Mac Touchpad versus PC User

Posted By Pamela on Jun 4, 2008 | 7 comments

The astronomy community is rich with Macintosh users. Many of us have them because they can be forced to play like a Linux/UNIX box and run all our astronomy software that was developed for Solaris or similar. Now the thing about Mac is they have super powerful touchpads that can do all sorts of scary stuff like scroll and zoom, right click and double click, etc all depending on how people have configured them. This leads to the fascinating realization that we can’t fluently use one another’s computers all the time. This gets even more interesting when you throw in the occasional international keyboard (I made Chris’s computer misbehave in fascinating ways the other day). Now, we the Mac users, know this is a “feature” of our computer that is actually an expression of its power and glory.

Hand a PC user a Mac, however, and within 30 seconds the touchpad and lack of double-button leads to bitching.

Now, the thing is, Macs work *really really well* with two and three button mice. Scroll buttons work beautifully. The righ-button and scroll wheel just aren’t part of the default hardware system. Mac recognizes (and they take it to the extreme with the Mac Mini) that people have very personal ideas of what they want their mouse or trackball to feel like (I for one, only use Logitech, symmetric for right or left handed use, marble track balls and Goldtone ergonomic keyboards when I have a choice). Thus, Mac keeps it simple and pretty with their laptop.

PC users have this fascinating misconception that Macs just don’t have two button capabilities, and they also don’t know either the cntrl-click, right button surrogate option or the touch pad “gestures” that act like right click. This means that while I made fascinating mis-clicks and motions when using Chris’s computer, I at least knew how to fix what I did using keyboard controls while the poor innocent PC user would just get frustrated and curse Steve Jobs’ genetic ancestry.

I’ve seen many many examples of this, “[expletive] Mac, no two button, [expletive] touchpad doesn’t work normally” behavior at this meeting.

I’m not sure why but I find this highly humorous. Perhaps this is a bit of an obnoxious, arrogant sense of schdenfruende amusement. I can use a non-Vista windows system. I can use a Mac. It all just goes.

I just watched a very brave and somewhat MacIntosh confused presenter from the World-Wide Telescope work very very hard to do his presentation on a MacIntosh that clearly knew he was from Microsoft and clearly resented that it was booted into Vista. He was nice, the software was clearly powerful, but the computer simply would not acknowledge his non-fluent attempts to use a right-click surrogate gesture on the touchpad. He tried hard. It said “no.”

There are reasons I won’t do demos on computers other than my own unless under extreme duress.

An aside…

I really really wish that the World Wide Telescope had an OSX native version, or had been coded in something like Adobe Air (not that Microsoft would do that) to allow it to function universally. I have Parallels and will boot into Window’s XP to use Peranso to reduce variable star data. I won’t do it when connected to the internet, however, unless it is for a brief moment to register licenses or to check a website *I created* to make sure it works while on an ethernet cable behind a switch/hub with a firewall. I switched to OSX after having my beloved Sony VAIO twice in 6 months have a virus swim up one of its ports and kill my hard drive. In both cases, I was one of the first 50 folks Symantic identified with a new form of electronic evil doer they hadn’t known to block when I could have used their protection. I strongly suspect the programmer worked in the building where I worked. The experience left me windows weary, and a bit bitter and nervous about PCs and the internet.

So, I guess the OSX versus Windows emotional angst is alive and well, with a sense of wistfulness on both sides. I want more software, and they want a two-button+scroll wheel touchpad. To each his (or her) on desires…


  1. Pamela,

    Ah, the Mac vs. Windows war. About 3 years ago, I returned to the Mac world with a PowerBook. It was a wonderful experience. Since that time, we have added two more Macs to the house. In a prior life, my wife and I both were network admin geeks. We both now attend “the church of apple” because they just work. I can count the number of times on one hand that my Macs have failed.

    Here is a good Mac vs. Windows example. I added a Logitech bluetooth mouse to my MacBook. The instructions were entertaining. For Windows they stated don’t connect the mouse with out first installing the drivers, etc. In total, about 10-12 steps. The Mac instructions were great. “Turn on Bluetooth mouse. Follow instructions on screen.” How easy is that.

    The only compliant I have about Macs is the Bluetooth on the MacBook. MANY people have experienced the “Bluetooth unavailable” message when the MacBook gets hot. Apple denies any problem yet many people report the issue. I guess no religion is perfect.

    Take care,


  2. Give a pianist a violin and he’ll be useless. But he can make music as easily on the piano as the violinist can on the violin.

    It’s just a matter of what you trained with. I find the cyclopean one-button mouse a crippled thing, and I note how long it took Jobs to admit that a color display was a Good Thing.

    I’m happy with a Wintel machine (“PC” truly applies to both worlds. At my last job, my “PC” was an HP mainframe server.). For one thing, I can get lots of hardware and software at little cost.

    But I don’t try to get Mac users to switch. Live and let live, that’s my motto. Macs are great for graphic applications – but then, I know lots of people who run Photoshop on Wintels.

    And our Wintels can run Linux (making them Lintels?).

    To each their own; the whole point of a computer is that it responds to your input, and presents its output in a way readily accessible to your senses.

    (The reason, of course, that Macs are relatively safe from viruses is that they represent such a small percentage of the installed base that it’s really not worth the bother of writing virsuses. This is one example of the “good news / bad news” paradigm.)

  3. It’s clear that the PC is more customizable than the Mac. There’s alot more utilities available for the PC, the problem is knowing what to get. The Mac has alot of functionalities build in from the start (what Windows sometimes lacks), but this also prevents people searching for and comparing other tools and utilities.

    Things as not being able to disable mouse acceleration on the Mac is just mind boggling, you have to give people the freedom to choose how they use their computers. Mac is just like religion; it’s all about how it looks on the outside and restricts it’s practitioners. The Mac practitioners don’t see the rotten inside and pray to the holy glossy white shiny hardware and all they get is a dumbed down version of reality!

    But hey; they’ll die out in time… I’m patient 😉

  4. Yeah I love it how on mac things just work. The BT keyboard is a wonderful example! Also take a card reader for example… on windows mine takes up 6 driver letters!!!!! on mac non unless I insert something. (note I found a work around for that on windows, there is a cool tool to manage usb devices called USBDLM (or something like that)).

    I do agree there is less software choice for mac. But the I’ve never search for something and haven’t found it. Sure windows has 25 programs that do the job… 4 are usable and only 1 is free. Where as mac may have only 3, 1 is payware but very nice, 2 are free but less nice.

    PS: I can disabled the acceleration of my Logitech VX Nano! (ok I did have to install the logitech software though)

  5. I agree with Pamela that it would be very stressful to give a demo using someone else’s computer. I like to bring my own projection system as well. I like to minimize my stress level. I prefer technology that supports rather than interferes with my message.

    We use Macs. I also have a NeXT (what Steve Jobs did in between stints at Apple) that doesn’t get used much these days. Powerful. Elegant. It just works. Having Unix under it all makes it pretty darn stable. I know I have a tcsh shell (or others) readily available, but it’s nice that days can go by without my needing to use a Unix shell or the Unix tools directly. Viruses just aren’t as easy to write and get into these systems. Not impossible, but harder.

    Anything I can print, I can turn into a PDF file. Handy, easy, out of the box, it works. In all applications without the developers having to do anything special.

    The Mighty Mouse on my desktop Mac has multiple buttons and a scroll button. It just works. I can plug in various devices and have them just work.

    I can speak to my computer and have it navigate menus. That’s built in. It just works. Across all apps without the developers knowing it’s there. I don’t find it very helpful normally, but when I was having wrist problems it was handy.

    I can and do use Microsoft Office products (not Access) natively. Although I have Parallels (to run OpenStep from the NeXT days for a custom app), I don’t have or run Windows at home.

    Other than games, I have yet to run across a product I need to use that isn’t available for Mac OS X. For software development, I can use Eclipse with Java and C++, copy the project files to a server, and let my students use them on Linux or Windows in Eclipse. Same with NetBeans, I believe. I prefer to use the Mac development tools, but I can easily go cross-platform.

    At school, I can use the Windows or Linux machines as needed. The Windows ones don’t seem to be as flexible as my Mac and don’t seem to remember when I do customize them, but I try to believe that they just aren’t configured correctly. Copy and paste doesn’t seem to work as consistently across all apps for Linux and Windows, but again, I try to attribute that to user error and inexperience. I expect to select something in one app, use Control-C to copy it, move to another app and use Control-V to paste it. It works everywhere on my Mac with all sorts of content (using the Apple Command key rather than the Control key). And it mostly works on Linux and Windows. Except when it doesn’t.

    Writing code for the Mac is fun. A few years ago, I wrote a desktop widget to monitor aurora conditions (boring right now at solar minimum). Fun. The NeXT (which became Mac) development tools were ahead of their time and are still fun to use.

    It’s hard to argue religion. As long as people think this is a religious rather than a technical argument, it won’t go anywhere. It’s not religion. It’s a preference.

    My computer works. It runs the software I need it to run. I can get extra software (Graphic Converter, Google Earth, Second Life, gimp, OmniGraffle, …) if need be. I have a hard time looking at these machines compared to what I’ve seen and used of Windows machines and thinking that this is a ‘dumbed down version of reality’. As my son’s t-shirt from Mythbusters says, ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own.’

  6. Giving a presentation on someone else’s machine? Horrors!

    I’m with Pamela – Macs Just Work. It’s not a religion, it’s a technical thing: I use linux, Windows, BSD, OS X and Solaris – only a Mac gets out of my way and lets me get to work on the other systems I manage.

    But then, I didn’t get a Mac until they became Unix machines. So I might be biased.

    The reason, of course, that Macs are relatively safe from viruses is that they represent such a small percentage of the installed base that it’s really not worth the bother of writing virsuses.

    That’s the reason why there aren’t more exploits written. The reason Macs are relatively safe from exploitation is the security model employed by unix.

    It is possible to screw this all up – grant the ordinary user admin rights, log in as the root user and so forth. But you’ve gotta know what you’re doing to do most of this – people who are likely to mindlessly expose their system to malware are the kind of people to login as a non-priv’d user the way God and Jobs intended.


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