OS friction

Last week I had to travel without my Mac. I maintain a Thinkpad running XP that’s pretty much always in synch with my main work laptop, a first-gen MacBook Pro. This is mostly to have a hot backup ready in case of calamity, but it also serves the rare instance when I’d rather not rub it in to my co-workers that I have a Mac and they don’t. Such was last week.

The switch is always interesting because, functionally, the two set-ups are identical. Got all my main apps; got all my data (most of which is web-based anyway). It is precisely this functional parity that does a great job of highlighting that which truly differentiates MacOS. Not visual luster. Little things like apps not hanging/dying inexplicably. Not having to prowl around the tray and task manager killing off rogue apps. The ease of WiFi connectivity. Lightweight PDF viewing. (Acrobat, you are a swollen beast.)

I’ve noted before a few apps that I really miss on XP such as Quicksilver and BluePhoneElite. These apps don’t — can’t — have analogs in the Windows world: they are Mac-ish through and through. To this list I’d add Growl, Synergy, and Dashboard. (Yes, Yahoo Widgets exist to the PC, but it simply is not the same feel as Dashboard.)

I’ve not used Vista, so I’m not prepared to jump into that fray. But I have to think that the real differences between the OS’s are more fundamental than any rev could address. There’s just more friction in Windows.

The law of conservation of energy (a productivity rule to live by!) states that no energy is destroyed due to friction, though it may be transferred or transformed — usually into heat. That’s basically the case here. All the little frictive annoyances of Windows rubbing against your ability to achieve a task until the whole thing smolders in delay, disappointment, or anger.

See also Gruber’s related post on what makes software “smoother” (though he doesn’t cast it in those terms).