Weeble (clockworksaint) wrote,

Those Friendly Macs

There follows a minor rant on user interfaces.

The disappointment is blacker in the other field.

I recently had to try to get an Apple laptop to see our local network so my flatmate could copy some files onto it. While there weren't technological barriers to this, I did find the Mac's much vaunted user interface to be rather less than helpful. It took ages because a) there was a big tangle of ethernet wires and I thought it was plugged in when it wasn't and b) somebody helpfully unplugged the hub while searching for a power socket for the laptop. Now, sure, we look pretty retarded here. I should have realised earlier that we weren't seeing even the lowest level of connection, but in my defence I had been assured that it had been browsing the web while plugged in there. Anyway, I was rather disappointed in a complete lack of basic connection indicators. No "a network cable is unplugged" message, no lights to come on and off next to the ethernet port, no indication when configuring the network adapter that it isn't connected to anything.

Even better, when I went to check the online help, it slowed to a crawl and then hung. I had to hold the power button in till it went off then start it up again. Now, I consider the holding-the-power-button trick to be slightly arcane, and had we not known it we'd have been sitting there for an hour or two waiting for the batteries to drain so it'd turn itself off. Please somebody tell me that this was very atypical.

All through the process of diagnosis and correction I was confounded by unlabelled buttons. They didn't even have tooltips. Some of the windows kept appearing too big to fit on the screen. I was looking for some kind of maximise/restore button to shrink it down without having to click on the tiny resize area that was off the side of the screen most of the time. What are these mysterious buttons on the top of the window? They're certainly pretty colours, but they don't have anything helpful to tell me what they are! It might just be me, but "white oblong blob" doesn't give me the faintest clue that it's a toggle for the toolbar. And while the trio of buttons on the left at least get vaguely meaningful symbols when you roll-over them, they still refused to provide tooltips to let slip their function.

Dialog boxes were just as bad. Weird buttons that had only an abstract symbol to clue you in to their function. (I think it was a triangle or an arrow set next to a drop-down box, and not the drop-down box's own button. I was too scared to press it.) And the "Find Servers" dialog (or whatever it was actually called) was painful to use. Apart from the fact that it took me a while to get there because I expected a Mac to provide a more user-friendly way of getting files off of a PC, this dialog box would happily sit searching for local servers forever without providing feedback, like, for example, to say that we don't have a network connection to do this! And when we finally did find the source of the problem, I secretly hoped that we wouldn't have to go back here again, because presumeably it would auto-detect local computers and provide access to them in the Finder. No, of course not.

This wasn't everything. I tried to manually add Windows SMB servers, guessing at addresses like "\\COMPUTER\SHARE" and "smb://computer/share". Some entries would produce an error code (but no error) suggesting that my guess at the correct format was way out. But other times it simply did nothing and then didn't bother to tell me why it did nothing. Surely there's some user interface guideline that when things don't go as the user expects, you should at a very bare minimum acknowledge that something went wrong, even if it's too difficult a task to figure out what went wrong.

Now, frankly, I think Windows PCs have a really crappy user interface. But I had expected so much more from a Mac. What happened? Was this one old, or misconfigured? Am I too stupid to use a Mac? Please can a Mac addict put in some words in their defence?
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened