Saturday, August 18, 2007

How My Unconditional Love for the Macintosh Died

You often hear that couples fall out of love not over one big thing but over a collection of little things that add up to disillusionment and disappointment. My unconditional love for all things Apple and the Mac died in such a fashion. I still like Macs but I no longer have blind faith or unwavering loyalty. They became something I used rather than something I enjoyed due to a series of disappointments.

1. Around the time of the Performa series (which ended in 1997), Apple stopped using cheaper lower-quality components in an attempt to better compete price-wise with PCs. Unfortunately, these components suffered more premature deaths. The series of Macs I purchased after my LC III began to suffer from regular hard disk and CD ROM drive failures. In fact, every desktop Mac I've bought since my LC III has had its hard disk and CD ROM drive replaced except the Mini (which has only had its hard disk fail after 2 years). This killed the illusion that Macs were superior in terms of their hardware or the idea that the higher price tag on them was justified.

A screenshot of a kernel panic identical to the ones I had in my early Mac OS X usage (lifted from Apple's page on kernel panics).

2. The earliest incarnation of OS X ran horribly on the Mac I was using at the time, a G3 DT/266, despite the fact that I had copious amounts of RAM and was told that it was a compatible machine. It not only had frequent kernel panics which subjected me to the Mac equivalent of a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death on PCs) for the first time but also had an awkward forced multiple user installation set-up which went a long way toward confusing people who wanted the same type of single user situation as they had under OS 9. When this early version of OS X crashed and burned, the screen turned white and cryptic geek-speak fed across the screen. It was clear Apple lied or mislead users about which machines could run OS X in order to increase early adoption rates. Web forums were flooded at the time with complaints by users who had purchased computers with "OS X-ready" stickers on them shortly before OS X was released only to find the OS ran like an lady with a walker who frequently fell down when they upgraded from OS 9 to X (an upgrade they paid for, no less). It was clear early versions of OS X were more of a beta that you had the pleasure of forking over $120 for rather than the advertised fully-fledged "rock solid UNIX-based OS".

3. Apple told all of its users that it would offer a "free forever" e-mail hosting service with a 'prestigious' Apple-based e-mail address (mac.com) which they then swapped over to a subscription-based service which one had to pay $100 a year for. At the time of this little bit of bait and switch, you only got the e-mail service and a modicum of storage space which you could use to automatically back up your hard drive onto Apple's servers via OS X. It was not only not worth it from a money for value point of view but it made it clear that Apple would say whatever it took to lure people in then change the conditions of the arrangement. It didn't help that the Mac devotees worked overtime to justify the way in which this was done.

On the left, pure evil (the command prompt). On the right (Mac OS X Terminal), wondrous heaven. It might be a black/white thing but they're both loathsome ways of entering arcane commands in my opinion.

4. The Mac user community changed its tune about what made an operating system great. In an indication of how baldly hypocritical Mac users can be if it suits their need to tout the advantages of the Mac at any cost, they started expressing their unending admiration for the use of the terminal function when mending Mac OS X's shortcomings and bugs while they had spent nearly two decades before derisively regarding the use of the command prompt in Windows. Pre-OS X, all users could talk about was how easy Macs were to maintain and how we didn't have to remember a bunch of arcane DOS commands to control the deeper functionality of our computers. Post-OS X, all users could talk about was how much power and control you had by using arcane UNIX commands in the Terminal application.

Additionally, users became hostile toward anyone who wasn't happy with the way they had to type in commands in terminal in order to convince OS X's permissions to let them empty their trash. Early on, it seemed that many of us somehow didn't qualify by default to perform such an earth-shaking OS-altering function as emptying the trash in OS X. Before OS X, people were helpful because they were a part of the happiest computer user community on earth and they wanted us all to be one happy family. When some of those family members were disgruntled at the turn of events, things got ugly. The blind faithful were like overprotective parents who told you how stupid and incompetent you were any time you criticized Mac OS X's early teething cries.

The division between the faithful and the confused early users of OS X was probably one of the biggest factors in allowing the scales to fall from my eyes. I wondered if I was that blind and hostile any time someone attacked my "baby". This was a turning point for my attitude and my Mac changed from something I identified with as a user and became just a machine I used like my oven or television.

Place item in trash. Basket is full. Empty trash. Basket is still full. Repair permissions. Empty trash. Basket remains full. Run MacJanitor. Empty trash. Basket is still full. This happened today, folks, not early on in Mac OS X's evolution.

By the way, I still can't empty my trash on occasion. In fact, two problems gave me the incentive to write this post and that was one of them.

5. Every incarnation of OS X was idiosyncratically altered to fit Windows user conventions. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the way the Mac worked in certain ways but rather that Apple was more interested in making switchers (from PCs to Macs) more comfortable than sticking with a way of doing things that the faithful were accustomed to. Here are a few cases in point:
  • Shift-clicking used to allow for both contiguous and non-contiguous selection of files. This made it possible for one method to be used for selecting multiple files in either situation. In OS X, this was changed so that non-contiguous selection now required a Command-click. Why was this introduced? It's because this is the way file selection works in Windows.
  • In previous versions of the Mac OS, the OS would not attempt to force you to structure your file system in any particular fashion. Applications didn't have to be kept in an "Applications" folder and the OS didn't become confused or issue warnings if you didn't put them there. With OS X, a Windows-style organization system was incorporated which strongly encouraged users to keep applications in the applications folder just as Windows keeps "Programs" in the "Programs" folder.
There are a myriad of other rip-offs and knock-offs that are clearly there to emulate a good feature of Windows (the Dock copying the task bar, for instance) or simply a feature to which people are indifferent (the web-style "back" and "forward" buttons on windows) . The bottom line is that the difference between using Windows and using Mac OS X is getting smaller and smaller. It's harder to tout how uniquely superior the Mac is when it's so similar. I guess since Steve Jobs was in love with his IBM ThinkPad before he returned to Apple, he wanted to Mac to work the way he was used to rather than the way we were used to.

6. Some things don't work as they should and some things should work but don't.


See that key combination on the right (in the picture above)? There's a key on my keyboard which says "delete" and has that little drawing with an "X" on it. If I press "Command+delete" and use that key, the file does not move into the trash. It will work if I use "Command + delete" and use the delete key which is next to the "=/+" key but not with the one under the "help" key. I'm using an Apple keyboard and the logical thing is to use the key which looks like the one in the menu but it doesn't work.

If you drag the cursor from the right in (along the lines of the red box in the picture), you cannot select the files in list view.

One thing that should work but doesn't (and used to work in Mac OS 9 and works in Windows XP) is selecting a list of files by dragging the mouse from bottom of a list in a window while you're in list view. It works in other views but not in list. Why? I guess it's just an oversight but it is rather annoying to have to change views or drag the cursor up to the top of the window. It also means pixel hunting if you don't want to select just the top file and drag it down.

7. DRM and spyware. With Windows, the spyware is pretty well-known and you can find ways to track it down and zap it. With the Mac, it's more insidious and less-publicized so you've got to be more in the know to find it and get around it. If you use Mac the Ripper to rip DVDs, a hidden file is left keeping a record of every DVD you've ripped. You have to know this is happening and know enough to download another application to put the kibosh on this invisible spying. My guess is this is part of a deal to allow Mac the Ripper's distribution while still fitting in with Apple's brown-nosing to DRM advocates in order to advance iTunes sales and selection. Additionally, the latest version of iTunes eliminated the ability to make MP3 files. This was presumably to placate the RIAA in some fashion but iTunes without MP3 conversion is ridiculous. These things in no way make the user's life easier and the former situation with Mac the Ripper (an application I don't use, as it is inferior to the Windows application "DVD Shrink", but was warned about by my former boss) seems mainly geared toward gathering data for copyright infringement prosecution.

Before the Mac zealots start arguing that none of this makes Windows better than a Mac, I'll clarify that that is not what I'm talking about in this post (read the "title" for a reminder of what this is about). I don't believe Windows is better than the Mac. What I'm saying is that these are the factors which contributed to my coming to taking Macs and Apple off a pedestal and seeing them for what they are, tools and a business, instead of being a Mac zealot. The Mac still has the edge on OS usability, better design, and an overall better feel than a PC but it's no longer something I can advocate people use without reservation or with enthusiasm. I can't say that Windows or Microsoft have let me down because my expectations have always been incredibly low due to the common (mis)perceptions about using Windows that are prevalent among Mac users.

7 comments:

Auberginefleur said...

Below is my friend's reponse after I showed him your blog entry. I was worried, because I plan to switch over to Mac from Viao. See what you think.

-AF

Just read it. Interesting indeed. Some of the points I agree with,
some I don't. I certainly agree that the first versions of OSX,
especially the first one was a mess and only ran on the latest
machines. OSX is a like an evolutionary step forward in the Mac world,
and there are still people who don't use it. It came as a result of
Steve Jobs rejoining the company after being kicked out for about 8 or
10 years or so, during which time things went downhill pretty quickly.
The earlier models the guy complains about were from that time, I
think. After Jobs returned two big things changed (and this is all
before he created the iPod): he managed to end Apple's contract with
Motorola and switched to Intel to make its CPU chips, and he
instigated a new operating system based on Unix, which became OSX.

It has been a rough haul, but now things in OSX are really smooth, and
though not perfect, a far cry from Windows XP. I have not used Vista
yet, but clearly there is just as much copying of the Mac platform by
Windows as vice versa. But the changes to make Windows converts happy
that the guy complains about are really silly--I mean who cares what
key combinations it takes to get a command done? And his statement
that everyone has to use the Terminal application to correct things in
the operating system is funny, as I have only used it once in 4 years
of using OSX. I have never had any problem emptying the Trash, so
that is also pretty odd.

I now use both an XP machine and an OS10.4 machine nearly every day. I
still find Windows very odd. For example, it is really a pain even to
access Microsoft Word. Until I made a shortcut and put that on my
desktop, I never knew if i could find it because it does not show up
in the list that pops up when I hit the Start - All Programs sequence.
I get a folder called Microsoft Office but that does not have Word or
Excel or Powerpoint in it. I have to open My Computer, then the
C-drive, which always tells me I should not open this, then find the
programs folder and go searching for Office.

In any case, I suggest that you try a Mac and see how you like it. At
the very least, you will not have to worry about viruses any more, the
graphics are sensational, and you will get a FireWire 800 port which
is twice as fast as USB2 for attaching an external harddrive to store
pictures. Don't throw away your PC, there are always advantages to
using both.

Shari said...

Hi, AF. I appreciate your friend and you reading my post and taking the time to comment but your friend appears to have seriously missed the point.

For starters, I'm not a guy. Also, I can't have lost my unconditional love for the Mac unless I had it to begin with. I have been using Macs for over 14 years now and currently use one alongside a PC. The Mac is my primary computer at the moment though I use both of them everyday.

Also, your friend seems to believe I am asserting a great many things that I am not advocating and appears to have skimmed what I wrote and reached various conclusions. For instance, I never said you need to use Terminal to fix problems. What I said that was that the user community changed when OS X came out and gushed about how it allowed you to reach the power of the OS after years of putting down the use of the Command Prompt. Also, I was talking about the early situation with OS X and at that time, people did need to access the Terminal to fix things as all the little apps that have been written to take care of such problems didn't exist.

Anyway, thanks for the comment but your friend seriously didn't understand what I said. If I weren't a Mac user, where would I have gotten my screen shots and how would I have known how OS 9 and OS X both worked so well? Your friends assumption is I'm not even a Mac user when it is obvious that I am.

Auberginefleur said...

Dear Shari,

Thank you for kindly responding. I never told my friend who you were, so he had no idea if you were male or female. As usual, he was just commenting off the top of the head in a stream of consciousness style. Please don't take it personally. I tried my best to understand what the two of you were talking about, but not (yet) being a Mac user and obviously not as computer proficient as either of you, there was a lot I didn't understand. I do understand about falling out of love, I was a died-in-the-wool Viao lover for years, but can longer stand the PC system. A new convert to Mac, I hope I won't be cruelly disillusioned.

AF

Auberginefleur said...

ps. My friend was actually lecturing me, not you the author; I think he meant me as the non-Mac user who shouldn't give up on converting to Mac.

AF

Shari said...

AF: I think I understand the situation better now. I didn't understand that the comment you pasted was directed at you, not at what I wrote.

I don't think you'll be disillusioned using a Mac. I rather think you'll like it but I think you may find it not so radically different from using a PC on many levels. You may also find small differences in use a little confusing at first (many PC users do).

However, your friend is clearly one of those people who won't hear a bad word about a Mac and keeps classifying everything I say as a "complaint" without looking at any of the context the information is given in. If you dislike your Mac, you may want to be wary of mentioning your problems to your friend as he's one of those "overprotective parents" that I mentioned in my post.

Roy said...

AF, you'll be happy with a Mac and if you don't like Mac OS you can always install Windows on it. Just be careful of saying anything derogatory about Mac to any Apple fanboys else you will be flamed for sure ;-)

Shari said...

P.S.: to AF, your friend acted as if it was some idiosyncratic situation that I can't empty my trash on occasion in OS X but if you do a Google search on the phrase " can't empty the trash in OS X", you'll get a lot of hits. The first one is Apple's page on addressing this problem at:

http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=106272

If the problem weren't common, Apple wouldn't need to put up a support article for it.