Visiting Old Friends: Back on Windows, for Now

Martin Dittus · 2006-03-25 · stuff · write a comment

Last April, nearly exactly a year ago, I bought my first Mac (a 12" Powerbook), and after a while that became the only machine I use. There are at least two working PCs in this appartment that by now are only used as storage medium or by visitors.

This last Wednesday I had to send the Powerbook in for repair (with a broken battery and CD drive), so I had to dig out the old Thinkpad as temporary replacement. And now I'm surprised at how fast habits change -- up until last year my main machines were always running Microsoft OSes, yet I can't bear the thought of having to go back. I even briefly pondered getting a Mac mini as temporary work environment, and if I had the money I'd probably have bought one.

The last days back on Windows have been an eye-opener on several levels.

During the last year I seem to have lost the capability to fluently use a Windows keyboard. This mainly becomes apparent with shortcut keys/hotkeys -- I rely on a certain number of hotkeys for virtually every application I use, and having to think about what keys you have to press each time defies the value of a hotkey. But I guess it'll only take a while to get reacquainted. (Hits Alt+S to save the document, realizes it's Ctrl+S now.)

Yet some things are not remedied so easily. E.g. I found that text selection really sucks on Windows -- you can't use the up/down cursor keys to select from cursor position to the start/end of a single-line text control (e.g., the address bar of a browser). There is no triple click to select a complete line. And Window's selection behavior when double clicking a word, cutting it and pasting it elsewhere is just silly. OS X in contrast does it elegantly, figures out how to properly handle surrounding spaces, and usually gets it right.

This might sound like a trivial bother, but it's severely affecting your workflow. It's a pain to have to go back to fix word spacing every time you move text around when you have used a system that does this work for you. And no wonder Firefox's developers chose to introduce the triple click to Windows users: It's too valuable a tool that you can deprive your users of it just because the OS doesn't support it by default.

Another thing I miss: Closing windows without closing the application. Never thought I'd miss that, but apparently I close and later re-open browser windows frequently enough that Firefox's startup time gets noticeable.

Then of course there's quite a list of OS-level tools that make life easier on the Mac -- the dictionary widget, automatic spell checking in most text controls, a real Unix shell, obviously. (Don't say Cygwin.)

And Exposť -- how would anyone use a window system without such a feature? Apparently a similar function was in development at MS, but when they heard Apple announce it they scrapped it for fear of being called copycats. Bad call dudes.

I'm not saying that Macs are better. I'm simply surprised how fast you adapt to a new system to a degree where you stop being able to use the old one.

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