Should I Give Paul Thurrott This Much Attention?

I don’t know why I continue to read Paul Thurrott’s work. Maybe it’s because he’s pretty reliable when it comes to Microsoft news. Change the subject to Apple, though, and he gets a little weird. It’s like watching an arms race between him and Steve Jobs to see who can develop the next, most powerful Reality Distortion Field.

I don’t click through to his SuperSite Blog often, so I’m a bit late on this, but I couldn’t resist picking apart his reaction to a PC World column on “missing” features in Windows.

Witness the Paul Thurrott RDF in action:

1. Expose
Expose is just next-generation window switching. Yawn.
2. Virtual Workspaces
Actually, this has been built into Windows forever, it’s just that Microsoft never felt the need to build a UI to access it. With Windows XP, you can download a free PowerToy to expose this feature.

Here, we see one of Paul’s most well-worn tropes: “The feature exists. What more do you want?” Well, Paul, we want a feature that doesn’t just exist, but works well enough to rely on. Expose works because it presents the maximum amount of information with a minimum amount of user effort. Cliched metaphor time. Think of each window as a sheet of paper on your desk. Vista’s taskbar thumbnails are like 1″ square Post-It note reductions of your papers. Good luck reading them. Flip3D takes all your papers and stacks them up, expecting you to riffle through them to find what you’re looking for. (XP has neither of those.) Expose spreads your papers out, and shrinks them only enough to fit them on your desk. Everything’s more legible, and Apple did a pretty good job of maintaining spatial continuity, so a window in Expose view is close to where it is at full size.

The less said about Windows’ “virtual desktops”, the better. Over-engineered to a fault, Microsoft didn’t give them a UI because they actually interfere with your work. And the PowerToy isn’t supported on Vista anyway. If a feature is there, and the people who put it there don’t want you to use it, does it really exist? Spaces wins this in a walkover.

5. Time Machine
Actually, this was copied from a Windows feature called “Volume Shadow Copy” that debuted in 2003. Apple just put a pretty UI on it.

Paul, you need to learn the difference between version control (which is what VSC really is) and a backup. True backups are never stored on the same physical device.

Paul also reduces the value of a feature to its mere existence again. Real backups on Windows are a pain in the ass. With Time Machine, you plug in an external hard drive, respond “Yes” when Mac OS asks if you want to use that drive for backups, and you’re done. Time Machine works because it makes backups so preposterously easy, you have no excuse for not doing it.

6. ISO Burning
There are so many free ISO utilities out there, this one isn’t even worth discussing. That said, how many normal human beings ever run into ISOs? Really?

This falls into the category of “You don’t need it until you need it.” (Yogi Berra would approve.) With Mac OS and Linux, it’s there. With Windows, it’s time to google “iso burner windows”, and hope the one you download doesn’t suck. And while you’re waiting for it to download, you can grumble about how you have to download what other operating systems provide out of the box.

7. Stickies
8. Podcast Capture
Yes, he just said Windows needed “stickies” and “podcast capture.” You know, for those 17 guys that would use either feature.

OK, podcast recording is a fair cop. Apple is gilding the lily there. Paul, don’t you think its a little bit condescending, though, to say that just because you don’t need stickies, nobody else would ever use that feature? I could use a 2nd Dashboard just for stickies. (OK, really, I need to replace those stickies with Yojimbo, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Let me write a sticky…)

9. Software Repositories
I guess I’d argue that Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace pretty much covers this, especially the amazing (and under-reported) Digital Locker feature.

Linux: “Here’s a central management tool for all the packages that make up your system, from the OS to major apps to trivial utilities. It will find, download, install, and update everything automatically.”

Microsoft: “Buy this stuff.”

10. Desktop Cube
Dude. You did not just list a single graphical effect as a feature Windows lacks. Oh yes you did.

Poor example on Robert Strohmeyer’s part, but it does illustrate how animation, when used properly, can be informative to the user. Going back to Spaces, you can see the spatial relationship between each row and/or column in your workspace without zooming out to the overview map. When you use the Ctrl+Arrow key shortcuts to navigate spaces, you can see windows slide in and out of your view in the proper direction, as though you’re moving a camera that hovers over your desktop. Vista would probably have some weird fade-in/fade-out effect, like the current open/close animations, if it had virtual desktops.

11. Application Dock
The most horrible feature ever foisted on Mac OS X users. Look: It holds permanent shortcuts and links to currently running programs and some other stuff. It’s a UI disaster.

And it still manages to be better than Windows’ everything-in-one-hierarchical-pile Start Menu. Vista’s type-to-search feature is a little better, but it’s still a pale shadow of Quicksilver.

16. POSIX Compliance
In NT from day one. Dropped due to lack of interest and shipping separately.

When nobody wanted it, it was there, but half-baked. Now that it’s desirable, it’s sold separately. Perfect timing.

17. Standardized Menu Ribbon
No offense, but this is an age-old debate between Windows and Mac UIs. No one cares anymore. They’re just different.

Xerox PARC understood Fitts’ Law. Apple figured it out for the original Mac OS. The Amiga team got it. So did DR in GEM. GNOME still gets it.

Microsoft won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

All in all, Paul, you missed Strohmeyer’s original point: We shouldn’t have to download or purchase any of these things separately. These are things that could have gone into Vista. They probably should go into Seven, though I doubt they will.

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