Monday, September 8, 2008

Mac vs. PC: Standing up for the Windows PC Keyboard

I've always used a PC. I tend to be a creature of habit, and when I'm used to something, I don't adjust well to change. I work, however, in an office dominated by Mac users. Aside from my aversion to change, I also have to use the Windows OS for certain business purposes. In an effort to give it a chance, and in a sort of compromise, I've been working on a MacBook Pro running the Windows XP OS for the past month or so.

Macs are better, they say. Macs are more reliable, they say. Well, there are other, very important things to consider than the actual OS.

While I understand that there's a learning curve with any new piece of hardware or software that might do things differently than you're used to, the absence of logical function keys baffles me. Why on earth does the integrated mouse pad only have one button? What happens if I want to right-click something to save it, or e-mail to a friend? These are functions I perform all the time. After some frustration and searching, I found and downloaded a Web program that lets you right click by holding down Command and hitting the mouse button simultaneously. OK, so it can be done, but I need two hands to accomplish a simple task that should just require one.

Speaking of the actual mouse pad, another function I love with PC-based laptops is that I can actually double-tap the built-in mouse pad to select something. Scroll, tap, tap in one movement. With the Mac keyboard, I have to awkwardly scroll, lift my finger, move down, and tap then repeat. Imagine how annoying this is when, say, filling out a form online where there's several drop-down menus. It kind of feels clunky compared to the fluid motions I'm used to.

Then there's my hatred for the delete key. Seeing as I do a lot of word processing, I'll often write or edit something, read it over, and use the delete key in between sentences as I adjust things. Typically, this is the key that you use once the cursor is in front of a word to begin deleting it. Apparently delete in Mac language is equivalent to backspace. Naturally, there's no key called backspace on the Mac keyboard. Again, I figured out another two-key method I could use in order to accomplish this: Fn + delete = delete.

As a sidenote, I also used this button on a Windows PC to delete e-mails in a fast and efficient manner; which is helpful when receiving a ton of spam. Now, I have to again use two hands to scroll down message by message, then use the mouse pad to select the "X" at the top menu bar to delete each one individually. Or, of course, there's Fn + delete.

Another set of handy keys I often use when scrolling through and reviewing documents is Page Up and Page Down. Yes, you guessed it: neither are on the Mac keyboard. So instead of quickly hitting a button to scroll through each page of a lengthy article, I have to continuously hit or hold down the up or down arrow keys, or use the mouse pad to scroll over to the side up/down bar, hold down the mouse button, and scroll with the pad. Somehow I feel like this task just became twice as long.

Now, before you say what I know you'll say, I am aware that I can easily connect a separate mouse with two buttons and stop complaining. And I can just learn all the weird, short-codes and get on with my life. In fact, in the office, I do just this and go one step further, connecting the notebook to a two-button USB keyboard, mouse, and large-screen display. But I'm looking at the big picture. When I'm working at home or on the road, I am often using the notebook while lying in bed, with it on my lap on the couch, or sitting in an airport. None of these spots are ideal for connecting a mouse; and in all of them, I'm looking to get things done. Quickly.

I understand the OS might be world's better than Windows (to be honest, I haven't used it enough to really make a critical comparison). But why is this at the expense of logical key placement and function operation? What's more, this isn't Apple's first Mac. Why haven't they combated these issues and split that single mouse button in two, added a backspace key, and even gone crazy with Page Up/Page Down? Don't tell me there's no room. Do I really need two command and two alt buttons? I think I only ever use those to log on (I hear in the distance Mac users everywhere mocking Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Go ahead. Laugh.).

On the positive side, the keyboard is actually really comfortable to use when typing; and some of the top function keys are pretty handy (volume up/down, brightness, etc.) Granted, you'll find these functions on some Windows-based keyboards as well. The screen is nice, the form factor aesthetically gorgeous, and the magnetic power supply pretty darned cool. But I can't help but look at it as a ditzy, but pretty, schoolgirl compared to an average-looking, but very smart girl, that has the tendency to be a klutz at times.

I'm sure in time, I'll get used to the changes and feel more comfortable using a Mac over a PC. But until then, I will hold my ground that if your work involves a lot of writing or document review in Microsoft Word, stick with a PC. It sort of falls in line with the way I feel in the wireless phone world: I love the iPhone as well, but I'd still take the BlackBerry Bold over it any day.

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Keev said...

couldn't agree with you more. have not used a Mac since the Mac SE. after all this years i am used to windows keyboard functions like in ie holding down control and enter adds .com to the URL , copy/paste/un-do etc using ctrl +c +v +z etc...
will try the bold later this week. but i do like the iPhone so far. ..

Drew said...

I believe checking the Mouse/Keyboard Settings in the System Preferences of Mac OSX (which is the OS you should be using!!) will answer most if not all your issues with the Mac built in mouse and keyboard functions.
I work for a National Custom Distributor and use my Mac exclusively out of all the staff - and I'd have to say - I feel I'm their most productive sales person by using my Mac and the software I found to contact management. (Daylite) The built in mouse pad hasn't slowed me down a bit!

Marc said...

I generally agree with your reviews/position but cannot disagree more on your position in this article. I'd recommend you have a quick chat/do some research with a Mac using co-worker and change your mouse settings. I liken the transition from PC to MAC like a trip to europe. Yes, they drive on the wrong side of the road...a little different at first, but you get use to it really quick. I agree with Drew, you should use OSX as your primary OS. Try VMWare Fusion for your PC of both worlds without needing to reboot!

Anonymous said...

page up=fn+<up arrow>
page dn=fn+<dn arrow>
home=fn+<lt arrow>
end=fn+<rt arrow>