Apple 3, Microsoft 0 (aka Sorting Mac and Windows all Out)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/11/12 10:16 -05:00, original URI:

This is another of those fun Mac vs. Windows user interface intuitivosity posts, like this other one from last week.

Now even the most occasional of readers here know how I feel about collation. Hell, the blog is named with collation in mind -- not as clever of a pun as the one used by the WinFS Team Blog (i.e. What's in Store), but then again you can just look at what happened to WinFS to see how far clever puns will get you. :-)

But the user interface for it is not entirely intuitive; neither is the functionality, really. Slightly embarrassing, when I think about it (there was even a brief time that I owned the user interface, and I was on the interview loop of the person who took it over and gave a hire recommendation!). But anyway....

I was thinking about this the other day, after developer colleague Gloria asked:

I am hoping that one of you can tell me how I can work with the JPN Radical/Stroke Count sort on Vista. On both my vista boxes, when I try to change my locale in Regional and Language settings I see just one option for Japanese. Is there a language pack that I have to install to see this in the UI?

Now, just like I did with Scott Hanselman (ref: the sequelae), I decided to take a step back from just explaining where the UI is -- but to actually assume that when smart people (like Scott and like Gloria) don't immediately come to the right answer -- especially when they know there is a right answer available somewhere -- that there is a serious usability problem in our provided solution....

You know, the old "if they don't get it, then the regular people won't either" approach.

So I figured we'd take a look at what Microsoft does, and what Apple does...

Let's see first how Apple handles this from a user interface perspective (since they "won" last time, they get to go first).

Well if you click on that International icon in their control panel equivalent, it is right there to see and even has a tooltip:

Wonder what that list looks like? Okay, no suspense for you Windows folk, I'll show it:

Now perhaps I might be weirded out a bit by not seeing the sort order tied with formats like it is on Windows (it is not associated with user interface language though it does share space on the tab), but I am self-aware enough to recognize that this is just my own platform-centric view.

I like that it is prominent and easy to find, and in fact the only real usability problems I see here at first glance are:

On the whole though, I like it. Certainly makes Sorting it all Out easier!

Now let's slide over to Windows. I'll start with Windows 2000, where this was probably the most intuitive, ironically enough. Hang in there, you'll see what I mean soon....

First with English (United States) settings:

and then with German (Germany) settings -- a locale that has two sorts in it:

Ah, a control gets added to show the alternatives. Cool!

Now I do honestly like the tie-in of format settings and collation settings, not only because I am used to it but because there is not too much of a scenario for them to be different -- in general users would expect these two settings to track together.

And I like how the control is not around for when it would not be relevant -- it would be very confusing if it were always there....

I always hated how the text atop the setting didn't even hint that sorting behavior was affected by the setting; this was something I didn't like even before I came to Microsoft. And it is too easy to think that sorting does not happen except when the extra dropdown is there without some indication.

Now of course every version gets better, right?


Starting in XP, a slightly more concise UI happened:

Still no mention of sorting, even if you hit that Customize... button:

Oh right, we're in English right now. We should try German:

And then we'll hit that Customize... button again:

Aha, a dedicated tab has been added.

Let's choose it:

There we go.

This is in my opinion a net regression on UI that actually had some usability problems to start with.

You know, where if you have the knowledge that the setting exists you might be able to find it, but otherwise you are completely lost.

And it is great that there is some expository text about the feature, but most locales hide the tab completely and those that support multiple sorts hide it almost effectively, by burying it so deeply.

Server 2003 had the same UI, no change on this issue.

Let's take as look at Vista:



Net effect? No change on this issue, at all.

Well, a slight change -- the Customize... button has been moved to the bottom of the dialog and more users will associate it with the format examples to the left of the button rather than the setting at the top of the dialog, itself. This is a net negative impact on the intuitivality of the collation setting.....

So, there is good and bad here between all of the platforms in question -- Mac OS X 10.5 and multiple versions of Windows.

But I think Mac does win the usability issue on the whole; it is much more available to users as a feature and on the whole much easier to understand.

If I were in charge of it I'd change a few things, but fewer then I'd need to change on the Windows side. :-)

Okay, Apple 2, Microsoft 0. And it becomes Apple 3, Microsoft 0 if you count the whole Zune vs. iPod internationalization thing.


I mean, it's one thing to not be cool -- the occasional [ignorable] claim to me being either charismatic or charming aside, I know I am not cool (I was only cool enough for a White Zune, after all!). So my platform not being as cool is something I can live with.

But less usable is bad, especially when I think we do have better functionality in many cases....


This post brought to you by(U+1325, a.k.a. ETHIOPIC SYLLABLE THE)

# Rosyna on 13 Nov 2007 12:19 AM:

If you switch the main UI language that is preferred, the popup in Mac OS X automatically snaps to the locale sort order setting and shows the list in a translated manner.

In your screenshot, you have told Mac OS X you want to use the Afrikaans localizations first. If that doesn't exist for any specific localized string/nib, you want it to look for the Australian English localization. If that doesn't exist, you told Mac OS X you want it to show the Aymara localization.

Basically, it looks for the localizations in the order you have them listed in that preference pane. This is why you see some things "localized" and some things not. Some language/sort order strings have localizations in Afrikaans and if they don't, they use the Australian english version.

Personally, Romanized Klingon is my preferred language to use in Mac OS X and thus, it is listed at the top of my Languages list. Followed by US english and then Japanese.

Note that the order of the list also affects the language in which you view webpages. When you visit a page, Safari passes the languages you accept, and the server may give you back a completely different version of the page. So don't be surprised if you start seeing webpages mysteriously localized to Afrikaans.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 13 Nov 2007 12:22 AM:

That is awesome!

# Cam on 15 Nov 2007 2:38 PM:

Since we're on the topic of languages... Have you dealt with the input of specialized characters between the Mac and Windows platforms?

For instance, how to get to an accented 'e' without having to pull up an input pallet?

# Legolas on 16 Nov 2007 5:43 PM:

I'm surprised you like the fact that a control disappears when not needed in win2k. In fact, I think I saw this noted somewhere as a common UI blooper, but I can't recall where. Anyway, if it stayed put (disabled and/or with only one option), you'd have the solution for "the text atop the setting didn't even hint that sorting ..." right there: the control below clearly shows it is linked.

The fact that hiding controls probably isn't a good idea indeed is shown by the adding/hiding of an extra tab, influenced by settings on another dialog, which makes it's presence/absence probably a complete mystery to most people...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 16 Nov 2007 6:22 PM:

Well, "like" might be overstated -- in this case I do not mind the choice being hidden to cases where it is relevant, when it is just a control like that.

The fact that sorting is not mentioned in the text on the dialog has been something I've hated every version so far....

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