I honestly do not believe for a minute that users who liked Windows XP’s layout suddenly preferred Vista’s when they tried it. Keep in mind that I am not talking about functionality, features, or security. I am speaking only of how it is presented visually.
Vista is, despite myself not really caring for it, a visually attractive OS, much like OS X. Yet it seems like OS X is consistently presenting the user with a tighter visual experience. Is it just me? Both operating systems are nice looking. Both offer a fairly obvious work-flow with most things — even networking (although this will be argued). And yet, when any new release of OS X is released, outside of minor differences, it appears basically the same as the last. Despite this, people are jumping all over themselves to get it — why?
Here are my thoughts, thinking as someone who does not care for either operating system — so I am not at all biased in this instance.
Windows, from 95 through Win Me, looked pretty much the same. Yes, there were some limited visual changes, a lot of new things going on behind the scenes, but someone moving from 95 to Me would not find themselves lost if making the switch. Windows XP changed all of this. Like Windows 2000 Pro with a facelift, a lot of people (myself included) felt like they were working on an Fisher Price-like OS and ended up killing off the theme service from disgust. In the end, visually, it sucked. But the backed improvements, move to NTFS, etc. made for a massively improved OS ruined by a sudden theme change. And this happened again with Vista. Some good changes to the back ended stuff while the visuals are designed by people who really did not think through what people were used to seeing previously. Change is fine when it improves existing usability. To me, Vista just did not do this. They over-improved things in my mind to the point where many users I have seen are left looking for stuff.
To some extent, I suppose the same can be said for OS 9 to OS X. But once OS X came into being, visually, it generally found what worked and left it alone. Visually speaking, to me, based on what I have experienced, nothing has changed that much since its inception. What makes OS X so interesting on this is not comparing the same timeline as Windows, rather the sheer number of releases of the OS as it went live.
Now it seems that Windows 7 will retain some of its Vista appearance, which I think may prove to be a good thing. Why? Because it will (it is hoped) mean that Microsoft will be working on the back-end stuff while leaving what works visually alone. Vista is fine from a visual perspective; I guess it is time to leave this part alone. What do you think?