Over a period of two decades, I have witnessed one Windows user after another struggle with the following concepts. By “struggle,” I generally mean “fail to understand even after explanation and demonstration.” Windows induces you to fear your computer and expect it will cause you harm. You should and it will, but does that mean you can’t learn a few terms?

Close vs. quit

Windoids cannot understand the concepts of closing a file but quitting a program. “Close” is used promiscuously in Windows to refer to everything from removing a file from active use to shutting down software, the latter of which is often deemed “exit.” As such, Windoids have a great deal of trouble relating to the idea that a program may stay up and running in the background with no documents open because you closed all those documents without quitting the program. One explanation: Some software quits when you close the last document, while other software starts a new document after you close the last one. (I shit you not. These nonsensical, baffling, even infuriating habits are readily found in Windows programs, including rivals Word and WordPerfect.)

The unmemorable keystrokes Alt-F4 and Ctrl-F4 make matters worse. What happens with each?

I know Windoids are not clear on what “close” really means because I have witnessed one of them mime folding over the flaps of a cardboard box when trying to communicate what he meant by “close the program.” (Is the program still taking up space with its lid closed? Is it still running?) Conceptually, Windows users associate closing a program with, say, closing up a cottage for the winter or closing a failing business – hardly apt analogies.


This one is at least barely possible to get across with effort, but I have never met a Windows user who could confidently and instantly name the sensitive panel below a laptop keyboard that replaces the mouse. Most of the time, in my direct experience, they can’t name it at all; the rest of the time they call it a touchpad. The amateur lexicographer in me would be happy to accept that term as a nonstandard but accepted usage if there were actually a standard or accepted usage. There is – it’s trackpad, but since most Windoids don’t know it, in their cohort there is no standard or accepted usage.

This does in fact mean that Windows users, who are already afraid of their computers, do not have a name for one of the two components they touch all day.

Minimize; drag and drop

Windows is programmed as a multitasking operating system but designed for singletasking. Until Vista and 7, when you launched a program it took over the entire screen, with at most the system tray still visible. Even in the days of 3.1 and XP there were exceptions like chat programs, but by far the majority of Windoids’ computer time takes place with one program occupying all the available monitor space save for a small strip at the bottom.

As such, Windoids expect every single thing to be minimizable. Put them on a Macintosh and they go crazy trying to figure out how to “minimize” entire programs, which you can’t do. They’re baffled at minimizing documents to the Dock. (An equivalent action borders on impossible in early Windows versions; in Vista and 7, you can achieve something that looks different but functions similarly.)

Moving a window, when possible at all, requires decoupling it from full-screen mode by hitting the most mysterious of the three squares in the upper right corner. Thus you need to tell the computer you want a window smaller than full-screen before you can move that window around. A window defaults to pinning itself to three edges of the screen.

Of course I am discussing two equally arbitrary implementations of the concept of minimization, but only one of them works. The consequences are serious: Windoids have no conception of drag and drop. They copy and paste everything, and they do it using the mouse, as we’ll see below.

I got into a ten-minute argument, an actual argument, with one Windoid after I described how easy it was to drag LibraryThing entries into the BBEdit source code of my reading list. I did a quick calculation and told him he’d be facing 45 copy-and-paste pairs to do the same on Windows; even without telling him how hard it would be for him to switch apps 45 times, he started yelling right away.

After insisting that their new machines are hard to break and are not out to hurt them, the first thing I teach neophyte Macintosh users is to drag everything. (The detail of press-and-hold-before-drag is important to mention.) A Windoid finds it unexpected bordering on bizarre to be confronted with, for example, a 27″ iMac whose windows promiscuously overlap. All they’re used to is one software program taking over the entire undersized monitor of their Windows computer. What I tell them is simple: When in doubt, drag it.

I find it interesting how much I enjoy a design feature of iOS: The machine becomes the app you’re running. (Not a new observation.) Yet I never want that on Mac, and what Windows does is pretend only one app is running.

Multiple monitors

I have better success explaining the concept of multiple monitors. I’ve been a two-screen man since the SE/30, and the first thing I ask a new Macintosh user is “Got a spare monitor lying around?” (Many do.) I don’t know how people survive with just one screen. But that’s all Windoids know. In fact, what they mostly know is a 15″ CRT that, they believe, gives them eyestrain.

When presented even with something very simple, like a MacBook with an external monitor, Windoids are momentarily baffled. The utility of multiple monitors becomes clearer to them once they learn about drag and drop. If I recall correctly, systems up to and including XP allowed multiple monitors but they had to be of identical screen dimensions; Windows 7 handles multiple monitors about as well as Macs do, a mere 20-odd years later. (That means your life can change, too; got a spare monitor lying around?)

The keyboard

It took the addition of VoiceOver in order for Macs to be reasonably usable by keyboard only. You’ve been able to run the full Windows system by keyboard since 3.1 at the latest, and in fact in the early ’90s there was an entire book published on exactly how to do so. We are of course not talking about creating actual Illustrator or Photoshop documents with keyboard only; the topic here is operating the computer’s menus, windows, and the like.

Despite having full keyboard control available to them, Windoids are nothing short of paranoid about using the keyboard.

  • They’re afraid to just barrel on ahead, typing merrily away. (Am I right to observe that more Mac users can touch-type? Is this a consequence of hunt-and-peck?)

  • They refuse to learn keyboard equivalents even for simple and necessary actions like cut, copy, paste, and undo, all of which, incidentally, were stolen wholesale from Macs (after a brief period of unnecessary differentiation).

  • Some users may understand Ctrl-B for bold and Ctrl-U for underline. (That’s one reason why MS Word documents are unstructured; structure takes too much work, but after about five years people finally pick up those two keystrokes.)

Things get seriously worse when a Windoid is confronted with a form.

  • We’ve all endured the searing pain of watching a Windoid try to fill out even a simple form by laboriously clicking the mouse in the first field (a term they don’t know), moving hands to keyboard to fill it in, then picking up the mouse all over again to click in the next field. Are you like me? Do you just push them out of the way and take over? (Isn’t it just faster for everybody?)

  • I have a 100% failure rate teaching Windoids to Tab from field to field and the same rate teaching them to Shift-Tab backwards.

  • Even users who do everything by the keyboard, like totally blind people, are lousy at keyboard entry of forms. The classic example here is a drop-down menu – you browse one of those using Alt-downarrow and not just plain downarrow, which selects the first item you expose. Web-accessibility guidelines and screen readers have expended considerable effort working around blind people’s automatic use of the wrong keystrokes.

Switching applications

Typing Alt-Tab to move from one running application to another is such a genius idea that Macs actually stole it from Windows. It’s Command-Tab on Macs, and easily a quarter of Mac users I know have no idea it exists. (Press and hold those keys to pick and choose an application to switch to. Add Shift to go in reverse. But just whack the keys really fast to switch instantly between the last two programs.)

Windoids don’t know about it, either, and I have witnessed them methodically minimizing one application after another trying to find one specific application. (This does in fact mean they don’t understand they can just use the Taskbar. I have seen people intelligently use the Start menu to switch apps.)


This one is particularly egregious and reflects Microsoft’s unerring bad taste. On several occasions I have put in quite a few minutes trying to explain the concept of sleep to a Windoid. (It’s fun to divide that time by how fast a Macintosh can boot – even more fun with a MacBook Air. I’ve witnessed a simple Wintel laptop take seven minutes to boot. Admittedly that’s off-topic.)

Windoids understand two and a half concepts: The computer is on or it’s off. If it is in fact off, a lot of the time that’s because you flicked the power switch instead of shutting the thing down via software. (Not a straightforward task to explain, as Don Norman found.)

Microsoft complicated manners by attempting to distinguish between Sleep, in which the screen is off and most software just stops what it’s doing, and Hibernate, in which both the foregoing happen but the state of all software is stored in RAM or on disc. Very-long-term Windows users confuse Hibernate with parking an MS-DOS hard drive. Everyone else just ends up confused.

I have witnessed surprise and delight on the faces of Windoids when they learn that all they need to do to put their new Mac to sleep is touch the power button. Later they discover the surprise and delight associated with how long a Mac can run without a restart (weeks to months in typical cases).

Honourable mentions

  • Not just the keys but the concepts of Backspace and Delete (extra credit for mixing up Backspace and leftarrow).

  • Typing any and all characters not imprinted on the keyboard. (Two tests you can run: Ask any American to type an opening single quotation mark and any European to type an apostrophe.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.04.16 09:15. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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