Lately, I've been spending a lot of hours working with Quake III. Working with it mind you, not playing it. The time has long since passed that enabled me to ever become particularly good at any gaming exploit. In short, I've been working with a brilliant young student who has developed Quake maps as the major design elements of the scenery for this year's exploits of the fall.
As a result, I've had to log a lot of hours on the Wintel platform. A lot of hours. Before you go and dismiss this as a simple "Windows-not-so-bad" article, think again. I'm writing this article on my iMac because that's where I do my work. And I love this platform. And the OS, the interface, the hardware and software, and the whole Mac ethos thing. It's bizarre to spend a great number of waking hours pondering these infernal machines, but that's what I do.
Windows has been in my face though, and will be for some time to come. The actual next step would be toward Silicon Graphics workstations, so I'm getting in deeper and deeper to alternate platforms. What have I discovered from this? All of our Mac versus Windows rhetoric is far more complex than we are led to believe by the rather simplistic arguments that clutter the web and our conversation.
In my mind, Windows is an inferior operating system in many ways. By and large, the consumer OS is simplistic, nefarious, but ultimately benign. Late last night, alone on the H-P in my office, I surfed the web with glee as Windows moved me through. Most annoying to me though were the constant queries from the system "Do you want me to do this?" that popped up along the way. Explorer on the PC is an adventure in plug-ins. I finally wanted, even though I was enjoying the surfing, to yell at the machine to stop asking so many questions. It was late, I was tired, and the thing just kept asking questions. Then, as it took what seemed like an eternity for it to shut down, I left my office and walked home, only to return this morning and find the machine still shutting down. Sigh.
But I digress.
The real center involves the individuals that make the Windows boxes run for me. For the gamer in you, we are using the Quake III engine along with Radiant and Q3Build to design virtual worlds that serve as the backdrop for the action of the play. Eric (my student) has spent countless hours using every bit of computing power he possesses to design the scenery. The result is a visual and aural feast, all surrounding a 1954 drama. Even my wife, Luddite to the max, enjoys the visual aspects of the piece.
Eric has developed remarkable material in a short time, and I'm suddenly aware that in the Mac world, Eric is the enemy. He is the Mac bashing, Wintel loving teenager of the type that pops up on bulletin boards from time to time. I should hate him. I don't. He has amazing gifts, and the Wintel platform is his tool of choice because for him, that system is incredibly intuitive.
Intuition is an important consideration in these conversations, because intuition is at the center of the platform debate. Given the vague nature of intuition, it's altogether surprising that we don't have more operating systems duking it out. Each user of a computer uses that computer in a different way for a different purpose. No two ever really look the same or act the same once they've been taken out of the box and placed on a desk. From there, an individual's own sensibilities come into play. Some have streaming mouse trails, others dynamic screensavers, and others desktops that get up and run in circles. In both the Windows and Mac architectures, that flexibility is a key element in the user experience. Still, Windows has the market share and Bill Gates owns an incredibly overblown house.(okay, Jobs has got a plane too :-)
Does that market share mean that we are incredibly different from the Windows users of the world? I posit that it does, and is not a bad thing in the long run. Neither platform is going away anytime soon. (Even if Apple failed, wouldn't the user community still seek to continue the platform n some manner?) The greater question lies in the education of the user base, and adjustment to the OS with the themes of Howard Gardner in mind.
Gardner's theories of education and learning put forth the idea that in all learning, individuals are blessed with varying degrees of not one, but seven different forms of intelligence. As we each therefore acquire information in different ways according to our intelligence, so computer users will undoubtedly move toward a platform that reaches them on a variety of levels. Each user will not necessarily work in the same way, or learn the same things. They will however, learn a great deal. That almost goes without saying
Apple's question is then more complex than ever imagined. To continue to grow and reach its widest audience, the Mac OS must reach out and touch as many intelligences as possible. How can that be done? That's why this is a two-part story, Bunky. In two weeks I'll attack "The Mac OS and the Seven Intelligences." Keep your thinking caps on.
But I digress.