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Deathmatch review: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Mavericks

Galen Gruman | Oct. 24, 2013
Although you can now hide some of the Windows 8 dissonance, Windows 8.1 doesn't leap forward enough

However, OS X Mavericks has a few UI flaws that undercut its superb ease-of-use. Apple has been monkeying with its application file services since OS X Lion, so there are now three distinct UIs and services for saving files: one for traditional apps, one for Versions-enabled apps, and one for iCloud Documents-compatible apps. It's confusing. OS X Mavericks doesn't do anything to rationalize these differences.

Also, though Apple encourages broad usage of the iCloud service, it doesn't work with Apple's Mail program. Adding or saving attachments becomes a rigmarole as you transfer the files from iCloud to your Mac's local drive or vice versa. (iCloud is available only in apps obtained from the Mac App Store, so most Mac apps can't use it.) SkyDrive's deeper integration allows for much more straightforward use, though many IT managers won't like that fact. To manage access to SkyDrive, IT can go with a separate SkyDrive Pro client available for Windows 8.1.

These flaws pale in comparison to Windows 8.1's dissonant UI and awkward stitching together of two distinct environments: Windows 7 (called Windows Desktop) and Metro (which has no formal name). As an example of an unfriendly change in Windows 8 not corrected in Windows 8.1, Microsoft has added the ribbon to the File Explorer file manager. Fair enough — it's standard in Microsoft's apps, after all. But unlike the ribbon in other apps, the one in File Explorer is hidden until you click or tap the corresponding menu. That's fine. The boneheaded part is that when the ribbon displays, it overlays part of your content window, obscuring whatever is at the top. In a file manager, that's especially problematic. (Fortunately, you can turn off this autohide functionality to make File Explorer's ribbon work like all other apps' ribbons and stay affixed above the content area.)

By contrast, the Metro part of Windows 8 can be downright elegant in its simplicity, focus, and use of imagery, without distracting chrome such as window frames and menus. It makes Windows 7 look dowdy and archaic.

There are two ways to get app options that aren't in the app's screens, and they're easily reached through gestures. But if you — like 99 percent of the planet — use a mouse and keyboard, accessing the common search, sharing, and settings services (called "charms") involves an awkward action. If you don't have a physical keyboard, such as for a tablet, there are some Metro features you simply can't use, such as searching for an app by typing its name in the Start screen, because there's no way to invoke the onscreen keyboard. You really need a keyboard to use a Windows tablet.

 

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