Mac user: How Microsoft has cleaned up Windows

If you asked me a year ago what I thought about Windows, I probably would have said something along the lines of "disorganized", "a mess", or "not adequate for my needs".

So I was very surprised when I gave the Windows 7 beta, and then the release candidate, a real test run. I was one of the people who never really liked Windows Vista, and to this day I dread working on computers that have it installed. While I believed it was a step up from XP in many ways, Windows XP had a certain consistency to it that Vista still lacks. But I have been playing around a bit with Windows 7 for a few months now, and as a Mac user, I must say I am very impressed. The amount of polish Microsoft has added to their product, the added consistency, and all the small things are what really make the difference.

As many Mac users are, I'm quite picky on how my operating system "feels". An operating system can do as much as it wants, but if it is not presented in a consistent, good looking way, I won't be able to use it. Vista lacked consistency, simply put. There were different colors on each window, there was a drastic difference between Windows Live and built-in Windows applications, and many Microsoft applications were still using predominantly Windows XP styling. Windows 7, however, has a consistent light blue highlight, similar to the way grays and blues are used in OS X. Having a few different programs open feels right. Other windows in the background don't distract from the window in the foreground. And application switching is seamless with the Superbar.

I have seen the concept behind the Superbar before: it's exactly what I'm used to on OS X (with some additional tweaks like window thumbnails and jump lists). We have compared the two before. Frankly, I think it's impossible to deny that OS X, and the dock, had some influence on the Superbar. The implementations are very similar: developers can implement icon badges and progress bars in each. Application switching is not done based on a window anymore; it's based on the last window opened in each application, rather than having a list of windows you can choose from. But there is still a list available through those handy window thumbnails, and Aero Peek.

Aero Peek is, in my opinion, a far better implementation of window switching than Exposé or Flip3D. Both of the latter only offer a shrunken down view of each window, while Aero Peek makes seeing what is in each window simple, whether in an alt+tab interface or using the Superbar.

Finally, Microsoft finally listened to my biggest complaint for years: vision accessibility. While we've detailed how the magnifier can hinder the more heavily vision impaired, for people like me who don't need a high contrast theme, but only a zoomed in view of the content on the screen, the new Magnifier available when using Aero is superior to the almost dizzying magnifier in OS X. The Mac OS X magnifier works in one of two ways: following the mouse as it moves around the screen, or moving the zoomed in area every time the mouse hits the very last pixel on the screen. The former can be difficult to use, and takes practice to get used to, but it is my method of choice within OS X. The second mode is simply impossible to use: moving the mouse right across the screen just to view the end of a sentence takes a painstakingly long time.

The Windows 7 Magnifier has found the right balance between following the mouse and keeping the screen a little bit still. There is about a 100 pixel padding on each side of the screen: when the mouse hits it, the magnifier moves. If the cursor is moving to the right and a little bit downwards at the same time near the edge of the screen, the magnifier moves to the right and a little bit down (the OS X zoom feature, in the screen edge mode, only moves right, left, down, or up, depending on which screen edge in use). Overall, I'm very impressed with Microsoft's implementation of a feature I have required for a long time.

So Microsoft, thanks for cleaning up your act. You've taken something I hated using, and made me enjoy it. While I will remain a Mac user (I've invested too much in OS X to turn back now), I will no longer groan when I reboot my MacBook Pro into Windows. I'll look forward to it. Had you made Windows Vista what Windows 7 is, I may not be a Mac user right now. I can now say that I'm a Mac user, and I enjoy Windows, something I never thought I'd say when I first invested in a Mac and left Windows behind. Keep up the good work, and you just might win me back one day.

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