Intuitive interfaces and reality

We were down visiting my father last Sunday. He was asking about Google–he’s 96 and has an iMac (“the kids” agreed on a Mac because my brother, who uses them by preference, would clearly be the one to set it up and get it working), but doesn’t use it intensively–so I offered to show him a couple of searches and the significance of what you get back.

And quickly discovered that the wonderfully intuitive and wholly natural interface of the Mac is wonderfully intuitive and wholly natural after you’ve learned to use it–and that, for an experienced Windows user, it is about as intuitive as AACR2.

Click on the browser. Nope, that doesn’t open the ISP. Click on AOL. Then click on the browser. Right-click to…oops, no right mouse button… Anyway, I managed to do a search and show him what I wanted to show him. Then I wanted to shut down. Geez, that was loads of fun. Eventually, we managed to get it turned off. I’m sure “Special” is intuitively the label under which you’d expect “Stop,” where putting Stop on a Start menu (like a light switch) has been roundly denounced for being counterintuitive.

And I know that it’s really a bad thing to be able to do something four different ways, as is convenient or habitual, instead of the One True Way that’s allowed on the Mac.

I’m not criticizing the Mac. I’m certainly not suggesting that a Mac user switch to Windows (and have never done so).

But when I read (as I just did in Computer Shopper that thus-and-such (in this case, the “glacially slow” Mac Mini) means that “Windows users are running out of excuses not to switch to Mac OS X,” my politer response is “I know how to use my computer. It’s pretty clear that Windows skills don’t translate to the Mac. At this point, I find the Mac wildly counter to my own intuition. Why do I need excuses?”

All of which comes down to: In the real world, there’s rarely One True Path.

6 Responses to “Intuitive interfaces and reality”

  1. Ruth Ellen Says:

    My mother, for reasons I have yet to figure out, got a Mac, even though the only one of her children that uses one lives 3,000 miles away. Oh, well; she’s only 79, so she doesn’t really need help using it. Which is a good thing, because I sure as heck can’t figure it out.

  2. Rikhei Says:

    I would have to disagree with your suggestion that Windows skills aren’t transferable to Macs and vice-versa; while they may not be transferable in a “plug-and-play” sense, there are a lot of the same general concepts:

    * There’s the obvious similarity between the windowing systems (desktop, recycling bin/trash, etc.) I suppose the following similarities would best fall under the description of the windowing system. First, in OS X, windows of the same application are grouped together under the application’s icon in the dock – which bears remarkable similarity to the way the Windows XP taskbar groups windows of the same application. Also, there’s a little desktop icon in the taskbar that hides the other applications – which you can do on a Mac by hitting F11.

    * In terms of system configuration – the System Preferences of the Mac bear remarkable resemblance to the Control Panel of Windows.

    * The basic word-processing sort of commands are almost exactly the same. Ctrl-S for save, ctrl-c for copy, ctrl-v for paste…all that’s the same with a Mac, except it’s Apple-S, Apple-C, etc. There’s even an equivalent to ctrl-alt-del – ctrl-apple-power key. (Though in recent years I tend to think of ctrl-alt-del as the way to get to the task manager rather than as a way to reboot the machine. But there is a way to force quit Mac apps, too – option-click.)

    * While the typical Mac mouse is one button, the functionality of the two buttons is still there. By either holding down the mouse button or ctrl-clicking, you get the same menu you would get by right clicking.

    Like I said, it’s by no means plug-and-play – but all the same concepts are there. I would have to agree that it’s not something that’s intuitive – I suspect the only reason it’s so easy for me to switch between operating systems is that I’ve been using both since 1996!

  3. walt Says:

    I’ll accept that many of the skills are, indeed, transferable…particularly, I suspect, if you’re using the same applications on both platforms.

    But “the same concepts” being there isn’t at all the same as skills being transferable. I sit down at a Mac: There is no way I’ll know that some two-hand combo is equivalent to a right mouse click. There is no way I’ll know that the Apple key substitutes for the Ctl key–if anything, I’d expect it to substitute for the Windows key. And “of course you just hit F11 to get the equivalent of the desktop”…

    Yes, I overstated non-transferability–but in fact, “obvious similarities” make all the actual differences even trickier. All the examples noted here are ones where things I’d do by habit just won’t work, unless someone hands me the decoder ring for Mac equivalents.

    None of which would matter were it not for the common cry of Mac users (or, more specifically, Mac believers) that Macs are intuitive and don’t require learning…

  4. stacie Says:

    I use Macs at home and Windows at work, and have been doing so long enough that switching is quite seamless for me. But part of the reason that’s true is that I use a two-button mouse with my Mac. Although the stock Apple mouse is still a one-button mouse, a two-button mouse works just fine on a Mac — and right-clicking works pretty much like it does in Windows. When I find myself troubleshooting someone else’s Mac, and they have the stock mouse, I always have to think about how to invoke those right-click functions without the right mouse button. I actually wish Apple would ship a two-button mouse.

    As to having to click separately on AOL to connect to the Internet, that seems wrong to me. I’ve never been an AOL user, but Macs have been automatically connecting to the Internet when an Internet app starts up for about as long as I can remember.

    Anyway, I basically agree with you — I don’t think any modern desktop computer is particularly intuitive for someone who’s never used one before.

  5. Lethal Librarian » Blog Archive » Information literacy and metaphors Says:

    [...] inking about the difference between having skills and being information literate (due to a recent post from Walt Crawford), and I stumbled across an introduction to information literacy from the ALA/ACRL. T [...]

  6. walt Says:

    [Comment deleted. Someone who calls a debate "retarded" shouldn't participate in the debate--and it wasn't a debate anyway. Nobody here said Macs were bad--just different. Get over it. And figure out where the Shift key is.]


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