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A Mac Post September 21, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Technology.

My first Mac was a secondhand iBook G3 with hard drive capacity smaller than my iPod’s. All things considered, not exactly the best introduction to the cult of Mac, but at the time I got the damn thing for a song. Yes, it was slow. Yes, it had hardly any space to store stuff. And yes, there was an unlearning curve involved — that is, the need to junk everything Microsoft had made me understand about computers and get used to an entirely new platform. But damn it was a Mac, and soon enough it became clear why Apple fanatics go ga-ga over the thing. Simpler to use? Check! Aesthetically pleasing? Check! Hip and cool? We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen.

In those first few weeks of getting to know my new toy, what gave me the most anxiety was the issue of compatibility. Would I be able to access my old files on the machine (and vice versa)? Will it be able to play nice with our little network at home? Things of that nature. To my delight, it was smooth sailing all the way. I’d hardly experienced any compatibility problems from day one, certainly no more than I would have expected to encounter in the ordinary course of business, and on the network side it amused me that it was much easier to configure the iBook and troubleshoot its network connection compared to Windows machines. By then, I was sold. When the iBook eventually outgrew my needs I moved on to a PowerbookG4 (still using it!), swore that if I could help it I’d never work on Windows again, and have never looked back.

Lately, though, things haven’t been running so smoothly. Where to begin: That look of incredulity and incomprehension on people’s faces as I’d explain I can’t simply email a presentation over because I use slideware other than Powerpoint? The way I have to think of a backup plan for my presentations in anticipation of how shifting the common use projector from a PC to my laptop might cause unknown technical problems and torpedo others’ presentations? How the firewall at the office renders my mail client useless, just because I use a Mac? Little annoyances, to be sure, but ones that build up to a monumental frustration.

The irony in this is twofold: all this at a time when there are more Macs in the wild than ever before and its OS is emerging as a viable alternative to Microsoft’s (thanks in part to Vista, I’d hazard to guess). But this is really just a matter of timing and, perhaps, whatever the antonym of serendipity might be. The more telling irony, however, is that the opposite isn’t true: while getting my beloved Powerbook up and running in Windows environments (or mindsets) has become more and more tedious, I have yet to run into real problems getting “Windows” things to co-exist with my machine.

I understand network economics well enough — Metcalf’s law and all that — and know just as well as anyone that if Windows hadn’t become a ubiquitous platforms computers may not have caught on as much as they did. But it looks to me that bells and whistles aside the platform has gotten worse and not better, and it drags more and more people down with them (particularly in the workplace). Looking forward, Macs will probably catch on, but not for a whole generation of people who can’t be taught any different, and not without great effort. It’s a shame that in the technology game it’s the superior marketing, not the superior innovation, that wins out in the end.



1. Apple Bites « BRAIN DRAIN - January 16, 2009

[…] from my standpoint, the fundamental reason why I switched to a Mac in the first place is because it operates much more simply and (more importantly) plays nice with Windows, even if the opposite is not entirely true. Yet when it ceases to play nice, more so for reasons […]

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