The last two years have been filled with much woe for desktop PC owners. Windows 8 was designed from the ground up with touch in mind, resulting in a compromised operating system that doesn’t properly serve the needs of desktops or tablets. Fortunately, there is an OS giving users exactly what they want – and its name is OS X Yosemite.
Mobile makes the desktop better
The rumors that leaked out prior to Yosemite’s reveal correctly guessed that the company would continue to change its desktop operating system with interface ideas inspired by iOS. This was a cause for concern, because what works on mobile often doesn’t work on the desktop, as Windows 8 so aptly demonstrated.
Apple, however, has deftly integrated mobile features with the desktop environment. Most shocking was the reveal of full SMS and voice call integration with OS X. Got an iPhone? Now all of your text messages and phone calls can be received on your desktop, too – and the integration works both ways. Want to call a number you see while browsing on your desktop? No need to pick up your phone! You can call directly from Safari. Skype has been trying for years to convince users that the PC can be used as a phone, but never succeeded. With a single announcement, Apple has accomplished what the now Microsoft-owned service never could.
Unlike Microsoft, however, Apple only borrows ideas that work.
These two features are just the start of a long list of extras that build upon the strengths of iOS. The Notification Center, Spotlight, Safari, Email and Calendar all in some way integrate with or borrow ideas from Apple’s mobile devices, making the desktop stronger in the process.
Unlike Microsoft, however, Apple only borrows ideas that work. There’s still no sign of touchscreen integration, no fat, finger-friendly icons, and no replacement of the desktop itself. OS X Yosemite builds on the dominance of iOS, but doesn’t force desktop owners into changes they don’t want or need. That’s a strategy that offers the best of both worlds.
The cloud at your fingertips
This theme carries over to iCloud, where Apple has once again leveraged its expanding cloud services to provide interesting and accessible features. iCloud Drive, which allows automatic syncing of files between OS X, iOS and Windows devices, is the most useful. It’s effectively DropBox, except it comes baked into the operating system from the start.
Cloud storage isn’t new, of course. Microsoft has had SkyDrive, now called OneDrive, for some time. But the problem with OneDrive, as is the case with so much of Windows, is the interface. The default OneDrive app uses the Metro design, which doesn’t work well with a mouse. To enjoy the service on your desktop, you must download another app from Microsoft’s website which operates independently from the one supplied with Windows. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is.
OneDrive also lacks the wide range of features that iCloud in OS X makes available. There’s no equivalent to iTunes Match, iCloud KeyChain, Photo Stream, or iCloud’s backup and restore features. Microsoft simply lacks the infrastructure and experience necessary to replicate any of this functionality in OneDrive or Windows.
Apple’s iCloud integration has become so important, in fact, that it’s starting to look like a pseudo operating system. You can’t use it to run apps, but you can use it to store data, exchange data, and communicate with others. The fact that Apple controls iCloud, OS X and iOS provides a level of integration no other operating system can match, and allows all three platforms to work together as if they really were a single OS.
The desktop is still the desktop
WWDC 2014 made it clear that OS X 10.10 is a major update which will provide a wide array of new features. Yet, it also made it clear that, for Apple, the desktop is still exactly that. The core user experience remains largely the same.
This approach stands in stark contrast to Windows, which has drastically altered the user experience over the last year and a half or so. Many desktop owners (and some laptop users, too) have protested against the disappearance of the Start Menu, and the need to enter the Metro interface to perform some tasks. While these complaints haven’t fallen on deaf ears, the subsequent updates to Windows 8 have restored features at a lazy pace.
Apple’s approach treats the desktop as the primary workspace, and utilizes it to maximum effect.
Yet, these features are accessed in drastically different ways. Windows Search has bound itself to a swipe-out interface on the right side of the screen, an approach that limits usable space and is jarring to desktop users. The new version of Spotlight, by contrast, will appear front and center, providing far more usable space. Spotlight also takes up only a portion of the desktop, giving users the chance to maneuver other windows and icons around it. Apple’s approach treats the desktop as the primary workspace, and utilizes it to maximum effect; Microsoft’s approach ignores it, and pretends that the PC is an over-sized tablet.
OS X Yosemite looks to be an impressive operating system that manages to blend the convenience and utility of mobile devices, with the productivity of the desktop. Switching between devices will become instantaneous and hassle-free – as long as you have an iPhone or iPad, of course. The level of device integration introduced at WWDC 2014 is unprecedented, and no other company is currently in a position to match it.
Yet, all of the new features added to OS X 10.10 are designed to complement, rather than replace the desktop experience that users have known for over a decade. This creates a perfect match of form and function. The feature set Apple offers is so compelling, that even I, a dedicated Windows user since the days of Windows 95, am considering a switch. Yosemite is every bit as compelling as Windows 8.1 is not.
If you asked me ten years if I thought OS X or Windows would provide a better environment for productivity, I’d have said Windows without question. But Microsoft’s strange path has reversed each company’s role. Now it’s Apple, not Microsoft, which treats the desktop with reverence.