Monday, November 19, 2007

About Macs

If I hear one more time how Macs are expensive and just for fashion victims, I'll throw up. This urban myth keeps coming up for so long, that it's not really funny any more. These two statements that Macs are a) expensive and b) merely a fashion statement, are so easily debunked if one cares to look objectively for the truth that it's mind-boggling to see them come around so often. From personal experience, the (a) above is a farce. It is most ironic, that I mainly hear this from people who spend quite a lot on computers and tech gadgets in general. Like they are quite happy to shell out hundreds of euros for doubtful upgrades on PC hardware and assorted gizmos, but when contemplating a different platform altogether they become Ebenezer Scrooge.

When I picked a locally-assembled PC with Ubuntu for my desktop at work, I did it for two reasons. First, to save a little extra cash, since the budget was low and second, to keep up with developments on FLOSS desktops in general, since I already had a Mac at home. Both systems would work equally well for what I do at work. Now, the purchase savings from getting the PC, amounted to what I cost the company per day. Having spent about a day fiddling with driver's and software that was not readily available through synaptic (that was in Edgy if memory serves), that advantage was gone. I pretty much knew this was going to happen from the start. However, the second reason still holds. I believe that the inevitable progress in FLOSS desktop systems is eventually going to make proprietary products pointlessly expensive. Ubuntu's polish in each new version attests to this. However we are not there yet.

The "fashion" argument (b) is even worse. It might have had some merit in the nineties, when Apple was floundering and targeted mainly the publishing and multimedia markets, but as anyone can see today things have changed. Are all the Mac-carrying uber-hackers in large conferences fashion victims? Really? Those guys with the pony-tails, beards, glasses, t-shirts, shorts and slippers? Funny how they don't seem to spend much on clothes.

Actually, what people like Yakov Fain are really afraid of, is change. And that's perfectly OK. I'm afraid of change, too. Otherwise I might have moved already. Or changed jobs. Or get divorced. Um, nope, scratch that one. It's just that, occasionally, I do manage to build up the courage to face something foreign and exotic and learn to live with it. And sometimes even learn to like it. For someone like Fain who has spent most of his time in the Windows world, every other world will appear difficult to learn. I have a friend (hi George!) whose first computer was a SPARCstation. When he started using Windows, years later, the experience seemed weird and clunky. It's the same thing, only on the flip side of the coin.

Also, Mark Pilgrim's latest mocking of MySQL installation on Mac OS X while hilarious (which is why I like his blog), is unfair. Sam Ruby's too. Installing or upgrading MySQL on OS X is just a matter of getting the package from the vendor's site and launching it, not compiling from sources. The fact that there might be no package yet for Leopard or that the current package does not function well on it is utterly irrelevant. It will be fixed. Ubuntu is no different. I updated Firefox on my Mac at home the day was shipped, yet one week later my Ubuntu box at work is still at Of course, it will be fixed.

This is what you lose with centralized package repositories, in order to gain consistency and ease of upgrading. I'm no stranger to this kind of thing, having used FreeBSD and Linux as my main desktop for many years now. If you think installing things in Ubuntu is always as easy as launching Synaptic, try to use Skype on amd64. Or Flash and Adobe Reader pre-Gutsy. I'm quite used to watching compiler output scroll for hours so all of it was a walk in the park for me, but I can imagine how it might have been frustrating for someone less experienced. Ubuntu's (and FreeBSD's, Fedora's, etc.) advantage over the Mac is when installing something not packaged specifically for OS X by the vendor, like mutt or nmap. That is where the value of a community-maintained repository shines. Of course you can use MacPorts / Fink / pkgsrc / whatever, but they are not integrated into the system, so you merely moved the goal post a little further.

As a parting thought, I have a confession to make: I'd love to work with this guy. Interacting with human beings requires a set of skills that not many people in the technology world can brag about. Understanding how humans work and what makes them tickle is fundamentally different than being an expert with machines and software. Michael Lopp is an engineering manager at Apple. It figures, I guess.


adamo said...

I have a friend whose first computer was a SPARCstation

Just to be precise: It was a DECstation 5000/200 and not exactly mine; I was the only one who dared to use it :)

I think the majority is afraid of change for one single reason: They want to have the exact third party software they are used to having while working on Windows. It is not the OS that really matters; it is the applications that come with it.

past said...

DECstation, eh? That's even worse than I remembered!

Regarding the fear of change, I believe it is a fundamental attribute of human behavior, with roots in inertia, I suppose. Therefore it manifests itself in many aspects of our lives, a small part being computer-related activities. Of course resistance to change is higher the more important the matter under consideration and I absolutely agree that in computers, applications are much more important than operating systems.

Personally, I consider gmail, blogger, google reader, etc. the most important applications I use today. So, in a sense we might have come full circle here: change of computer platforms should be facilitated in the future, by the ubiquity of the Internet protocols and applications. Any platform could suffice.

Perhaps even a DECstation :-)

Unknown said...

When people say that mac is overpriced, they usually compare it to a PC assembled using the cheapest parts available. This way the PC will appear cheaper because you have the freedom to choose the cheapest parts ending up with an equally equipped PC but with much less quality. This comparison is certainly unfair. On the other hand if you are on a low budget (and many people are) you may not be able to afford high quality hardware like a mac. In the PC world there is hardware on any price level and you can decide what you will pay for your specific needs. In the mac world you HAVE to buy high quality even if you don't need it for every part and if you don't have the money then that 's it. You can't buy a mac.

past said...

Agreed on the price difference. The point I was trying to make and can personally attest to, is that this difference is overrated if you factor in other potential costs. Like the administration labor necessary for getting a fully functional system (for my case at least). I confess that what I hate most about Windows, is the time it takes me to get the software I need installed and configured, on a brand new system.

adamo said...

"So, in a sense we might have come full circle her"

Computer Science has a collective 20-year amnesia cycle

Anonymous said...

these urban myths didn't stop me of purchasing an "old" ibook :)

past said...

OK, now I am jealous!

Anonymous said...

Macs are neither expensive, nor a fashion statement. They're just made for gay people.

past said...

Well, I suppose it takes one to know one...

Anonymous said...

You suppose wrongly.

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