Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hardware vs Software

Tech writer Molly Wood on the C|net blog notes that it's one thing to be able to boot Windows on a MacBook or MacBook Pro, it's another thing to be able to use it.


She focuses on the Mac line's lack of a two-button mouse. This isn't quite right. Apple makes the Mighty Mouse, which I have written favorably about in the past and which I still use, even with my Dell laptops. And it's been easy to buy two-button mice that are compatible with the Mac OS for years. These mice are all designed to simulate a control-click gesture (OS X's way of bringing up a contextual menu) when you right-click the mouse. What I think Ms Wood should have said is that the MacBooks - like all of Apple's laptops - have just one button for clicking built in.

Notwithstanding my quibble over her phrasing, I think she is right to point out that this is a problem especially for anyone wanting to run Windows on an Apple laptop. You'd either have to buy a two-button mouse to use with your laptop (perfectly feasible, but certainly not a selling point) or get used to control-clicking all the time. Actually, I assume that control-clicking on a MacBook running Windows simulates the right-click of a mouse, but I am not sure. It did in VirtualPC, but that was done as a software setting for the VirtualPC app. I think it's possible that a real copy of Windows XP running on an Intel MacBook will have no idea what to do with a control-click.

The keyboard is another difference between Macs and PCs that will make it difficult for an experienced PC/Windows user to use Windows on a MacBook more than occasionally. When I tried to use my Apple and Apple-compatible keyboards with my Dell laptops, I found it extremely awkward. The Control, Windows and Alt keys on a PC are not straightforward counterparts of the Control, Command and Option keys on Macs. As you switch from Windows to the Mac OS, for example, you have to stop using Control-key shortcuts and switch to Command-key shortcuts. I just got back from a weekend in which I rented two different vehicles, neither of which shifted like my Isuzu Trooper. Both of the rental vehicles had automatic transmissions, but the Montana minivan had the shift stick on the steering column, while the Jeep Cherokee SUV had the shifter in a console down and to the right, under the radio and A/C controls. I found it rather awkward to move from the minivan to the Jeep and many times turned on my window wipers when I was trying to shift into park. Using the very same keyboard on two different operating systems is awkward in just the same way.

What's the bottom line? I've said already that I do not think many users will want to own dual-boot systems, because most ordinary users can just barely cope with one operating system and the last thing they want from a computer is the whole new dimension of headaches that using yet another operating system will bring. If the software for the Mac OS was really as superior as Mac users think it is - and as I myself thought it was until very recently - then the Mac would have grown its marketshare without dual-boot machines.

(Originally published on Typepad 5/16/2006)

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.