During my recent trip to Las Vegas, I went to the Apple Store for the all-night Tiger OS X launch party. There were individual stations all over the store relating to Dashboard, QuickTime, Automator, iChat and Spotlight where the resident Apple geniuses were explaining the new features to the customers.
The iChat conference mode was interesting. I liked the fact that you could drag a file onto a person’s video feed to send it to them. I liked the PDF features and fast searching with Spotlight. The Dashboard Weather Widget wasn’t working (why did they keep trying to demo this one if it didn’t work?).
I absolutely love QuickTime 7 with the new H.264 features. Is there a better piece of cross-platform media software?
Did I mention that Tiger is beautiful to look at? But aesthetics are only part of what computer users need from an OS. We need easier and seamless functionality, diversity, easy cross-platform exchanges. And we need things to just plain work.
When I upgraded my wife’s iMac to Panther from OS 9.2 and plain vanilla OS X , I followed all the upgrade instructions to the letter. The wizard that the manual told me would pop up and help me through the installation never appeared. Many of her mailboxes and other settings from Outlook Express never made it over to Mail. (Mail is another story altogether. Why aren’t more import/export capabilities built in, rather than having to rely on external scripts for simple functions? Note to Apple…make it easier for people to switch.)
Computers aren’t supposed to be like this. They’re supposed to help us save time and organize our lives. The promise they held out to us many years ago has never been fully realized. Many of us are slaves to our machines, some of us happily, but let’s admit, it’s really become a hobby, and an addictive one at that. So we tell ourselves that we’re really into computing for all the joy and order it brings us, but we’re all slaves to the constant file maintenance, housekeeping, upgrades, etc…
Don’t get me wrong, the power that computing and the internet has given us is immense. It’s changed society, politics, social life, communications. Every aspect of our lives has been radically changed, mostly for the better. But when all of us geeks start pontificating about computers, we need to remember that we love them and put up with them not only because it’s our livelihood but also because we’ve consciously made a serious commitment despite the drain on our time and energy.
The Macintosh used to be known as “the computer for the rest of us”. Today, its interface and software are arguably much harder for a new user to grasp than it used to be. The intuitiveness that was its strongest point seems neglected. Of course, along with great power (which the Macintosh has in spades) comes complexity but I still think the Mac trends away from the “less is more” approach that new users need in order to have them rely on the computer as a daily tool. When OS X first debuted I really wanted it to be great, I wanted it to be the OS that would lead me back to into the Apple fold. But it didn’t happen. OS X made me turn away even more. If Apple wants to bring more customers into the fold, whether new users or “switchers”, they need to concentrate on the core beliefs that enabled them to become “the computer for the rest of us” many years ago.
I still like my iPod though.