From PC to Mac and back again

For the past month or so, I’ve been using a MacBook Pro that was assigned to me at work, since the systems I’ll be working on are all Mac-centric (and let’s be real, Ruby on Rails development is easier on Macs anyway — Ruby comes preinstalled! wow!). It took a little getting used to, but I was grateful to have the laptop especially because several keys on my Lenovo laptop had stopped working and I had sent it into the service center (which was a drag-out, complicated, monthlong debacle) to get it fixed.

I finally got my Lenovo back on Friday, with most of the stickers intact (sadly the ones near the keyboard had to go as they replaced most of the bottom part of the laptop), and I was very happy.

That is, until I started using it again.

Let’s just talk user actions, first. It was a little difficult to get into the flow of Windows 8 again, after being used to cmd-tab and cmd-` to navigate and pulling up terminal (which actually is a full featured command line interface!) or any other app with spotlight. Windows 8 might look more organized, but out of the chaos of windows that makes up a Mac screen, a workflow was born. And I love it.

Moving onto actual functionality — I had, in Don Norman’s terms, made affordances for the jumpiness of my trackpad, which even for PC laptops isn’t very good (my old HP laptop had a better one). Then look at the beautiful functionality of my loaner MacBook which is a few years old now, with its seamless multitouch gestures, and the contrast is stark. Not to mention the fact that on OSX a window doesn’t have to be active for you to scroll through it — this really saves a lot of time. (Someone tell me there’s a way to turn this on in Windows 8.)

I still love my little Lenovo, and it’s more comfortable to use since it has all my software and I can finally stop watching Netflix on my phone (since it felt too guilty to use it on the Mac). Plus, it is way lighter than the MacBook and definitely gives my shoulder a break. However, I can see where all the fawning over Apple products comes from. It may be taken to extremes, but the fact is that Apple continues to work on and improve a core line of products while competitors crank out new laptop after new laptop, none of which really hit full marks in all categories. I mean, Apple isn’t without its fault, and it takes some getting used to but the user experience I’ve been having has been very positive.

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Moving Directory: Replace-Merge-Skip instead of Just Replace

I’ve been using a Mac extensively for the first time at my new job, and I have to say it’s been quite the elegant experience. Installation by copying directories? Beautifully functional touchpad gestures? A gigantic glass screen across which my windows may splay comfortably? Yes, yes, and yes!

Yet, besides the strangeness of how touchpad scroll gestures are the opposite for Mac (swipe down to go down) and my Lenovo laptop (swipe up to go down, like on a tablet), the thing that has jumped out the most is that when you paste a copy of a directory in Finder, the automatic behavior is to replace the old one (after a prompt, of course). That just seems counterintuitive, especially where Windows gives you the option of merging, skipping, replacing, etc. I never realized how I depended on this functionality until it just wasn’t there anymore.

A helpful thread on SuperUser.com suggested some downloadable apps which would add the functionality; someone mentioned that you could do this easily on command line (although I’m sadly still a cmd line rookie — but I used my first sudo command today :D). Someone else mentioned that it is now built into OSX Lion, though you have to hold down the option key after the replace prompt comes up, which doesn’t seem like too much of an improvement for users who wouldn’t know it was even there (plus I’m running an older version of MacOS, so it doesn’t work for me — sad face).

Another person on the thread said that this replace behavior is probably because application bundles are simply directories and they need to be able to install (move and replace older files) cleanly, but one feels like there could be an everyone-wins solution, like copying into the Applications folder would have replace as a default, whereas into other folders it would prompt the user to merge/update/skip/replace.

Well, in any case, it seems unlikely that anything further than the “hold down ‘option'” solution will be implemented in Finder, so what we all need to do is become command line experts 🙂

(I’m not the only person in 2014 thinking about this, so if you’d like a workable solution instead of a talking piece, there’s a great post on DBSysnet.com, Merging Directories (Folders) on Mac OS X).)