges OS X still has after four and a half years.

"What's really needed," he says, "is a . . . Mac OS 11 to clean up all the weird bits and get back to basics with usability and cleanliness, based on a world where most people use Windows," but closes by admitting, "I probably need to swap back to Windows for a bit to realize how good I have it."

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and it would be foolish to insist that there are no contexts in which the PC has some advantages over the Mac.

However, even though I freely concede that OS X still has plenty of room for improvement, I can express one gigantic reason why I would never seriously consider switching to a Windows PC in one word: malware. Even if the Windows interface were substantially superior to the Mac (which isn't), the Windows malware onslaught would be plenty enough reason to stay put.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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