I was talking to a student recently about the MS Office 2007 ribbon feature and how it throws many people off at first. I asked her if this was also her experience, but she replied that she had no major problems adjusting to it. They simply changed where things are, but the icons and names of most of the features are still roughly the same, she told me. In fact, she told me that the ribbon reminded her a little bit of the office suite looks on her MacBook.
Ladies, and gentlemen, I submit this as a proof that using more than one operating system on a regular basis is good for you. In fact, quite a few students in my two classes were Mac users. I know because several of them brought their laptops to school and wanted to use it for a presentation and couldn’t because the projector in the classroom had only a standard VGA cable. None of them thought to bring the mini-DVI to VGA extension – they probably never even bought one. Still, I have noticed that those students were the ones who rarely asked the questions of the type “how do I do X”. They were the ones able to work with the lab handouts and locate desired functionality by looking on the screen shots. These students were inherently more adaptable (at least to some degree) because they have been exposed to more than one way of doing things.
Your work-flow on a mac is slightly different from the work-flow on the PC. Asa result, any new Mac user is forced to go through the adjustment period when they figure out how to do task A, B or C on their new system. They learn how to explore and familiarize themselves with a new system. They are aware that different systems accomplish different tasks in their own unique way. They learn distinction between basic concepts and their implementation. Next time they are exposed to an unfamiliar interface, they are better prepared to deal with it.
The non technical folks who live firmly entrenched in Microsoft’s monoculture often memorize common tasks by rote. They remember which menu option, and which buttons to click but do not try to understand why. These are the people who like to take notes when you tell them how to do something. They go, “hold on, hold on, I go to Tools, then Pro-per-ties and then click on Add Vance… Oh, it’s Advanced… What’s next?”
Sometimes there are many ways to accomplish a task. For example, copying and pasting. In most applications you can do it using the context menu, the Edit menu or the keyboard shortcuts. Some people will learn just one of these methods, and be at a complete loss when it is unavailable. Whenever you change the interface, they are lost and must slowly learn to use the software almost from scratch.
Of course, there is nothing stopping someone from learning how to use a Mac this way – memorization, note taking and rote drills. It is not uncommon. But the very process of “switching” tends to do something to people. When the switch is done out of ones own free will, it tends to trigger a sudden realization in most people. The Apple software does almost everything that the PC software used to do, just differently. There are different ways to accomplish different tasks. They unknowingly take the huge cognitive leap that allows them to understand machines better. This is why so many non-geeks love their macs so much, and keep telling everyone how easy their OS is to learn. It is not because of the design on OSX (although it may be part of it). It’s because the process of switching the OS opened up their minds, and expanded their awareness. It is easy for them, because they have learned how to learn new OS’s.
A lot of people hate Apple, and the culture that surrounds it. I don’t. I am thankful that we have this system which to me is a small beacon of hope. Unlike Linux, Mac OS seems to be attractive, and accessible to the mainstream public. And because it teaches people that you can actually switch operating systems it does open up new unexplored avenues for linux adoption. Think about it – a person who can use both OSX and Windows with a relative ease, is likely to be open to yet another alternative operating system. OSX can be the gateway drug that may lead some to Linux. Not everyone, but some. And even if it doesn’t, it shows them that there exists a world outside the Microsoft. It challenges the MS monopoly – and that is a good thing.