Mac Musings

Mac Myopia

Daniel Knight - 2001.07.13

Nearsightedness, or myopia, as it is medically termed, is a vision condition in which near objects are seen clearly, but distant objects do not come into proper focus. Nearsightedness occurs if your eyeball is too long or the cornea has too much curvature, so the light entering your eye is not focused correctly. American Optometric Association

Myopia. It's why I've been wearing glasses since sixth grade. Back then it was a problem reading filmstrips; today I can't read anything more than 10" from my eyes without glasses.

But that's not the kind of myopia I'm talking about when it comes to the Mac. Mac myopia can be a good thing.

How's that? How can being nearsighted be considered beneficial?

Well, about the only positive thing you can say about myopia is that it eliminates a lot of distractions. All that fuzzy, far away stuff is less of a bother if you're not paying any attention to it.

There's a lot of that in parts of the Mac community. While some rant and rave about Windows being better, stealing Apple's ideas, or marginalizing the Mac, we're content to just use our Macs and get our work done. Instead of looking at the whole big picture of Personal Computing, we look at our personal computing needs.

Tangent: Anti-MS Rant

I could go off on a tangent here and point out the difference in emphasis between Microsoft and the rest of us (mostly Mac and Linux users). Microsoft 1984wants to control the market, control the user, control the data. Just look at the serialized Windows installation disks, the threatening letters about checking software licenses, the problems sometimes encountered when running non-MS applications, and the whole .NET initiative.

Apple just wants to give us the tools we need to work. They have no arcane installers that can only be used once, no central clearing house for your personal data, no need to control how you work. The emphasis is on personal computing. Your keychain of passwords is stored on your own computer, not on a central Microsoft server. It's about liberating the individual - like in the 1984 ad.

But I'm not going there. It's definitely something we need to keep in mind as we face the Wintel juggernaut, but it's not the focus of this article.

Mac myopia means we look to the Mac for our computing needs. We don't keep asking if Windows or Linux or an old Amiga might be better for the job. We have made our choice and are content with it. We have found the software and hardware tools we need; we see no reason to switch.

That kind of myopia is what allows low-end Mac users to keep using a Mac Plus or PowerBook 100 as a great little writing machine. That kind of "I've got what I need" attitude lets some surf the Web with SE/30s and makes the poky old 16 MHz Color Classic more than just an odd little collectible.

The good is the enemy of the better. That may be bad from the standpoint of selling us new hardware every two or three years, but for the Mac myopic, good enough is good enough.

The Danger of Mac Myopia

Sometimes that nearsightedness means we get blindsided, as happened at my last job about a year ago. For eight years I'd been the company computer expert, watching their network grow from under two dozen LocalTalked Macs and LaserWriters to an Internet connected ethernet network with about 80 Macs (ranging from Quadras to G4s), over a dozen printers, and several servers. I knew the Mac well, and we all benefited.

Then they hired a new guy we'll call Lou (because that isn't his name). Lou was to be the company's salvation, leading the company out of the dark ages of hit-and-miss marketing - and he insisted that was impossible to do with the Mac.

I knew better. Like a lot of people with Windows myopia, he had no experience with the Mac. It was foreign. It was different. It was therefore inferior. It had to go.

Computing prejudice is ugly, and it's no better when it's a Mac zealot dumping on Windows just because it's not the Mac OS. Prejudice is blind, and it's something we should avoid in all areas of life.

Anyhow, time and again I'd ask Lou, "What is it that you need to do that Macs can't do?" He stonewalled with silence. He was the expert blessed by upper management; who was I to question his wisdom?

Of course, everything got worse when he finally got his way and bought a Gateway laptop for one of the sales reps. We were all Mac myopic; not one of us was a Windows user, let alone a Windows expert. We struggled to make that unfriendly machine work with our mail server. I don't know if we ever got it connecting to our AppleShare file server or FileMaker Pro database server. It was all very tiresome.

Imagine multiplying that experience times 20-30 users. That's exactly what Lou wanted to do - move one-third of the business to Windows computers. "What is it that you need to do that Macs can't do?" Silence. But he had the blessing from upper management, so we looked at Windows solutions.

It wasn't going to be cheap, and company finances were tight, so we never had to implement the Windows network that gave Lou wet dreams. Heck, when I left at the end of January 2001, Lou was still using a PowerBook G3.

Lou's blind push to move a Mac-based business to Windows just because it was what he knew and because it was what the rest of the world used (are all marketing people lemmings?) helped me understand my role in the company. I was told by the company president that Windows was just another operating system. Since I was a smart guy, I should have no trouble figuring it out.

That's like telling a trained BMW technician that he'll be happy fixing Kias - after all, they're just another brand of car.

The Mac Advantages

Last week we published the final installment of 75 Mac Advantages Revisited, which was originally published to contrast Windows 95 and Mac OS 8.1. According to the author's analysis, despite four years of progress, 56 of the original 75 Mac advantages still apply - and we haven't even looked for new advantages to add to the list.

In the Windows world, computers are just alternate versions of the same thing. Mix a case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, memory, hard drive, CD/DVD, and a version of Windows. Bingo, you've got a Windows computer. Some cases are nicer than others, some power supplies are quieter or cooler or offer more power, some motherboards are faster or have better power management, some CPUs are cheap while others are wicked fast, and so forth. You can mix and match most of the parts, add Windows, and have a Kia.

In the Mac world computers are unique. The iMac isn't just a Power Mac motherboard packed inside a funny looking case. The iBook doesn't simply rearrange PowerBook components. Each model is designed as a whole. For power and performance, you design one way. For budget computing, you design a different way. Take that hardware, add the Mac OS (either classic or X), and you have a BMW. Yes, the entry-level iMac is an economy BMW.

BMW owners don't tend to be jealous of the Kias they see on the road, but most Kia drivers will admit that there's a qualitative and experiential difference between an inexpensive Korean car and a well-engineered German automobile.

Mac owners don't tend to be jealous of the Windows computers others use. We know the Macs do what we need to do, do it well, and do it with style. They work for us. They are the right tool for the job. What more can you ask of a personal computer?

That's why I'm Mac myopic.