January 16, 2007
Robert Cringley's 1995 documentary Triumph of the Nerds: An Irreverent History of the PC Industry features dozens of fascinating interviews with icons of the software industry. It included this brief interview segment with Steve Jobs, where he said the following:
The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And what that means is, I don't mean that in a small way, I mean it in a big way. In the sense that they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their product. And you say, well, why is that important? Well, proportionately spaced fonts come from typesetting, and beautiful books. That's where one gets the idea. If it weren't for the Mac, they would never have that in their products. And so I guess I am saddened, not by Microsoft's success. I have no problem with their success. They've earned their success.. for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just really make third rate products.
It's not credited on YouTube, but the clip is definitely from Triumph of the Nerds. I remember it very distinctly.
What's remarkable about this brief interview is how succinctly it sums up Jobs' strategy for Apple today. At Apple, taste and culture are designed into every product from day one. Nothing is released until it looks as good on the outside as it works on the inside.
Jobs is dead on with his criticism. But the problem is much deeper than Microsoft; it extends to the entire PC industry. In the PC world, taste and culture are rarely considered, and if they are, it's always as an afterthought. Ship it first, make it look good later. If you ever do.
Consider PC hardware. Why are most PCs little more than black/silver/beige boxes? I've killed myself trying to find a PC case that isn't either hideously ugly or just plain boring. A well designed PC case is rare to the point of absurdity. If you want a PC that looks as good as it works, you have to make it yourself. The PC industry is so inept they can't even copy Apple correctly; the Lian-Li V1000 is ostensibly a copy of the Apple G5 case, but it looks more like its retarded cousin. And it's the same situation for laptops. Only a handful of the most high-end PC laptops can approximate the thoughtful design work that goes into the most basic, inexpensive laptop Apple sells.
The PC software situation is no better. If anything, it's worse. I see vendors writing their own custom user interfaces in a vain, misguided attempt to set their craplets apart from everyone else's.
At the other extreme, there are applications so concerned with being functional and utilitarian that they forget about design entirely, reverting to the bland grey Windows 95 UI style. They've given up.
But I don't blame the third-party vendors. I can hardly expect them to do any better when design barely makes the top 10 priority list for any player in the PC industry. Microsoft is about the only company that's in a position to set PC design standards, and they're not trying very hard. Who else can lead the way on design? Dell? IBM? Compaq? NVIDIA? Gateway? Please. There are no design leaders in the PC world. There's nobody for these third-party vendors to look to as the gold standard of design. There's only the lukewarm, inconsistent, half-hearted design guidelines that Microsoft sets-- and frequently breaks themselves.
Steve Jobs has always been clear about the integral role of design in his products, as outlined in this Smithsonian interview, which is also from 1995:
DM: You used an interesting word in describing what you were doing. You were talking about art not engineering, not science. Tell me about that.
SJ: I actually think there's actually very little distinction between an artist and a scientist or engineer of the highest caliber. I've never had a distinction in my mind between those two types of people. They've just been to me people who pursue different paths but basically kind of headed to the same goal which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them so that others can benefit by it.
DM: And the artistry is in the elegance of the solution, like chess playing or mathematics?
SJ: No. I think the artistry is in having an insight into what one sees around them. Generally putting things together in a way no one else has before and finding a way to express that to other people who don't have that insight so they can get some of the advantage of that insight that makes them feel a certain way or allows them to do a certain thing. I think that a lot of the folks on the Macintosh team were capable of doing that and did exactly that. If you study these people a little bit more what you'll find is that in this particular time, in the 70's and the 80's the best people in computers would have normally been poets and writers and musicians. Almost all of them were musicians. Alot of them were poets on the side. They went into computers because it was so compelling. It was fresh and new. It was a new medium of expression for their creative talents. The feelings and the passion that people put into it were completely indistinguishable from a poet or a painter. Many of the people were introspective, inward people who expressed how they felt about other people or the rest of humanity in general into their work, work that other people would use. People put a lot of love into these products, and a lot of expression of their appreciation came to these things. It's hard to explain.
Whatever you may think of Jobs, he's had the same vision for the last twenty years: the design of a product, the art of it, is just as important as the engineering. This is a lesson that the PC industry needs to take to heart. They better start learning some design chops quickly, because they're now directly competing in the same x86 market with Apple. Why choose a beige box and a schizophrenic UI when you could have something that's beautiful and thoughtfully designed for about the same price?
Posted by Jeff Atwood
"IN GENERAL I think MS win out with substance. Not all the time, obviously, but more than the Apple fanboys would like to admit." - Eric TF Bat
Har! As someone who works in Windows XP 40+ hours a week (not by choice), I'd definitely like some of whatever Eric is smoking.
MS doesn't care about design because its customers (or "fanboys" as Eric prefers) don't care about design. Period.
I (and most of you) will spend about 8 hours a day staring at a screen. I want to know that the people who put what's on the screen cared about what they were doing.
I'm always amazed about how little people are willing to spend on the machine that makes them their salary. So what if it costs an extra two hundred, you'll spend twenty times more than that on your car (which depreciates at a shocking rate) and not even think about it. This is one of the reasons I think Mac people are smarter. Pay a tiny bit more, get real pleasure from your work because your not spending all day fighting with your PC, and don't worry about spyware and viruses.
For the first 5 days, this comment thread was focused on the misconception that Apple's "design philosophy" is all about appearances. And it dawned on me that is why a lot of Microsoft users feel superior in their choice, having never used the competing product. (Last night some of the comments got back on the right track. Kudos to Paul for the first comment that seemed to understand the issue.)
They think we use iPods because of the marketing and the "cool white earbuds." They think we use Mac OS X because of the jelly bean-like interface. They think the iPhone is no different than every touch-screen product that has come before.
They look at the feature lists and think we're idiots for choosing *less* features (sometimes paying more for less). "Why doesn't the iPod have a built-in radio? Why doesn't the iPod have built-in recording? Why doesn't the iPod have a keyboard?"
Those people don't get it. At Apple, form follows function. At Microsoft, the form *is* the function. If it works, it's finished.
Fans of Microsoft ask, "What can it do?"
Fans of Apple ask, "How well can it do it?"
One more thing. A lot of people still judge the Macintosh based on models from the era when Steve Jobs was not around (1985-1997). While I happily used those Macs, and still contend that they were better than Windows boxes available at the time, they were *not* built with the same attention to detail that Steve Jobs ensures. This post and comment thread is about Apple with Steve Jobs in charge, not Gil Amelio.
If you haven't used an Apple product in the last ten years, you haven't used an Apple product. It should also go without saying that if you haven't actually *used* an Apple product, you haven't used an Apple product. If you're judging Apple on nothing but exterior cases, pretty pictures, and quirky advertising, then you're getting a very incomplete picture.
It's worth noting that most Apple haters have never used a Mac for more than a few minutes at a time. On the flip side, a large percentage of Mac users are forced to use Windows at their jobs. They *know* Windows. But they *choose* Mac.
How many people who *know* the Macintosh actually *choose* Windows? And for a reason other than "compatibility?"
I've been using computers for almost 30 years, starting with Unix-based terminals. For the past 4 years, I use Windows XP 40 hours a week at work because I have to (though it's a truly light ThinkPad - the silver lining). We use Microsoft Office and IE by default. God, how I hate those programs - Outlook is dreadful - I can never figure out how to change anything. It's not intuitive; the options and parameters all seem to be in the wrong place and therefore, can't be found when I need to find them. I keep asking myself - "do I just not grok it? what's wrong with me? why don't I get it?"
PowerPoint is much worse on the PC than it is on the Mac - there seem to be additional features, but again, the menus, the choices just don't make sense. Often I just don't bother to figure something out because it makes my head hurt; I just do without. Is this really usable when I forgo making something better because the tool was so bad? No. Is it good design? No.
System-level windows pop up while I'm typing in an application, and if I'm not looking at the screen but at the material, I often wind up typing a return which sets some process in motion, of which I catch the window disappearing out of the corner of my eye. And of course, I've lost a bunch of characters that I entered. Is that usable? Is that good design? No.
I've owned Macs since the first 512K Mac in 1984. Having used both, my conclusion is with regard to software development, that Mac OS X and true Mac apps are way more usable and much better designed than Windows XP (and even Vista) and most PC apps.
Sadly, too many of the comments here are confusing aesthetics with design. Design is not about making something look pretty, it is about making something work beautifully.
It is an interesting fact that very well designed products are often considered beautiful, in the way that well adjusted happy people tend to look beautiful, no matter how old and wrinkled they may be.
Jeff (and others) -- what do you say about Windows Media Center...?
You needed to change a configuration file for an application? If that is a requirement for this application, then it is not a Macintosh app. I might be made to run on a Mac, but it is not a Macintosh application (and therefore not an argument in this discussion). A true Macintosh app has his preferences window. (However, some apps do have settings that regular users are discouraged from changing. I am aware of that. But you say: "One of the program required small configuration file to work.", which indicates strongly that it this was not an Apple application and not one produced by regular Macintosh developers)
TextEdit would have opened your ascii-only file and you could have made all the changes you like. Just make sure that after saving it still is an ascii-only file (some commands change the text into RTF. You get a warning, though I have seen users OK the dialog and immediatly forget what the warning told them.)
If your app were a true Macintosh app, it would use property lists. Editing these comes in the realm of developers. No problem here, because developer tools are distributed with each copy of MacOS. You just need to install them seperately. Now you double-click the preferences file and you can make all the changes to your heart' desire.
Even XCode would have helped, albeit a bit overkill for such a simple task.
To much work? There is the terminal and you can use the defaults command. If the app in question was indeed using Macintosh technology, this would have worked.
Or simpler: use the terminal and use vi. No need for long path-names, because you can type vi+space and drag the file into the terminal window. Ultimatetly simple. You have the entire BSD subsystem at your disposal and there are many, many tools that could have helped.
The discussion, however, is about usability and design. Not the spurious need of a lost geek wandering cluelessly through users-heaven.
I am a developer. Mac+Win+*nix. Why is the Macintosh my platform of choice? Usability. Even with a one-button mouse (of which I am still a great fan, though I find the scroll-zoom feature very handy, especially when watching YouTube and other internet video content. Talking of usability: try that at your Windows PC.) I still prefer Macintosh over Windows any day of the week.
"It seems that MS is making more money and its all about the money anyway, right?"
If it's just about "the money", I suggest you stick with a PC.
Just want to say I use a mac because it works for me,YMMV. Apple's products are easier on the eyes than most, but I'd buy them in beige if I had to, because they're less annoying. Using windows has a bad effect on me, causing some to suspect I might be channeling Sam Kinison. The case on the mini could've been done better, but was the putty knife that bad? Don't think I'll buy the "Corporate world decides on price " argument, they buy what they're comfortable with and justify it by price. X86 stuff reminds them of the ZILOGs of their youth.
All I can say is that I hope that those of you who discount form over function are not designers, architects, engineers or software developers. Otherwise we would all be driving Yugos and living in Soviet tenement blocks both of which are quite function but completely without aesthetic forms.
As Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Form follows function." Meaning that one has neither without both. Part of good design is choosing which tradeoffs to make in form and functionality.
Most of the PCs linked from the article look like they were made for 14-year-olds. They look like monsters or spaceships or whatever else appeals to 9th graders. I want to see beautiful grown-up designs.
Hey, why don't all you PC guys crowing about how much you prefer the functionality over the design go back to using DOS. We heard the same arguments back then, when it was Command Line vs. GUI that I'm reading right now.
OMG this is the funniest comments section I have ever read. First, most of you don't have experience with OS X and those that have used it show their bias be making false claims. Second, the very people who trash design are the ones the are already part of the problem and are in denial. LOL.
And to Armen who claims WIndows has the ability to run 99.999999% of binaries ever compiled. Um, no. it doesn't run CMP, Amiga, COmmordore, Atari, Unix... binaries. I could go on and on. Get off the drugs Armen.
Agreed -- excellent article. Love your point about third party apps customizing UI, and only adding to the confusion.
It irritates me that people insist that it's self-evident that OSX is more usable than Windows, as if this were in some way an objective fact
Unfortunately, there are measures of usability - concepts like affordance, consistency, accessibility, etc, with a LOT of academic research - and on those measures OS X and applications built on top generally win out. Go read a text like Joel Spolsky's 'User Interface Design for Software Developers' - it is quite clear on many things that can be done to objectively improve interface design. Trivial stuff that's as easy to learn as writing well commented and structured code. Some that even Apple could learn (would it be so hard to make all dialog boxes have choices that could be controlled by pressing the first letter of each choice? No).
It's also amazing how little commercial training is available in 'user experience design' compared to programming languages or software architecture.
As someone noted, if you're used to Windows it takes a long time of using OS X to realise drag and drop works between most apps (even via the dock) - i.e. you're conditioned out of what should be an intuitive behaviour. Or how about having access to a single built-in dictionary in any program that deals with text (even in web forms like this one). Or how the majority of the apps support scripting (imagine if most third-party app on Windows supported the VBA macro language).
Similar applies with the X-button mouse. Macs have supported them for years, just not shipped with them. It's not because they didn't think of the idea (hell Atari and Commodore had them before IBM PCs even had a GUI). Mac OS has supported them since the 80s. The decision not to ship one as standard was therefore highly intentional, not irrational.
For starters it is vastly more intuitive to the new computer user (and a large number of Mac users are not hip and young, but over 50). Step back to the time before any GUI, and WIMP interfaces were new. The relationship of mouse, pointer and button to do 'something' is pretty intuitive. So intuitive very young children are capable of grasping it. Add a second button to the mix and that intuition is gone.
I suspect the secondary reason is trying to keep developers to keep their applications simple - i.e. design for one-button use. Keep the options visible, not on a context menu.
It's a very typical Apple decision - ship a system that is easy to learn. Or 'computing on stabilisers' as some people criticise it - but I don't think it's an insulting comparison - once you take the stabilisers off you've got a fully functional bike. The alternative seems to be the school of hard knocks approach - you'll fall off a few times but once you've got the knack you'll be OK. That works for a lot of people because it's what they're used to.
The fact that many people don't change their mouse suggests they're pretty happy riding the bike with stabilisers. Sure, they might be better learning how to really ride, but there are places in everyones life where it's not worth learning how to really do something (how many of us maintain our own cars like people did before the 80s?).
Apple have, of course, started shipping a multi-button mouse with new Macs. I guess the argument has been lost - most people today have been trained to use the multi-button mouse, and know right-click = context menu. It's not intuitive but it is a well understood convention.
As for all the wasted CPU cycles crap - OS X has used the GPU for compositing for years. That's why it's been able to deliver an Aero/Glass style interface back when Macs used a CPU most Intel PC owners regarded as 'underpowered'. Check the CPU load on a Mac and the UI barely takes anything when doing tricks like Expose.
It makes a lot of sense given that 90% of the time you're using desktop apps the 3D card is going unused. (Vista and XGL on Linux use the same idea).
The fact that there's so much argument about aesthetics versus usability versus function says it all. It's like the Bauhaus never existed (and of course the Bauhaus, like Apple, made some pretty awful mistakes along the way, but crucially it was trying to rethink design in terms of available technology).
And it's not about Windows design being 'boring' - Kai's Powertools, for instance, has a far more 'arty' interface than anything Apple do, so do most media player skins. Linux XGL shows more eye-candy than OS X. 'Taste' and art are frequently different things - in fact 'tasteful' is often used as a negative in the arts, implying something that is boring rather than having any edge.
a comment not about the content of this article as such. You use the words "retarded cousin" as if it were a "bad" thing. I think it is best to avoid such remarks.
Very few people care about design. Why should they. When HVB Europe need to buy 2500 PCs and company X makes nice looking ones, but this 'design' feature costs 30 USD more of course they won't shell out for it.
What we're really talking about here is fashion. A subject that will forever remain where it belongs - on the fringes.
RE: The Frank Lloyd Wright reference:
A sculptor named Horatio Greenough first phrased it, and it was Wright's mentor who really put it to the fore, albeit the longer "Form ever follows function."
It would be good if more than just the Cliff's Notes version of design and design history were heard every once in awhile.
Yes, design is more than aesthetic. Useful, usable, and delightful is the holy trinity.
Apologies for the omission, Wright's mentor is Louis Sullivan.
Er... What the hell is wrong with the grey dialogue box?
It works. All settings are there. Not obstructed by the shiny.
Why is that bad?
As far as outsides of machines go, though, yep - Apple wins.
Look a bit harder for your cases. As for the Lian-Li cases looking 'retarded' - did you check them out in person? Easily as nice as the Apple one.
Also Silverstone makes some nice cases..
These apple/microsoft conversations are so funny. The problem is that it's all subjective. I'm a musician. I can do what I need to do faster and more reliably on a mac, and the whole thing looks nicer and feels better...
To me, everything about windows 'design' resembles a steaming pile. To me, doing anything on windows never works first time, usually ends up taking 2 or 3x longer, and often results in frustrating crashes or hangs.
Maybe, as an artist, I'm just predisposed to prefer something designed by artists. I also don't mind paying more for something that I have to stare at all day every day and also saves me time. The real beauty of a mac is that it's designed for people like me, and I love it.
You programmers, who seem to only care about saving money, can keep your crappy looking Linux/Windows/Whatever! Hahaha.
first, form and function are not mutually exclusive. some people here tend to think otherwise.
second, on a greater scope, american designs are typically bad.
..infact, ad addition to my last point.
Just check out the homepage of any major Mac application provider, even the their websites feature a very well done UI.
It's like, in Mac world, everyone follows a completely different design philosophy.
Although I've not developed any applications on the Mac, I believe Apple has set some UI guidelines for developers. Would be nice if MS came out with something similar.
For now, even though the eye candy in Vista has improved..the code behind is still pretty buggy.
As an exercise, just re-size a Window Media Player 11 window and you'll know what I mean. The window is re-painted in an sluggish, in-efficient haphazard manner which certainly doesn't do much to please the eyes.
It's not just one app, or two that look really good on a Mac. Most Mac apps look delicious. You could eat them, really. With the candy progress bars and beach balls, and beautiful brushed metal interface.
Even if you don't like the particular skin/theme they've used, you still come to appreciate the passionate skill and workmanship which has gone into it.
Jagtesh: The thing is that with the Mac culture beeing very aware of the importance of good design, you as a developer don't want to be the one guy who releases an ugly app, thus you actually take your time to make it look as good as the rest, leading to a positive spiral.
Apple has been working hard to infuse this kind of culture into the community, and it has obviously worked. Like you said, it's rare to find a mac app, however simple, that doesn't have a "lickable" UI. If you find one, it's usually a straight port from another platform.
It seems to be paying off, as more and more people start to realise that computers don't have to be ugly as horse dung and that great functionality isn't hindered by great looks, quite the opposite. I actually find myself beeing less productive when working at clients with a strict windows environment, constantly fighting with small, but oh so irritating things, and having to cope with how downright ugly and unfriendly alot of stuff is.
This is not because I'm some kind of computer illiterate fool, I do this for a living; it's simply that I want to spend my time solving the problem at hand using a computer as my tool, not spend time with fixing the tool. You don't see a carpenter using a piece of crap drill, which requires him to unplug it, swing it three laps counter clockwise from its cord, then hit 7 different buttons in the right sequence to let him switch the drill bit, and then hope it will work as intended and not having to open it up and spending an hour to fix it. A craftsman puts pride and joy in his/her tools, and uses the best available, and we, beeing craftsmen as well, should do the same.
Years ago I used the MAC G3 and MAC G4 computers in computer graphics college classes. I had a Dell with a 1 GHz Pentium III CPU in my dorm room. My experience with the G3's were terrible. They were always freezing on me. It was so bad I can recall it like it was yesterday...
I am busy working in Adobe Illustrator and it freezes - completely. So I hit the reset button to reboot. About five minutes later I am working again - for a little while. I get a few minutes of work done, saving every second because I know it will freeze on me again. What do you know - it does! So about two hours later, with only about 20 minutes worth of actual work done, I get fed up. The G3 crashes one final time as I am about to close out AI. Unfortunately for me, the zip disk I have my file on is still in there. I cannot remove my disk by pressing a button on the outside of the case (Apple designers apparently didn't want an ugly knob sticking out of their case). So I must reboot a final time so I can throw my zip drive in the Apple Garbage can to make it eject. It's like pouring salt on an open wound.
This happened day after day for me until I had enough.I bought a PC version of AI and put it on my Dell 1 GHz P3 PC. Guess what? No problems whatsoever. I think that was with the earliest version of Win XP. Which has yet to crash on me in 5 years of use by the way.
Eventually the G3s got replaced with the new G4s with OSX. I used them a few times and found them to be a million times better than the G3s. But they weren't any better than my trusty, wimpy, Win XP-equipped, 1 GHz P3 Dell PC.
I find it humorous when people say how much more stable the MACs are. Apple makes their OS for their hardware and theirs alone. Micro$oft at least tries to make their OS compatible with the nearly endless variety of hardware out there. If OSX is so much better than XP and Vista how come Apple doesn't try to compete by selling as a stand alone to install on my Athlon 64 box? Because OSX will show just how flawed it is bugs will be everywhere, hither and yon.
Quite frankly I think there should be universal hardware and OS standards. Imagine if the OS was like the web, with a set of standard specifications. You can have any number of OS developers competing, offering 100% compatible OSes (unless their cheating on the specs). Imagine that fantasy world for a moment. You could pick the best OS for you, whether it was Micro$oft, Apple, or Linux (and any new comers).
If Apple were to sell Mac OS as a standalone product for white box PCs, (1) they'd lose money on hardware sales, and (2) they'd leave writing drivers to hardware vendors, who don't always write good drivers.
Ejecting a disk with a physical eject button isn't a good idea even on Windows today .... have you ever used Safely Remove Hardware with a flash drive...?
Also note that Adobe software isn't very well written .... In my opinion, Adobe prefers features over stability.
And from experience, ANY recent UNIX-based OS (especially Mac OS X) is better than Windows .... I work at a lab with hundreds of HP and Dell computers running Windows (and many Linux computers as well) and trust me, Windows is a mess.
Computers as art? Hmmm...not really. I could have my child finger paint on the outside of the computer case and then I guess it would be art.
Not everything has to be beautiful. Sometimes it is better to be functional than beautiful. Just ask your car engine or the furnace in your house.
Do computers and computer applications need to be an art form? I guess if you want to get the warm and fuzzies from your average computer illiterate user, but its what on the inside that counts. In the computer's case that would be the sum of its mechanical parts. For applications, it would be the underlying code.
I agree that more innovation is needed on the application design front. Are buttons, dropdowns, and check boxes the best design components? Not sure. Most of the time, though its a programmer dragging and dropping those control on a form.
Watch the whole thing if you want, it gets good at 9:30 and 25:00. They're talking about incorporating some of the Vista UI goodies in standard 3rd party apps.
"the vast majority of developers aren't doing that..matching exactly what Windows Vista looks like or what Windows looks like is maybe not the most highest priority" ... And Microsoft is not helping the situation by making it difficult to do so.
Apple problems is that it doesn't have any third party vendors using it at all! It is closed and niched more than MS ever thought of being that is why Windows crushes it time after time after time... ad infinitum. Open the beast (Apple) system up, truly open; let others tinker, and see how truly high the sky is! Linux rules anyway. Will eventually kill Windows just as Windows killed the other flavors of UNIX and MAC OS. Design leader, please...