Thursday, 22 January 2009, 0:10:14 EST

When I first tried Mac OS X I found the window manager to be extremely frustrating. I couldn't figure out why most applications would continue to run after closing the last window, and only a few would behave as I expected. Over time I've come accept (actually, prefer) the way OS X does this, but I don't think I ever fully understood it until today. Ars Technica, in reviewing the new taskbar in Windows 7, has clarified this for me. The description of each operating system's window management is the best I have ever read:

The fundamental distinction between OS X and Windows is that, in general, windows on Mac OS X represent documents; on Windows, they represent applications. This conceptual difference motivates many of the UI features of both OSes, and understanding it is key to understanding the two operating systems.

Before reading Ars's review, I felt like Microsoft was copying OS X's Dock system. Now, I see that they are superficially similar, but functionally different. Yes, Windows 7's taskbar shows large icons for each program running. And yes, it allows you to always display a program's icon — even when the program isn't running. But it that is where the similarities to the Dock end. The taskbar is still more of a window switching tool than an application switching tool (click a program's icon in the Dock and all of its windows are brought forward). Windows programs will still quit when the last window is closed, unless the program is written to not do so. As the author of the review concludes, Windows is moving closer to the OS X model, but it isn't quite there yet.


That is a totally different mindset. When I use a computer, my thought is "I need to open file 'x' with program 'a', do these actions, then use program 'b', to move it into program 'c', etc. Everything is application-centric.

Plus, with so many settings and updates not taking effect until all instances of the program are closed, then re-opened, I think a document-centric model would be frustrating.

Linux / UNIX is this to the extreme - where many applications and utilities don't even have file associations in the GUI, or shortcuts in the application menus. In a terminal, the application you use call is the 1st thing you have to figure out - not the document.

I have never put time into Apple, so I can't fairly evaluate that one approach is necessarily better than the other.

Posted by Mr Frosti on Saturday, 07 February 2009, 9:22:02 EST.