I’m a big «what if» guy, so during my three-year-plus experiment over in the land of Windows, there was one particular «what if» that I couldn’t help thinking about. It went a little something like this: What if you took the few good parts of Windows and merged it with most of the Mac OS? My answer to this particular question was usually, «Man, you’d have one pretty outstanding operating system.»
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So imagine my surprise when I found that someone has done just that, and the operating system in question is Apple’s very own Mac OS X 10.1.
I knew you probably didn’t want to hear that. How dare I even suggest that Windows could have anything to offer our beloved Mac OS? Before you go round up the other angry villagers and light up the torches to storm the castle, hear me out. The fact of the matter is that a few features from Windows have been quietly showing up on the Mac ever since OS 8. Maybe this isn’t the best example, but I remember a lot of hemming and hawing at the introduction of the Platinum interface, with detractors claiming that the Mac OS was beginning to look a lot like Windows 9x. OK, how about some other examples then? Perhaps the Application Switcher? It could be made to look and function like the Windows taskbar. Then there was the Command-Tab shortcut to switch applications. Now add in the shareware and utilities such as GoMac and Kaleidoscope that could make your Mac look and feel even more like Windows, and then you can maybe draw the conclusion that our Windows-locked colleagues maybe had a few relatively OK things going on over there. I’m stopping WAAAAYYY short of stating that Windows was and is a superior OS, but let’s agree to move forward on the assumption that Windows just might have a few useful things built into the interface that are worth making the trip over to our side.
Enter Mac OS X. In the months before X 10.1, I kind of got the feeling that maybe it would end up being my aforementioned dream hybrid OS, but unfortunately the first iterations of OS X were just so stinkin’ slow and ultimately unusable that I couldn’t really be sure. I didn’t have the time or energy to do more than kick the tires a little. Now that we have been collectively blessed with the speed and performance improvements present in X 10.1, I’ve gotten past mere tire kicking and am presently in the midst of trying to run it down to the bare, screeching, fiery rims, perhaps reminiscent of some of those car chases you may have seen on COPS. And coming off years of working with Windows NT, 2000 and (briefly) XP almost exclusively, Mac OS X is the biggest breath of fresh air I could have hoped for. Although the gorgeous and supremely functional (though unfortunately slammed by some) Aqua interface, the trademark Macintosh ease of use and the fact that much of the classic Mac OS workflow has been kept relatively intact are all nice features of OS X, those are some of the things I would have expected Apple to deliver. What I hoped for, but didn’t really expect, is what I actually got: a good number of features I was used to from Windows had made the trip over.
Before I go any further, I want to issue a disclaimer. I’m sure that many of the features I’m about to mention didn’t originally come from the geniuses in Redmond. <sarcasm>Of course, I have absolutely nothing to base that last statement on, since I’m personally not aware of Microsoft ever «borrowing» any technology, much less OS features.</sarcasm> However, I’m quite certain that those of you with experience in Unix, Linux or even Be will recognize some of these features as being lifted by Microsoft from those particular OSes first, but please try to remember that pretty much my only basis for comparison is my experience on Windows, so I’d appreciate holding back on the flame mail.
That said, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite features from Windows that are finally available (and in some cases not only available, but superior) to Mac OS X users:
Minimize. At long last, we have a real minimize function instead of that «hide the app» or «windowshade the individual windows» garbage in pre-X. Any window can now be neatly minimized to the Dock. The genie effect is cool, but one has to wonder how many CPU cycles it happily eats up. Changing it to the scale effect somehow makes me feel better.