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Nitty Gritty

Nitty gritty. Brass tacks. When it all comes around. At the end of the day.


There are a lot of people who complain a lot about OS X: people who do monstrous magnifications of GUI elements to find a single pixel out of whack; people who long for the good old days when Finder wasn't even standalone and there was one program and one folder to put it in; people who come from the NeXTSTEP platform.

Apple sued Microsoft for stealing their GUI interface design. Microsoft's (Bill's) reply was that they were both 'thieves'. Which in a sense is right: this all started with Doug Engelbart and Alan Kay. But there's an important distinction.

Apple saw what Alan was doing and were impressed by it. But they built their own system. Microsoft did not. They cajoled Apple for a few Mac prototypes to build a spreadsheet program (Multiplan) but used the boxes just as much to dig into them - to literally copy the Apple interface.

There must have been some real clunkers there at Microsoft then. As perhaps but probably not opposed to now.

There's a lot of talk in the media right now about how Microsoft steal but do such a bad job of it. Never getting the ideas, only the appearances. But what other example do they ever need when they have Microsoft Windows 1.0?

Windows way back then set the tone for GUIs on the Wintel platform. Everything is an 'improvement' on that first lacklustre release. Finally in 1990 they achieved a modicum of success and kept building on top of it. And when Linux comes out with a couple of 'desktops' today, they are copying Windows design outright - and where can that leave people?

The Apple OS X GUI is object oriented - it distinguishes between 'window' and 'application'. A Windows application has one window - that's it. Anyone who has been working with both platforms understands the distinction - and what a sorry mess Mister Bill and his baboons have made.

It's amazing they could have screwed up so bad - but it's a fact.

Microsoft from the very outset put the menu on the application window. They didn't have to copy Apple's menu bar: they could have used the Next-style cascading menus for example. Whatever: it was patently clear that there was a separation of these two objects. It was bleeding obvious.

And yet the buffoons in Seattle didn't see it. They literally didn't see it.

Any halfway decent engineer would have analysed what was at stake and come up with the answer to the sixty four thousand dollar question. Not the idiots in Seattle.

Today all platforms except NeXTSTEP and OS X - thanks to Microsoft - have this debilitating weakness. It's horrible and it's inexcusable and we know who's to blame.

The original Mac may have been a mess under the bonnet, but Apple got the GUI right - and they worked at it too. Microsoft literally stole from Apple, didn't have to work at it, and they still couldn't get it right despite that advantage.

Microsoft go on stealing ideas even today, and they're just as bad at it today as back in the years leading up to the original Mac. But the things that are happening today are not as crucial - at least they don't appear to be.

We might see things differently in retrospect, but so far it looks as if the lack of ethics in Seattle/Redmond have meant extremely bad karma for Microsoft users.

We can only look forward to the day when it means extremely bad karma for Microsoft as well.

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