(UPDATE 8/29/2007: Dude, I got a Mac!)
I was the butt of many jokes at South by Southwest this year, and the majority of them revolved around one thing: I was consistently the only one in any conversation who was a bona fide Windows user. I kid you not, the ribbing was relentless. I simply could not live it down.
Alissa Walker even name dropped me on Unbeige, where she couldn’t resist identifying me as “PC User”! Twice!
At one point (during the same thrilling conversation described by Alissa above) I defended myself by pointing out that Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall recently wrote a rationalization of why he, a Windows user, would likely remain a Windows user despite the fact that he is pefectly aware of the superiority of the Mac. To which Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber pointed out that, in fact, Josh Marshall had recanted only four days later and bought a Mac.
Sean Coon handed me his Powerbook for maybe ten seconds while he pulled something out of his backpack. I held it in my hands and felt its warmth; I sensed it talking to all the other Macs in the room, even reaching out across the web. Something just felt right about it. I began to picture myself owning a Mac.
Peeking over people’s shoulders, over and over again I saw Mac applications doing stuff that I’ve never seen Windows apps do. Niche programs with inventive user interfaces and out-of-left-field feature sets. Features not just to solve problems or to fill gaps, but to enable excellence and efficiency. I started to get the feeling that by using Windows+Outlook as my cheif computing and communications platform I have been depriving myself of exposure to a variety of really interesting and inspiring applications and interface designs.
As an interface designer, I sometimes wonder if the operating system I use affects how I think about interface design. I suspect that Windows tends to make me focus on inventing new ways to solve UI problems because I run into so many of them all the time (and because Windows is immensely customizable). It’s an enviroment that (okay, I’m being generous here) encourages innovation by presenting both obstructions and opportunities to fix them yourself.
But it seems to me that using a Mac may have a very different effect: encouraging innovation through inspiration. The apps I’ve seen for the Mac (those that aren’t just Windows ports) seem to have a lot of UI solutions I’ve never seen on a PC. It reminds me that I should be solving problems for my clients and for my projects, not for my operating system.
Like a naturalist observing wild animals in their habitat, I’m starting to see that there are evolutionary relationships between some contemporary web design trends and Mac OS application design trends. Many of the aforementioned inspirational Mac apps bear a strong resemblance, both visually and philosophically, with some of the more interesting Web 2.0 apps and services seen out in the wild.
- Mac apps tend towards solving one problem at a time, not all problems at once.
- They leverage other apps that users are likely to have to fill functional gaps and to build on the success of others.
- Macs like to talk to other Macs, and to facilitate more natural communications between people (iChat, for example, is a vast improvement over AIM)
- Mac apps embrace standards
I’ll soon be doing more field studies and introspection — and some hand-wringing — and I’ll be submitting further reports as they develop…