Why I do not like Apple computers and Mac OS X

Since a few months, I got an Apple Powerbook Pro from my employer. It’s not one of those new Intel based machines, but it still has a G4 1.5 Ghz PowerPC processor, and 1 GB of RAM and it runs Mac OX 10.4 Tiger. This is my first Mac. Before, I always worked with DOS, Windows and Linux.

Mac fans always say it’s the best and most intuitive OS on the market today. I do not agree with this opinion at all, as I found some things in Mac OS X very unintuitive compared to Windows, KDE and Gnome desktops.

Let’s take for example the dock. When you have several instances of the same application open (e.g. different terminal windows), you have to click for a second on the icon, to get the list of all open instances. I only discovered this by accident. I think the Windows, KDE and Gnome way, to automatically show the list of open instances when you click normally on the item in the taskbar, is much more natural. I have the impression that Exposé is actually only a “hack” to fix this unintuiveness: actually, in KDE and Gnome I never felt the need for somethiing like Exposé, and I do not miss it at all when I’m back in Linux from a Mac OS X session.

About Exposé itself: actually it was not intuitive to find. I had to search on the web to actually learn how I could activate it. If I had never read about it before on the Internet, maybe I would not even have discovered it. Same with the show desktop functonality, which was much harder to find that in KDE and Gnome, which have a visible button on the panel to activate it. Another functionality which I often use in KDE and Gnome is locking my session. Again, I had to search on the web how I could get a similar functionality in Mac OS X, as there is no such option in the menus.

When you close certain application windows, the window is closed, but the application stays active in memory, and are not remove from the dock. To close them completely, you have to close them by using the top level menu. I think this is strange too, as people could be surprised that over some time, their system becomes slower and slower, because applications they started once, are still eating up memory.

Typical Mac OS X browsers (Safari and Camino) have the habbit of saving all files (such as PDF files) on the desktop. It’s extremely annoying, because after an hour of web browsing, my desktop is cluttered with files which do not interest my anymore. And did you know that tabbed browsing in Safari, is actually a configurable option, which is disactivated by default?

Installing software is sometimes confusing too. Sometimes you get a real installer program like you have in Windows, where you choose the drive where you want to install, and several options. Other times, you get an image which contains the application which you just have to drag to the Applications folder. And sometimes it contains a complete directory, which has to be dragged to Applications. Especially the difference between these last two cases is not always clear. I already ended up just copying the application executable, while in fact I had to copy the whole directory to Applications. And in the beginning, I just had the downloaded image file on my desktop and started the application from the mounted image. I did not even know that I had to copy it to drag the executable file to Applications.

Actually I think Mac OS X also lacks a nice application menu. Most of the time, I end up starting applications by typing their name in Spotlight or Quicksilver (which of course means you have to know the application’s name first), but then again I prefer just browsing a standard, well structured application menu like in KDE and Gnome. I see the fact that things like Spotlight and QuickSilver are must haves to launch applications in Mac OS X, as a proof that things are not that well organised by default.

And what annoys me the most of all: the keyboard. Apple keyboards use a lay-out which is not completely the same as normal PC keyboards. Especially the Belgian keyboards are a disaster. A lot of special characters used in a console (for example: { } | @ ^ [ ] ~ ), have to be called with the Alt-Gr key on normal Belgian PC keyboards. Most of these characters, do not even appear at all on a Belgian Apple keyboard! To type a | on a Belgian Apple keyboard, you have to type Ctrl+Alt+l. {, [, } and ] can also be typed with some key combinations with Ctrl, Alt ( and ). And the ~? I don’t even know yet how to type this one. The keyboard on my Powerbook does not have a Delete key, it only has a Backspace key. And I learned that in my preferred shell (which is iTerm, as the default Apple Terminal does not seem to have tabs), it sometimes worked as a Delete key instead of a Backspace key. With some Googling, I could change this. Another problem in iTerm was that the Alt key was not working like I expected in irssi, so again I had to google how to change that. And now the best of all: since I fixed the behaviour of the Alt key for irssi, the special combinations like Ctrl-Alt-l to get the pipe symbol | does not work anymore in iTerm! *Sigh*… And knowing that on a normal PC (either Windows or Linux) all this works out of the box without any configuration…

So most of the time I use Linux on my Apple machine where I have configured my keyboard as a classic PC keyboard (also not a perfect solution, as I have to type all these special characters blind now). Unfortunately not a lot of distributions do support PowerPC anymore these days, such as my preferred distro Mandriva. I installed Ubuntu, but only shortly after my installation, Ubuntu also decided not to officially support PowerPC anymore. It will continue to live as long as the community maintains it. I guess Debian will be my best bet in the future…

4 thoughts on “Why I do not like Apple computers and Mac OS X

  1. To be fair, a lot of these problems are due to what you’re accustomed to (keyboard, dock vs. task bar, menu). And some are not just Apple – tilde (~] is hardly convenient on a French ISO keyboard (AltGr + 2), whereas on a U.S. ISO keyboard it’s a shift combination (shared with bar |). Both of those are arguably more technical/less needed in everyday life. But I agree, they are still annoyances when you’re coming from a Windows/Intel PC background!

    I think that it’s important to remember that a lot of expectations are learned – just like the layout of the keyboard. If you started with Mac, the ISO keyboard of the same locale seems weird; ISO keyboards adapted the original PC keyboard, which adapted the typewriter keyboard. And we all know how much of a layered hack-on-hack that is! The Mac keyboard is modeled on the original, which intentionally tried to abandon or hide less-used keys (per locale) and even the cursor keys. For better or for worse, thet’s what they’ve stayed with. Fortunately, desktop users aren’t so constrained thanks to everyone using USB (in part thanks to Apple’s iMac, but arguably inevitable since Intel was behind it).

    Apple users are taught to think of tasks = app, not necessarily window. So the dock makes more sense (switch to app, then window within app) than if you have the mindset “I want to switch to window x”.

    Similarly, while the loss of the Apple menu is lamented (which was actually the basis for the Windows menu, then copied by KDE and Gnome), the intent was to push people to use a folder (Applications). And you can imagine that regular Mac users don’t think it’s odd that they find their apps there (though that doesn’t mean that they don’t use alternative means – aliases on dock, desktop or something else like Quicksilver).

    Anyway, enough pedantry from me. :-) I just think it’s important to remember that, for all the infrastructure differences, Linux desktops are much closer to Windows. Apple has tried to keep its OS/desktop unique (but learnable), maybe for marketing maybe for more altruistic reasons. Linux DE’s and Windows seem to be more focused on basing concepts on the Windows 95/98 experience (no negative connotation intended). So it’s natural that you’d feel more comfortable switching between Windows and Linux than either of those and the Mac OS.

    BTW, I’m a Windows :-( and Linux user. So read my “pro-Mac” comments in that light. I just think it’s very important to remember that “intuitive” is a very relative and loaded term. Everything is based on learned behavior, and ease-of-use is relative to what we already know.

  2. Grr. Looks like the commenting engine didn’t expect multi-paragraph replies like mine. :-( Sorry about they huge paragraph.

  3. I’m in a remarkably similar position to Frederik, even down to the Belgian keyboard (BTW ~ = Apple+N – seems like a spanish connection).

    But what makes me impressed with my Macbook is the integration of the apps. Sure you can burn a playlist from Amarok using k3b but it goes much deeper with the Mac. It also has some nice set up features – it found the non standard outgoing port that AOL mail uses for example.

    The fact that the video editing software works (unlike kenlive IMHO) is a real bonus for me, and it restarts after closing the cover; and it finds and almost completely correctly detects my LCD scree in the living room….

    And one day it will enable me to buy films and TV series. But that’s also its week point as it wont work with any Windows DRM content – of which there is much more in Belgium. Many Linux users see the incompatibility with DRMS as a virtue but the fact that the leading DRMs are integrated with the leading operating systems looks to me a long term source of concern.

  4. I know how you feel, because almost a year ago I was exactly in the same situation.
    But if you have the patience to learn and to add some extra applications, probably in the end you’ll feel more at home in OS X than in any other OS.
    Example: use some applet which will show an application menu. I use TigerLaunch, but there are others, like Butler, wich has plenty of features.

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