Apples and Oranges

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Every farm boy and columnist learns early on what not to step in. Some subjects are too sensitive to write about unless you have a hidden bunker in Patagonia. The two most explosive, oddly enough, are not race, feminism, or Israel. They are Star Trek, and the Macintosh computer. Play with these, and you play with death.

I used PCs more or less contentedly until my wife bought me a back-up computer with Windows 8, which I thought would be an upgrade of Win 7. No. It is a vile marketing platform aimed at illiterate adolescents with cell phones – malign, an affront to civilization, probably designed by misanthropic garden slugs.

Having paid for this monstrosity, I decided that there was nothing wrong with Microsoft Corp. that couldn’t be cured by blowing it up. If you think this extreme, try Windows 8.

In high dudgeon, and all intermediate altitudes of dudgeon, I bethought me of Apple. Extreme times call for extreme measures. Whatever crimes Cupertino might have committed, or not have committed, I was sure that it didn’t foist Windows 8 on the innocent.

I had no particular feelings about the Mac, for or against. I knew that people who had them also had a peculiar emotional attachment to them. It worried me, about the people, not the computer. I mean, a carpenter doesn’t bond with his claw hammer. A friend once described the MacIntosh as “a fashion accessory for the conforming nonconformist.” Well, yeah. On the other hand, Mac-heads were usually well on the bright side.

I was not interested in abnormal psychology, but in computers, so I resolved to ask practical-minded friends, not Mac-heads, about these fructiform machines. Actual Mac-users had the chill objectivity I associate with Salafi terrorists. I started with a buddy who does networking and database manage for medium-sized companies. I knew he had a MacBook Pro. Did he like it?

He said, “It’s cute, well-designed, and I’d buy another one, but when I have work to do, I need a PC.” Ah. Why? “Because the network analysis software I need doesn’t exist for the Mac, and their database and spreadsheet applications are toys.”

Hmmm. I didn’t want to analyze networks or fiddle with data bases, which left “cute and well-designed.” Nothing wrong with that.

Next I asked a friend who is webmaster for a major site. He had started with Apple and migrated to PCs “for practical reasons.” Well, he said, if you want to do really heavy-duty graphics or edit major films, the Mac is probably still better. And the operating system is more robust. Other than that, you pay a lot more for not much.

Hmmm. “A lot more” meant a few hundred green ones, which are getting cheaper fast. “Robust operating system” had its appeal. Windows 7 is a wonderful operating system, except that it doesn’t work very well. I wearied of getting “Internet Explorer has stopped working,” and “Edit add-ons to speed up browsing” messages that I couldn’t turn off. Further, when I used the otherwise admirable Magnifier, whenever I changed web pages the font often whooped up to pixilated enormousness for five seconds, dropped to normal size, then did it again. Did Bill Gates personally hate me? What had I done to him?

Meanwhile, I talked to a few more of the Salafi terrorists. It didn’t help. If you want intelligent thoughts regarding the Mac, it is better to talk to people who don’t have one. Attempts to probe the consciousness of Mac-heads usually went like this:

Mac-head: “Mac is better.” Me: OK, how is it better? “It just is.” Ah, I see. How is it just is? “It’s easier to use.” How is it easier to use? “It just is.” “How is it just is?” Round and round the mulberry bush.

They said things like “The Mac’s hardware is better than the PC´s.” At this point I realized that most Apple cultists didn’t know much about computers. For example, they didn’t understand that the Macintosh is a product, while PC is a specification. Only Apple can make a Mac. Anybody can make a PC. Thus on one hand you have manufacturers on a level with back-alley abortionists who use cheap power supplies that smoke like the audience at a Grateful Dead concert, and hard drives with a Mean Time Between Failure of five minutes or until next Wednesday, whichever comes first. On the other hand, you have solidly built PCs such as Dell’s Latitudes, serious boxes aimed at businessmen.

Ferret-like, I pursued the questions. I asked a retired computer guy, who now repairs people´s laptops as a hobby, where Macs stood in reliability. “A bit above mid-pack.” OK.

A question that came to mind was why, if Macs were as great as their parishioners held, why didn’t everybody use them? Big business, for example. IT guys at Fortune Five Hundred companies were gimlet-eyed cost-benefit types, sentimental as gallstones. There had to be a reason why they didn’t buy Macs.

There was. One fellow explained that Microsoft was not just Windows but a lot of heavy-duty, forty-weight software for servers and SQL and other things that commerce needs to rob the public efficiently. Apple didn´t have all this stuff. I resolved that if I wanted to link 10,000 computers in my house, I would definitely go Microsoft. Thing was, I didn’t.

He explained further that the earth crawls with Microsoft-certified techs who can fix Uncle Gates’ software. Not true of Apple.

Hmmm redux. I was beginning to think of the Mac as an intensely personal computer for smart people who didn’t want to know techno-wizzygobble about driver incompatibility and interrupt hierarchies: a computer, not a puzzle.
Nothing wrong with that. It was how I looked at my refrigerator: Shut up, stay cold, and keep your internal workings to yourself.

Meanwhile I had bought an iPad. It was, as we used to say in Alabama, slicker than snot on a cat´s ass. Cute, yes, and well-designed, oh yes. For someone who doesn’t see well, it was infinitely better than a Kindle, and intentionally so. So far it hasn’t done anything annoying. Absolutely a fine gadget.

It seemed to me that, aside from allegedly having an operating system that wouldn’t make me want to rip its guts out, the difference between Mac and PC is that Apple is a closed company, while PC isn’t. With PCs you have flexibility. There is a far wider range of hardware and software available. At my current stage of life, this is exactly what I don´t want.

With Apple it´s apparently a few sizes fit all, but what there is works well with the rest of what there is. Simple machines for technically simple people who, however intellectually demanding their actual work may be, want as little to do with computers as possible. Nothing wrong with that.

Them’s my thoughts, anyway. Now I gotta run. My flight leaves for Patagonia shortly.

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