By: Darius Garsys
The Macintosh OS hasn't changed much since 1984, but look how much Windows/DOS has changed since then. In fifteen years the Mac will still look the same (and fall behind) while Windows will keep changing.
How many times have we heard, "Mac OS is outdated because its stagnant" argument? Often enough. Recently, I've been hearing this more often (possibly since the hardware battle is firmly in Apple's control at the moment).
First of all, it is important to understand that the Operating System and the User Interface are NOT one and the same.
The interface is how the user interacts with the system and the programs it runs. Using cars as an example;the interface is the controls you use: steering wheel, brake pedal, etc. regardless of the engine or body style.
Some OS's can change interfaces or environment shells without changing the core of the OS. So the statement that the MacOS hasn't changed is false -- it is much more accurate to say that the User Interface changes are so gradual and logical that people haven't noticed them during the last 15 years. While Microsoft has shifted from DOS to Windows, and then to Win 95/NT, with major changes in the interface (as well as the OS).
This is similar to automobiles and their interface. Would you believe some very early cars used what amounted to a tiller to steer? Now, and since at least the 1930's, the interface has remained basically the same: Clutch (optional), a gearshift, a gas pedal, and a brake. Now in the last 60 odd years we've refined the interface. Power Steering, Power Breaks, better positioning of seats, switches, controls, to make them easier to reach and use. We've even added new controls for new things, like CD players, but the basic job of getting from here to there is directed the same way, regardless of what's under the hood. All in all we're looking at over six decades of the same interface. Is it obsolete? Until a better metaphor comes along, no. So what it means is that the interface guys got it right (or close enough), so don't have to keep changing things.
Kaizen is a Japanese term. In general, it means gradual, incremental improvement and refinement -- it is the process the Japanese use in everything from walkmen to cars, making minor changes from year to year that slowly reduce weight, improve reliability, improve usability, and so forth. It is not used for revolutionary changes so much as for evolutionary ones. (For those who've read Deming, hush, I'm simplifying.)
Windows HAS changed, but to What?
Windows has been a tale of revolutionary (for Microsoft) changes. First, the introduction of Windows itself, beginning the use of a graphical user interface. But Windows 1 and Windows 2 were weird pane based things (Windows didn't overlap, they just tiled around each other). Then 3.0 behaved more like a Mac, but have file and program managers and other oddities. Then Win95/NT4, which adopted the desktop metaphor (like the Mac). So Microsoft's OS's have changed in outward appearance far more than the Mac, but they've done it by adopting more and more of the Mac metaphor, well after the fact.
Nitpicking about how MS implements the metaphor aside (and I've got lots of nits to pick), MS has admitted by imitation, the best form of flattery, that the desktop metaphor works and is the best they've been able to find or imitate after fifteen years. It probably will be until an intuitive non-2d form of input is available. Thus, for Apple to change its metaphor would have been change for the sake of change (or useless flash) rather than to provide useful functionality. Unfortunately MS is fifteen years behind in refining it into usability.
Now that we've explained why not changing the UI can be a good thing, what about the OS?
Operating System (OS)
On the MS side, Windows has changed dramatically, even though W95 is still based on DOS code for compatibility's sake, and even NT can use a c: prompt and run DOS (so it claims).
On the Mac side? Again, the beauty of Kaizen at work, though it was more of an accident or out of necessity than long-term strategic planning. Here are some of the changes to the MacOS:
The point. The Mac OS has undergone a lot of under-the-hood improvements, upgrades, rewrites. These have resulted in, over time, the OS actually becoming faster (more native code, more efficient coding) and more stable while adding features and refining the interface (something Microsoft hasn't done). Some of the changes were to interface, some were much deeper. The Mac has not stagnated -- it has grown and thrived, it has changed architecturally more than Windows. But because the interface is still similar to the original, some people get confused.
Looking at both my SE and my PowerMac, I realize something. Despite an improvement in quality, power, and refinements (that are equivalent of going from a poorly recorded tape, to a gold CD) -- the song, thankfully, remains the same. And it rocks.