CyberTech Rambler

March 27, 2008

Comparing UI on Windows and Mac from design/implementation viewpoint

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:35 pm

Kermedec compared Windows and Desktop UI design. This is the first time someone came up preferring Windows over Mac. More interestingly, his argument are solid and well-founded.

His argument that Windows design is better suited at beginners and average-joe user is well argued. I especially like the saying that average joe user is not going to be bothered with the difference between push-down button and toggles. In my opinion, he is right to say that computer users need not be bothered about it.

His other argument that the Windows UI do not requires the user to understand what a computer is, IMHO, completely wrong. He cited the example of  changing the desktop background. In short, he believe with a Mac, the users must understand what a desktop is, that it has a “Preferences” and how to get to that “Preferences” via “System Preference”. First of all, he is wrong in this particular example. Right-click on Desktop give you a pop-up menu with “Change Desktop Background…” as one of the available choice, the same way Windows does not. More important is the fact that average Windows users do need to know what a computer is. I know. In the Unix course I have the “misfortune” to lecture, I have to start by destroying my attendees’ view of a computer from Windows view point. Being medical students, most of my attendee will not bother to figure out what a computer is. However, their daily contact with Windows do means they subconsciously acquired Windows’ view of a computer. In fact, I believe one of the reason why Kermedec made this argument is that he did not realize that subconsciously, he actually learned about the computer from a Windows view point.

One problem with Kermedec’s view is that while everyone must start as a first-time user, we all graduate to average-joe user eventually. Proportion-wise, at least in reasonably developed countries, average-joes outnumbers first-time users massively. Hence, if design for the mass is your aim, then a computer should be designed for the average-joe, and average joes do knows about basic things about computer, such as desktop.

Personally, I think Mac’s UI design is better, even for the average joe. Let’s address the harder problems with computers first: How many times do you have to install a new piece of hardware, install software, configure your settings, the things that Kermedec argued is easier in Windows? Once in a blue moon. Moreover, the gap between the ease of installing software/hardware on Windows and Macs are narrowing by the day.

Most users, like me, simply use the default desktop given to me by the operating system, Windows or Mac. Hence, a comparison of both UI must assume that we are using the default desktop provided by the operating system. We must also stress that what average joe want is a computer that makes it easy to perform day-to-day tasks such as word processing, reorganizing files etc. I will argue that here is where Mac excels. Example: Which is more user friendly? A click-move-click (Either the fail-safe “Start”->Programs->Microsoft Words, or selecting Microsoft Words from your “Recently Used Applications” list) on Windows or simply click on the Pages icon? I submit the latter is easier.

The biggest piece of hardware that users have to handle nowadays are USB devices, be it digital camera connections or USB memory stick. Inserting them into your computer, Mac or Windows, and use them is easy: Just insert them. Now comes the rub: removing them from the computer. With a Mac, click the eject button besides your USB device in Finder Windows, or, drag the icon representing your device from the desktop to the Trash Can, which is now redrawn into an “eject” icon. With windows, it is searching for the proper icon on system tray, clicking on it and navigate several dialog box. Which is a better design for day-to-day jobs then?

Does Mac UI design has a flaw? Yes. While things you do day-to-day is readily available to you and with less-clicks needed than its Windows’ equivalent, if you want to customize applications, it is harder. Try getting iTunes to rip your CD into MP3 and you will find that the option is hidden behind several layers of menu in an obscure way. Being a software guy myself, I think this has more to do with the fact that Steve Jobs don’t want you to change those options.

David Morgenstern disagree that Windows UI is better design. He believes Windows dominant position is not driven by UI but other factors. This may be true but does not forward the discussion. However, he brings in the design guidelines from Apple and Windows. That’s invaluable to the discussion. The fact that Mac listed specific steps and Windows simply list a set of philosophy makes designing UI correctly for Mac easier and unambiguous for Mac. With Windows, there is still a question of interpretation. This distinction is important for poor chaps like me who have to make decisions on the UI.


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