Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Why Vista's UI Isn't Cooler, or Take a Deep Breath Chris

Larry Osterman (ya, the same Larry Osterman that got bit by the Audio bug) has a great post on why XGL isn't as useful as Chris Pirillo thinks it is. Can you imagine the tech support calls from the receptionist at XYZ Paper Company in Diluth, complaining that her app keeps crashing when it's really on the other side of the "desktop cube"?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: OS X can afford to take creative liberties with it's OS' visual stylings because a) most of its users are right-brained creative types that value visual appearance over usefulness, b) its userbase is so small that drastic changes only have minimal overall impact, and c) even fewer businesses rely on Macs, so the retraining issues there are minimal as well.

The bottom line is, pretty does not always equal practical. Plus, Microsoft has other considerations, like the financial impact of UI changes on companies adopting their software. (Too bad calculating this impact is not as simple as it was in 1995). The Windows UI is the victim of Microsoft's monopoly success on the desktop, plain and simple.

I would think that, being a savvy businessman, Chris would understand this. Personally, I think Chris has a lot of valuable things to say (and while singling out Chris, I'm also speaking to other UI detractors as well). As well founded as his UI gripes may be, his feedback on Vista would be far more valuable if he accepted the reality of the situation and focused on problems that actually stand a chance of getting fixed at this point in the game. Acknowledging the fact that Microsoft has made huge strides in the fit & finish department might also be appropriate.



  • Robert, that's not exactly what I meant to say. If you look closely at OSX, it's not that different from Vista - it ALSO has a fairly conservative UI paradigm.

    That's because the OSX UX designers also go through the same kinds of design validation that Microsoft's UX designers go through.

    September 16, 2006 11:24 AM
  • I don't think that the "creative liberties" of OSX are related to the points you have cited. :)

    First of all, when you say that "value visual appearance over usefulness": it's like saying that OSX is "nice but unuseful", and that's plain false, since the reason of the "excellence" (pardon me this word) of the OSX UI is that it's BOTH useful and visually good.

    Also, if you think about it, what "retraining"? The interface improvments of OSX works adding features, features "out of the desktop paradigm", as Leandro Agrò says (

    You see: there are ways to improve without killing anything, until a paradigm jump that will win quite anything (like Nintento Wii, I predict).

    If you think that OSX "can" because of those reasons, you are missing the whole point of OSX, because you're not getting the point of the OSX interface work.
    September 16, 2006 12:08 PM
  • Davide:
    I did not say that "OS X was nice but unuseful." What I said was that, in my opinion, OS X users desire form over function. It diesn't matter how it works, it just has to look pretty (Time Machine is a great example of this... a substandard recovery system wrapped in a pretty UI that everyone has been 'raving' about). This means that eye candy is added to features in OSX that makes them pretty but not useful over time. The Dock with it's bouncing notification icons is a prime example.

    And by "retraining", I mean the fact that UI changes require businesses to spend money retraining employees in order to prevent support costs from employees who don't know what they are doing. Anything that is added or change has a cost associated with it. Originally, I thought Larry helped draw that conclusion, but I can't find the source now.

    So what is the "point" of OSX interface work that I am missing?

    Plus, I never said that Larry said any of those things. Anything after the first paragraph is my own opinion.
    September 16, 2006 3:00 PM
  • stubear said:
    Nothing in that XGL demo is new. I believe early versions of Windows Longhorn displayed the jiggly behavior. The Dock has already been done in OSX and Windows. The cube effect and expose like functionality are both in OSX though the cube effect is used only when switching between users (and desktops in Leopard). I'm sure Microsoft dropped these "features" for usability purposes. While it would be nice to see them added as part of a Visual Effects pack or TweakUI for Vista, it's not going to deter me from buying Vista when it is released.
    September 16, 2006 8:55 PM
  • Shawn Oster said:
    Chris's critiques about the Vista UI are all actually spot on and things that *should* be fixed. At least his first round of issues were mostly fit and finish issues, fonts being used incorrectly, spacing that was off, applications looking similiar but not exactly matching, etc. It wasn't until much later that Chris brought up the XGL interface but that wasn't his first mention of the Vista UI.

    I'm a Windows user but I believe you've mischaractized the OSX user mind-set as well as what they go through when doing UI design. As Larry already said the UI's aren't that different. In fact I believe Vista's new interface, especially the complete Windows Explorer overhaul, will throw people as hard as anything Apple has ever done. It's a bit like the old one but not really.

    I believe Chris needs to ride Vista *hard*. Most people that heavily critisize Vista are usually Apple users that get discounted or non-tech types that also get ignored. Someone like Chris gets a bit more attention and he gets to be vocal section for people like me that think as the OS developer you should set the bar very high when it comes to fit and finish. People should look at Vista and be inspired by how well all the apps just fit, how design guidelines were followed down to the pixel.

    People should want to make applications as good as Vista, not think, "I could have done better, I could have at least used the right font all the way through the apps".
    September 17, 2006 2:35 PM
  • I know Robert, I was citing the second paragraph :)

    Pardon... I'll take this a bit far to explain my opinion better. :)

    The missing point that I'm saying is that design - a cool design - doesn't mean that is a desire of "form over function". Instead, Apple tries to keep in mind both the problems: form AND function.

    It's an approach that is better, since following form OR function means that you'll surely miss something (just think about how many people can't understand how the less-featured iPod could be the leader of the market share).

    From another point of view, there are many studies of cognitive psychology that confirms that the form has great importance in the usage of an item.
    Take the simpliest example possible: the color of the food changes the taste. This seems crazy, but it's a clear message that the appearance is VERY important ( So important that in fact it can change the whole sensorial perception.

    Also, the "form" is a way to communicate to the user. A blocky UI is perceived as worse than a sleek and clean UI, even if the functions are the same.

    Im quite there...

    I'll take your example. Time Machine. A function that is "technically there" from a loooong time. But, with a nicer interface, faster and cleaner, it gets not only hype, but also usability. With it's "exaggerated" interface it states clear what is its scope: adds a z-ordering, chronological, that is faster to understand than any date timestamp typed near a filename.

    So, why I'm saying that you are missing something? Because OSX users aren't just "creative types" that prefer "form over function". And this said, also OSX UI design doesn't follow "form over function". I think that the OSX team is part of a few that, since many years ago, from Jef Raskin to today, is trying to develop both.

    And "both", as said, means better. Because even if you can think that the OSX UI is just "eye candy", it's proved that a better looking object works better, because the user is better stimulated.

    XGL, on the other side, is JUST eye candy: there isn't a fusion between the applications USING the engine and the engine features. It's just layer over a traditional approach (even if, as said, a better looking object will make the function work better... if it doesn't annoy, like XGL does sometimes).

    Sorry if I've been a bit long... I just wanted to be clearer than before. :)
    September 18, 2006 7:38 AM
  • hacked.brain said:
    September 22, 2006 6:19 PM
  • hacked.brain said:
    September 22, 2006 6:20 PM
  • for me there is another issue:

    i care about aesthetics.

    adding a gee-whiz cool effect doesn't make it aesthetic design.

    making the screen a rotating cube is a type of equivalent for me of webpages during the early www which were polluted with animated GIFs, used frames poorly, etc., in order to be cool.

    or, for instance, using dopey transition effects in powerpoint presentations in order to be cool.

    this is just a more sophisticated type of trying to be cool, using 3d.

    that doesn't make an interface aesthetic. -looking practical- and -looking usable- is PART of the aesthetic of an interface. this doesn't mean the visual aspects of the OS can't be made more rich or even in some cases fun, but forcing 'fun' in a way that doesn't sync with practicality will make things LOOK BAD. its the equivalent of BEING FLASHY.

    this is one of the aesthetic issues i have with the OSX interface. and I think I have been shown right; by the fact that they dropped the fruit colored iMac line, and over sucessive releases toned down the flashiness of the OSX interface. (not counting some new additions like the time machine background)

    September 23, 2006 12:48 AM
  • hacked.brain said:
    September 23, 2006 12:16 PM
  • some1 said:
    But isn't the XGL developer guy going to develop WGL (XGL for Windows too) and the Compiz counterpart too....or maybe MS can add all the missing OS X and Linux raved features in a Plus! there going to be gone for Vista?
    September 26, 2006 4:21 AM