Mac changes spots - TechCentral

Mac changes spots

By Duncan McLeod

Apple is introducing new features to its Mac OS X operating system that sometimes appear somewhat counterintuitive and are slowly driving this writer to consider alternatives.

I admit I was a reluctant convert to Apple, but switched to the Mac platform with the release of Mac OS X 10.5, better known by its code name, “Leopard”. The software was blazingly fast, stable and easy to use, even for someone used to Microsoft Windows and, before that, the open-source Ubuntu Linux.

Windows Vista — then Microsoft’s most current operating system — was far from a great leap forward from 2001’s Windows XP. The software maker delivered Vista two years late and yet it was replete with problems with software drivers and other annoying bugs.

I wanted a change, and Leopard, coupled with Apple’s great computer hardware in the form of the all-in-one desktop, the iMac, and its super-sexy laptops — the unibody aluminium MacBook and MacBook Pro lines were new on the market at the time — convinced me to switch to the other side of the platform (and ideological) fence.

Like many converts, I loved the change. For the most part, the Mac just worked. And it even ran Microsoft Office, though not offering the same broad feature set available in the Windows versions. An iPhone and iPad tablet were next on the shopping list.

Until as recently as last year, I had even considered switching my home and office environment exclusively to Apple hardware. Like many people, I was slowly being subsumed into the fruity ecosystem, drawn in by the ease of use of the software and the way the Apple software integrates seamlessly across devices.

Now, however, I am having second thoughts, for two main reasons: Apple is making it hard for me to continue loving the Mac desktop and the upcoming alternatives are looking more compelling than they have in years.

Snow Leopard’s successor, Mac OS X 10.7, or Lion, released last year, broke many of the things I’d come to love about previous versions. Apple shunted many of the features that made the iPad such a compelling proposition into its desktop operating system. For example, in a counterintuitive move it reversed the default scrolling direction on its trackpads.

So, instead of swiping two fingers down to move through a document, users were encouraged instead to gesture up to scroll down. It works well on the iPad but doesn’t feel natural on a computer. At least it could be switched back to the old default way of working. Other default behaviour, such as swiping four fingers up to show the desktop, were changed and made more difficult, with no option for users to change the new default.

Other features, such as Launchpad, an icon-based view of favourite apps, and full-screen apps, are also ideas inspired by the iPad. I know few people who use either. Apple’s iMac and MacBook lines are not tablets and, in this writer’s opinion, shouldn’t be made to behave like tablets. But the company appears intent on shoehorning yet more iPad-style features into Mac OS X with its upcoming update to Lion, called Mountain Lion, announced this week.

Microsoft, of course, is also rewriting Windows, with its new Metro user interface, to be more touch and tablet friendly. Early previews of the software look promising, but it’s far from clear how well Metro, with its tile-driven interface, will work on PCs driven by mice and keyboards. We’ll get a clearer picture at the end of this month when Microsoft releases its first broad consumer preview of the operating system.

My fervent hope is that Microsoft won’t mimic Apple and try to turn my PC into something it isn’t.

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