Mac Musings

Why I Will Probably Buy Another Mac

Daniel Knight - 2006.05.11

There's a long, rambling article on OSnews this morning, Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac by "alcibiades". This five-page commentary shares the author's 20-year history with the Mac, his thoughts on different versions of Windows, and then explains his disillusionment with the Mac.

My Story

I cut my teeth on an Apple II+ back in 1979 or so. The first personal computer I owned was a Commodore VIC-20, and around 1986/7 I moved to my first DOS machine. Text commands were just the way computers worked back then.

I was a power user, wrote batch files quickly, and just didn't get this Macintosh thing with the mouse and GUI. I played with the Macs a bit, especially once the Mac II came out with color graphics, but for work I used my Zenith PC.

Then I got a job at ComputerLand of Grand Rapids (MI), where everyone was enamored of the Mac. As a DOS geek, I thought this would be my opportunity to sell a lot of IBM, Compaq, NEC, and other brands of DOS computers. Little did I know that within six months I'd become a Mac user.

This was the dark ages of Windows, and once I started using the Mac regularly, I sold my Zenith and never looked back. I've been a Mac user for about 16 years now, and I have no regrets.

A few years ago I bought a cheap used Dell with Windows 98 because the Mac version of Yahoo Messenger didn't support chat or voice. (For the record, it still doesn't.) It worked, but I never used it for much else. Win98 simply wasn't comparable the OS X - or the classic Mac OS, for that matter.

About a year ago I bought an Acer laptop for US$700 so I could solve some problems IE 5.5 and 6.0 users were experiencing with Low End Mac's new CSS-based design. The design worked on all the Mac browsers and all the Windows browsers that didn't use the IE 5.5/6.0 rendering engine - but one-third of our visitors were using Windows XP and IE 6.0, so we had to solve the problem.

As with the Dell, I didn't like Windows. I hated the frustration of switching network connections. I disdained the need to run antivirus and anti-spyware software - and keep it updated. As little as I used these computers, I generally spent more time updating the anti-malware apps than doing anything productive.

That Acer Aspire was also my first real experience with Linux after I installed Ubuntu on it. It's not Windows, but neither is it the Mac. Linux with Gnome is much more like Windows than like a Mac.

Alcibiades' Story

"Alcibiades" has been using Macs since 1985 and quickly came to appreciate the productive power it gave him. Windows couldn't compare, at least through version 3.1, and although he claims Macs were more costly than comparably equipped PCs, he stuck with them for productivity.

Windows evolved to Win95 and then 98, and the Mac started using more industry standard parts (as though SCSI and NuBus weren't standards?) such as PCI slots and IDE hard drives. He claims that Apple's "hardware quality argument had vanished" during this era, pointing to the cheaply made (but generally reliable) Power Mac 4400 and unspecified "disastrous Performas" (my guess is that he means the x200 series, which represent the low point in Mac design).

Alcibiades says that Mac OS stability fell with OS 8 and 9 while Windows was growing more stable. And Windows laptops were smaller, lighter, faster, and had longer battery life, he claims. (Funny, but today it's Apple's 'Books that are noted for some of the best battery life in the industry.)

In the Windows 98 era, he bought an iMac. He complains of the small hard drive and limited amount of RAM compared with Windows PCs, but 32 MB of RAM and a 4 GB hard drive were quite adequate for a consumer Mac. Prior to OS X, Macs had very paltry RAM and hard drive needs compared with Windows, a factor he fails to mention.

He complains about the one-button mouse, calling it "a constant irritant" as though there were no multibutton USB mice available.

But his biggest complaint about the iMac is very telling:

"It occurred to me that there would be no upgrade path for this one. It would be throw out the whole thing and buy another one. You couldn't reuse the screen. I began to wonder whether the reason that Mac people kept their machines for so long had less to do with durability, than cost."

All-in-one computers have their pros and cons. Less wires. One power supply. No computer and monitor to stack or arrange. Limited or no upgrade path. Frankly, it's not very green to build an all-in-one computer that doesn't have the potential for CPU upgrades.

Alcibiades contends that Windows 2000, the successor to the "pro" Windows NT 4.0, "seemed to be better than parity" with the Mac. It had true multi-user abilities and almost never crashed.

Then came Windows XP, which he says was very fast on his new computer. (Having used WinXP on a 1.4 GHz laptop with 512 MB of RAM, I would never consider it fast.) But for the first time, Windows had the kind of integration that Mac users had been used to since the mid-1980s.

He throws in regular barbs about the Mac's market share, as though that has anything to do with their usability, reliability, quality, or suitability. It's irksome, as are his comments on how "overpriced" the Mac is compared with no-name and mail-order (e.g., Dell) PCs.

He follows this with a diatribe about the design of the G4 iMac and the Cube. He apparently has no sense of aesthetics, seeing computers as black boxes that do their magic and don't have to look nice.

The Cult of Mac

From here Alcibiades comments on the dark side of the Mac as religion contingent. The Mac true believers would rarely, if ever, admit to any superiority for Windows PCs and refuse to acknowledge flaws in Apple hardware or the Mac OS. Macs and the Mac OS were better by definition, and anyone who didn't think so would soon be deluges with flames from Mac zealots.

I have to agree that there are Mac users who go way overboard in their zeal. They are not realists; they are Mac cultists, and they tend to live in denial of the viability of any competing computing platform.

Mac realists realize that there have been "road Apples", that Mac OS X isn't quite perfect, that His Steveness makes mistakes. We understand that Apple has overhyped the Intel Macs by claiming 3x to 5x performance boosts when real world software doesn't show that.

We also understand that Rosetta emulation makes Photoshop sluggish, and the realists (unlike the cultists) acknowledge that for productivity you either stick with a PowerPC Mac or use a Windows PC for Photoshop. The Intel Macs just don't cut it for Photoshop, and they won't until Adobe releases a new version that supports the new Macs.

Strangely, it is the behavior of the Mac cultists that Alcibiades uses as his primary reason for probably never buying another Mac.

The Alternatives

Although a big fan of Windows 2000, Alcibiades has become a true believer in open software, so he elected to put Linux on his newest PC along with the Gnome environment.

He sees Apple as increasingly authoritarian and totalitarian, believing that Apple's "monopoly power" over the platforms (Mac and iPod) are ultimately dangerous, while Open Source is the savior of personal computing. And the zealots will blindly follow Apple to the cliff and over the edge like lemmings.

Alcibiades believes that Apple is somehow responsible for the true believers, somehow drives them to frenzied, irrational attacks on those who would besmirch their beloved platform. Because Apple must be behind the fanboys (after all, nobody would be a fan simply because they like the products), so to punish Apple he's looking elsewhere.

In the end, rather than choose the cult of Windows (with Bill Gates, Steve Balmer, and Paul Thurrott) or the cult of Mac (with Steve Jobs), he is going to join the cult of Open Source (with Linus Torvalds and multiple distros and the ongoing Gnome vs. KDE wars).

In the end, Alcibiades is making the same kind of religious decision he attacks Mac zealots for making.

Sticking with Mac

I've used Macs since 1986, and I've learned MultiFinder, experience the switch to PowerPC, reformatted hard drive to take advantage of HFS+ in Mac OS 8.1, seen SCSI and ADB ports vanish, dabbled with OS X before discovering (around version 10.1 or 10.2) that it was finally good enough for me to maintain my productivity, and adopted Tiger only to wonder what I really gained for the investment.

I haven't yet moved to Intel. I can't. I write these articles using Claris Home Page 3.0, perhaps the finest piece of WYSIWYG HTML software ever written for the masses. It's fast. It's easy. And although it's not perfect, it's plenty good for writing and editing.

Claris Home Page is classic only, so I need a Mac with a PowerPC processor if I'm going to run it. And until someone comes up with a comparably quick and easy program for OS X, I'm sticking to it. (I also love Photoshop 5.5 under classic, as it's far more responsive than Photoshop Elements 3.0, which I also own.)

Apple has produced computers, operating systems, and software that have freed us to focus on the task at hand. We don't have to install and update antivirus software. We don't have to know or type in any commands from the terminal. We don't have to know where to look for network settings. We can just use them.

I won't deny that Apple has seen hardware quality slip ever since they began outsourcing production. I won't deny that the MacBook Pro has had some serious teething pains and that Rosetta can make a fast dual-core Macintel model feel old and slow. Apple isn't perfect - then again, neither are Microsoft or the Open Source community.

Apple makes computers for the rest of us, those who don't want to be geeks. (I gave it up years ago. Yes, I was once a DOS geek and a hardware tweaker.)

Macs make us more productive by being consistent, letting us focus on the work, and avoiding all the overhead of dealing with malware. That makes them worth a few dollars more than a cheap beige box running WinXP or Linux.

I will continue to buy Macs until something that lets me be more productive and has better value comes along. And even then I may not switch - familiarity is worth a lot.