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Crossing Platforms: An Author-to-Author Interview

by David Pogue, Adam Engst
01/01/2000

Related Reading

Crossing Platforms A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook
A Dictionary for Strangers in a Strange Land
By Adam Engst, David Pogue

Mac and Windows users have always had a difficult time crossing the great semantic divide between each operating system. But now they have a guide: Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook, co-authored by Adam Engst and David Pogue.

Surprisingly, the idea for the book was not popular among publishers. Adam Engst initially couldn't find one interested in the idea of a Mac/Windows cross-reference patterned after two-way foreign language dictionaries. "I became sufficiently irritated that I sat down and wrote a rant about why Macintosh and Windows users of the world needed this book," he says. As the publisher of TidBITS, a Web site and electronic newsletter for the Macintosh Internet community, his ranting got noticed. Tim O'Reilly read it and agreed with him.

Serendipitously, David Pogue, author of O'Reilly's acclaimed Palm Pilot: The Ultimate Guide, and a long list of Mac books, mentioned the same book idea to Tim in a conversation less than a day later. A collaboration was born.

Join us now for a virtual conversation between the two authors of Crossing Platforms: A Macintosh/Windows Phrasebook.

Adam:
David, you're known for your Mac books, so why did you want to write this particular book?

David:
Because I needed it. When I first started using Windows three years ago, I found it much more difficult than necessary, no thanks to the complete lack of printed documentation from Microsoft. As it turns out, both Apple and Microsoft had to address the same sort of requirements in designing an operating system. They often solve these problems the same ways--but there's no convenient listing of the differences and how to handle them.

What about you? You're known in the Mac community too. What made you want to do this book?

Adam:
A lot of my motivation was that I kept running into people who were expressing frustration with switching between the two platforms--in both directions. When I'd learned to use Windows during the course of writing Internet books that covered both Mac and Windows versions of a program, I found that I had to keep translating my Macintosh experience since Windows worked in different and often unexpected ways. This book is the culmination of my desire to explain each platform to the users of the other.

David:
We're targeting a very unusual category of people: those who are already computer proficient, but feel like absolute beginners when they must use the rival platform.

Our assumption that the reader already knows how to use either the Mac or Windows really helped in writing the book; whenever we want to explain some concept, we can invoke the one the reader already knows on the other computer. So, instead of going into a long song and dance about what a shortcut is on Windows, we can explain to the Mac user that it's "a lot like an alias on the Mac," and go on to discuss the relevant differences.

Adam:
I'd actually argue that the people who need this book aren't at all unusual. I can't tell you how many times I've heard complaints from Mac users who are forced to use Windows at work, or Windows users who discover that their new school relies entirely on Macs. Plus, with the popularity of the iMacs, hundreds of thousands of Windows users are moving to the Mac. While those numbers may be relatively small in comparison with the overall number of PCs sold each year, I'd be happy if this book could help each and every one of those people learn to use a Mac better. However, since there are some Mac users who are die-hard loyalists, it will be interesting to see whether they consider this book a defection from the ranks.

David:
Some people may feel that way--that's why we have two authors. You can explain that I wrote the Windows half of the book, and I can accuse you of having written it.

Adam:
Hey, no giving away the master plan! Seriously, though, I'm not at all worried, since readers could easily view the book as giving Mac users a hand in having to use Windows, and providing a tool that could help Windows users switch to the Mac. In fact, we went to great lengths to avoid both Mac bashing and Windows bashing in the book. We're trying to help readers, not convince them of anything. However, that's not to say that we don't occasionally call a spade a spade when discussing some wildly stupid situation on either platform. Neither of us is a Macintosh bigot... uh, are we?

David:
I used to be, without a doubt. I used to bash the stupid and confusing elements of Windows without ever having really known it. Now when I bash them, I know what I'm talking about.

Adam:
I use Macs and I like Macs, but I also know enough about the Mac OS and other operating systems (a wide variety of them over the years) to accept the strengths and weaknesses of each. There's nothing wrong with expressing a preference, but, as you said, it's important to speak from a position of knowledge. Bigotry is primarily a result of ignorance, and I hope the book can help dispel some ignorance on both sides of the divide.

But enough about philosophy. Let's get into some specifics. What's the main Macintosh feature you miss when using Windows, and the main Windows feature you miss when using the Mac?

David:
How much time do we have? Let's see, on the Mac, the occasional system-software corruption is no big deal; you insert the CD-ROM that came with the computer, do a "clean install," and you're back in business 10 minutes later. On Windows, I live in terror of something going wrong with the OS. There's no way to start up my machine from the CD, let alone conveniently replace the operating system with a fresh copy.

Adam:
The aspect of the Mac that I miss most when using PCs is the simple way you can add hardware and have it work. I've used two monitors on every Mac I've owned since 1990, I regularly boot Macs using external hard disks in troubleshooting situations; and most Macintosh peripherals don't even require additional driver software. Hardware on the Mac truly is plug and play.

David:
When I use the Mac, I miss the single keystroke in Windows (Windows key-M) that takes me back to the desktop and hides the windows of all other programs in a split second.

Adam:
I'm generally not all that fond of how Windows presents the desktop, but there is one little trick that I really like. Now that I've taken hundreds of screenshots while writing books about Windows and Windows programs, I miss not being able to resize windows only left-to-right or top-to-bottom by dragging the window edges. On the Mac, the resize handle always resizes in both orientations, which can make tweaking the window size tedious.

David:
As far as what's most irritating about the Mac, it feels as though the Mac makes me do much more memory-management work--adjusting virtual memory, changing the memory settings for each of my programs, and so on. I like the way Windows does most of that for me.

Adam:
I have to agree with you on this one. Memory management isn't something a user should ever have to think about. Apple needs to make a future version of the Mac OS handle it seamlessly and in the background. But what bugs you the most about Windows?

David:
In general I have the same gripes about Windows as everyone else: it's bloated, there are 15 ways to do anything, the error messages are stupid and un-helpful, and the whole thing crashes entirely too often.

Adam:
Since you covered the major ones, I'll drill down to a single tiny aspect of Windows that bugs the heck out of me. In Windows, if you click the maximize button, the window grows to fill your entire screen, whether or not it makes sense to grow past a certain size. Full-screen windows also hide all other active programs, which makes it harder to work with multiple programs at the same time. For example, you can't easily see both a Web browser window and a document you're writing in a word processor without a lot of manual positioning and sizing.

Having said all that, maybe we should tell everyone what sort of system each of us used while writing the book.

David:
I do all of my writing using speech recognition software--NaturallySpeaking--which runs on Windows. That machine is a 400 MHz Micron desktop with a 300 MHz Dell laptop I use when traveling. My Mac is a Power Mac G3, although we also have two iMacs and an iBook scattered through the house, which we recently Ethernetted.

Adam:
In contrast, I do all of my writing on my Power Macintosh 8500 while controlling my PC in a window, thanks to Netopia's Timbuktu Pro. Since my PC is currently a no-name 150 MHz Pentium with a mere 32 MB of RAM (and thus painfully slow at times), I'm investigating the possibility of killing two birds with one stone and buying a wicked fast (remember when that phrase was used to describe the Mac IIfx?) Power Macintosh G4 with Virtual PC from Connectix.

By the way, your CPU-hungry speech recognition setup on Windows sounds pretty cool, even if it did once recognize "the original file" as "the renal file," leading me to wonder how kidneys were related. I might have to think about some more serious PC hardware if the speech recognition software that's just appeared for the Mac doesn't turn out to work all that well.

David:
That just about wraps it up, no?

Adam:
Indeed. So are you ready to learn Linux for "Crossing Platforms 2: A Macintosh/Windows/Linux Phrasebook?"

David:
Nooooooo.......

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