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Monday, January 31


Salon looks at the state of the Mac today, and there is a good deal of commentary to be mined. Hitting closest to home for me was this quote on the difference between Windows and Mac users:

Perhaps the answer lies in what Jason Snell, the editor of Macworld magazine, says is the essential difference between Windows people and Mac people: Mac people love their computers on a personal, emotional level. Windows people, on the other hand, prefer to think of their machines as office tools, gadgets no more special than the stapler. Windows users don't expect much in the way of quality, beauty or elegance from their machines; if they did, they'd be Mac people. Instead, they expect their PCs to perform a great many tasks, and they've resigned themselves to having to labor over those tasks.

No sentence fragment could better describe my computing experience since I first switched from Mac to PC than, "resigned [myself] to having to labor over those tasks." And it is indeed labor. Most recently when I bought Crusader Kings. Great game, but I spent two full days trolling message boards trying to get it to work. Now that it does, I'm quite content as I like the game a lot. And yet, I'm just tired of putting up with this kind of thing. I'll never forget helping my dad to set up his, at the time, new computer. Windows 2000 had just been released and he snapped a great new machine and brought it home. Being home for the holidays, he asked if I was game to help get the thing running. Five full days later we finally got it going, though without getting the new printer running also since the drivers for Win2000 hadn't been released yet. Around the middle of the second day of this tribulation, while I was on hold with MSFT support, he said, "you know what I'd really like? Instead of getting 3 years of phone support, I'd pay to have someone from MSFT here so I could beat the shit out of them." Whenever I fight back adware, spyware, or WinRot I think of that.

In the Salon article, one commenter noted that part of the barrier for people switching from Windows to Mac was, "[I]t involves learning a new operating system, transferring files, and buying new, expensive software to replace the software on your Windows machine." But that is mostly the case when I buy a new Windows machine anyway. My personal data has to be hauled over to the new machine and reclassified in whatever manner MSFT feels is newer and better. The software is mostly a non-issue since the latest versions are included in the purchase price of the new machine. So for me anyway, the barrier was never transferring files. As for learning a new operating system, I liken this comparison to driving stick vs. automatic. You're still driving a car, the experience is just a lot easier.

I had ported over to Windows because that's what everyone else was using. And in the mid-90's it mattered a little more that I have the same OS as everyone else. Part of that was a social phenomenon. Games were coming out for Windows a lot faster and I wanted to play them as my friends were playing them. Email and the internet were growing rapidly and it was easier to be using Outlook rather than Eudora since, again, that's what everyone else was using. Now? Now I use gmail for email, furl for documents and I look longingly at ITunes and IPhoto since organizing music and photos on Windows is such a gigantic pain in the ass. In short, I depend on my OS now more as a vehicle for accessing the online community and organizing some of my larger data files. I don't need Windows and its attendant hassles for that. My hope is that the Mac we buy in the next few months will carry us for at least 3 years if not a little further.

At that point maybe some of these issues will be closer to resolution:

The problem with the modern personal computing environment is that, in some fundamental sense, it's a broken business. "There's a poison in the computer industry," Hertzfeld says, "and that is the fact that the common software base is controlled by a predatory software company with a lack of ethics." In case you didn't get the reference, Hertzfeld is talking about Microsoft, which, through Windows, controls the underlying software development base for the PC industry — essentially, it controls the standards, the keys to empire. "Microsoft is not a good steward of the standards," Hertzfeld says, and if Microsoft is to be beaten, and if a company like Apple is to exert more dominance in the PC world, Microsoft has got to first lose control of the standards. Hertzfeld actually believes that this is occurring; Microsoft is in fact slowly losing its grip on the software development standards, he says. "But I don't think Apple is the driver of that dynamic — I think the free software movement is pushing that."

One postscript. As I think back more on why I switched from Mac to PC, at the time (1996) Mac simply wasn't keeping up with the technology I needed and remaining competitively priced, and the support community was difficult to access. It's possible that this could happen again. It certainly seems as though Mac has broken away from some of the habits that made it difficult for users like me to stay with them, but one never knows.

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