The Mac’s strength is its usability

While “user-friendly” and “Macintosh” have been used together for a long time, it is not the only thing that makes a Macintosh a Macintosh.

Certainly the ease-of-use factor is a big one.

But inherent in the macintosh is a sense of “usablility”. I distinguish this from “user-friendly” and “ease-of-use” because I find that these latter two come from extended periods of learning, despite the concept of “intuitive”.

No, the Macintosh’s strength is its usability.

This means things work the way you think they should work; they show a level of consistency in the way they work; and using the system slows you down as little as possible.

All of these things lead to being both “user-friendly” and “easy to use”, but these two are the results of the Mac’s usability, not the cause of it.

When I see that Mac OS X is “un-Macintosh” I take it to mean that the user interface that has worked—been usable—for many years no longer exists. In Mac OS X, it often means that things that were once usable are no longer useable—or at least the usability has dropped significantly from previous incarnations.

In many cases, it’s tiny things: a huge clock that takes up significant portion of the screen, rather than a small corner; windows whose minimum size are two or three times larger than they were before; a font that is larger than it needs to be for no apparant reason; a lack of control in how the user is able to see their system.

I think of things like people with poor vision. In previous versions of the Mac OS, you could choose a font and size that was appropriate to your needs.

That’s no longer possible.

In many ways, using Mac OS X feels like we’ve stepped into the Way-Back Machine, to a time before many of the problems of previous Mac OS incarnations were not fixed. Why, for example, can you only change the name of a file while in icon mode, not in list or browse mode? The fact that it’s a known issue doesn’t excuse such basic functionality.

Likewise, why is the new Finder so difficult to navigate? In OS 9 and earlier, I could move around the Finder without ever touching a mouse. This didn’t require any command lines or dozens of paths: only the command key, the four arrows and the return key.

Basic things a Mac user with almost any time invested would come to expect.

Like pressing “command-period” to activate the close/cancel button in a dialog box.

Or “command-w” to close a window.

Or dragging and dropping of text.

Sometimes they’re implemented, other times, they’re not. And when they’re not, it’s often in the most unexpected of places, like Apple’s very own applications shipped with the OS.

The interface’s consistency has gone down the drain.

The frustration many people feel is based on not knowing why 16 years of a constantly-improving interface was so unceremoniously shoved by the wayside.

Intel Pentium III ID will fail miserably

Note: This was originally written as a letter to the editor of a newspaper; I don’t recall which. Saving here for posterity.

Dear Editor:

In all of the stories discussing the Intel Pentium III ID feature, one glaring ommission has been made about why this chip will fail miserably: the assumption that one computer equals one user.

The chip’s ID is meant to identify and tie a particular person to a particular computer. Yet there are dozens of situations when someone might access data from different computers, or several people might use one computer. Three ready examples include households that share a single computer amongst husband, wife and kids; school labs where there are dozens, if not hundreds of students per computer; and companies with “hoteling” or shared-cubicle policies, where employees do not have their own offices or computers, but “rent” space and equipment.

How does the Pentium III ensure and provide for a “unique” user under these rather mundane scenarios? It doesn’t.

Intel would have the public belief their new chip provides increased security. In reality, the Pentium III is proof that Intel is desperate to add the semblance of life to a dying chip, and that it is much better at marketing to a customer’s fears than a customer’s needs.