I’ve been pretty silent on the blog front for a while; there’s been a lot going on, but I’ve been too busy to write about it…
Among the things which have happened is that I got a new laptop – an Apple MacBook Pro. But I spend no time at all in Mac OS X; the machine is set up to dual-boot to either OS X or Windows Vista, and Vista is where I spend all my time.
Now, I know I work for Microsoft, so you’d expect me to say this – but I really love Vista, especially on this MacBook. It’s the best Vista machine I’ve ever had. Thanks to Malcolm in the Microsoft AppleLab (which happens to be just along the hallway from my office), who set me up with a disk image which had all the right Vista drivers, this has been the most trouble-free setup I’ve ever had.
You have to hand it to Apple. They make stunningly beautiful hardware. OS X is also designed to be beautiful, but there are things about it I can’t stand.
The major one, for me, is the blurriness of Apple’s text rendering. Apple has its own “clone” of the Microsoft ClearType technology I helped to invent (they got the rights to all the Microsoft patents as part of a major cross-licensing deal).
There are basically two implementation strategies you can pursue with ClearType.
In the first, you can use the additional resolution which addressing the RGB sub-pixels gives you to make text which adheres exactly to the shape of the high-resolution print font. This gives you great font shapes, but you can’t avoid blurred edges.
The second strategy is the one we actually use in Windows. We use the additional resolution to make text shapes better, too, but we also try to snap the edges of characters to the higher-resolution sub-pixel boundaries, and our color filtering system is designed to create characters which are as sharp as they can be.
This means you do have to make tiny compromises on character shapes – but you end up with text that’s much sharper and less fatiguing to read, especially if you’re reading for extended periods. Research has shown that blur is an important factor in eye fatigue when reading.
Now, there are of course many highly-vocal zealots on both sides of the argument (this is a Mac v. Windows argument, after all).
But in my view, there’s no “right” or “wrong” here. There’s no question that Apple’s rendering strategy gives you much better WYSIWYG – what you see on the screen is closer to what you’d see if you printed the text.
On the other hand, when we invented ClearType we weren’t at all concerned with printing. We were trying to improve reading on-screen to make it as good as it could possibly be.
With Apple’s long background in areas like design, publishing, etc, it’s understandable why they took the route they did.
However, what that means for me is that I have a really hard time reading text in Mac OS X, or Apple’s Safari browser.
Every time I’ve switched from OS X to Windows Vista, my eyes have just given a huge sigh of relief. Vista is much sharper and crisper, and I can read text forever without getting tired.
Having said that, this MacBook runs Vista blisteringly fast. When I need to hibernate it, it switches off instantly. I have a laptop, made by one well-known manufacturer, which can take up to four minutes to turn off when hibernating.
The screen’s bright and clear. The keyboard’s great. The trackpad’s one of the best, although I much prefer a mouse, so I plug in a Microsoft Wireless Optical mouse into one of the USB slots.
The “magnetic snap-in” power cord is a great innovation. I’ve seen so many laptop power cords get damaged over the years – or even worse, get snagged and pull the laptop off a table. You just know if this magnetic cord gets inadvertently pulled it’ll just snap out without damaging either the cord of the socket.
Running Vista, I can happily log on securely to the Microsoft corporate network using my SmartCard. Yesterday, I did videoconferencing on it for the first time, using the inbuilt iSight webcam. It was terrific.
I’m having the best computing experience I’ve had in years. I don’t care what anyone says about Vista (including Apple, in its advertising). It’s a great operating system, and it makes WindowsXP look and feel so out of date – especially on a MacBook or iMac (I’ve run it on both).
So thank you, Apple, for making the best Windows machine I’ve ever had!