TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Dec 99 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Viewpoint

by Kas Thomas

In the Mac world, it's taken as axiomatic that the Mac user experience is better - in every way that counts - than the Windows user experience, and that the Mac, as a platform, offers performance that is all-around superior to Wintel offerings. There is some truth, of course, to the latter statement. But, the former proposition (that the Mac user experience is superior to the next-best alternative) needs critical reexamination.

It's time for us to stand back and ask ourselves how much better the Mac user experience really is. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll say: "Not much."

A visitor from Mars who landed on earth right now would take a look at a Mac computer and a Wintel machine and pronounce them pretty much the same. They both show colorful icons on a desktop. They both coax weird noises out of little speakers. And they both have bloated operating systems that serve up frighteningly arcane error messages from time to time or allow the machine to freeze up altogether.

The user experience offered by a Mac was, at one time, significantly different from - and better than - the computing experience offered by The Other Guys. But, in the past decade, dedifferentiation has caught up with the Mac OS. Apple has missed some important opportunities to maintain its lead in OS design, and it's starting to hurt.

One area where the Mac could clearly redefine the computing experience is in "instant-on" booting. The Mac now goes a step in this direction by offering an enhanced "sleep" mode for desktop machines, to give non-PowerBook users the illusion of an instant-on/no-wait boot process. All well and good. Now Apple should go a step further and try to reduce - not by seconds, but by minutes - the time required for a cold boot of a worst-case machine (i.e., one loaded with the most popular four or five dozen extensions and drivers). Has no one in Cupertino found it ironic that one of the hottest shareware System Extensions on the World Wide Web right now is Marc Moini's Startup Doubler, which cuts Mac cold-boot times roughly in half?

The fact that Startup Doubler has gone double-platinum is telling. It means Apple has work to do.

A more important question, perhaps, is why anyone should ever have to reboot a machine in the first place. An operating system that lets a process (or a user) get so out of control that the host machine crashes, freezes, or goes off into deep space is - some would say - not much of an operating system. There are computer users in the Unix world who literally can't remember the last time their machines locked up, because it's such a rare event. And yet Apple still ships boxes that (let's be honest) regularly lock up or zone out. Isn't this (once again) genuinely Windows-like behavior? Does Apple really want to be associated with this sort of thing any longer?

But, even if we grant that occasionally - however rarely - a machine is bound to encounter a deep error condition of some kind, does that really mean we should have to reboot the machine? Shouldn't there be some kind of sophisticated shadow-caching of the machine's overall state so that when a supposedly unrecoverable condition is entered, the user can back out of it by escaping to a previously known-good state? What's so impossible about that?

Snappier overall performance at the OS level is another issue that needs attention. The Mac OS has gotten sluggish over the years, a trend that began in 1990 with System 7. (Again, not coincidentally, this trend has floated a flotilla of bestselling Bandaidware utilities with "Doubler" in the name.) Much of the latency involved in launching Finder processes is, of course, due to hard disk action. Here's another area where Steve could rock people's perceptions - by getting rid of built-in hard disks.

Everything that's done now on hard disks can be done much faster on virtual (RAM) disks. For data protection, RAMdisk contents would be continuously (and automatically) written to the Internet (i.e., to personal or corporate FTP sites). This would require a constant 24/7 net hookup, of course. Those who don't yet have such amenities could, of course, buy inexpensive backup storage in the form of CD-R, DVD, or (yes) old-fashioned IDE drives.

The only legit technical objection, it seems to me, to using DRAM as default storage would be cost. But, think what a unilateral decision by Apple to use DRAM for data storage would do to DRAM prices! (Can anyone say 'USB'?)

Soon it may actually be feasible just to write one's backup data to a Cisco backbone, a "ping network," or a satellite uplink. Not to any given medium, mind you - not to the nodes at either end of the backbone, but to the backbone itself. Not to the satellite, but to the space between the earth and the satellite. Imagine that you could fire data skyward at a rate of 100 megahertz (which is certainly feasible; that's in the low FM band). Suppose there is a one-second roundtrip time to the satellite. If you were to write continuously to the sky, there would always be 100 megabits of your data in transit - 100 megabits in storage. To retrieve any part of it, just wait for the part you want, and grab it. (The reader is left to prove that the average "seek time" would be 500 msec.)

Apple has done a good job over the years - maybe a bit too good - of "polishing pixels" in the ever-precious Mac operating system, even going to the trouble of adding a Pixel Polish Manager (I believe the politically correct name is Appearance Manager) to the OS. No question about it, we have the shiniest pixels.

But, it's time to recognize that meaningful progress in operating systems no longer has the slightest thing to do with widget design, dialog appearances, contextual menus, personalization, Login by Voice Recognition, or (God help us) balloon help.

What the world could use right now is a personal supercomputer that comes on like a light bulb, has zero hard-disk latency, and never locks up.

Let's hope the Other Guys don't do it first.

 
AAPL
$100.89
Apple Inc.
-0.65
MSFT
$45.01
Microsoft Corpora
-0.17
GOOG
$577.86
Google Inc.
-2.34

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BBEdit 10.5.12 - Powerful text and HTML...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
Microsoft Office 2011 14.4.4 - Popular p...
Microsoft Office 2011 helps you create professional documents and presentations. And since Office for Mac 2011 is compatible with Office for Windows, you can work on documents with virtually anyone... Read more
TextWrangler 4.5.10 - Free general purpo...
TextWrangler is the powerful general purpose text editor, and Unix and server administrator's tool. Oh, and also, like the best things in life, it's free. TextWrangler is the "little brother" to... Read more
BitTorrent Sync 1.4.72 - Sync files secu...
BitTorrent Sync allows you to sync unlimited files between your own devices, or share a folder with friends and family to automatically sync anything. File transfers are encrypted. Your information... Read more
Cyberduck 4.5.2 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Tinderbox 6.0.3 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 15.1.0 - Profess...
Photoshop CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Photoshop customer). Photoshop CS6 is still available for purchase (... Read more
Adobe InDesign CC 2014 10.0.0.70 - Profe...
InDesign CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InDesign customer). InDesign CS6 is still available for purchase (... Read more
Adobe InCopy CC 2014 10.0.0.70 - Create...
InCopy CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InCopy customer). InCopy CS6 is still available for purchase (without a... Read more
Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 18.0 - Profess...
Illustrator CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Illustrator customer). Illustrator CS6 is still available for... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

8bit Doves (Games)
8bit Doves 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: “I dove it” – Pocket Gamer “They told me I could be whatever I want, so I became a flying hobo” – Cactus Wolf “Let’s you crash into... | Read more »
Madden NFL Mobile Review
Madden NFL Mobile Review By Blake Grundman on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FINALLY GETS IT RIGHTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It looks like EA Sports has finally discovered how to tread the line between free-to-... | Read more »
Superhero Workout Review
Superhero Workout Review By Jennifer Allen on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SUPERCHARGEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Want a workout with a kind of story tied into it? Superhero Workout is what you’re after.   | Read more »
Star Wars: Commander Review
Star Wars: Commander Review By Jennifer Allen on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CLASH OF THE FORCEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s a lot like Clash of Clans, but the use of the Star Wars license means you don’t... | Read more »
Ridge Racer Slipstream Update Adds New C...
Ridge Racer Slipstream Update Adds New Cars, Challenges, and Tracks Posted by Ellis Spice on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Infinity Blade III: Kingdom Come, the Fi...
Infinity Blade III: Kingdom Come, the Final Update, Set to Arrive September Posted by Ellis Spice on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Furious Climber Review
Furious Climber Review By Jordan Minor on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: REACH FOR THE STARSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Furious Climber’s rough packaging can’t ruin its awesomely awkward gameplay   | Read more »
Don’t Forget the Milk – Let Heap, the Gr...
Don’t Forget the Milk – Let Heap, the Grocery List App, Help You Stay Organized While Shopping Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
MZR Review
MZR Review By Rob Thomas on August 26th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MAZED AND CONFUSEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad How quickly can you escape from MZR’s neon mazes of doom? Why not find out for yourself?   | Read more »
Take Note – Livescribe Partners with Mol...
Take Note – Livescribe Partners with Moleskine to Make Livescribe Notebooks, Available Now Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 26th, 2014 [ permalink ] Livescribe has announced a partne | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Life Inventory iOS Apps – Learn to Know Thyse...
James Hollender’s Life Inventory apps s are now on sale with 20% off thru Labor Day, 09/01/2014. This is a great opportunity to get started on that Moral Inventory you’ve been putting off doing for... Read more
Pocket Watch, LLC. Reveals Cloud Server For P...
Beaumont, Texas based Pocket Watch, LLC. has announced the availability of its new ActivePrint Cloud Server Powered by Raspberry Pi. With this small standalone box almost any USB printer or available... Read more
902it Simplifies Area Code Changes For Nova S...
The east coast Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are phasing in 10 digit telephone dialing, to be fully in place by November, in order to accommodate a second area code to... Read more
Boomerang iPad Stand Mounts Your iPad Anywher...
Boomerang, a Mountable Stand with Multiple Viewing Angles, is now available for iPad Air. Boomerang combines several functions that aim to expand your iPad’s potential in one, elegant product. The... Read more
Retina MacBook Pros available starting at $10...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available starting at $929. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pros (4GB RAM/... Read more
Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt Display (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 27″ Thunderbolt Displays available for $799 including free shipping. That’s $200 off the cost of new models. Read more
Apple offers free $25 iTunes gift card with p...
The Apple Store is offering a free $25 iTunes Gift Card with the purchase of a $99 Apple TV for a limited time. Shipping is free. Read more
Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion: $100 g...
 Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion includes a free $100 App Store Gift Card with the purchase of any new Mac (Mac mini excluded), or a $50 Gift Card with the purchase of an iPad or iPhone,... Read more
iPhone Camera vs. Top Tier DSLR In Picture Qu...
If you’ve wondered just how good the iPhone 5s’s 8 megapixel rear-facing camera is in terms of image quality, The Verge has posted an excellent feature that should remove any ambiguity on the matter... Read more
Apple Announces Limited iPhone 5 Defective Ba...
Apple says it has determined that a very small percentage of iPhone 5 devices may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The affected iPhone 5 units were sold... Read more

Jobs Board

Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
…customers purchase our products, you're the one who helps them get more out of their new Apple technology. Your day in the Apple Store is filled with a range of Read more
Position Opening at *Apple* - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Being a Business Manager at an Apple Store means you're the catalyst for businesses to discover and leverage the power, ease, and flexibility of Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.