Windows Guy and Mac Guy – a grain of truth?

When Apple started running its latest version of the “Mac guy vs. PC guy” campaign, I was a little indignant. This most recent installment features the large, dark-suited fellow representing the firewall. “You’re coming to a sad realization.. accept or deny” — you’ve probably seen this by now.

“It’s not that bad,” I felt. You click a few things to set up some policies, and then it doesn’t bother you any more. Well, here’s an interesting post on Channel 9 that shows that maybe Apple’s got it right in this ad after all. This looks just like the Apple ad — a whole bunch of dialogs to click through just to be able to install a Vista gadget.

But wait. Is it really as bad as it looks?

Let’s start with the last dialog. This one indicates that the code in this example wasn’t signed correctly. Developers see this all the time, because we’re building unsigned code ourselves, and because we use a lot of beta or experimental programs that might not be signed. For a “normal” user, though, this is a legitimate red flag. They absolutely, positively, should question what’s going on if they see this dialog.

The second window (the one about operating outside of protected mode) makes it look like this gadget is requesting resources or access above and beyond what would be normal for this type of program. I haven’t seen this particular warning, but I’ve set up .Net security policies that are used to drive exactly this sort of behavior. The whole idea is that the application developer indicates the minimum set of resources and permissions needed to run the program.

Gadgets are designed to work in a protected “sandbox” very much like the environment Java applets run in. There’s a mechanism that developers can employ to ask for additional resources, and it’ll result in a dialog like this. Again, this indicates that there’s really a heightened need to access stuff on your PC (meaning that you should trust the publisher before accepting) or that the developer goofed (meaning that you should punt this back to the developer until they fix it).

So when you look at what’s happening in these dialogs, it makes sense.

The thing that doesn’t make as much sense, and therefore, the thing that lets Apple go on making fun of PCs, is that the communication with the user is waaayy too technical and jargon-filled. Programmers are going to want to know about the information on these screens; very few users will.