Reluctant Transformation

All right, I admit it. The Mac is so much prettier and nicer than my PC that already I can tell that I’m going to use for just about everything from now on. Just five days in and I’ve configured everything to be able to access all my important documents via the Mac; I don’t have to use the PC for anything relating to the Web. I’m fighting off shuttling over an archive of my e-mails because I know if I start using the Mac for the e-mail, it’s pretty much all over; the PC will simply be a storage facility and a game machine. And I feel bad about it.

Not that the PC cares, of course. It’s just a hunk of circuits and metal. But, you know. We have a history. I wrote five books and countless Web entries and Uncle John Bathroom Reader articles on it. While other PCs have caused me no end of aggravation, this particular machine has never caused me any significant problems. It’s a good machine (a VPR Matrix, in case you’re looking for a PC; it’s the Best Buy house brand). It deserves better than benign neglect.

But even my body has decided the Mac is the way to go. Here’s how I knew I had a pronounced Mac affinity: The Mac and PC both use keyboard shortcuts, with the PC using the control button and the Mac using that wierd four-leaf clover/apple button. After just two days using the Mac, every time I used the PC keyboard I hit the four-leaf clover button rather than the control button. That’s after using PCs pretty much exclusively for the last decade. Two days. Tell me that’s not a sign.

Also, I bought an iPod.

I am deeply ambivalent about this. I don’t want to become a Mac zombie, one of the hooting monkey hordes who willingly overlooks the failings and shortcomings of the Mac plotform, and who would give Steve Jobs an organ — any organ! You name it! — in exchange from some “new” piece of technology that was created by some other company before Apple swooped down, Bauhaused the brains out of it, and slapped on a 30% premium for the “Machines for Living” makeover. The iPod is a perfect example of this; more than a year before the first generation of iPod, I owned a Creative Nomad Jukebox with a 5 GB hard drive and was amazing all my friends with this cool toy the size of a portable CD player — which ran on rechargable AA batteries. Then Steve Jobs pulled his “One more thing…” schtick and everyone ooohed and aaaahed for a product that in terms of technical specs was no better (and in some places notably worse) but was esthetically pressing the feeder bar of pleasure for the urban hipster.

I don’t want to distract from the things Apple has done right — I own an iPod now not for the esthetics but because the iTunes music store is just so damn simple to use, unlike nearly every other online music store out there — but let’s not kid ourselves. Apple doesn’t innovate. It lets the other poor schmuck innovate, and then jumps in after the early adopters have shaken down the technology, leaving Apple the luxury of selling this new technology to the artsy-fartsys, who are both emotionally invested in the Mac and would prefer not to sully themselves by hangin’ with the PC hordes. By all rights, Creative deserves to be the number one hard drive music player company in the world; their music players are as good as iPods even now. But deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

So. A Mac monkey: No. But arrrrrrrugggggggghhh, the Mac doesn’t make it easy to keep perspective. I mean, Christ. iChat — the Mac IM client — puts up cute little talk bubbles for your chat windows. When you’re typing (but haven’t yet sent) it puts up a cute little thought bubble. I don’t even want to bother with the PC chat client anymore. It’s not pretty and sexy and shiny and all. I feel like the guy who is with a perfectly smart, capable and generally attractive woman who all of a sudden meets a girl who looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones, knows that the sheer oxygen-depleting beauty of the woman will impair his judgement about her as surely as a blow to the head from a tire iron, but just doesn’t care. Just using the Mac makes me feel cooler and more handsome. Which I certainly am not. But when it comes to the esthetics of it, I guess I’m as much a sucker to Steve Jobs as the rest of them.

Be that as it may, do something for me. If I ever start mocking people for their non-Mac computer preferences, I hope you’ll do me the grand favor of staving in the back of my skull with a weighty pipe, because I don’t want to live like that. You’ll do that for me, right? Because, you know, I’d do it for you.

43 thoughts on “Reluctant Transformation

  1. “If you knew it felt this good, would you have tried it in the first place?”

    Heh. To be fair, my first two computers were Macs — a Mac Plus back at the crack of the 90s, and then a variation of the Mac Performa line circa 1993. So I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the lure. However, ten years is a long time to be away from an OS; it really is dramatically different.

  2. OK, a couple more reality checks for you, John. For starters, the current Mac OS isn’t your father’s Macintosh System. OS X is an upgraded, stripped down, souped up reincarnation of the NeXt operating system. Jobs is ripping himself off, and on a platform that ran for a time on PC’s. Now for the clincher.

    You’re really running a Unix box. That’s right, bucko. There’s precious little difference outside the pretty Mac interface between your PowerPC box and a Pentium running Linux. If you believe SCO, there isn’t any difference. USB and Firewire ports, SATA drives. It’s a PC with a different processor now.

    That said, I plan to switch to a PowerBook when my Dell gives up the ghost (which it inevitably will.) ‘Cuz Intel-based laptops suck. Really. I’ve fixed too many of them to think otherwise.

  3. “I see our John is reduced to posting as ‘Anonymous’ in his own weblog.”

    No, no. I fixed it. But thanks for your concern.

  4. If I ever start mocking people for their non-Mac computer preferences, I hope you’ll do me the grand favor of staving in the back of my skull with a weighty pipe, because I don’t want to live like that. You’ll do that for me, right?

    By that point you’d be pretty much useless anyway, so sure – why not. I’ll do that for you…

    I will admit, though, the macs look pretty damn cool. And my bias against the mac goes back a few years – back when the only way to configure it was through those cheesy control panels that never seemed to make any sense.

  5. Gotta admit, John, IMO this piece has to be one of your most entertaining pieces… laughed out loud several times. :-)

    Per OS preference, I definitely agree that OS X is darn pretty – it really is like sweet, sweet sugar candy (and I’ve only worked with it for a sum total of ten to fifteen minutes). However, I’m too caught up in messing around with the internals of my OS (currently Win2k) and my box (hand-crafted AMD64 3200+) for that to be a significant consideration. (Please correct me if Macs are now more customizeable and fiddle-around-with-able than the impenetrable plastic cubes they used to be.) I suspect at some future date you’ll find me dual-booting Win2k/Linux (likely Debian), keeping Billy G. around solely because I have a certain fondness for video games. (Half-Life 2 rocks, by the way. You should play it.)

  6. Just give in. I come from a similar background — apple user from 1986-1993, switched to PC because of price and software availability and lived just happy with my PC world until viruses and hackers brought me to my knees too many times, and I went to a powerbook G4 just last year. Oh my god, I’m never going back. I love my powerbook. It’s literally sexy. I love using it. The number one feature to me, however is its reliability. It’s built on a unix core, and it feels solid just like a unix machine I reboot the thing only when I need to power down. The technology gets out of my way, and lets me just do what I want to do. And there is some really good software out there for mac. This is a totally new world — as was said before, this is not the same mac we used to use in the late 80′s and early 90′s. It’s a brand new system with the same branding. Embrace the change — start using it for your mail, and give your old PC a well-deserved break. Hell, if you take it off the network, it might even stay cleaner of viruses. maybe.

  7. Hehehehehe. I felt the same way you did when I bought my first Mac.

    Embrace it. This’ll be a computing experience like none other!

  8. The Apple Product Cycle, from someone who knows the truth of what you speak:
    http://www.misterbg.org/AppleProductCycle/

    You’ve got it somewhat wrong about the iPod vs. Zen, however. It’s not about the hardware specs — if it was, then you’re right, Creative would own that piece of the world. And it’s not primarily about the looks. It’s about usability. The software that ships with other MP3 players generally sucks; the iPod’s connection is invisible through iTunes. And on the player itself, nothing is as easy as the scroll wheel for going through a menu of a few thousand items.

    Creative makes MP3 players with more features for a lower price. But Apple’s players have QWAN. That is why they win. Creative wants to have it, or they wouldn’t have named their player Zen, but on an engineering level they don’t really get it yet.

  9. Welcome to the other side. That was quick, though, took me three months to do the same.

    Please correct me if Macs are now more customizeable and fiddle-around-with-able than the impenetrable plastic cubes they used to be.

    If you’re talking about the OS, it’s Unix based, so yes. I’ve fiddled with it way more than Windows. If you’re talking about the box, somewhat, depends on what you buy. If you buy a power mac tower there are things you can fiddle with. My stepdad has always got the towers and is replacing his video card. But not as much as a PC, no. I used to live in fear that I wouldn’t be able to ‘upgrade’ my computer as well, but I grew out of the habit and tinkered more with the actual software.

  10. I fear you’re lost to us already, John. I recognize the symptoms: like a crack addict who knows each hit is sinking him further and further into his addiction, you mourn the loss of the real world even as the sweet, sweet Mac drug hits your brainstream.

    Marketing works, even on people who know that marketing works.

    That said, if I ever get shut of my dependence on MS products for my daily bread, I’d probably switch to a Mac for writing purposes. But not because of the marketing. Really. No, I’m not kidding. Really.

  11. I taught PC software for a few years, and when it was time to get a laptop I headed straight for the Apple store. I wouldn’t have switched if it weren’t for the OS 10 system but now there’s no going back. Got an iPod, yup. And today, oh frabjous joy, my Mac mini arrived!!

    It’s all so pretty and powerful and *reliable*–that’s what keeps me coming back.

  12. I have to admit, I like my Mac and all, but Catherine Zeta-Jones? Is that the best you can do? She has all the appeal of a horse with a facelift.

    Seriously, though, there were a few years when I seriously considered ditching the Mac for a PC (back when the Mac price premium was more like 50 percent, and Macs crashed just as often as PCs), but they’ve really been on a roll recently. I might even have to get one of those iPod thingies.

  13. I’ve been feeling the need to defend my Nomad Jukebox for two years now, so I feel your pain. But the software IS very hit and miss. It’ll randomly not recognize the player, not actually play a song when I hit “play”, etc. I’m hoping a later edition will interface better with Windows Media, which I’ve found to work pretty well.

  14. As someone who has maintained PCs at work since ’96 but owned a Mac since ’94, I read this and laughed and laughed and laughed. And then laughed some more.

  15. As we love you, John, we’d all take turns with the pipe, Murder on the Orient Express-style.

    I dunno, I’m a person who went from Macs to PCs. Partly because the Macs are so goldanged expensive, to be blunt.

  16. John, though you are enchanted with iChat, I must tell you, those bubbles get QUITE annoying after a while. When you are ready to switch AIM clients, might I suggest Adium? It is simple, easy to use, and is quite stripped down visually. But its also quite powerful, allowing for logging, tabbed IM conversations (which are the greatest thing since sliced bread), transparency, aliasing…and much much more.

  17. I did the Creative Zen thing for a year (thought iPods were grossly overpriced). Old Zen was a bit fiddly, but fine in a safe environment like home or on a plane. Awkward when walking and downright dangerous in a car. Syncronizing was a royal pain. I often avoided it.

    Than I bought and iPod and re-discovered music. I offered my wife the Zen – but she’d tried the iPod and told me to get lost!

    Bet you buy a second one before long.

  18. Welcome the world of a mac user, John. Love the machine, hate the company, loathe the marketing department, edge carefully away from the fanatics, love the machine some more. Rinse and repeat.

  19. What took you so long?

    I don’t have a Mac, but I worked on the various models at a newspaper during the ’90s, and now I’m editing copy on a Windows XP, while all the cool graphics guys with their piercings (all right, one, but he’s cool) get the flavor of the month. Heck, the graphics people in advertising get to work on the one that’s all screen, no box.

    Everytime I fire up the laptop, I wish I had the shortcuts that Apple put into its File window. Dammit, Microsoft steals everything else, why can’t they include a list of the shortcuts directly to the files I want?

  20. For those of us doing real work (meaning, not just playing with media), you can easily tell those that have gone soft and use Macs at home. If you don’t fight with the PC-world’s ever-shifting attempts to function you quickly lose the edge required to compete. You hear the Mac users whining about how their home system never has that sort of problem. Well, that’s nifty. If your home system could interface with our cnc milling machine, we would give a shit about it. We also don’t care if you’ve got a really pretty lightweight ceramic hammer if you can’t use it to hit nails with. It might be fine for tapping away at the wall-tacks for hanging pictures on your drywall at home, but we still expect you to use real tools for real work in real industry.

  21. Addendum:

    The instant that Apple can be broadly utilized in engineering, I’ll be all over it like a starving Inuit on a harpooned seal.

  22. As far as the non-iPod players goes, it doesn’t help them that the manufacturers can’t seem to come up with a consistent UI for their devices.

    As a result, all the devices across a vendor’s line look more or less different. They don’t have a consistent visual identity the way the iPods do. Even with the Shuffle, Apple at least made the effort to maintain the motif of a circular control group, even if they replaced the clickwheel with mere buttons in a circular arrangement.

    With the competition, their Flash players look different from the disk-based players, which look different from the media/video players. They use different control widgets with each line.

    And it doesn’t help that they seem to use a gazillion names for their products, with no consistent term connecting all of them. That doesn’t help establishing a brand, and marketing for one device doesn’t contribute to the marketing of the other devices. By contrast, marketing the iPod Shuffle markets the iPod name, so if the Shuffle doesn’t appeal, a potential buyer might look at the other iPods.

  23. On the Nomad vs. iPod debate: are you INSANE? I dunno, maybe I was too much of an early adopter, or maybe I just had a bum unit, but my 5GB Nomad (bigger than a portable CD player!) was one of the worst pieces of electronics I’ve ever owned. It actually promted me to vow never to buy another Creative product.

    This machine would take something like 30 seconds to a minute just to boot up. It would randomly completely lock up, requiring a full battery removal to repair. It would skip. It took forever to charge. It was loud as hell. But here’s the kicker:

    If you shut down the machine and engaged the Lock button, then hit the Play button (or whatever normally turned the machine on), this lobotomized piece of crap would boot up ALL THE WAY–and then display a “Lock button is on” message and shut down.

    What numbnut came up with THAT brilliant scheme? As a result, a.) the battery life was complete crap, because if you were, I dunno, carrying it in a bag or something it would randomly start up and shut down, and b.) periodically I would turn the machine on, forgetting it was locked, and only know AFTER the (1-minute, remember!) bootup that it was locked, and so have to spend ANOTHER minute booting it up for real.

    As I said, as a result I will never buy another Creative product. That’s part of the reason why my next desktop will be a Mac–to avoid their virtual stranglehold on the PC sound market.

    -j.

  24. Eh. I never had a single problem with my Nomad Jukebox in the years I had it, so this may be one of those YMMV moments. I think well of them based on my experience.

  25. John, I will be right there w/the weighty pipe. I am the other half of K/Kevin Q. who posts here semi-regularly. I also happen to be the more lurking half. When K. starts talking Macs with his/Apple buddies I feel like my ears are about to bleed from boredom. I don’t hate Macs or love PCs. It’s just listening to other people talk about how great their Macs are is like people listening to people talking about dog breeding or macrame. I’m happy that they’re happy, but I don’t need to hear about it.

  26. Welcome to the dark side. *grin* I have that same problem with going for the open-apple key when I’m on the PC.

  27. It always annoys me when Mac zealotry is confused with Mac bigotry. Yes, people who engage in OS wars are annoying as heck. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who understand principles of UI and usability should be required to keep silent when we see the other 97% of you going through needless hardship.

    Case in point: was at a friend’s house this weekend and he asked for help fixing his home DSL and setting up his wireless network. No prob, I do that kind of thing for a living. So we banged our heads on a few brick walls for a while, while the Windows geek in attendance tried to detoxify the desktop computer that my friend didn’t know was broken. Six month old computer, occasionally exposed only to dial-up Internet, and the thing was completely hosed with spyware.

    So I said, “You’re a casual computer user with no interest in being a hobbyist. You want a computer that just works. You’re the classic example of someone who should be using a Mac mini.” Cue derision from the Windows side of the room.

    Yes, there are people who *should* be using Windows computers. (Windows programmers, day traders, gamers, and masochists.) The issue is that many people who really do *not* benefit from Microsoft are steered to it by default. When I don’t have my professional hat on, I’ll be glad to argue the emotional positives of the Mac. But as a pro, I’ll be doing a needs analysis and if I tell you to get a Mac, I’ve got good reason to. If you write me off, you’re just being stubbornly ignorant.

    Other commentary:

    Jim Winter: OS X is based on Next like Windows XP is based on DOS. Certain similarities continue to exist. But the code you’re using has been rewritten from the ground up. It’s more accurate to say that the Next programmers who were acquired by Apple ripped off their own best ideas. If you’ve ever used a Next box, you know that OS X is a heck of a lot more suitable for Mom and Pop.

    Mythago: it’s been quite a few years since Macs were more expensive than Windows; true for a while under Gil Amelio, not since. What *was* true is that you could buy a crappy PC with fewer features, and you couldn’t buy a crappy Mac. But if you took a Mac and tried to build a PC with the same hardware, it’d run you nearly the same cost. With the release of the Mac mini and the availability of the $1,000 iBook, the only way you can still complain about cost is if you want your Mac to come in the bottom of your Crackerjack.

    David McNellis: the key to those thought bubbles in iChat, which AFAIK Apple was the first to twig to, is that it’s much better for fluid conversation when the other party knows you’re typing. Another one of those UI features we keep going on about.

    RooK: yes, there are many specialized apps that are only available on Windows. So long as everyone in those vertical markets keeps using Windows machines and doesn’t pressure developers for more options, this will continue.

    Jill: apologies that you’ve been bored by people who talk Mac. But I work in the industry, there are sound reasons *why* Macs are better in some situations, and it’s best for my industry (and others who depend on it) that people know what’s good and understand why.

  28. “If you’ve ever used a Next box, you know that OS X is a heck of a lot more suitable for Mom and Pop.”

    Not *that* much more suitable. NeXTSTEP was pretty darn good, especially on NeXT hardware. NeXTSTEP 3.3 was the sweet spot when the OS was really good. They gave up some conveniences in moving to Intel and other hardware.

    Back in the mid-90s, I did contract NeXT development work for a nailgun company in Cincinnati, which was using a customer service information system developed in-house on NeXTSTEP. The ladies who used it, the people manning the phones, loved NeXTSTEP.

    Having spent the 90s working on the platform, I’d have to say there’s a lot more of it in OS X than you suggest. Certainly, it’s far closer to NeXTSTEP than to Mac OS 9.

  29. Speaking of AIM/iChat, try a video conference between a Mac with iChat and a PC with AIM sometime. The Max gets full-screen video and the PC gets a postage stamp.

  30. I’ve never had any locking/booting problems with my NOMAD either. I DO have a problem with the headphone jack breaking fairly early, so that if the headphone plug twists in the jack you lose most of the sound–it has to be positioned right for full sound. Like the complete moron I am, I let the Best Buy jackals talk me into the replacement plan. It runs out in October, so I DO plan on replacing it before then (if they let me – I paid for a service plan on my Sony VAIO desktop and when it crashed and burned they refused to fix it – it was a software problem, not a hardware problem. After 3 months of me trying to fix it I brought it back and they realized that the hard drive was busted – morons). Not sure what I’ll replace it with. I’m using about 27gbs of the 30 available know, so I don’t want anything less than 30gb, and for the $300 I paid two years ago, I don’t think I can get a 30gb or higher ipod. I’m hoping I can get a 30gb or higher jukebox that’ll sync with Windows Media.

  31. (Windows programmers, day traders, gamers, and masochists.)

    See, this is exactly why so many people who use Windows are really uninterested in hearing the valid, sensible reasons for using a Mac. Snide remarks about ‘masochists,’ and gliding by the dearth of games for the Mac (now there’s a project Apple could get moving on) isn’t going to make anyone fling their Wintel box out the window and cry “Yes, yes, YES! Take me, Steve, take me now!”

    As for pricing, recall that it’s only in the last year that Apple cared about affordability. I build my own machinet, and there are a lot more interoperable, inexpensive parts for a Windows or Linux box available to me. If I just bought a box from Fry’s, I’d have a bewildering array of choices of different computer models at varying prices. Simple economics.

    Realize, also, that Apple has one (1) ‘affordable’ model, the Mini, and it’s new. Mac zealots have, until this year, been stuck with no counterargument to the price issue except “But…it’s a MAC!” Yeah, that’ll put $5K in my pocket.

    Though I agree with you completely that a casual user who doesn’t play any computer games ought to be using a Mac; that’s why we got my mother-in-law an iMac.

  32. Welcome to the monkey tribe.

    I had to give up writing a monthly Linux column in a newsstand magazine — it just got too embarrassing when I found I’d switched to OS/X and didn’t want to go back!

  33. If you haven’t already, you should investigate quicksilver ( http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/ ). I am about to get all crazy-eyed on you, but…

    It’s an application launcher, but if you explore the down and right arrows and the tab key, it is more than that. Say I have an html file that is by default associated with Safari but I want to open it in SubEthaEdit (another fine software product for OS X). cmd-space brings up the search window, I type a few letters of the name, hit tab, down, type SEE and then enter. And it’s done.

    It can control iTunes, Mail… it’s awesome. 43folders.com does some things with how powerful it can be.

    Just thought I’d share.

  34. We’ve got a graphic design firm working for us in the office, and they carry around these cool Mac laptops. Everyone found them very cool at first, but within a few weeks, the content on the screen just becomes “work” like everything else.

    John – I wonder how long it will take until you look at your Mac and just see your unfinished book, rather than your “cool new machine.” By then, it won’t matter which CPU you’re using…

  35. If I just bought a box from Fry’s, I’d have a bewildering array of choices

    Oh, yes, bewilderment is far superior to anything those mac zombies have to offer. Not to mention the fine customer service you get.

  36. Gosh, I guess I shouldn’t buy my new Mac from Fry’s either. Pity…they have such a cool display of the entire Apple lineup.

  37. i’ve used and maintained them both. there are programs that are only written for one os or the other. i’ve had issues on both platforms. had to use a windows program that would not run on a cpu faster than 333mhz. with a computer science degree, that one didn’t make much sense to me, but then maintaining two different file formats doesn’t either [intuit's quickbooks].

    as for the facts
    macs are better for average joe user.

    windows is better for high end game crazed people.
    – consoles and blizzard games work for me.

    i am far more productive than most people on a windows machine.

    i am more productive on a mac than windows.

    if you learn the shortcuts and use them, in general, you will be more productive, and more productive if you are on the mac than windows.

    as rook pointed out, you can’t drive his stuff with the mac… well, you can, you just have to write your own software. which is not that hard given the dev tools. i have heard the same complaints, but if you understand what’s going down the cable, then it’s really not rocket science, just a few lines of code. but, if you want something out of the box, then yes, i feel your pain.

    about control panels etc. over all, it’s always been easier to configure a mac than a pc. and the mac solved the reboot to have your network changes work long before windows. even in xp, you have to go more places to get things set up. to be fair, some things in os 10.3 don’t hit you as the first place to look [ie network sharing and firewall are in sharing, though i would think to look in network].case in point, it’s easier to set a mac up on a windows network than a windows machine.

    yes, unix offers more than dos.

    yes, you get more bang for your buck with a mac.

    no, apple does not have a product at every price point.

    if you are into productivity, and the mac has the software you need, then you will be more productive with it, otherwise, buy a pc.

    learn what you are doing with a machine, they are only tools. just like you don’t smoke while you pump gas, you don’t open a pc or mac up on a network. the mac comes fairl closed. windows is getting better.

    ipod vs other mp3′s… apple gets it. it’s the flow and ease of use.

    i wish apple would do some things differently, but i’m glad they are there. if not, i’d be using windows, or not using a computer at all. i waste enough time maintaining macs, but i do laugh at how much more time other people waste using windows.

    hear’s to the spinning beach balls… or windows issues for the rest… cheers.

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