February 20, 2007
The release of Windows Vista has caused an unfortunate resurgence in that eternal flame of computer religious wars, Mac vs. PC. Everywhere I go, somebody's explaining in impassioned tones why their pet platform is better than yours. It's all so tedious.
Personally, I had my fill of Mac versus PC arguments by 1994. I remember spending untold hours on the America Online forums endlessly debating the merits of PCs and Macs with Ross Rubin and other unsavory characters. But all that arguing never seemed to result in anything other than more arguments. Eventually, if you're more interested in using computers than endlessly arguing about them, you outgrow the arguments. And yet somehow, nearly fifteen years later, we're all happily retreading the same tired old Mac vs. PC ground.
I have a problem with this.
You might read Charles Petzold's ironically titled It Just Works as an anti-Mac diatribe. It certainly casts Apple in an unflattering light; Petzold's poor mother can't seem to catch a break.
Perhaps if my mother used lots of various Mac applications and stuck in lots of external devices, the machine would "just work" quite well. But she basically only uses email, so perhaps that's the problem. Just about every time I visit my mother in Jersey, I am called upon to boot up that dreadful machine and do something so it "just works" once again. For awhile she had a problem where certain spam emails would hang the email program upon viewing, but they couldn't be deleted without first being viewed. (Gosh, that was fun.) Presumably some patch to fix this little problem is among the 100 megabytes of updates waiting to be downloaded and installed, but my mother has a dial-up and we're forced to forego this 100 meg download. And besides, the slogan isn't "It just works with 100 megabytes of updates."
But if you read closely, as I did, you'll see that the experience wouldn't have been any better on a Windows PC. For a PC of that vintage, it's likely Petzold would have had to install the enormous Windows XP Service Pack 2 update to bring it up to date, which is certainly no less of a hassle than going from OS X 10.2 to OS X 10.4.
That's because Macs and PCs share one crucial flaw: they're both computers.
My computer frustrates and infuriates me on a daily basis, and it's been this way since I first laid my hands on a keyboard. Every computer I've ever owned-- including the ones with an Apple logo-- has been a colossal pain in the neck. Some slightly more so than others, but any device designed as a general purpose "do-everything" computing machine is destined to disappoint you eventually. It's inevitable.
The only truly sublime end-user experiences I've had have been with computers that weren't computers-- specialized devices, such as Tivo, the original Palm Pilot, the Nintendo Wii, and so forth.
General purpose computing devices are designed to be all things to all people. As a direct consequence, they will always be rife with compromises, pitfalls, and disappointments. That's the first secret of using computers: they all suck. Which makes the entire Mac vs. PC debate relative degrees of moot. I learned this lesson early in life; evidently some people are still struggling with it.
Computers do have one strong suit: they're unparalleled tools for writing, photography, programming, composing music, and creating art. It's the only reason to deal with the pain of owning one. As the Guardian's Charlie Brooker notes, the Mac vs. PC debate has an insidious side-effect that can distract you from this key benefit:
Ultimately the [Get a Mac advertising] campaign's biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow "define themselves" with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality. Of course, that hasn't stopped me slagging off Mac owners with a series of sweeping generalisations for the past 900 words, but that is what the ads do to PCs. Besides, that's what we PC owners are like - unreliable, idiosyncratic and gleefully unfair. And if you'll excuse me now, I feel an unexpected crash coming.
That's the other problem with the Mac vs. PC debate: it completely misses the point. Computers aren't couture, they're screwdrivers. Your screwdriver rocks, and our screwdriver sucks. So what? They're screwdrivers. If you really want to convince us, stop talking about your screwdriver, and show us what you've created with it.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
You had the best comment I've seen on the subject to date:
"If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality."
This applies to phones, computers, cars and iPods. You can't buy a personality, and if your gadget does impress someone, it's probably not someone you really want to know.
I love your blog, Jeff, but I disagree pretty strongly with some of your points this time.
I have no problem with the debate/fight between users of the various operating systems. Like freedom of speech, it can be readily abused, but in the end it points the way to a better life for all of us.
A computer is not a screwdriver. It may be a car, or a submarine, or a player piano, or a particle accelerator. It is a complex tool, with many uses, and many ways to misuse it. It is NOT a screwdriver.
First lesson with simple tools is that a good carpenter never blames his. But that's because they're simple, and everyone is supposed to know how to use them. Computers are much more complex, and complex machines will always be subject to criticism regarding their ease of use and their suitability to various tasks. It's inherent in their complexity.
Mac vs. PC -- feh.
Everybody knows that Unix is superior, and that the REAL question is Emacs vs. vi. :)
One of the biggest problems with the Mac is the perception that it's this can-do-no-wrong machine, incapable of crashing, never generating errors, and being the very definition of elegance and simplicity. The problem with a reputation like that is it simply can't live up to that hype. The Mac does crash. The Mac does have errors. The Mac can be confusing and counter-intuitive. The end result is a huge letdown for anyone who's actually bought into the hype.
On the flipside, Windows has such a bad wrap that you're half-expect the Blue Screen of Death every time you go to use it. You're expecting a crummy experience, so when you get one it's just par for the course. However, when something goes smoothly and wonderfully it's a pleasant surprise.
Debating personal computer preferences is closely akin to religious or political wars. Everyone reenforces their own beliefs while condemning the other guys beliefs and no ones mind is ever changed during these exchanges.
Some people are extremily passionate about their choice of computers, religion, or political party (or even choice of cars as noted above)and feel they have to prostylize their choice. Or perhaps they are merely attempting to rationalize their choice?
But, Jeff is right. The entire process of arguing that A is better than B is pointless. The computer is just another tool. Fancier than most, and more complicated to some people, but a tool nonetheless.
I disagree a bit. Sure, a computer is the ultimate calculational swiss army knife, (screwdriver is a bit of an understatement) but it needs software. The reason the culture wars are being fought is because all the non-OSS operating systems (and many of the OSS ones) work their little hearts out to cause lock-in. Therefore it's a pragmatic drive to try and convince someone else to come work in the same environment you do.
For example, every time I give someone a computer or build it for them, I put Ubuntu on it. Why? Because they are going to tell their friends if it works, because it was free and clean. After they tell their friends, their friends might try it. If enough people try it, the games I want to play are eventually supported, and I stop paying my tithe to Microsoft. Interoperability (and lack thereof) is the root cause of the OS wars. Java and the Internet will eventually fix portions of the problem; in the future there may be both a PC market for the behemoths of calculation and multitasking we have now, and a thin-client market for consumer level server-based computing. At that point, OS becomes pretty immaterial on one side, and extremely important on the other; I'd guess that the reasons for the segment of the market for PC's to own one will be a: gaming, or b: 'heavy lifting computing.' At the moment, that leaves Linux or MacOSRomanNumeral as a heavy lifter, with PC's as gaming machines. Everything else, well, pretty much better handled on a server once people get over their fear of others handling their data. (which is a fear apparrently easily overcome, seeing as ID theft is continually growing; "Ah, good. An expansion market," a'la Grosse Point Blank) Java fixes the problem by allowing same-language development all over the place.... Not necessarily always a good thing in implementation.
Overall, I think you're partially right that OS is immaterial, but the zealots have a goal: Developers! Developers! Developers! Develop....! Yeah, anyways. I'm not quite as round as Ballmer yet but I'd look just as silly dancing around screaming that. In reality, there is a definite point to the OS wars - more software for particular OS's. All you need to see proof of this is to look at WINE and Mono and BootCamp (or whatever) and all those other apps designed to help run software designed for an onerous system that has somehow become the norm.
Everybody knows that Unix is superior, and that the REAL question is Emacs vs. vi. :)
That's not even a question - everybody knows vi is superior! How could you think otherwise?
Just kidding. Agreed on the stupidness of the debate, but not on the screwdriver aspect. I think cars are a better analogy... some people need minivans, some people want sports cars, others just want the cheap alternative. I do think that there are certain situations, and people, where Macs are better than PCs, and vice versa, when Linux is superior, etc.
Good post, Jeff. You know what, though, I do love the Mac commercials. They are creative, humorous and they do something that Microsoft has failed to do (or hasn't bothered to do): they have created the perception that their product is hip, vibrant and easy to use. It's not. And neither is Windows. But I respect the imagination and creativity behind the ad campaign. Why isn't Microsoft countering with a humorous, creative ad campaign?
Anyhoo, yup, all OSs suck and the reason is because the level of complexity. Once you get into millions of lines of code there are going to be problems, period. 'Nuff said.
Actually - If most applications would be cross platform compatible this whole VS debates would be all moot.
The Apple ads do generalize PCs. Some commercials are comparing software such as movie editing, and others are comparing hardware such as the Vista upgrade checkup commercial. However, as both an owner of a Windows PC and a MacBook, I would love to load Windows Vista on that little MacBook.
Apple has the ability to argue on two fronts, both hardware and software.
Linux has the ability to argue only software.
Microsoft Windows can only argue on the software front.
Hardware - There are more options on the non-Mac side, but Mac does the best job of a PC manufacturer creating a piece of art.
Software - Now you have to separate the OS from the Apps.
- OS's Windows, Mac, and Linux/Unix. They all have their own lists of pros and cons. If you just use it to run business apps (word documents, spreadsheets, etc) then it really doesn't matter which OS you want to use. Though I hate the fact that you can't "Maximize" in Mac.
- Applications tend to go more towards open source versus closed source. Most people like MS Office, just not the price. For photo and video editing, Mac seems to have better applications. Some companies will make their applications cross platform compatible.
Regarding couture, the word couture implies clothing (couture means sewing) that is custom-made by hand for a particular person. No mass produced consumer products can be couture. That being said, one device can be more fashionable than others.
Don't blame the computer... it's not the computers fault, its the people.
There are fanboys ad nauseaum, but speaking from personal experience, its more of a demographic issue.. Most of my acquaintances with macs incidentally drive german automobiles, eat sushi, own expensive foreign camera equipment, and think they're better than anyone else.
In the end, you see two groups of people getting polarized... the it-must-be-better-cuz-it-cost-more-and-im-better-because-i-can-afford it camp, and the diy-i-want-full-control-and-make-my-own-soap camp.
The mac owners I know need to take their machines in for a genius to install memory, freaks out when a check engine light turns on on their expensive german automobile and thinks power tools are a set of widgets on their desktop.
Nothing wrong with osx. Their users, by and large, suck.
Nice to hear from you across the blogosphere and hope all is well. I especially enjoyed your Tyler Durdenesque anti-consumerism quote in teh post.
I'm sure at some point I'd quoted Don Norman about how the future of computers were specialized devices and met with ridicule from you, Elgan or Wilbur, may he rest in peace. In any case, that hasn't happened really although, as you note, there have been some successful (at least in terms of units distributed) products that have a very PC-like architecture under the hood such as TiVo or the Xbox. As I'm sure you would agree, the software makes all the difference.
Cell phones could have been an out, but carrier business models warp their purpose, functionality and interface. And now Microsoft, Apple and even Nokia want to turn them into little computers. Didn't we learn our lesson with the PDA?
Yours in WinMagnanimousness...
P.S. I'm quite savory, especially with a nice Chianti.
Arn't operating systems more like a toolbox, containing a range of screwdrivers, hammers etc. The actual tools are the applications being run.
Makes the PC vs Mac vs Linux vs ... argument even more silly as who really cares about someone's toolbox!
The personal computer (lower case, any manufacturer) has become a toaster. Started with CAD systems on engineering workstations, before the 8086, and came to fruition with 1-2-3 on the PC.
And that's the problem; it ain't a toaster, really. But IBM, and others, found they could make a lot of money if that's how it was sold. It is apocryphal that IBM's original estimate was 2,500 units/year, or perhaps total; too long ago to be sure. Either way, the estimate was derived from the intended use: a Computer, not an appliance. IBM turned out to be wrong, thanks to Lotus. And M$ got rich for the same reason.
Now, with Vista/DRM/suck-up-to-Left-Wing-Hollywood, M$ is clearly no longer interested in the Computer part. Uncle Bill is all but inviting the Fortune 10,000 to stop bothering him. Uncle Bill wants, as does Uncle Steve, to run Your Home For You. And pay him a fee every year in order to keep it running.
And silly people Still think Big Brother lives in Washington, DC. Ha.
Phillip J. Birmingham wrote: "Everybody knows that Unix is superior, and that the REAL question is Emacs vs. vi. :)"
They both suck. :D
Until Mac software runs indistinguishably on a PC and vice versa, you can't really say "we're all using the same screws".
To extend the metaphor:
In our computing case, many/most "screw" manufacturers will only produce one type of screw: "Phillips-head" (Mac) or the other ("slot-head" (PC). If the manufacturer doesn't support the screw type for your screwdriver, there may be an alternate supplier that does, but if what you need/want is a unique type of screw, then, well, you're screwed.
The popularity and number of screwdriver owners of each type has a HUGE impact on what the screw manufacturers produce. So if you could increase the number of screwdriver owners of your type, potentially you could increase the variety/number of your screws available, likely at the expense of the other kind. It's not totally zero-sum, but certainly partially is.
So the Mac vs. PC debate isn't just about partisanship or a pointless debate of merits. It's also about evangelism and counter-evangelism. Someone's promoting the other type? Gotta fight back so you don't lose any ground! Maybe even win some converts and earn a place in Redmond or Cupertino with 7 still shrink-wrapped OS copies! :-)
Do I think this is a good mentality? No. But I understand where it's coming from.
Jeff... nice article, fresh perspective. I am a Win32 developer by day and a Mac user by night, and I agree that both platforms can be extremely frustrating at times. I've never been very drawn to the whole "Mac vs. PC vs. Linux" debates, though, because almost everybody arguing seems to be willfully ignorant of the strengths of the other platform and the weaknesses of their own. The only thing more annoying for me than using sucky software is hearing somebody tell somebody else why their OS sucks. It's the ultimate waste of time.
(And Dave a couple posts up... nice troll there! As a long-time Mac user who neither drives an expensive automobile nor enjoys sushi, I have to wonder at your generalization skills.)
I'm sticking with the idea that it's not "Mac V. PC" but "Steve Jobs V. Bill Gates". Ever notice how it's always "Mac V. PC" and not "PC V. Mac"? Kinda like how it's always Betty and Veronica, and never the other way around...
I wrote as similar article earlier in the month when I had grown disgusted of the renewed Mac v. PC debate. My analysis came down to one conclusion: it's not Mac v. PC, it's Steve Jobs v. Bill Gates. Here's my basic insight:
"...I would like to actually set aside Mac OS X versus Vista, for a moment and consider the real debate: Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Front men for their respective companies, these two have been duking it out since the early 1980's and I'm getting pretty damn sick of the smack talk between their pasty acolytes. Here's the dish:
Bill Gates is a philanthropic ego-maniacal d***. He took an obscure company to the top of the game with a hatchet man who had no remorse. Between Bill Gates and Paul Allen, no dirty trick was left un-played. These men were ruthless and efficient and without them, there would be no such thing as a 60% home-user penetration of personal computers.
Steve Jobs is a massive p**** who has done everything from cheat his best friend out of money, to section off a portion of his company from the board of investors to hard-line a product that was completely experimental. He's an obsessive, controlling micro-manager who will not let something out the door without his personal seal of approval. Without him, we wouldn't even have personal computers at all.
You have to understand both viewpoints. While I get tired of the acolytes waving around their floppy disks and giving us the one-digit salute, they both have their points."
Great post, Jeff. Document formats all suck too. :-)
Well said Jeff,
As a former mechanic i was always inundated with people trying to convince me that 'their' brand of car was better than all the others. Usually to convince themselves that they made the right purchasing decision. My inevitable reply was "Meh, they're all crap, in their own way." Essentially they all needed fixing at some point.
My conclusion is that not only do people like to support a team, they like to go to war for their team. It makes them feel part of something.
It also why I hate sport. Its futile.
Sorry, dude. I keep forgetting I bloody posted here. Long day. :\
Dave said, "The mac owners I know need to take their machines in for a genius to install memory, freaks out when a check engine light turns on on their expensive german automobile and thinks power tools are a set of widgets on their desktop."
My first reaction was to read it and laugh, then move on. As I was reading another blogsite, I got to thinking about the people I know that own Macs and those that own PCs. And yes, those that are Unix zeolots. Dave is basically correct as far as he goes. Mac users, by and large, seem to be the elitist type that brag about their possessions a lot and for whom the Mac seems to be more of a status trip. Most of the Mac owners that I (that is me personally) know, can not even fix or diagnose their own computer problems. Linux users on the other hand seem to be die hard geeks not realzing that the vast majority of the world merely want the computer to be a tool; not wanting to develop a relationship with it. If Linux users were compared to car hobbyists, they would have a hot rod, tinkering with it every night, constantly refining it.
I used to live in Los Angeles, where I freelanced as a Macintosh-specializing technician. I fixed everything from home computers to office computers. I got work mostly from friends who wanted someone they trusted to assist them. As a by-product, I worked with people who were, frankly, affluent. I didn't know a single person besides myself who owned a Mac who didn't have other nice things and live in a nice area. But they weren't elitists. They were very nice people who like to have nice things and like to have a computer upon which they could rely. I sort of resent the whole "Mac users are elitists" attitude.
I really wish people wouldn't equate Macs to fobbish elitists who have more money than brains. Unfortunately, Apple's charged so much for them for so long that it's a difficult image to shake. Especially when they run around basically blathering it being the case anyway. I forget who it was, but I want to say it was Jobs who said that the Apple should be viewed as the BMW of computers. And I sort of resented that, as well.
But me, I use whatever comes in handy for the task. I love my Mac, I love my PC, and I love Linux when it works. I see all sides of the issue as best as I am able, so I guess I'm sort of a non-standard user. Maybe my opinion counts for less.
But then again, I've been a "Mac User" since 1996... so maybe I'm biased.
I don't know that there can be a right or wrong OS. The amount of talent that posts in here daily, is frankly awesome. But, there is no consensus on which OS is best. If poster A has been programmng for 25 years and is recognized as an expert by his peers and uses a Mac and poster B has the same qualifications and uses a PC, how can either of them be wrong? Looking at the sheer number of computers sold to repeat customers, how can they all be wrong?
This debate always sounds like a Ford versus Chevy arguement to me.
And yes, the elitist comment of mine was a tad out of line, but as I said, it was based upon my personal observations only.
Outrider - I wouldn't say it was "out of line", to be honest. It's just a personal observation as you've pointed out. I just wanted to offer another perspective. I did rethink my comment and I misspoke: I can think of two Mac owners that do not fit into the "well off" category. One is a personal masseur (the legal kind) and the other is a former school teacher. Both had older Macs.
I don't count my own father, here, because he abandoned the platform for PC to have greater compatibility between himself and his business partners in Asia. I wasn't around to help him with the conversions, so he had to come up with a viable solution for himself.
Myself, I am not now nor have I ever been "well off". My mother bought our first Apple back in 1996, because she loved the time she spent working with one professionally. It was the first computer I had full-time access to, and the machine on which I learned to program. I have a special place in my heart for Macintosh, but I like to think I'm not completely blind to the platform's faults.
All in all, you're very right: it's a Chevy versus Ford argument. These days, now that Macs are X86, it's really more of an in-house debate of which GM vehicle is better. It's all the same basic parts, just slightly different delivery.
I, personally, think of my computers as tools and toys. And while I do not believe in the slightest that my computer says anything about my personality, I'll admit that I'm more likely to cop to owning an iMac than to the fact that I own a Dell laptop (which I actually like quite a bit).
Great article. But some comments posted here a bit contradictory.
"And I sort of resented that, as well."
Then you must also resent Apple's own advertising campaign which sarcastically implies superiority, the "Mac User" is always better looking, better dressed and appears more well off then the PC user.
They TRY to portray themselves and their customers as entitled.
Even your own comment implies that Mac's are more reliable:
"...like to have a computer upon which they could rely."
What would make a PC any less reliable? You said you were a technician, as I am sure most of the people who read this blog were or still are at some point in their lives. And the ONLY constant EVER in computers is one simnple fact:
Its always user error. Always will be.
Do I think the Micr$oft machine is any less of an evil?
Does my pride in building my own machines make me biased towards widnows and occasionally linux?
Am I the avereage user?
Most likley not.
If you enjoy the interface and the machine, more power to you. Nothing anyone says will change that, nor should it.
The only thing I can't fault Apple on is having pride in what they do, but I can assure you the image they put forth is wholeheartedly false.
It hopes to prey upon peoples ignorance, not their intelligence. That is not to imply geniuses of all tax brackets don't use Macs I am sure they do. However I'm also sure if they knew more about computers they could accomplish the same tasks with open source or windows applications.
The irnoy there is so amazing if you think about it. They pump their customers full of shit, and make PC users appear stupid, and "not in the loop" when the actual truth is:
Its only better if you're not tech savvy enough to accomplish it in the first place.
Never heard of sourceforge.net?
Never compiled a program before?
Incapable of troubleshooting?
Yea, it must be the machines fault.
Better get on line for the next big white shiny thing, just bring pleanty of lubricant for the ungodly act that is about to commence on your wallet.
And don't get me started on iPods having to reencode everything into their formats. The Zune is just as bad with the .wmv's. Theres no reason all players can't read avi's and other basic common formats like my Creative Zen can.
The real reason Apple hasn't gained more ground in the home computer market is as avereage users become more tech savvy, they realize they aren't missing out on anything and don't understand the huge jump in price when they know what the numbers on the sticker on the side of the case or laptop actually mean in the store.
And again please don't take my comments as all pro microsoft, Vista clearly steals tons of things from osx, and osx is very well optimized and has its advantages. Thats not the debate im trying to make, but I get enraged when I have to see an Apple advert on TV because the irony makes steam come forth from my ears.
Couture is what couture does.
A friend of mine bought his sister-in-law a computer from some local turbo nerds who sell white box computers: they got a nice clean install of Windows XP with the crapplets you'd get from *ell or HP.
She was quite distressed when she couldn't explain to her friends what kind of computer she had. She was hoping she could say "I have a Dell" or "I have an IBM", and have her friends have a glowing feeling of understanding.
She was even more distressed that Time Warner Cable was unable to install crapplets on it. (We got Windows XP in the first month that it came out, and Time Warner hadn't ported the crapplets over yet.) She was getting ripped off, even though my friend demonstrated that he could browse the web, check e-mail and download video files.
She and her brother downloaded crapware from the internet connection that "didn't work." It got worse and worse over a few months until it was impossible to log in. She canceled her internet connection and was indignant that Time Warner didn't give her a refund because they didn't deliver on all the crapplets that they promised.
And that's the problem.
Computers mean different things to different people.
Some people use computers as creative tools. Other people use them to consume media. For some people, the great joy of having a computer is installing the Bonzi Buddy and clicking on those "Punch the Monkey" ads. For other people, it's a tool you use to do a depressing data entry job, filling out reports on heart pacemaker malfunctions.
All computers suck ... Thank you Lord!
That's one of the big reasons many of us here make lots of money, no? :-)
"People who can master their computers master those who cannot"
"Everything is a PC now."
Everything has been a PC. Including Macs. ;)
"Screwdriver v Car"
Wasn't the point of this post about getting over stupid debates?
Great blog, I have learned so much here. As a daytime 'IT guy' and nighttime woodworker, I like the yin/yang betwix the two. After a day of BSODs, I go home and hit the "start" switch on the bandsaw...it just works - every time. But just like computers, the tools are useless unless they are kept sharp. If someone spends $$$ on a nice handplane and never takes the time to keep it maintained they think it sucks. Not so - the thing requires maintenance. If you don't get the Zen of the maintenance, perhaps you should try something else. Maybe pay someone else to do it. Woodworkers also spend too much time arguing the same things - hand-cut dovetails vs. machine-cut dovetails. Yikes! They both work, okay!
Mike -- That's a mouthful, but then again so have been my posts.
To put it in short terms: Yes, the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads do make me grind my teeth. I look like a cross between those two. I wear business casual.
When I say that they wanted a computer upon which they could rely, I was speaking about their perceptions. I'm not going to say one was more reliable than the other, but they perceived it as such and I didn't really argue it with them. I was just there to install the printer and show them how to use it, the email and their dial-up.
"Computers do have one strong suit: they're unparalleled tools for writing, photography, programming, composing music, and creating art."
I disagree, they are horrible tools for writing, photography, composing music creating art.
Writing, photography, composing music creating art used to be diverse activities, each with their own sensual pleasures: the feel of a fine pen on rich paper, the isolation of the darkroom, the feel, smell and sound of a musical instrument in your hands, the smell of paint, the feel of clay, of chipping stone, etc -- all have now been reduced to sitting in front of a cramped screen, pecking at keys and clutching a mouse.
Our horizons have been broadened, our abilities enhanced, but our lives have been impoverished.
Phillips screwdrivers don't slide out the end of the slot and are much easier to engage and drive with automated tools. But flat screwdrivers can apply higher torque without rising out of the slot and rounding off the head, plus the blade can be reshaped with a simple file.
We're lucky so few computers are built with Torx, hex or some other ...x screws which are better than either of the more popular screws.
And I am once again reminded why I subscribe to your RSS feed.
I just washed my hands of another Mac v PC debate -- I'm just done arguing. I rather like Vista, and I rather like OSX. No, I still hate X-11. Er.... what I mean is that if I defend one, I get blasted by the other side. Then, when I defend the other side I get blasted by the side I just defended.
You're right. They're tools, and they all suck.
But they also all rock. Otherwise we wouldn't sit at them all day. :)
Good point,.. but..
pc vs. mac, linux vs. windows, open vs. closed source, black vs. white, soccer vs. football, women vs. men, gay vs. straight .. I think it is quite normal to have stupid discussions like that. People love it..
For me the problem is more .. what happens when I cant work on your screws with my screwdriver.. then we have a problem.
Great post. I try to tell people all the time that they all suck but I don't think I say it as well as you have...
This is probably the best article I have ever read on this subject. I have never owned a Mac, and for the last year have run only linux on my PC. Does that mean that I hate Windows? No. Windows does some things very well, as does Mac and Linux.
The key is picking the right screwdriver for the job. And having specialized screwdrivers is actually a good thing. Ideally, using the right tool for the right job makes things easier doesn't it?
Yeah, but now that Apple is x86, we're all "using the same screws" so to speak. Everything is a PC now.
Or you might say we're all getting screwed. ;)
I've always assumed that there's a fear issue there - PC people don't know how to drive a Mac - the buttons are different, things don't look quite right. Ditto for Linux. We fear what we don't understand.
Real geeks can drive multiple OSs - just like real drivers can drive stick and automatic. ;)
Thanks for this. I moved to a Mac a year or so ago because I was completely frustrated with XP. Now I'm unhappy with both. So I've bought a new Mac to run OSX and Vista side-by-side so I can piss myself off for reals and virtually, all at once. Now if I only knew why.
Well said sir. They do, indeed, all suck.
However, I think for a lot of people, a computer is closer to a car than a screwdriver. Sure, any kind of car can get you from point A to point B. But different cars appeal to people in different ways - some based on speed, some on looks, some on efficiency. It's somewhere between utility and fashion, between tool and couture. Steve Jobs recognizes that, and caters to the market that cares about BOTH the fashion and the function.
Ultimately, all cars suck in part because they're all built on the combustion engine. And all computers in part suck because they're built on the legacy of 30 years of convention and backward compatibility. One of the beauties of the TiVo and iPod were that they weren't chained by convention, and were able to reconceptualize their market.
rife with compromises, pitfalls, and disappointments. That's the first secret of using computers: they all suck.
Ahh, but you donno all computers do you? I've heard about this game... called BLAZEMONGER.... and it ROX!
Mr. Atwood, thanks for pointing out the Charles Petzold article (nice!)... it's exactly what I needed :)
About Mr. Petzold's ordeal....After all, If I were the only person who couldn't install Driver (x) to get functionality (y)
Wait a second, if "Computers aren't couture, they're screwdrivers", then why did you write a blog just a couple of weeks ago bemoaning the lack of style in PC cases?
Computers may be just tools (screwdrivers in the discussion above), but our (software developer) jobs require more tools - I seem to spend most of my time trying to find the right wrench to pound in the required screw :)
Chevies versus Fords
Snowboards versus Skiis
Because, even screwdrivers can stand to have some style. Just check out the OXO line of products!
Actually, my computers have never sucked. But hey, I'm that lucky one in a million.
And, although I'm a dedicated Win/PC user (and developer), I can't say that Macs suck. But Mac zealots? They can get the dust mites out of a deep pile shag in under 0.1 seconds without even trying.
Thank you for saying all that. I've been trying to tell people this for years, but could never put it into nice words. When people ask me "Are Macs better (than PCs)?" they're really asking "Will Macs infuriate me less than what I'm currently using?" To which I have no answer.
And what always annoys me are people who rant and rave about how their computer never works. Oh, it works. It's performing binary math as we speak. The real issue is, are you expecting it to work like your toaster? If you don't put effort into USING your computer, it won't give you anything in return, regardless of platform.
I'll argue the merits of any platform based on how well it fits into my personal workflow, and mental model of how a computer should be. Of course, I'm the guy who thinks the command line is fun, because it's like having a conversation with the machine. Beyond that, the argument is stupid, and they're all PCs anyway...
I think people often have such a strong opinion because they will, at some point, waste a lot of their time at work/school/a friend's house because they are forced to used the other type of screwdriver, which is a poorly made with cheap metal and a stupid rubber grip.
Regardless of what platform you prefer, that's how it feels when you're stuck with someone else's tools (especially when they've been poorly maintained). That annoyance is why people love to flaunt their own personal set so much, I think.
Jeff -- one of your best, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I'm totally with you: I'm tired of the whole "this is better than this" arguement in computers.
To the various people who mentioned style and the analogy to cars...yep, there's something there. Some people do allow their car to define them, just like their computer. But at the core, we're not talking about physical style but some other kind of style (searching for the word). What makes the great "computers" great was not their physical style. My old Palm Pilot (nailed by Jeff as one of the greats...completely agree) was hardly "stylish". Nor is the Tivo or the Wii particularly stylish. What sets them apart is their ability to do a number of things, albeit a limited number, very, very well. Nothing has every been as easy to use as the original Palm, the Wii: totally get that. Tivo, brilliant idea made very simple.
My thought on the whole matter is what makes computers suck (and they all do...IMHO) is their very general purpose nature. The Palm guys didn't try to be everything, they did a limited set of functions very well. The PC (regardless of OS) is a very general purpose beast. It has to do a lot of different things for a lot of different user types. My dad used to call this "the dreaded Jack of all Trades: good at everything, master of nothing". That's what plagues the whole thing I think. And they're going to suck forever, as far as I can see. Oh well...maybe they suck less today, or I've been beaten down a little.
Great post Jeff.
But Jeff, your #1 reason not to like the iPod was couture:
An iPod isn't a far cry from Brooker's cell phone example.
Isn't the line between couture and screwdriver going to blur as we lose the distinction between PCs and consumer electronics?
I drink Schlitz and use a beige box, but I can understand the fashion flavor of devices, especially when you carry them around 24x7, use them in public, and touch them with your hands a lot.
If we all had call to carry screwdrivers everywhere, they would come in designer models, too.
(BTW, I like the colored comments addition.)
Wow, I never realized I was of above-average intelligence just because I've used computers for years and have learned a lot!
You have heard "Every OS Sucks" by three dead trolls in a baggie (http://deadtroll.com) right?
(gah..their website seems to be down...the mp3 used to be a free download, though..)
Of course, they too miss the point, romanticising AppleDOS and C64...(but what good is artistry if you can't visciously overgeneralize to make a point?)
the problem isn't that people are passionate. if the people making the screwdriver are passionate about creating it, then those who use it would probably also be passionate – and that is fine.
rather, the problem is arguing over subjective things – there is no point in trying to convince everyone to obtain your point of view.
Not choosing some stuff just because someone else chose it to express their (lack) of personality might be good reason to have one's head examined too.
"Rational consumer" is a myth. We all tell stories to ourselves only they differ from person to person. Check out Seth Godin's "All Marketers Are Liars".
Too keep flame going. "If you are serious about software you should build your own hardware" - that's the point for Apple Inc. ;)
I would agree that it is a bit of a non-argument. It comes down to people pressing their personal prefrence on others. It's also people afraid of change, clinging too much to what they know.
I think it's interesting the shift in the debate. Apple seem to be one step ahead, first they had more features, now Vista has the features they're consentrating on software and how great iLife is because you can get it with your computer. About half of Apples official top 15 reasons to get a Mac are all about the fact it includes this program and that.
It's not what the OS can do, it's what the people do with it.
Well, this post seems to intrigue many people... XD
it's true that computers suck... just one problem... if they suck, then does that mean the people who rely too much on computer suck more?
I don't mean to raise this question all of the sudden, just sprang out of my mind. ^_^
'Cuz in our place, people are getting more 'computer-dependent'...
couture: the business of designing, making, and selling fashionable custom-made women's clothing.
Please tell me that I'm not the only guy who had to go look that up. :P
Great topic excellent synopsis.
"If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality."
I chose my clothes based on two things:
1. their suitability for the weather
2. what they say about me (aka too look good in them)
why not my phone, or my car, or my screwdriver? does that make me a personality-less marketing victim drone?
I use both for different things and havea a love hate relationship with them both. So kudos for your article - good point well made, maybe just be a little less judgemental about people's personal choices.
BTW Smug Mac zelots get everyone's back up - and the new mac advertising is obnoxious. I'm not surprised by anti-mac reactions and the debate re-flaming. Wouln't be surprised if Jobs did it on purpose. He's a cleaver guy!
no matter how much my pc and mac suck individually, niether on their own or combined will they clean my carpets..
As others have said, kudos on this piece... Your RSS feed is the one I can count on the one I'm most interested in.
Agree on all points - I use Macs WinPCs Ubuntu linux - All are indeed tools. And indeed, using any of them at any point in time for any task can suck. Just realize, it's not the hardware that sucks - It's usually the $99 OS or the $49 app. If we want $500 machines incl. all the software we intend to use, this is what we get. Being around since computers were $5000 apps $499, I recognize the trade-off of quality testing vs. flash functionality. The market makes it choices (you being the market:) and lives with these consequences.
Lower prices, less testing, more flash, etc. had massively broadened the market base myriad of choices. Everyone should make theirs based on the pluses minuses every single choice in life has.
Thanks again for a good read.
Brendan Dowling: "Regarding couture, the word couture implies clothing (couture means sewing) that is custom-made by hand for a particular person. No mass produced consumer products can be couture. That being said, one device can be more fashionable than others."
While, as David H. pointed out, that may be the strict definition of the word "couture", in general useage the term "haute couture" is used to mean "high fashion" and not "high sewing" or "high women's clothing". As such, it's used to reference high fashion men's clothing, shoes, handbags, and so forth, and therefore can be used in the context Jeff used.
One of the things Petzold complains about in his post is having to pay for MacOS release upgrades (which he compares to Windows Service Packs). While I can understand this argument from the Windows side since they haven't been hit up for an upgrade in 6 years, but I can honestly say I've gotten my $250 worth out of the last two MacOS releases-- the features added have been subtle and not "in my face", but I've learned to incorporate them into my daily usage over time (i.e. Expose, Spotlight). And my aging Powerbook has actually run FASTER with each release.
Compare that to Windows, which often has features that feel like they were an afterthought, and your computer is pretty much guaranteed to run slower.
That said, my Powerbook's battery won't last longer than an hour anymore, and I get a mysterious "no route to host" on random servers that nobody seems to have a solution for. So it ain't all roses on this side of the fence either.
The debate is getting ever more moot with OS virtualisation. You can run OS X, XP, Vista and Linux on any Intel platform whether Mac or PC based then so it's possible to just pick and choose in real time whichever is most suitable for the task in hand.
[Writing this on a MacBook Pro (nice screen) running RDP on XP in a Parallels VM (better client than Mac version) connected to my work Dell desktop (well it's work)] running XP.
The problem with the Mac vs. PC debate is its not about the technical merits of the OSs at all, but about people's insecurities.
PC people put down macs because they're not familiar with the interface and the software has weird names like Safari, i-this and i-that. Having spent several years getting up to a functional level with Windows, they afraid to have to go back to square one again.
Mac people (who put down PCs) are insecure because their market share is so much smaller than (they think) Macs deserve. This leads to grandiose thinking. If the world doesn't accept the Macintosh, then the world is wrong.
Once you eliminate emotional insecurities from the debate and discuss the technical merits, most of the acrimony disappears. You realize that both OSs have been steadily improving (i.e., now they suck less) and also more like each other. Eventually, we should attain a state where it won't matter which operating system you use, since they are all equally capable and easy to use.
I call this state "Nirvana".
..stop talking about your screwdriver, and
show us what you've created with it.
I create screwdrivers.
It's always best for rational people to use the right tool for a given job. At the same time, don't forget that sales and marketing is anything but rational. This is because consumers are by and large anything but rational. So to claim computers aren't couture is to irrationally declare oneself rational in defiance of reality. They simply are. Windows people have the macho thing going. Mac people have the elegance thing going. It's all so very tiresome and pathetic, but if you want to understand the market, you have to deal with it anyway. I recommend smiling, quiet acceptance coupled with playing to each market segment's gratuitous identity crisis.
Jeff, you are so on the money. Great post, great blog.
All things are real.
I happen to like my PowerBook because I enjoy bashing on source code until it works on my platform of choice. OS X does this very well.
Of course, my decision to actually buy the thing was strongly influenced by the fact that the PowerBook G4 12" is aesthetically pleasing in a way that, say, a Sony Vaio isn't. Why do I think this? I don't think it's because of any sort of rational consideration.
I do think many Mac fanboys need a bucket of cold water poured on them. "Industrial-strength UNIX security" is pretty damned funny, for instance; it's like someone who has survived multiple gunshot wounds claiming to be "Bulletproof". (Hey, wait a minute...)
In the strange, almost real Utopia that exists only in my head, each OS family plays to its strengths. Windows is a modular mass of self-describing binary components that can be configured to create a reasonable working environment for large numbers of users, Mac OS X is a playground for semi-experimental user interface and user experience development, and Linux and BSD are where ideas are taken from academic papers and turned into more or less production-grade implementations.
I really can't see the point of this writing.
This sucks. That sucks. No, they both suck, but we all use them, so there's no point in arguing… blah-blah-blah…
You wrote an article about arguing to tell everybody you don't care about arguing?
No, I wrote it to illustrate that people are wasting their passion on tools; they should be passionate about what they're *creating* with these tools. That's what really matters. That's what I want to hear about. That is what motivates people.
In other words, a giant clockwork robot is much more interesting than the screwdriver I used to put it together. I would hope.
For example, if John "daringfireball" Gruber spent a *fraction* of the time he spends obsessively responding to every public criticism of the Mac on, y'know, creating something cool (and writing about it, obviously), he'd influence a lot more people.
Also, one comment on some of the excellent points raised earlier.
It's true that for many (most?) users, computers aren't used as tools for creating content. They're used to semi-passively browse and display content. In that case, the couture distinction matters. There's nothing to talk about beyond that. They haven't created anything!
But in a Web 2.0 world of "user generated content", I hope that computers do become tools for people to create things and express themselves. I'd hate to see computers become just another passive television-like window that we peer through, staring forlornly at a more interesting world than our own.
Jeff: My favorite topic that will never *ever* die: curly braces -- where do they belong? This argument is hilarious because the opposing sides have practically nothing to base their arguments on. Just pure conflict that will never be resolved.
Not just computers - applies to most manmade objects (mobile phones, MP3 players, cars, ...) - why do we settle for crap products? Because we're too cheap to be willing to pay for nice ones, I guess, or to wait for them.
Great post. I loved this in your comments though: "Real geeks can drive multiple OSs - just like real drivers can drive stick and automatic. ;)"
(BTW, I forgive Gruber for his "xxx is a jackass" posts, because, well, they're just so well-written :o) )
"That's the other problem with the Mac vs. PC debate: it completely misses the point. Computers aren't couture, they're screwdrivers. Your screwdriver rocks, and our screwdriver sucks. So what? They're screwdrivers."
But Robertson screws and screwdrivers are so superior to Phillips screws and screwdrivers. Seriously, why does anyone use philips anymore? Bunch of sadists!
And for anyone khow doesn't know, Roberston Screws are the ones with a square hole that your screwdriver won't slip out of. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robertson_screw
A parody ad I'd like to see:
"Hi, I'm a Mac."
"And I'm a Mac Classic."
And then we watch those two lock heads in heated debate.
Thank you, wonderful article.
Good points. Every OS has its benefits and drawbacks, and while they may irritate at times, computers are generally pretty wonderful things, and the operating systems have gotten better over the years.
I use both Mac OS and Windows and find things to like with both of them. I too am irritated by the "my platform is better than yours" kind of thing. I find zealots irritating no matter what their preference.
When people talk about nice things (and not-so-nice things) about each OS, in a way that is respectful and not belittling of others people's choices and preferences, we get the best of both worlds: people use what they want, but hear ideas an opinions from elsewhere.
For example, a little thing I happen to like about the Mac: taking screen captures. Press Command-Shift-3 and Mac OS saves Picture1.png right to your desktop. Easy. Press Command-Shift-4 and you get a selection rectangle; clip a rectangle and it goes right to your desktop. On Windows, there's a great little free screen capture program called Cropper that gives you this same kind of nice behavior.
The point is: it's all just software, and everyone can (and does) learn from one another. The key is to filter out the idiots and zealots, only deal with the reasonable people, talking about things that are really important.
If you have enough time for these debates... then its you that doesn't have a life or a personality. Loooooosers.
I'm sick of people downing Macs and Linux. They praise M$ as if it has brought peace and tranquility to the masses. I painfully dual boot both XP and 2 versions of Linux. I recently HAD to install XP for USB video capture/DVD authoring. Linux is just not there yet. (Ow, that hurt.) I use 1 version of Linux as my everyday operating system. The 2nd version is always experimental (I constantly try out new OSes). I choose Linux for 3 reasons.
Number 1: I like the security of surfing and being email virus free.
Number 2: I ENJOY all of the free utilities and the command line.
Number 3: I like being DIFFERENT.
I love the confused look on 99.9% of the populations face when they here that I use Linux as my operating system. I have tried to help spread Linux to anyone who was interested in trying it. They all hated it for one reason . . . it didn't play their games. That is the very reason I hate M$. They make computer OSes for idiots and then they design to be an XBox as well. There isn't 1 out of 1000 people that don't use a computer to play games. These very people will talk a big game about computers and what they are capable of doing with one. Next time an M$ zealot touts his OS, ask them what they DO with there computer. Jeff is right. Computers are meant to DO things, not PLAY things. If games are your thing why use a computer. Console systems are much more stable. People have a tendency to down other systems without knowing what they are cabable of doing. Just because an OS does not run WOW, why is that even an issue? What can they produce is the real question. /end of rant
I think the pertinent question here isn't, "What's better, Mac or PC?", it's "Why aren't you working?"
While I agree with you that all operating systems suck, I think the same could be said for programming languages.
I think it's likewise true that they're each likely to do some things much better than the others, and in all likelihood you won't be able to appreciate these advantages until you've spent a fair amount of time using the system in question.
Computers suck because they are built by humans and humans are failable.
I'm reminded of the Simpson's where Homer gets a computer and basically just turns it on and tells it to kill Flanders. His expectation is too high. Almost every computer user is like that. I was a Mac-addict for years, but now I have multiple Macs and PCs and there's not much difference. For most tasks, I could pick either one. For some tasks, I have to pick one or the other, which is the whole reason I have both in the first place. If I had a Linux box around, the circle would be complete :)
That whole Simpsons episode is a really great example of what's wrong with people who have computers.
PC does suck Mac is soo much better
I applaud you for writing this. Truly computers are just that, computational devices. That said, users expect their mac/pc to do all things for all people! The limitation is strictly in the user and their overall ability to comprehend the machine they are using. There is a horrid trend in Americans to compare black and white, even when that isn't relevant. It took us 200 years to come up with a third, non-viable, political party. Maybe we will all have a new option for a computer in 2180..... doubt it.
And a late response to poop. Ummm who is it that posted on this site? You. I guess you can join the Rank and File Coalition of Losers. Membership dues are $1,000,000 per year, payable to me.
and to Ergo.
Some of us like to play FPSs. Try doing that with a control pad vs. a keyboard/mouse combo. That is why it's an issue. And good luck playing pretty much any new game running the penguin.
While I agree that computers are the equivalent of silicon screwdrivers, it's clear that Apple and Microsoft use distinct philosophical approaches to decide which problems to solve and how to solve them.
For an example, let's take the problem of clicking on the icon of a removable device that has no media inserted.
In Windows, clicking on the device icon raises a "Please insert Y into drive X" error dialog. However, If this was an unintentional click, it could lead the user to think their computer requires media for some other, unrelated operation. If you rarely insert media into this device, it still takes up space in the device list and becomes a potential target for unintentional clicks.
On the Mac, the solution was to prevent the situation from happening in the first place by not showing an icon for a device unless formated media is present and mounted. No error dialog is required since there is nothing to accidentally click on.
This is one less dialog to maintain. One less implementation that needs to debugged. One less 'part of the silicon screwdriver' which can fail.
However, In the end, the choice of Mac vs. PC will likely be based on which philosophy you align yourself with most.
This is the most fucktarded pile of shit I have ever read. Just because you aren't man-enough to hold your own and make an obvious decision about what works correctly and what is a steaming pile of shit, doesn't mean anyone else should be subjected to your ignominious thoughts on the subject!
I hope you realize that carpenters are exactly the same when it comes to their screwdrivers and other tools: Some time ago two of my friends who are both craftsmen got so mad at eachother that they almost got into a fistfight when discussing the merits of DeWalt vs Bosch mitre saws.
If using a piece of electronics as a means to "define yourself" is a sign of insanity the majority of people in all western countries must be insane: We define ourselves with a multitude of material posessions: Cars, clothes, houses and other various gadgets, including mobile phones. This is deeply rooted in the human psyche and we have used things to "define ourselves" since the stone age.
That said, my experience from using computers as my tool of the trade for 20 years is that OSX is the operating system that causes me the least headache and that the Apple computers are in many ways superior compared to any other hardware I have own or used.
Computers suck? No. A computer was never mean't to be used by people with average or below average intelligence. They have been forced onto the masses by Gates, Jobs, etc in the form of Macs and PCs. With that, comes the endless problems of hardware and software glitches, etc. because your average person has no clue how the thing works and can barely operate it.
It's not supposed to be just like a light switch you turn on and it just works. It's a piece of complex machinery with complex software driving it.
I posted this in the past, but I hate seeming my mom "use" a computer. The machine is going to waste by sending email and surfing the web.
Instead of releasing a new OS every 1-3 years, the concept of a computer device should be revisited by big name software giants.
If a computer didn't already come with 100s of programs embedded in it, I think it would be easier to manage and would suck less in general.
Second secret of using computers: Everybody is a fracking expert!
I work with a Mac and two XP workstations. The Mac frustrates me less...but they do, as you say, all suck.
@Sailor Moon: great post
Now this is why I like this blog so much. The PC vs Mac debate/holy war is annoying and I have only one response to it. "You like what you like." When I was reading this I remembered one of those new Mac commercials and all that I thought of was, I think Mac, actor from Accepted, needed some machine to make fake ids, and who knows what else why not a Mac.
"Everybody knows that Unix is superior, and that the REAL question is Emacs vs. vi. :)"
Not vi, ViM. ViM is superior :)
The problem with the Mac vs PC holy war: there aren't any others for those users. EMACS vs VIM, KDE vs GNOME, everything from DE's to file-systems are subject to a holy war (or at least argumentative USENET posts).
That's something I love FOSS: nothing is good enough for either side.