A Mac user looks at the Windows 7 UI

While there are a few improvements, not much has changed

After I installed Windows Vista in November 2006, I was perplexed. Why was it suddenly so much harder for me to use my computer?

I knew XP cold, and I could use it without thinking. But with Vista, I felt a little lost and began to notice the extra work required to perform tasks that had become second nature. By hiding various features in an attempt to simplify Vista's interface, Microsoft was in fact adding overhead to my Vista transition, forcing me to learn a new UI.

Like many, I just couldn't see how Vista's "new look" benefited the Windows experience. I became further entrenched in my belief that Microsoft's ongoing divergence from the well-established menu approach pioneered by Apple is fundamentally wrong.

[Which OS wins the UI contest? See Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X  side by side in InfoWorld's comparative slide show.]

Microsoft Office -- and to a lesser extent Internet Explorer -- went nuts in this direction, relying on buttons, variable menus and right-clicking for almost everything. These changes made Vista's UI appear intuitive by comparison, yet they also hinted at further UI confusion to come. It was as if Microsoft's strategy for UI design was to leave its customers at a loss for where to start or what to do next. Not surprisingly, users have rejected Microsoft's latest offerings in amazing numbers.

I took the easy route: I switched to a Mac and have been happy ever since. Tiger, the Mac OS X version available at that time, proved robust, offering a modern yet familiar UI. The current Mac OS X Leopard is even better. But here comes Windows 7, seeking to breathe life back into Windows where Vista had stumbled. Less than a year from being released, Windows 7 aims to fix the many Vista flaws, including its UI. I decided to test-drive the Windows 7 beta to see whether Microsoft had redressed its UI sins.

The bottom line: Nothing in Windows 7 will tempt a Mac user back to the PC. There are some cool, useful enhancements, but overall, the UI remains largely unchanged. In other words, those who upgrade from XP to Windows 7 will still have to relearn Windows.

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