But I Digress...
by Doc Hillman
The Mac Is The Smartest OS? Not For Everyone
November 10th, 2000
Two weeks ago, we looked together at the Mac OS and briefly, the theories of Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University. Today, I am going to flesh out those original thoughts, and present you with an entirely different way of looking at the Operating System Wars. Why? Well let's just say that I'm hoping to drive the conversation on the OS front beyond the simplistic and into the world of complex theory. If you are an OS developer, this could prove important. If you are an OS user, this will help you think about computing in a completely different way.
Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences is widely known in the education community. In essence, it presupposes that people are not possessed of a single measurable intelligence. Rather, they are individuals who possess varying amounts of different manners of intelligence. Through this theory, Gardner has amply addressed the differences between individuals and learning styles. The eight identified intelligences are musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Next on the horizon of research is existential intelligence, but it has not been added to the list just yet.
I'll not address each in depth, as I am hopeful that you get the gist of what Gardner supposes. Given those suppositions then, what are the implications for computer operating systems? Enormous and varied, just like the people they try to serve.
On one hand, you've got the MacOS, which has a clear attachment to a certain set of intelligences. Given the dominance of the system with artists and architects, spatial intelligence is clearly supported by the Mac OS. In addition, the use of the MacOS for musical work also brings in the idea of musical intelligence. With the relative ease of use, music professionals still flock to the platform- a platform that supported MIDI and other such uses before the Wintel platform really brought them into the fold. The residual effect is that of a platform that works well for composers and musicians.
In addition, the interpersonal attachments of the MacOS are clear. The friendly interface (dismissed by the Wintel community) makes it a platform that is ideal for communication on and interpersonal level. With the remarkable number of Mac web sites that compete for your time, there is clearly an interpersonal level to the OS that surpasses the Wintel platform.
My proposition is however, that despite these strengths, the MacOS functions in a manner that does not address the full range of intelligences, and therefore cannot be THE operating system of choice for all consumers. To assume that it could would be folly, or the product of a great deal of educational philosophy.
For indeed, despite our perception that the OS is a tool, it is first and foremost a teaching device. Any individual that opens the box to a computer is on the way to an educational experience. If the system supports their intelligences, they will learn how to use it effectively. If not, they will, like many students do every day in the classroom, pull away from the system as non-intuitive because it does not address them on the fundamental level of their intelligences.
So why does Windows, which so many Mac users consider inferior, command such a large user base? Theory would dictate that it is not the brilliance of the Microsoft developers, for I doubt that any have really read Gardner's The Unschooled Mind. Rather, there is a built in way that the Windows system addresses a larger group of users than the Macintosh platform does at this point.
One brief example before I go on. Apple spends a great deal of time on hardware development that is both aesthetic and functional, while the Wintel machines seem to have been pressed by a cookie cutter. To the spatial learner, this is an enormous benefit. They will embrace the beauty of the machine and allow that beauty to effect their entire view of the OS which is intrinsically tied to the exterior look of the machine. Despite my own feelings about the Cube for example, there is no denying that the Cube's design elements touch the user in a special way. Why else would there be such an uproar about the cracks in the casing. They don't effect the computer, only the user's visual sense.
So how does Windows do it? By pure accident and luck really, not through the brilliance of their design team. In a variety of ways, the Windows operating system (or should I say shell) touches a variety of intelligences. First, as a platform on which gaming has become a seeming reason for being, and certainly a reason to dissuade possible Mac purchasers, the bodily-kinesthetic learner is supported. The use of the physical may be small, but the intricate sets of motions required by a gamer are clearly in the world of kinesthesiology. Macs, a more work oriented machine, do not offer the same opportunities for kinesthetic learning.
Spatial learning is also challenged by the OS itself. There is a deep need for an advanced user of the Windows platform to use the system in a manner that involves spatial understanding of intricate file structure patterns. Watching a user running a Windows machine defies me. They navigate through intricate file structures at lightning speed- something that is seldom demanded of the Mac user. We have at our command ways to make the job easier. The Windows user though embraces the file structure and the intricacy.
Logical-Mathematical intelligence is also a clear way that the Windows machine works to a user's advantage. The command line, spurned by me and a host of other Macintosh users is the key here. What seems arcane to me on a Windows machine is an advantage. A user there can work through the heart of the system with simplicity. While the keyboard shortcuts may exist for the Mac, they are up front in Windows. We look at this as an anachronism. Windows users see it as an advantage. Is one better than the other? No. One simply touches a different part of the brain.
Windows is loaded with these anachronisms that end up making the system an everyman type of machine. Interpersonal intelligence is supported by the almost sickeningly friendly interface. Everything of import seems to be done automatically for users. Downloads go where Windows tells them, software installs itself with ease, and updates occur because they need to. This demands nothing from the user but a level of interpersonal trust that the OS will do the job. Friendly? For a Windows user, this is as interpersonal as it gets.
While Bob was a huge gamble and misjudgment on Microsoft's behalf, the lessons were learned, and Windows became a more personal environment in which to work- once one of the Macs main selling points. Clearly, I could go on for an eternity discussing how one platform grew in prominence, but I am confident that by now you understand that your status as a Mac user makes you a different beast from the average Windows users. If you accept that, then you must also accept that the way to bring more Windows users across is by development of the Mac OS in a manner that supports multiple intelligence theory. How can that be accomplished?
Well, two weeks ago I said this was a two part series. Why don't we make it three and close it there?
But I digress in academic robes.
Your comments are welcomed.
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Dr. Tim Hillmanis a long time contributor to the Mac community through his work with MacCentral, MacOPINION, and most recently MacOS Daily.