March 27, 2009

Keeping things real

Microsoft has just launched a particularly powerful advertisement (click on the link to see it) against its foe Apple – a very real presentation by a woman who – being limited to a $1000 budget, says “I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.”  Ouch, that line completely deflates the Mac pretentiousness.  (Me, I run a combination of Windows, and Linux, and if I could, I want to run all Linux, the operating system I most love.)

It’s important to keep things real.  Some of us take pleasure in having computers with a cool logo – and some of us take pleasure in playing a role playing something we aren’t.  I’ve recently been watching someone who desperately wants to play the role of the scholar, and he has been duly generating posts on a short book in the Bible – drawing heavily from the Anchor Bible commentary and a few remarks by celebrated Harvard professor written in a Study Bible.  There’s nothing at all wrong with that:  but it is important to remember that typing an idea doesn’t make one the discoverer of an idea.  I value most those who bring something new to the table, some originality, some creative thought.  Those are my heroes.

The Apple computer is nothing short of brilliant.  However, choosing to use it does not make one brilliant.  Shakespeare was a brilliant author – watching one of his plays does not make us brilliant.  The Bible is full of many deep truths and profoundly beautiful language – but reading it does not make us wise or eloquent.  For me, it is only by fighting, fighting, fighting with the text, with ideas – but fighting honestly – not playing childish one-upsmanship games – that I can truly learn something and prepare myself to bring something new to the table.

So rather than spewing out cliches, I want to read, understand, argue, and come up with deeper insights.  So much of what I see on blogs is prejudging – as if one could measure the quality of a book without reading it – and in the end, that sort of posing comes off as so much stoogery. 

These Microsoft commercials will powerful because they are honest.  I hope we can all be as honest.  That’s the first step towards real scholarship.


R. Mansfield said...

My decision to switch from Windows to the Mac 11 years ago was a practical one. Despite the fact that I was quite knowledgeable about PCs (using them from the DOS days in the eighties), I was tired of being in the middle of work only to have the computer lock up or worse, have my work go MIA.

Of course that was in the wild west days of Windows 98, and realistically, the Windows platform improved significantly and became much more stable two years later with the release of Windows 2000. If I had been a little more patient, who knows, perhaps I would have never switched.

Regardless, I am still a Mac user, and in spite of the fact that yes, I do pay more for a computer, I still believe that Macs are not near as high maintenance as Windows machines.

Part of this, of course, is because Apple tightly controls the platform and doesn't need to make its software run on every PC vendor's machine in existence. Yes, Macs can crash and hardware can fail, but honestly, I can't remember the last time I got an OS X kernel panic (the Mac equivalent to a Windows blue screen).

Windows machines tend to get slower the longer they run, and they tend to run best if everything is simply wiped and reloaded every so often. I don't have to do this on my Macs. I don't have to run software to protect against spyware or viruses either. None of my Macs are protected in this way. Oh, I know everyone says that OS X viruses are coming...any day now... but I've been hearing that for years. I used to actually run antivirus software, coming from the Windows world. But I haven't used it in a long time. And it's not that there are fewer Mac users so virus writers don't target them. Actually, there were a handful of viruses in the wild for the classic Mac OS. The difference is OS X which has an architecture that makes virus penetration extremely difficult to achieve. When the day comes that Mac viruses start to appear, I'll add it then, if necessary.

There's a second reason the Mac experience may be a bit better which also relates to that tight control Apple can maintain. Every few years, older technology is dropped. Windows maintains backwards compatibility all the way back to the days of DOS. You can even still get a PC with a parallel port, serial port, and a floppy drive if you want. That's great if you need to run those programs that need these, but most don't, and if you don't need to, it simply adds bloat to the OS.

Apple doesn't care about backwards compatibility, sometimes to the point of frustration to its users because often a technology is dropped before a full replacement is in sight. Does that force users to upgrade? Yes. But the benefit is that the OS and the software is lean and mean.

Right now, the current version of OS X still runs on PowerPC architecture that Apple stopped using in 2006 in favor of Intel processors. There is strong indication that the next major update to the OS later this year will cease to support the PowerPC processor. Will that leave users of computers only three to four years old out in the cold? Yes. But to have an operating system that supports two entirely different architectures creates problems as well. Microsoft could never make such sudden changes with the Windows OS, but Apple is able to, and in the end it works out better for the majority of users.

Finally, the Mac OS is extremely versatile. If I need to still run Windows software, I can either dual boot my system or run Windows programs side by side with Mac programs. The platform is that flexible.

For what it's worth, I believe Microsoft's new ads to be the best they've done in a while. They're clever, and who knows, maybe they'll force Apple to lower some of its prices. But even if they don't, I'll continue to use the Mac platform--not because I'm cool enough, and not because it inherently makes me more creative. It does, however, allow me to get my work done efficiently, and for my money, more efficiently than what I could achieve with a lower-cost Windows machine.

One more for what it's worth-- in spite of Microsoft's most recent ads, and in spite of the supposed bad blood between the companies--the reality is that the largest Macintosh software development company second to Apple itself is...wait for it...Microsoft. They're not dummies, and they've always hedged their bets. If the majority of computer users switched to the Mac tomorrow (which is not going to happen), Microsoft would still be making money on the deal.

R. Mansfield said...


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I was in the kitchen making some sandwiches when I first heard that commercial pop on. It was a surprise that it was a Microsoft commercial, which one doesn't learn until the end. I thought it would be for a computer retailer of some stripe. It was a very successful commercial, I thought.

And though I work continually with Windows/Intel machines (with some facility with Linux), and help some folks out with their Macs (almost always user issues, not hard/software), I have yet to be bitten by the Apple, so to speak. The limited variety of designs in their laptops is a non-plus, despite their quality. The price is simply too high, in the end, for something I would need to learn to tolerate. I'm an IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad lover, and my T20 has worked very well for 8 years and change now. The future likely holds for me one of their new W700 models, which would hopefully last a number of years more, until The Crash, when we go back to quills and parchment....