by Mike Shea on 18 February 2007
A few weeks ago I became determined to wean myself off of Windows. I started with a new Ubuntu installation on a spare disk in my PC, switched to Kubuntu when I realized that Kubuntu included a lot more out of the box and had a slicker UI. After a couple of weeks, however, I realized that there were some native and inherent problems with Linux as a primary desktop OS. Their support would never be that good, even as it improves, simply because hardware manufacturers barely support the opensource community at all and the open source community isn't able to legally include binary drivers in an OS release.
There is also no support for any legal television service and, try as I might, I am still tied to a few different shows.
I liked my Kubuntu installation. It did most of what I needed. However, when it comes to building or buying a personal computer that "just works", Linux just doesn't cut it.
For ten years my father supported our family on an Apple IIe computer. He called it "Mr. Chips". When I was in middle school, I remember the impact Macs had on the computer world. Little square boxes with incredibly unique drive sounds dominated our school. I loved the little things. My father loved them too. They were the first real desktop publishing computers to exist. They had a very usable interface, even compared to today's computers. They "just worked" and they did a lot of things that simply couldn't have been done before.
For the past fifteen years or so, I haven't owned an Apple computer. That changed when, Friday evening, I ran out to Microcenter and picked up a Macbook. I'd spent a week or so studying up on them, talking with a die-hard Apple and Mac user at work, and reading the opposition such as Mark Pilgrim's article on his switch off of Macs and Cory Doctorow's similar response. Open source software is a grand ideal but it is far from practical.
I knew clearly what I wanted in a computer and I knew that the Mac has been built around verb-based electronics for their entire existence. I was not disappointed with my new Mac.
Here are the following action I need to perform that I expect a computer to assist:
There are only two things that my MacBook can't really do:
Play World of Warcraft well (it can but it won't be as good as my PC so I'm not going to try).
Play Everquest (I could with Parallels or Bootcamp or something but again, it will likely suck and I didn't buy a mac just to go back to Windows).
My hope is, that within two years, I can get off PC gaming completely and spend all of my gaming time on a console or portable system.
So what did I discover with the mac? A computer for human beings.
Within 30 minutes of opening the box I was online and IM'ing folks. I was surfing the web, watching videos, and downloading shows from iTunes. I rarely had to look up any information - it took me a bit to figure out how to activate tabbed browsing in Safari (why isn't it on by default?), but mostly everything "just worked".
I picked up a wireless Mighty Mouse with the laptop. This is the first wireless mouse I've really liked. Because the laptop includes bluetooth built in, there is no dongle or receiver. Once activated in software, the mouse just works.
Keyboard commands take a little time to re-learn. The open-apple key works as the "alt" key worked in Windows. The keyboard itself on the macbook works just as well as any other keyboard. I notice no difference in my typing speed.
The MacBook included every application I needed. TextPad, iTunes, iPhoto, Front Row (I love the little remote), iChat, Safari, Apple Mail; all of it was pre-installed and ready to go. Because it's fundamentally a unix machine, even command line applications like rsync come pre-installed. This morning I'm working on a scheduled remote backup to the drive on my Windows XP data disk.
I haven't tried the video chat with iChat yet, but I imagine that, when you can actually find others who use it, that it should be a lot of fun.
Owning a Mac is also a card to get into a pretty exclusive club of elitist computer snobs - a world in which I am very comfortable. I've always stood at the outside looking in when I heard Merlin Mann talk about Quicksilver. Ten years ago I remember how angry I was when I found out that the best text-based HTML editor, BBEdit, was only available on the Mac. Now I can dig into all of this stuff that remained on the outside for all those years.
As easy and fun as it is to use, however, Apples, like Windows, are inherently evil. Even though Steve Jobs spoke out so strongly against Digital Rights Management, Apple's music, movies, videos, and TV shows are still wrapped tightly into a single propriatary stream. Should that stream die, so does all of our data. Making sure to keep as much data as we can in non-propriatary standards-based formats is critical to its survival.
Evil as it is, part of me feels comfortable in the warm embrace of hardware and software that just works and works well together. From the data streaming down from iTunes to the laptop upon which I write this to the Nano I'll use in my car for podcasts to the iTV I'll likely buy so I can watch Battlestar Galactica on my big TV - all of it is designed in both hardware and software to "just work". Ensuring that I can live within that warm monopolistic embrace without losing all of my data in the process will be tricky.
Fifteen years ago my father retired his Apple IIe for a new Mac Classic. He called me down to have a little ceremony, retiring the tool he had used to write seven novels, a tool he had called "Mr. Chips". I thought the whole thing was rather silly at the time but it was only the second time in my life that I had seen him cry. That computer was his companion, eight hours a day five days a week, for almost ten years. That is how strongly people feel about Apples and you can see it in the eyes of every Mac zealot who gladly pays 130% over PC prices for a plain white box filled with well-designed computer hardware. No doubt, in a very short period of time, you will see the same gleam in my eye.
I am now a Mac user.