Miscellaneous Ramblings

The Microsoft/Apple Religious Wars Revisited

Charles Moore - 2005.05.02 - Tip Jar

The cold war between the two main personal computer tribes - Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh - is heating up again with the release last week of Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" and hype over Microsoft's long overdue "Longhorn" reengineering of Windows.

At the user level, these rivalries play out in more intuitive terms than the high-stakes corporate maneuvering. Windows/Intel machines seem to appeal to one sort of person, and Macintoshes to another - at least historically. Windows is widely perceived as the OS preferred by no-nonsense business and technogeek hacker types, while Macs are popularly pegged as the tool of artists, writers, and other creative individuals.

This arbitrary pigeon-holing reflects practical reality to a degree, although Macs can be superb business computers - and plenty of writers and graphic arts people use Windows these days.

I'm biased, convinced that there are few things a Mac can't do as well as or better than - and in almost all cases more elegantly than - a Windows PC. I concede that there are some very good non-Mac PCs out there. It's just that Macs are so much nicer.

"Plug and play" has long been a reality with Macs. Printers, scanners, wireless peripherals, and optical drives are easy and quick to hook up to Macs. Windows XP closed the user-friendliness gap somewhat, but the Intel-based machines' hardware and configuration clunkiness still haven't been addressed. The Mac is still slicker.

Check out the brevity of the Mac compared with the Windows installation instructions on almost any platform ambidextrous software or hardware item. For example, 12 pages of my digital camera's 52 page user's guide are taken up with instructions for how to install and use the required software for Windows support. With a Mac, you can skip the whole thing and just connect a USB cable.

My LapWorks Optical Scroll Mini Mouse is a straight plug and play proposition on the Mac. As the instruction sheet notes: "For Mac users, the mouse will install with no [on screen] message and will be ready for use in a matter of seconds." For Windows XP users, there is half a page of configuration instructions and a note that some users might experience slow responsiveness with the mouse that would have to be corrected by "changing the power management setting for your notebook's USB port."

Ah, those zany PC-adherents - amazing gluttons for punishment.

But I digress.

Loyalty to one or the other platform and OS transcends even these rational considerations. Some of it has to do with familiarity - i.e., which machine you learned on. Macintosh is fighting an uphill battle here, since about 95% of PCs sold are Windows compatible.

But even that is not enough to explain the fierce partisanship that often typifies the platform wars.

Last week, BBC North America business correspondent Stephen Evans observed: "To enter the Apple store in Manhattan is to enter a temple. Beneath its high vault, swish thin young men and women dressed from head to foot in black. They hold objects in their hands, strange white and silver objects, objects of devotion which they present to lay visitors, to the uninitiated who wander in from Prince Street seeking retail solace."

Evans continues: "At the top of a set of broad stairs in the sun-lit store is an auditorium, a circle of seats much like those in a chapel, where one of the black-clad priests stands and delivers an encomium to the objects. There is reverence and a sense of being part of a movement."

Evans goes on to reference Italian novelist Umberto Eco's ( Foucault's Pendulum; Name of the Rose) decade-old observation, The Holy War: Mac vs. DOS (published in a back-page column of La bustina di Minerva in the Italian news weekly Espresso, on September 30, 1994) that the Microsoft/Apple rivalry is "a new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world."

Eco says he is "firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and while Microsoft computers are Protestant. Indeed," Eco declaimed, "the Macintosh is counter-reformist . . . It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the kingdom of heaven - the moment in which their document is printed," pointing out that with a Mac you deal with simple formulae and sumptuous icons, and "everyone has a right to salvation."

On the other hand, Eco argued, the PC is Protestant, "or even Calvinistic," demanding difficult decisions and interpretations and taking "for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation." The PC user "is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment."

Writing in 1994, Eco noted that when the Windows graphical user interface was added to erstwhile command line-only DOS, there came a superficial resemblance to the Macintosh's "counter-reformist tolerance." Sort of like Anglicanism, said Eco, with "big ceremonies in the cathedral," but "there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to."

Hmmmm. I'm an Anglican Catholic member of the Traditional Anglican Communion, and we take the "traditional" part very seriously, but Eco was and is right about contemporary mainstream Anglicanism.

"Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users," noted Eco. "And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic. The Jewish lobby, as always...."

Umberto Eco's only partly tongue-in-cheek theological analysis of the computer wars has stood up well and is still entertaining, capturing a great deal of essential truth.

If you still can't decide which computer "denomination" to join, or if you're stuck with using a Windows machine for work but would like to have a Mac for personal and family computing, or if you'd really rather switch to a Mac but don't want to orphan your investment in Windows software, one solution might be Microsoft's Virtual PC or other PC emulation software for the Mac. Computer ecumenism!

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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