Wanna appreciate your Mac? Try using a PC
November 6th, 2000

If you want to know what water is, don't ask a fish.

Chinese proverb


For the last few months, I've been settling into a new job. Also, for the last two months, I've been playing with OS X Public Beta.

There's a connection here.

On my first day of work, I sat across from this old-school Human Resource Director, listening to him drone on about benefits and such. The only thing I remember is his comment about the company's "rich history" and how I should make myself ready to contribute individual sacrifices for the continued success of the company.

His anachronistic commentary on privation soundly like it applied more to the Great Depression than anything else. In retrospect, he foretold the hell-raising experience I'd have with my company-assigned PC.

In the past, I've vicariously experienced the shortcomings of the Wintel PC through friends, acquaintances, and a former place of employment, enough to know that I have no desire to use a PC on a long-term basis. But lately, my resolve to avoid all things PC has been doubled and redoubled again.

You see, I've lived the PC dream. And it's a nightmare.

Take my PC, please!

Why would a self-described Mac bigot intentionally transplant himself from a Mac-only company (my prior job) to a corporation solidly affixed to the belly of the Wintel Beast? Other than a newfound desire to live a life of conspicuous consumption solely attributable to corporate life, I actually had bitten this bullet as a sign of resignation. In other words, I accepted the fate that, with the advent of OS X, Macs won't be too much different from the PC.

I hope I'm wrong.

I figured that immersing myself in the world of the C-prompt, the Windows registry, and Redmond's shoddy interface design would prepare me for the less-than-Mac-like experience known as OS X.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud, though. After months of working 10 hours a day with my PC, contrasted with many a night in front of my Mac, I can honestly say that Apple has nothing to fear except Wintel marketshare and that Megahertz thingee. I've learned that even if OS X is half as user friendly as OS 9, Windows still will dominate the Bad-OS-of-the-Year awards for some time to come.

Furthermore, there is no real reason to avoid the CLI (Command-Line Interface) any longer. Even though Mac OS Beta has that hidden from the uninitiated, just knowing it is there compels one to tinker under the hood, akin to sifting through the Extensions Folder.

I'm sure that Tim Allen can relate.

The contestants

Allow me to introduce the two laptops, equal in all the ways that matter:

1) I've been assigned a Gateway Solo 5100 as a mobile workstation. It sports a 233 MHz Pentium processor, a 4 Gig hard drive, 48 MBs of RAM, two USB ports, SCSI, and a parallel port. Installed are Windows 95, Office 97, Internet Explorer 5.5, plus a few proprietary applications.

2) In this corner is my trusty PowerBook Wallstreet: 233 MHz, 96 MBs of RAM, 6 Gig hard drive upgrade, DVD/CD-ROM, Lucent WaveLAN card. I run Office 98, OS 9.0, Quark, PageMaker, Photoshop, and more shareware and freeware that any sane user would allow.

The contest

Honestly, my PowerBook is long in the tooth. The display can only be tilted between a 75-degree- and a 110-degree angle. Anything out of that range and gravity flops the laptop closed or open, depending on the angle. That, and a bad PC-card slot from dropping it too many times makes that baby ready for retirement. Other than that, it still performs admirably.

The PC, on the other hand leaves much to be desired. Its trackpad is worthless, hence the need to keep a mouse with me at all times. The screen often displays a white, opaque tint that prevents me from being able to see anything. Gateway's tech support scratches their head, too. But the problem isn't the hardware; it's the OS.

Sure, my Mac freezes, but I know it's because I'm inclined to run several 3rd party extensions. With my PC, though, only God knows why it misbehaves so. When I'm in the middle of anything, it'll freeze up and reboot.

Oh, and I've been reintroduced to "Safe Mode." That's not a good thing.

"Format C:\" is what my coworker replies whenever he hears me cursing my computer daily. One coworker -- who is a Windows brainiac -- finally tired of similar crashes and reformatted his hard drive prior to reinstalling everything.

It took three days. I kid you not.

He was unproductive for three days while he reinstalled and reconfigured Windows. He is really excited now and is confident that, armed with what he knows now, it would only take him a day and a half to fix my laptop.

Did I mention that everyone in our workgroup -- three, roadwarrioring managers we are -- has been experiencing the same problems?

Good news and bad news

I'll be the first one to complain about the crashes that plague the current Mac OS. But trust Uncle Rodney when he says that things really are better than the PC alternative, as you can see.

I must hasten to add, however, that this is a cautionary tale.

OS X is upon us. Until that day arrives, you don't have to be a geek to know how to troubleshoot, maintain and tweak the Mac. But when OS X takes over, I fear that we will become just like the PC camp, a wall of division between us (who know little to nothing about how our Macs work) and the geeks (to whom we will have to take our Macs in order to cure whatever ails them whenever something ails them).

That is the sad truth I've avoided for the last two months of Aqua-lined beta testing.

That is also what I dread the Mac experience will become after having lived through this Dantesque circle of PC hell for the last few months. Sure, my current job is secure, because in many ways, it is based upon the fact that our average customer is ignorant of PCs and is dependent upon people like me to hold their hands, be their guide, and tell them how things oughta be.

I hope that Apple's OS X Team has a prime directive to make sure that OS X will give the user an equally easy and intuitive user experience as the current Mac OS. If not, the Mac world can expect to turn into the spitting image of the PC world.

The bright side is that if Apple makes the Mac OS as unfathomable as Windows, Apple will help usher in another wave of jobs, as Mac techs and administrators increase to a size quite like the nuisance ecosystem of service people whose sole existence depends on the fact that Windows is an abomination.

Yay, OS X. Aren't we proud?

And aren't I cynical?

Sue me. Today's my cynical day.

Your comments are welcomed.