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I am not a Mac nut.

2005-04-19 00:10:19

Lately I keep hearing myself say to people, "Get a mac." I'm the big computer nerd in my family, so people always ask me for help with technical problems. Usually I tell them how to solve their problem, which often is kind of complex, and I'm pretty sure they won't be able to do it right without hand-holding. Then I say, "You know, if you had a Mac you wouldn't have problems like that."

I think most people think I'm joking. Others take a step back like I'm some kind of religious nut.

"Oh, you're one of those Mac nuts."

No, I'm not. I never much cared for the Macintosh operating system in its first nine incarnations. That's right. Nine. Until OS X came out, I found MacOS cute but laughably primitive. The folks at Apple railed that Windows was cheap theft of their ideas.

But guess what, by the time Windows NT was out, Windows was way more advanced than MacOS. Meanwhile, the real, solid, reliable, good operating systems, the descendants of Unix, were slipping into obscurity. Only geeks (like me) cared about them. In the mid-90's (while MacOS was wallowing in 1970's operating system technology) Linux started to become popular. That is, if, by "popular," you mean that 0.02% of the population were technically capable enough to find, install and make it usable enough to do weird things like write computer programs.

I fell in love with Linux the first time I used it. (And, of course, by "used" I mean spent two weeks getting a custom kernel built and working to the point that I could run emacs.)

It was just like having my only little unix workstation, on cheap, widely available Intel hardware. Here was an OS that I knew would never go away: the structure and paradigms it was built on had been around for over 25 years. It had staying power.

The problem was, it was hard to get software for it that interoperated with other people's stuff. Somebody would give you a word document and you wouldn't be able to use it.

Things have changed a lot since then, Linux is a lot easier to install, and there is a lot more software out there. However, it still feels like you are using a patchwork. Different applications that had different ancestry (Gnome, or KDE or whatever) wouldn't print or drag-and-drop the way you'd expect. There must be something about the nature of Open Source that makes very good and strong infrastructure, but terrible finished UI.

Anyway, when I heard the tenth iteration of MacOS was going to be based on a very strong Unix technology (BSD/Mach) that Apple had acquired when they bought NeXT, I was totally, and I mean TOTALLY stoked. It seemed too good to be true: a "mainstream" OS with a pretty, well-integrated UI built on a solid infrastructure.

I bought a Mac a few weeks later; Mac OS X wasn't even out. I had to wait months to use the beta version. Meanwhile, I suffered through using MacOS 9. Ugh. There was nothing magically intuitive or better about MacOS 9 vs. Windows, at least nothing that I could see. See? I am not a Mac nut!

Finally the OS X beta came out, and it was fantastic. It is fantastic: applications are installed by copying files; no registry; users have home directories; applications don't pollute the system files with overrides and customizations; NFS shares can be mounted; apache, emacs, vi, are all INCLUDED in the distribution; all the shells are there, bash, csh; perl is included. You can even buy real Microsoft Office, so you can exchange documents with your poor pals that still use Windows.

People make a big deal about the general lack of viruses, worms and spyware on OS X. It's mostly accurate, but it's not so much that Mac OS X is a whole lot more secure. It is somewhat more secure, but the biggest factor is that it is less than 5% of the market, so it's not a big target.

Whatever the case, with Mac OS X, if you are not careless, you will be fine; with Windows, if you are careful, you will be fine.

I use computers a lot. All the time. I estimate I save 2-3 hours a week not doing system administration that I would do on Windows. I spend more time getting stuff done and less caring for the operating system.

So, get a Mac, you'll be happier.

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