fredag 7 november 2014

Editorial: Apples vs. Oranges

I once had a dream about a computer that would just work, a machine that would enable me to focus on creating instead of administering CPR to a recalcitrant operating system or acting as the mediator between hardware and software that simply refused to talk to each other. I had a utopian vision of a computer that didn't require a firewall just to surf the Internet, something where you didn't have to worry about 10,000 viruses and worms just because some people with tragically misguided programming skills think a software company earns too much money and that it's the users who should be punished for that.

For a while there, I was very close to pushing the button with the little apple on it. Actually, for a long time afterwards, I was a firm advocate of Macs over PC:s. This went on and on, until I recommended a Mac to a colleague a few years ago, and was forced to ask myself, why did I just say that? All of me ground to a complete halt for a few moments while I tried to retrieve just how I came to that conclusion and why I had been sticking to it through thick and thin.

You see, the thing is: I've never owned a Mac. Sure, I've used them, I finger them in stores and obviously they are a big thing in the Swedish educational system; even someone from the analog generation like myself got to use an Apple a couple of times during senior high school. I've owned four computers since I first became fascinated with Apple in 2001: two Dells, an HP and a Lenovo. Windows XP, Vista Home, Vista Business and 7. What's up with that?

In all honesty, I don't know if I have the potential to become a Mac person. It seems like too much of a gamble to try just for the off chance that I might like it. I don't like Microsoft any more than the next guy, but at least with Windows in its various incarnations, I know what I get. The big problem is that I just cannot seem to get objective answers from anyone. The two primary reasons against doing the Big Switch have always been cost and compatibility. No one can dispute the fact that a Mac is significantly more expensive than a PC of comparable specs. (By the way, no one has ever been able to give me an objective answer to the question whether or not the specs truly compare 1 for 1.) When they do, they always argue that a Mac might cost three times more, but it also lasts four times longer. Which prompts me to ask the question yet again: are the specs comparable? Or will the Mac in four years' time simply be an inert piece of aluminium that is singularly incapable of running a modern application? When I buy three PC:s for the same price as one Mac, at least I get a more capable machine each time I upgrade, likely also with a vastly improved OS.

Compatibility is the second issue. I have PC programs and games for thousands of crowns. Good luck arranging a crossgrade, and that's only for the apps that actually have Mac versions!

So when I had the epiphany and got over my knee-jerk Apple recommendations, I actually turned the argument right around. Whenever the subject came up, and someone professed a preference for Macs, I asked the question: why should I get a Mac? The inevitable answer from Mac people who know the tiniest thing about me is always that it's an incredibly stupid question from someone like me. "Nick, you're into music and writing and photography, you HAVE to have a Mac." Okay, so I haven't recorded four albums, written three novels and postprocessed 20,000 digital photos on a piddly-ass PC; all of that never happened?

By this time, all that's left in the Macophile armory is to play the D card: "but a Mac is DESIGNED". (This is even more annoying in my native language, where the actual word for design is formgivning (the giving of shape) and the English word seems to have some elevated meaning reserved for especially fine pieces of design, like Apple or Dolce Gabbana or Vuitton.) Show me a commercially available product and I'll tell you that it has been designed. True, an old grey/white PC cabinet might not have the same allure as a Mac G4, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't designed.

I have never been the hip, cool or "in" guy. Quite the reverse, actually. As a result, I have cultivated a bit of a contrarian streak. As soon as something becomes the new hot thing and everyone rushes towards it, I run as fast as I can in the other direction. When Metallica suddenly became cool in 1991, I left them and discovered Slayer, Sepultura and Entombed. Had I known beforehand that Moleskine had such a rabid cult following, I would likely have gone with some other brand of notebook. Take three guesses as to where Apple belongs in this discussion?

I have no beef with the company or its products per se. I'm sorry that Steve Jobs is gone; the man was taken from the world before his time, but there is just no way he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Newton or Einstein. Two of them changed the human perspective on nature, one designed computers. My problem is the Apple user. It's never about the results, is it? It's always about the tool. It's never "listen to this song I wrote", but always "look what I can do with my Mac". Or, more recently, "hey, I discovered a use for my Ipad!"

And, speaking of that, why is Jobs universally celebrated and Gates reviled?