A few of my Mac centric friends saw my blog post on Windows 7 and said that Aero Peek ripped off Apple’s Expose. Let’s make this clear, I have 3 Macs running OS X Leopard, I use them all of them time, and I think that makes me pretty credible to judge Mac OS X features. I have also been playing with Windows 7 for several days and have it installed on two computers that I use every day. I have some screenshots to display how Aero Peek and Expose’ look, and I’ll narrate how they work in case you aren’t using them.
Apple OS X Expose’
When you are using your Mac and have a bunch of applications open, a keyboard shortcut or hot corner will tile them out on your desktop like this
Ironically I don’t really use this feature much. I prefer to use Spaces to thumbnail all four of my virtual desktops and then select the desktop I want to use, organizing applications by sets instead of selecting from all available windows like this. Expose is also somewhat of an island in the sense that if you don’t choose to create a hot corner for it or remember the shortcut, you might not ever even notice it is there and use it. In my experience many users do not actually take the time to learn shortcuts so not having this hot corner enabled by default limits its exposure.
So what is Expose’ really? I would say that it is a beefy alt-tab for PC or cmd-tab for Mac. Ironically cmd-tab was not available on OS 9 and many claim that Apple stole it from Microsoft Windows, but that’s a debate for another day
Microsoft Aero Peek
Windows 7 brings us Aero Peek. Aero peek is integrated into the taskbar and adds several features to the mix. First and foremost when you hover over a running application’s icon in the taskbar, Aero Peek turns all other open windows transparent to draw focus to what you are highlighting like this
What’s powerful about this is that there are no shortcuts or hot-corners to assign, every application supports it and it’s default functionality. When you hover over any icon in the taskbar a thumbnail of that application is shown, no need to hit a hot key and see what it looks like, if you hover the thumbnail, all other windows fade to clear and that window retains clear focus at it’s actual size and placement.
That doesn’t sound or look like a copy to me. It’s a variation on ways to find open windows for sure, but these are concepts here, I think you have to go much further up the implementation stack before you call it copying.
Is it a copy?
In my opinion it’s not only not a copy, it doesn’t even serve the same fundamental purpose. Apple Expose’ is designed to show you all open windows and let you choose the one that you want to have focus. Aero Peek is meant to show you which window would have focus if you click it. Since you have already highlighted the window that is being shown, and the taskbar thumbnails are telling you textually which application or document it refers to, you aren’t using Aero Peek to select, you are using the taskbar thumbnails to select and then Aero Peek is showing you what the current selection is.
Sometimes OS X will show you a thumbnail in the dock, sometimes not. Windows 7’s task bar always shows thumbnails when you hover. So the Windows 7 taskbar is the tool you are using to select your application window.
For the record, Vista’s task bar had application thumbnails also. The thumbnails were not capable of showing a set of documents and windows related to that application however. If you compare the thumbnail view on the Windows 7 taskbar it’s actually quite superior for a few reasons:
- Windows 7’s taskbar displays all windows related to the icon you are hovering over grouped together. Expose’ has no concept of relation when you have several windows open so you see every window for every application in a big pile.
- Hovering over different application gives you a full size preview of the window you are hovering over no matter how many windows you currently have open. Expose’ thumbnails become less and less useful the more you have open because they get smaller and smaller.
- Right-clicking pinned applications give jump lists that allow you to launch the application in specific states or with specific documents already loaded. (Recent Items for example)
I think it’s interesting that Microsoft Windows had the taskbar long before OS X had the dock. When OS X released the dock, it was seen as being revolutionary, nothing else like it in the business. Microsoft comes along years later and makes some tweaks and refinements to it’s taskbar which basically boil down to taking the names off of the taskbar buttons and integrating the quick launch menu with running applications, and now people are blaming Microsoft for stealing the dock. I can’t figure it out to be honest, is the taskbar in Windows 7 so drastically different than the taskbar in Windows Vista that it’s turned to stealing from Apple?
Hopefully after looking at these you can see that the functionality is useful, well implemented and unique. The who copied who rhetoric is tired and old, if you want to get nasty about it, look at all the things one could make an argument that Apple stole from Microsoft.
- Is iWork a copy of Office?
- iTunes is a media player, did it rip of Windows Media Player?
- Is Front Row a poor copy of Windows Media Center?
- Cmd-Tab is the same as Alt-Tab in functionality and implementation.
I think that these things are the result of evolution of personal computing, not a board room full of developers saying “ooh, that’s awesome, we need to steal that.”
- The best quote I have ever read was on a forum once, it said:
The only thing Microsoft ever stole from Apple was the personal computer market…