Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Geek Wednesday: One Fruit, Three Decades

So what do you do when you turn 30? I can't remember, but if you're Apple Computer, to court. Then, you do a quick fix on your flagship product to forestall more unpleasant legal action.

The celebration, it would appear, is left for others. C-Net has an excellent display of Apple memorabilia, MacWorld looks back at the first fruits of techno-innovation, and if you're a real Mac whack, then you can spend a whole day poring through the links here.

If you've read some of my previous entries, then you're already aware that I tend to favor the Mac in the practice of the binary arts. Mind you, I spend all day working with Windows, and I have come to appreciate it: you see, I work in QA, which means the more foul-ups and bugs and architectural snafus there are, the more secure is my job.

Here at home, I have a windows box and a 3-year old iMac dome desktop. When I'm here, the Mac's always on; the Windows machine is the ugly stepsister here. The Mac OS (now up to 10.4.5 Tiger) has never crashed; though MS Office for Mac has a few times. I'd love to get a new one, but this one's not even paid for yet.

So why would someone supposedly in his senses spend two grand on a Mac when a Wal-Mart wintel can be had for a tenth of that? To me, there are two factors at work in this seeming irrationality. The first is TCO, total cost of ownership. The Mac is an investment that takes a chunk out of you at the top, but then stops. Windows never stops nibbling. I work with high-powered geeks who spend hours on a weekend defragging, fighting malware, installing patches for dealing with security flaws and new worms (and then fixing the ancillary problems the patches inevitably bring with them), struggling with device driver conflicts and assorted techno-mayhem. I tell them to multiply the hours they spend on that by the hourly rate they get at work, then add that to the cost of the computer (none of them, I must add, would think of even sniffing at a $200 Wal-Mart box).

Another draw for the Mac is, for the technophile, a matter of pure aesthetics. The Mac offers elegance melded to functionality; it pushes processor-intensive code with ease and grace. OS X is a wonder of design and durability; it just does everything Apple says it can and will do, without making you feel like you're lucky it's working at all today. I like the single menu bar for the active application; the ability to search at will from anyplace in the system and get instant results; the see-through Dock and glassy, 3D desktop graphics and brushed-stainless toolbars (which Redmond is shamelessly copying for Vista); and the shimmeringly smooth handling of multimedia and graphics.

I am definitely not a geek, so I gain no pleasure from writing a piece of code (even if I could); and I find nothing redeeming in XP's puffy, swollen title bars and its ability to have 379 windows open at once. I approach technology at the same pace I experience other aspects of life: with a preference for a rounded, unhurried encounter. So if you like ALT-tabbing through 27 windows while you're multi-tasking like a person possessed, then stick with the Windows box; but if you're in a place in life where speed is a bonus, not a raison-d'etre, then you may be ready for the Mac.

I simply hope that Steve Jobs and his company do not become fat and arrogant with success, as happened to the $50B man from Redmond and his inner circle. As the old Apple commercial shows (just click the Einstein graphic above to see it), innovation does not come from muscle, size, power, or wealth. It comes from the heart.


For another view of Win vs. Mac, see this recent article from the New York Times.

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