The Question—Part 2
As you may recall, The Question is, “Scott, why are you such a Mac nut?” Having divided the question into two parts ( how I came to use a Macintosh, and why I love the Macintosh) I’m attempting to answer the question in two columns. Previously in User Preference I told you all about how I became a Mac user—that is, I set forth the events that led me from my first sight of a Mac, to owning one, clear up to the present day. Now, in Part II, I’ll have a go at explaining exactly why I’m so gosh-darned giddy over the Macintosh platform.
Perhaps a good place to start is the company itself—Apple Computer, Inc. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the history of Apple. If you’re interested in such things I understand that there are several books available on the subject. I myself have never read any of them. Nevertheless, I would like to make one simple point: Apple is cool. Ask yourself this question—would you rather:
- Buy a computer from a company that was founded by two long-haired phone phreakers (Apple) or
- Buy a computer whose original hardware standard was designed by a company whose dress code once included ankle garters (IBM)?
I thought so. Now try this one—would you rather use an operating system whose design was spearheaded by:
- A guy whose vision and passion for excellence made him an eccentric jerk to work for and who hoisted the Jolly Roger over his design team’s building (Steve Jobs), or
- A guy who’s mostly known for his business acumen and who’s currently in court for antitrust violations (Bill Gates)?
Pretty much a no-brainer, eh? There are certainly volumes that can be written about why the name Apple means “cool” in a way that the names Microsoft or Dell never will, but I think I’ll let the issue stand on your answers to the above two questions. The fact that Apple is cool allows me to be excited—rather than cynical—about things like the Macworld Expo keynote address and new product announcements. I love to hear about Apple and follow its every move. The plain truth is, I can’t help but cheer Apple on. I honestly don’t know of a single Windows user who feels the same about eMachines or Microsoft. Do you?
Apple is in a unique position among its competitors: it’s the only one that has total control over its hardware designs. Apple can turn on a dime to make its hardware better, whereas other companies must get dozens of other companies to sit down and agree upon it first. Consider what happened with Universal Serial Bus (USB). Intel, as you probably know, invented USB some time ago. The problem was that all the PC manufacturers kept right on including the old nasty ports in their machines because they didn’t dare lose a sale over not having “backwards compatibility.” And in fairness, they were quite right—peripheral makers weren’t making USB devices in large numbers. Rather, they kept right on making devices designed for the old outdated ports. Why were they doing this? It’s simple, really. When faced with a choice between retooling to make USB devices or not retooling and making the same old same old, they chose the easy way out. None of them wanted to take the hit; not a one among them had it in them to do the bold thing. The bottom line is, the USB port on PC computers was little used for some time.
Apple, on the other hand, realizing that USB was the right way to go, was able to decide in a heartbeat that it would quickly phase out the older ports on all Macintosh computers. This put peripheral manufacturers in a new situation. Those whose market consisted mainly of Windows users could now simply write Mac drivers and have the product work on both systems. As for the peripheral manufacturers who had high volumes of Mac sales to begin with, they had little choice but to adopt the new standard because Apple was making the old ports obsolete. The result? Peripheral manufacturers started making USB devices in record numbers. It took Apple to act boldly and bring us the USB revolution, even though they didn’t invent the technology.
Firewire is another case to be considered. Until FireWire, the ability to have true plug-and-play devices that also used high data bandwidth (digital video cameras, external drives, etc.) was but a dream. Previously, one was stuck with slow or complicated or expensive methods of connecting such devices. Apple brought the industry FireWire, and now it’s an industry standard (IEEE 1394). Computer and peripheral manufacturers alike are including it in increasing numbers of their products. Forget about us Mac users—all computer users should thank Apple for this innovation. How long do you think it would have taken, say, Gateway or Packard Bell to bring us something like this?
Now let’s talk about processors. You don’t have to get around very much to know that there are endless arguments about which processor is faster than which other processor. I myself don’t really care that much. The very fact that intelligent people engage in seemingly endless debate over this issue is enough for me to conclude that all computer processors sold today are both very fast and also not very different from one another in terms of general performance.
I’m reminded, however, of an article I read in Ars Technica by Jon “Hannibal” Stokes recently, entitled The G4 and the K7: an architectural look at two post-RISC processors. I’ll admit right off the bat that much of the article was over my head, since I’m neither an electrical engineer nor a computer scientist. One passage at the end of the comparison, however, caught my eye. Mr. Stokes wrote:
Motorola’s design team did an amazing job in packing a clean, fast, elegant design onto a small die with low power consumption. As a result, the [G4] is product with incredible range: all the way from high-end servers to workstations to appliances. I personally have to admit that for these (mostly esthetic) reasons I’m partial to the [G4] over the K7...
Here is this super-geeky engineering-type guy who is now admiring the “esthetic” qualities of a microprocessor. I find that both amazing and refreshing. He sums it all up nicely a bit further on, when he concludes, “The K7 is a big hairy beast of a CPU, whereas the [G4] gets the job done with elegance and simplicity—two traits that appeal to [me].”
Those are traits that appeal to me as well, Hannibal. So are Mac processors faster than those found in PCs? I honestly can’t tell. Are they better engineered? I just might argue that they are.
Apple is a niche player in the computer-making world, to be sure. But that position is a great one to be in, for lots of reasons. They can do something that other companies often dare not do—innovate.
As I’ve said previously, I’m neither an engineer nor a historian. I call ’em as I see ’em, folks, just like you do. From this simple perspective it’s quite clear to me that the people in Redmond who designed the Windows interface are very likely a cage full of chimps on crack. I mean, the sheer idiocy of having a menu bar on each and every open window—to say nothing about having “parent” and “child” windows—is completely beyond my understanding. And what about file extensions? Heck, even OS 2 managed to get beyond that to a certain extent. Windows users will brag that they can have file names of about four billion characters, and that they can choose to hide those embarrassing file name extensions. But the reality of using Windows is that nobody in their right mind gives a file a name that long. And in fact, the only files that have intelligible names at all are the ones you create yourself; most of the files on the Internet and the files that comprise the system still adhere to the old “eight-dot-three” rule of arcane unintelligibility.
Now, I must seize this opportunity to tell you one of my biggest pet peeves in using Windows—the Start menu. I can certainly understand the desire in Redmond to rip-off the Apple menu. What I don’t understand is how they managed to get the most basic principle of the thing so completely wrong! The purpose is to have a quick and handy way to start programs. It’s a program launcher of sorts. It is not a file navigation system. Without constant manual deleting of Start menu items, the average Windows user soon finds himself with a Start menu that cascades wildly, filling half the screen, when all he wanted was to quickly start a frequently used program. All convenience is lost. Does anyone really need a directory, an executable, a readme, an uninstaller and god-knows-what else in there for every single program installed? Does a fish need a bicycle? Please. Incidentally, do you know what happens if you do manually rid your Start menu of these superfluous items? If you don’t, ask a Windows user. I’m sure he’ll have a story or two about uninstallers for you.
Don’t get me wrong, ATPM readers—there are things I don’t like about the Mac OS. I’d rather gnaw off my own leg and pack the bleeding stump with salt, however, than trade my Mac OS for Windows.
Ghost in the Machine
Finally, I’d like to suggest that the above items, as well as a good many others that I don’t have time to go into, all come together to form a single fact that’s greater than the sum of its parts. This fact is the most important reason why I love the Macintosh. It confronts me every single minute of every single hour I spend in front of the machine, and it is simply this: the Macintosh is not just a computer.
Living and working in and around Milwaukee has introduced me to another product line that’s also much more than it seems—Harley Davidson motorcycles. Ask a Harley owner if he’d ever consider trading in his hog for a new Honda. Chances are (if you don’t get your nose broken), he’ll laugh in your face. Even if you point out a hundred reasons why he should switch bikes he’ll still refuse. Why? Because Harley owners, like Mac users, know something that’s not readily apparent to those who don’t own one: there’s an elegance and beauty to the thing that cannot be reproduced or substituted. It’s as if someone, somewhere, put his or her soul into it. It’s something that you can feel right down to your bones when you ride one of those roaring beauties. It’s the very same something I feel when I power up my blue-and-white G3.
The Macintosh is most certainly not “just a computer.” It’s nothing less than functional art. Things like that are rare in this world of “good enough for the marketplace.” Seize them with both hands wherever you find them, and don’t let go.
You can be sure I won’t be letting my Macintosh go anytime soon.