Blog: Secrets from the Chef

First impressions of MacOS, or von Neumann remains von Neumann even in Africa

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
31 January 2007

MacOSAs it happens the New Year found me working on a new computer running MacOS, the operating system previously unfamiliar to me. I can already hear the taunts of my dear colleagues: “What, only now? Where have you been?”. “Why the hell you need it? Are you mad?” — others say. Alas, I have to disappoint you. A story about the reasons for not adopting Mac back in ’95, ’98, 2002 and 2006 along with explanations of why I finally did it will be left outside of this note. Right now my task is to share the first “hot off the press” impressions of working on the new platform. The things that impressed me and those that surprised. Please do not take these notes too seriously. So…

The “jinn” effect of windows being minimized is simply genius! Very nice and it’s just an example of “useful beauty”. Popping icons, windows “crawling out” (for the want of a better word) from the above — such neat nuances creating the right mood. And the “wave” effect makes you spend hours adding and removing widgets just to see the “ripples on water”.


What came as a surprise is the fact that Apple designers, who so meticulously crafted the visual design of the interface, overlooked the appearance of active elements on mouseovers. You can scroll around the screen all you want — not a single button would get backlit prompting: “You can push me”. The designers must be thinking that the realistic caramel view of the buttons is a good prompt by itself. However, I found one exception: Apple Mail toolbar.

Apple Mail toolbar

The system’s instant response to changes of any settings was impressive. No “Apply” buttons either! Rummaging through the settings, I was slightly surprised by the archaic system of saving files in applications. It turns out that in order to have this text, written in TextEdit, saved for the ancestors I must go File > Save, just like in those old MS DOS text editors. My mind kept telling me that this is the way it should be (at least for right now) but subconsciously I still expected something more humane as in System Preferences dialogs. It seemed like I did my job — wrote the text — what more saving do I have to do? Cannot the computer take care of the files, hard drives and other stuff by itself? Alas, be it MacOS, Windows, Linux or even BeOS, a computer is still a computer, and a man is forced to adapt to its logic. As one of my friends used to say: “Von Neumann remains von Neumann even in Africa”.

At the same time I was surprised by the scarce navigation elements in the Finder and System Preferences not answering the main user’s question: “Where am I?”. It appears to me that the designers’ desire to simplify the interface lead them too far, they flushed the water (visual noise) together with the baby (the usual “crumbs”). Column view mode is a partial remedy here (but it’s hard to use it continuously) along with the Path button found in the attic (alas, to find out the path to the current folder, you have to push it).

Path button

Dock was impressive. Unlike Windows Start with the Taskbar, Dock shows icons of loaded and unloaded applications in one pile, so the user is not worried about which everyday applications are running and which are not (running applications are marked with a small triangle below). When used in combination with application close button with unusual behavior (it closes the window without unloading the application) this solution, strange as it may seem, reminded me of Windows Mobile. This also lead to a brain reform, so that I don’t have to worry about which applications are currently running but to access those that I need at this moment. And this feels right, this is humane.


However, I was surprised not to have a unified list of all open windows similar to Windows Taskbar. “What about the magical Expose?” — Mac addicts would frantically argue. A window can be minimized to Dock or simply hidden. Minimized and hidden windows are not displayed by Expose. Thus, every time I am looking for a “lost” window, I have to remember whether I previously minimized or hid this window. In the first case the window will be found in the right part of Dock (alas, a passing glance would not help finding it — the iconic images of windows look the same and their names are revealed only on mouseovers), and in the second case I would have to click the icon of respective application in Dock. Of course, Windows Taskbar is not as showy as Expose but one can always find the required window in it.

To be honest with you I have to say that you can get the list of all windows of an application (including hidden) by right-clicking its icon in Dock. It is essentially similar to the Taskbar with enabled grouping option. But, first, in Windows I always turn this irritating option off — it’s far better without it. And, secondly, damn it, MacBooks’ Trackpads do not feature the right button!

Dock menu

But regardless of all the above, Expose is impressive. However, this function would unlikely be so effective and intuitive if the main windows were occupying the whole screen. The inability (with rare exceptions) to open a window full screen seemed to be surprising the most. I understand the logic of the developers: clearly a window needs to occupy as much screen space as necessary and not a pixel more. However, I would prefer that applications could adapt to my screen’s resolution and use all the available space for my benefit without having other windows and junk sticking out from behind. On many occasions I used to switch to other applications when trying to grab the current window’s frame to stretch it.

These are my first impressions of MacOS. I had them recorded in a hurry believing that my perception of the abovementioned issues may change a month from now. As far as I know there is no effective cure out there against the Mac-bacillus. It hits you right in your brain. But I will do my best resisting it to remain as objective as possible in this respect.

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‘MacBooks’ Trackpads do not feature the right button!’

Actually they do, but you might need to enable the feature. Go to System Preferences> Keyboard & Mouse> Trackpad & check the ‘Tap trackpad using two fingers for secondary click’ option. Then as it says, tap 2 fingers on the trackpad for right click :)

Reply Jono, 31 January 2007

Welcome to Mac! I look forward to reading about why you didn’t switch before and also more about how you feel about it now.

FYI, the Macbooks do have a right mouse button, it’s just hidden on the keyboard. Hold down the Control button and then click. It’s a modifier key that works on desktop Macs too.

Reply Martin at Switch Blog, 31 January 2007

Jono, thank you for the advice! Anyway, I don’t understand why Apple sticks to one-button mouse.

Martin, thank you for the link!

Reply yegor, 4 February 2007

At the same time I was surprised by the scarce navigation elements in the Finder and System Preferences not answering the main user’s question: “Where am I?”.

[VJ]: Press AppleKey + . You’ll know where you are :-)
And this thing works not only with finder but many other standard apple apps like XCode etc.

And trust me, with mac, there is no going back to windows ;-)

Reply VJ, 14 February 2007

VJ, I want to know where I am without pressing any additional keys! Breadcrumbs is a nice idea.

Reply yegor, 20 February 2007

After some influence from our designers, I switched as well. I’m really happy that I did, too. So far it has been a great experience and the switch was painless. Your points about the “Where am I?” issue was difficult for me as well. I was used to some common features in Windows that I eventually figured out via shortcuts and just getting an idea of the patterns in the interface.

Good luck with it. I also went out and bought a Macbook after I experienced my iMac 24″, so I converted quickly :)

Reply Chris Nagele, 14 March 2007

Chris, thank you! :)

Reply yegor, 21 March 2007

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