Ticket to Macland
A week ago I ordered a Macintosh. After eight years of using Windows—95, 98, 2000, and XP—I just can’t stand it any longer.
Okay, enough is enough. Jonathon Delacour has been flirting with the idea of getting a Mac, teasing us, coyly, with this will he or won’t he like a 16 year old on a hot date.
Time for this man to buy a Mac.
A couple of days later, when I mentioned “how gorgeous Japanese text looks on the Macintosh, compared with Windows”, Ralph Brandi made a prediction:
Ah, the seduction is well underway.
It’s only a matter of time at this point…
Just under a year, as it turns out, assuming that my Macintosh will be delivered in the next couple of weeks (Chris, the sales guy at the Apple store, told me that the 6-8 day Estimated Build Time on Apple Australia’s website was wildly optimistic).
After Shelley’s demand that I “s**t or get off the pot”, I put the “get a new Macintosh” project on the back burner—though I did smile when I read Loren Webster’s response to Jeff Ward’s announcement that he’d bought a PowerBook:
Nice to see you’ve come over from the dark side, Jeff.
Now if you could just convince Jonathon.
Then in July, lamenting the lack of decent weblog editing tools, I wrote:
Why can’t Tim and I have a decent WYSIWYG browser-based editor? Or, speaking for myself, even a standalone application with the features I’ve listed? (And, before anyone says “ecto”, I don’t have a Macintosh, I don’t have the ready cash to buy one, and I have no intention of ever installing the .Net Framework, which the Windows version of ecto requires.)
Is it because it’s from Microsoft and therefore bad by default?
I replied in a comment:
No, not bad, but mediocre by default. The highest praise I’ve ever been able to offer any Microsoft software that I’ve used extensively is that it is “merely adequate.” (Whereas many third-party Windows applications I use are superb.)
I switched to Windows from the Macintosh in 1996. In eight years, not once have I felt—whilst using a Microsoft product—the pleasure that comes from employing a tool that is elegantly and artfully designed.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I realize now that the edge of the slippery slope was already in plain view.
I was referring to four versions of the Windows OS, plus Word, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. My guess is that Excel might be an fine product—friends and colleagues whose judgement I trust tell me it’s excellent—but I haven’t used Excel extensively enough to make an informed judgement. Marius Coomans swears by OneNote 2003 but, although this is exactly the kind of application I need, there are plenty of alternatives for Mac OS X.
In October, Kerim Friedman wrote a post titled Mac vs. Windows in which he quoted the reply Brent Simmons, developer of NetNewsWire, gave in an online forum on RSS to the question Why, relative to its marketshare, does Mac OS X have a disproportionately rich variety of RSS aggregators for users to choose from?
It’s mostly because Mac users like to try cool, new, interesting things—especially things that help them get more done in less time.
Windows users, it seems to me, have endless patience. They reboot their systems, run virus scanners, go nuts fixing weird conflicts. With that kind of patience, surfing in your browser from site to site isn’t that bad. But Mac users want things to work, and they want their software to help them get things done, and they like trying new and different things.
Kerim observed that “most Windows users actually seem somewhat afraid of their computer, worried that trying something new might cause it to blow up.”
Although I’m not sure about most Windows users being afraid of their computers, I suspect that Kerim’s observation is close to the truth. For instance, here’s Halley Suitt on upgrading to version 9 of Windows Media Player in order to have her music CDs play properly (the post is titled Upgrade = Downgrade Per Usual):
Everytime I upgrade, something completely screws up and that new problem proves nearly impossible to fix and results in either a completely NON-working computer, or some totally screwed up application. In my mind there is absolutely NO correlation between the words “upgrade” and “positive” — it’s always a negative result…
Well, at least it’s nice to know you can count on some things in this world— NEVER EVER EVER BOTHER TO UPGRADE. The word “upgrade” is an illusion.
Upgrade actually means downgrade.
The final step of my upgrade process involves removing the CD from the computer, walking across the room and putting it in the Sony CD Player. Voila! It works!
Finally, after a couple hours of Googling, I find a FAQ at Microsoft that covers rolling back MDAC to the original version installed with Windows (“dasetup.exe /u”). Never mind that it doesn’t cover XP or the version of MDAC that we have. I’m desperate, and I try it.
It works. Both setup programs no longer complain that MDAC is missing, and both programs are now installed and run flawlessly. I’m an experienced Sys Admin, and it only took me 6 hours to track down and correct a corrupted MDAC installation. I have no idea how a normal Windows user is supposed to fix something like this. Maybe Scoble can tell me. I know he follows linkbacks…. Scoble?
I’ve had similar experiences but I also wonder if I don’t expect too much. When I bought a Dell desktop machine in 1998, I explained what I wanted to do with Windows to the consultant who was installing a DAT drive:
- Use all the Microsoft Office applications.
- Scan photographs and edit them in Photoshop.
- Run Personal Web Server to do some dynamic web development.
- Do my accounting with QuickBooks Pro.
- Run Microsoft’s Japanese IME so I could read and write Japanese.
- Burn CDs.
- Install a Firewire card and capture footage from my Sony digital handycam.
“You’d probably be better off splitting those tasks between two separate Windows machines,” he told me.
Perhaps the majority of Windows users don’t place such strong demands on their computers. If Office meets most of your needs and you can surf the Web and edit your digital pictures, then Windows might be perfectly fine.
I added a comment to Kerim’s post:
I’ve finally become so exasperated with Windows that I’m on the brink of returning to the Macintosh (which I used from 1985 to 1996). What’s stopped me so far is not fear—hardly a day goes by without my comparing Windows unfavorably to the Mac—as the cost of buying new applications but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it might be money well spent.
Kerim wrote me a long email in reply pointing out that a lot of applications I might expect to pay for are already installed on the Macintosh while recommending cheap alternatives to anything else I thought I might need.
Then a month ago Steve Gillmor wrote something that resonated (and not just because I remember Mr. Natural):
Simply put, I lost trust in Windows…
You know the drill—the spyware, the Trojan horses, the corporate firedrill that is announced not by IT but by a stream of emails from co-workers you haven’t heard from since the last exploit. It’s been years since I lived in the Northeast, where you learn that tentative way of walking on icy streets with a center of balance that can recover from a slip. Move to California or Charleston and you slowly unlimber and stride more openly—like Mr. Natural for the hippies among us who remember Zap Comics. That’s the feeling I get from Windows now—a vague unease, a tension, a sense that I can’t count on the machine to get out of the way and let me listen and relax.
Robert Scoble zoomed into Steve Gillmor’s comments to assure everyone that Windows machines are actually very secure as long as—like the computers at Hertz Rental Car—“they are administered properly and locked down.” In other words, you’ll be fine as long as you have dedicated IT staff working overtime to properly administer your Windows machines—a condition that the average Windows user who doesn’t work for a medium-sized corporation will find difficult to fulfill.
But I do have a few geek genes and, after eight years of troubleshooting Windows, I’m no longer an average user so out of interest I ran through Robert Scoble’s fourteen layers of security. I wasn’t really surprised to learn I’d already implemented twelve of his suggestions (or thirteen, if not having a wireless network counts as “not allowing anonymous users on your wireless network”). The fourteenth—Don’t run in administrator mode—is simply impracticable, as Scoble himself admits:
Out of all the steps here, this one is the hardest to do, though, because a lot of things don’t work on Windows if you’re not running as administrator.
That’s right. And a lot of things don’t work particularly well even when you are running as administrator.
But it’s not really Microsoft’s laissez-faire approach to security that worries me. Rather it’s the vague unease, the tension that comes from knowing that, as Mark Pilgrim once pointed out, “Windows has a half-life.”
Every installation of Windows naturally degrades along a logarithmic curve until it becomes annoying, then unbearable, then unusable. Each successive revision of Windows has featured a slightly longer half-life. Back in the day, Windows 95 would last me about 3 months, while my copy of Windows XP has lasted me almost 9. I’m not bitter; when you realize that you’re measuring on a logarithmic scale, a factor of 3 improvement is really quite impressive.
My current Windows XP installation (I reinstalled XP eight months ago) is just now entering the unbearable phase: the Show Desktop shortcut no longer works, for a while I couldn’t set the date to Australian day/month/year format, the InCD packet writing software randomly quits, the BSOD frequency is increasing… Norton SystemWorks fixed the date glitch but if it reappears, I’ll know I’ve entered the unusable stage.
So I couldn’t help experiencing a flash of wry amusement when I read Burningbird’s recent paean to Microsoft and Windows:
Now I have a Windows 2000 machine, which sits with a little upgrade wizard in it that checks periodically at Microsoft and lets me know that there is a new fix I should think about installing. My machine works beautifully, even being an old machine using an old operating system. All because Microsoft has learned how to adapt.
My Windows 2000 machine works beautifully too, even though it’s an “old machine using an old operating system”—because I reinstalled Windows 2000 six months ago. But this installation is rotting away slowly too—as is Burningbird’s—and there’s nothing either of us can do about it, other than reinstall when our PCs become unusable.
As Burningbird said at the beginning of the year, “time for this man to buy a Mac.”
I’m not fostering any illusions that life with a Macintosh will be problem-free but I did think to myself, “It should be at least an order of magnitude better than Windows.” Just to be sure, I called my friend G and said, “I’m thinking of going back to the Macintosh. Would you mind if I came over and installed and tested a few applications on your dual processor G5?”
“Would you mind if I had unprotected sex with your wife?” he replied.
I’m no longer married, but I got the message. The next day I called him back and suggested that we install Mac OS X on an external Firewire drive I’ve been using for Windows backups.
“Sounds good,” he said. I prepared the Firewire drive and drove over to G’s house. Installing Mac OS X and updating to version 10.3.6 took about 40 minutes. We set the Firewire drive as the startup disk and rebooted, G explained how to install Mac applications, and—almost before I knew it—I was sliding full-tilt down the slippery slope. The hardest thing to get used to is that the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons are on the opposite side of the window.
I spent about a day and a half playing with G’s Dual 1.8GHz PowerPC G5 and then, not wanting to stretch the friendship, another few hours with the Firewire drive attached to my friend Brenda’s 12-inch iBook. Once I have my own Macintosh, I guess I’ll write some posts about the software I’ve settled on.
A couple of years ago I expressed some amusement at the religious fervor with which Mac users were greeting the release of Jaguar (Mac OS v10.2):
If this is the response to a 0.5 release (10.1.5 to 10.2), what’s going to happen when Mac OS 11 (XI?) ships?
Burningbird replied in a comment:
When OS 11 ships, why the planet will slow on its axis, stop, and then slowly begin to rotate in the opposite direction.
Just think, Jonathon — you’ll finally have summer in July.
To which I responded,
Bb, the only way “the planet will slow on its axis, stop, and then slowly begin to rotate in the opposite direction” is if I switch back to the Macintosh.
So, regard this as a preliminary warning. I think we can assume that the reversal of the earth’s rotation will take place at the moment I actually log on to my new Macintosh. I’ll try to give you all a day or two’s notice.
Now, as I prepare to make the switch, I realize that—despite all my discontents regarding Windows—there are two Microsoft products that are well-designed and pleasurable to use: I’m reluctant to abandon the two-button optical mouse and the natural keyboard. Fortunately, the Mac-compatible Wireless Optical Desktop Pro set includes both.
Finally, permit me to ask a question about Macintosh books. If I’m only going to buy one Mac OS X book, which should it be?
- Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition (David Pogue)
- Mac OS X Panther Unleashed, Third Edition (John Ray, William C Ray)
- Mac OS X Power Hound (Rob Griffiths)
- Mac OS X Panther Hacks (Rael Dornfest, James Duncan Davidson)
- Mac OS X Power Tools, Second Edition (Dan Frakes)
Any other suggestions (apart from Maria Langer’s Mac OS X Panther Visual QuickStart Guide) are welcome.