Why I will probably continue to buy Macs

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OSNews recently published a really poorly argued piece by a former Mac enthusiast who subsequently became a Windows and then a Linux fan (Why I will probably never buy another Mac). It lasts for five pages, and in the first page he goes from becoming a Mac enthusiast while other office workers were being lumbered with PCs, through the whole history up to OS 8 and 9 and Windows 98: after that, he says, the quality of Mac hardware went down, the price stayed more or less the same, the operating system became vastly less reliable and fell behind Windows, and the community did not want to be told that their hardware was a poor choice compared to a PC running Windows.


The reader will notice that this author glosses over two important issues in attacking the Mac community. One of these is that Windows, at least since 95, has always been notorious for its reliability and security issues. He does not mention the “Blue Screen of Death” even once. He does not mention the fact that, to run Windows reliably, you need anti-virus software which costs extra (unless it came bundled with the machine), and uses extra system resources. He does not mention the continual updates, which as time goes on, detract from the performance of Windows – or even that the last fresh Windows OS was released as long ago as 2001. He was pleased with XP on a system which was fast, with lots of memory and a huge hard disk; on the system I use XP on, a 450Mhz Pentium 3 with 256 megabytes of RAM and a 7Gb hard drive, it’s an absolute dog.

He also fails to mention that actually OS X has become an excellent operating system. The presentation values speak for themselves (notably the fonts, unmatched on any other platform including Windows), it’s fast on my hardware (1GHz G4, 384Mb RAM), and it’s reliable. I’ve not had the whole operating system crash on me once, although individual applications sometimes do. And it has commercially-supported applications – not as many as on Windows, but certainly more than Linux has, which is what prompted me to move to a Mac having used Linux on a PC. (The Mac versions of the Microsoft Office packages are said by some to be better than their Windows equivalents; it’s just as expensive, though, and I got my copy only because I had a student discount at the time.) As for the original OS X being “a total dog”, first-release operating systems often are. Machines running that version of OS X were configured to dual-boot with OS 9, not least because a lot of applications had not been rewritten for OS X yet.

The author notes that internet forums on which Macs were discussed became less friendly and the inhabitants were often snobbily dismissive of PC users:

Windows machines were ridiculed for being boring beige boxes. Windows users were the subject of snobbish jibes. Contemptuous references to Walmart appeared. Macs kept being compared to high end designer brands, in particular to cars. If you chose differently, it was because you had no taste, no class.

BMWs appeared to have a particular fascination for the Mac aficionado. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The chorus of people who seemed to think that Macs were high class, and that buying them was a route to social mobility, was astounding. Could there really be so many people who were so naive about how social class really works in America? And could so many of them be Mac users? I shivered a bit at the thought.

The attitude is indefensible, and the fact that Apple has always refused to issue a PC-equivalent Mac system unit, enabling the user to find his own display, always struck me as rather stupid. (If you get an all-in-one Mac with a duff screen, as I did, replacing it means either replacing the entire system, perhaps after you’ve grown attached to it, or ordering a new screen, which costs more than ordering a new PC monitor and has to be fitted inside the computer. Or you can do as I did, and attach an extra monitor, and you can’t switch the original bad display off. They’re both displaying the same material, wasting electricity.) It does seem that the “look” of a Mac sometimes takes precedence over versatility; if you want a versatile, expandable Mac, you have to get a PowerMac, which starts at £1,395.90 including VAT, not including monitor. I don’t think the Mac Mini measures up to an expandable PC system unit: for one thing, opening it is nowhere near as easy and is said to involve decorators’ tools, and many of its components are those of laptops, not desktop systems.

Returning to the fans’ attitudes, some Linux forms are notoriously unfriendly as well, particularly to newcomers. There is one set of Linux forums I used to visit which would not establish a forum for a particular “distribution” unless its author’s support was forthcoming – the result being that every “one man and his dog” distro was represented but SUSE, one of the biggest with one of the biggest user bases, was not – and so the general Linux forum was full of discussion about SUSE! And a lot of the contemptuous terms he noticed Mac users using (Micro$oft, Windoze and so on) are common among Linux users as well – even turning up in magazines like Linux Format from time to time.

And the software available for Linux is just not up to the standard of the Mac’s, much less what is there for Windows. OpenOffice.org comes as one single program with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package and whatever else, rather than as separate programs which can be loaded into memory as and when needed. You can imagine the drain this causes to the system’s performance, and the limitations it places on functionality. There must be a reason why companies are not rushing to put it on everyone’s desktop, because it is, after all, free. The GIMP, adequate for most people’s uses, may well come up to the feature set of Photoshop, but right now it doesn’t. While Linux has no shortage of server databases, both commercial and free, it does not have a serious answer to Access or FileMaker. And the Mac actually makes it easier to do everyday Unix tasks, such as starting an internet connection when the router has gone down or a wire accidentally got unplugged, than Linux often does (in this particular case, it detects available internet connections and activates them automatically).

His reasons for “probably never buying another Mac again” are that Apple, in his view, has cultivated the Apple bigots’ mindset, letting a culture emerge that is far more like a totalitarian state “with a Dear Leader who would be in place for life, and the only books allowed would be those not on the Index”. These bigots sneer at non-Mac users and cheer on Apple’s every move, including those which are antithetical to freedom (such as its use of Digital Rights Management and its fondness for suing people), and issue outright lies and then get abusive when the lies are refuted. However, the competition is also known for using morally (and legally) questionable tactics, such as issuing ad campaigns comparing the performance of their server OS with Linux on different hardware, and the phenomenon of what were (or still are) known as “MicroDroids”, who “post follow-ups to any messages critical of Microsoft’s operating systems, and often end up sounding like visiting fundamentalist missionaries”, is well-known.

The fact remains, though, that OS X is a great operating system let down by Apple’s obsession with “lifestyle” hardware marketing. The last actual new release of it was last year; the last version of Windows came out in 2001, and the upcoming version is not thought to work properly on hardware issued before this year. (It will also scramble your hard drive to stop you doing things certain corporations don’t want you doing with their products.) OS X also has a tried-and-tested open-source Unix base, which Windows XP does not have and neither will Windows Vista. And the limited hardware has its own advantage, namely that the system can be refined to work well with that hardware and does not need to bloat itself out to interact with every piece of hardware it might meet. (In the early days of Linux, people would compile their own kernel to suit their hardware for this reason; system resources were too precious to waste on compatibility for hardware you don’t have.)

I like Linux; it’s fun to play around with and it’s just about adequate for some people’s office needs. It is also, nowadays, easy to install for someone with a small amount of technical knowledge but who is not a “Unix guru”. I strongly suspect it will not gain desktop approval, if it ever does, until someone works out a solution to its font problems (asymmetry and general ugliness, particularly on serif fonts). But it does not have the serious desktop applications to make it overtake Windows or OS X, even if as an operating system it is vastly superior to Windows. Which is why, when I next need to buy a computer, if I can afford one and the Mac is as viable a platform as it is now, I will probably buy another Mac.

(Here’s my reply to an earlier article by a Linux fan – in this case the deputy editor of Linux Format – who said that Mac OS X sucks. OSNews linked my article and you can find more comments here, and another pro-Mac article with some caveats by Ed Thomson.)

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  • Milian Wolff

    Just one thing I want to ask you: Which distribution and especially which desktop did you use on Linux? I can’t see any font issues on my kubuntu, kde machine.

    And for openoffice: is it really slower than other word processors? It certaintly starts rather slow though I remember that Word took quite some time too. And does that really makes a difference? Photoshop (which is better than gimp imho) needs years to start but still you don’t complain. It’s because it has more features and works better. Same for openoffice…

  • kandyneko

    I don’t think it’s really fair to knock OpenOffice.org. I appreciate the work that was done on it for the purpose of providing a true alternative to Microsoft Office. I use it everyday even on Windows. I think more people and businesses ought to take a serious look at using it instead of accepting Microsoft Office without consideration and paying Microsoft more dues.

  • Paulo Pereira

    I’ve read the post “Why I will probably never buy another Mac” on osnews and I don’t see that as an attack to the mac community, but rather an attack to apple …
    I do have a mac and a linuxbox at home and one thing thing is sure : OS X is a great Desktop : linux or MS are no match to it.
    BUT when you state that “The fact remains, though, that OS X is a great operating system [...]” I think you are wrong.
    OS X is NOT an excellent Operating System, the OS under the desktop relies sucks – too many layers.
    For example, multi-threading on OS X is a joke, it s not effective (OSX server never was a success).
    I don’t see OSX as a great Operating system, but rather as the greatest desktop around …
    As such and I don’t care about the operating system : OSX desktop fulfill my needs

    You didn’t talk about closed/locking policies used by apple that were discussed in the osnews post.
    Do you have any comments ? I think it would be interesting to have your point of view on this.

  • anonymous

    You’re a hypocrite.

    I am a Mac and Windows user (and I switched to Windows after OS8 and have switched back in the past 2 years).

    Since Windows 2000, Windows has been pretty good. Until the Intel machines from Apple came out, OSX was anything but snappy (and it seems the most hardcore of mac zealots are in denial about this) unless you had the nicest hardware. Resizing windows was pathetic (I’m glad I don’t have a G4 any more).

    I can’t say that I often get BSODs or have been hit by a virus in the past several years. I know many people who are in the same boat.

    Yes, it’s safer to be lazy on Mac, but I’ve had my share of kernel panics (isn’t that just a pretty BSOD?)

    You’re just bashing a Mac basher by bashing Windows and that’s totally lame. Windows is not nearly as bad as some people would like you to believe.

    I love my Macs, OSX and Apple, but I can’t stand the reality distortion field dwelling zealots.

  • rueyeet

    Two things stuck out in the OSNews piece, to me.

    When talking about the early Macs, the author boasted about knowing the function of every file in the system. This is a guy who likes to get into the guts of stuff and be able to fiddle with anything he likes. And Apple’s paradigm has always been to save the user from that kind of trouble, not to encourage tinkering–more so with OS X and iLife and such. I can see he’d find that repugnant.

    Two, he didn’t touch, even briefly, on security issues in Windows, or the extra time and software required to maintain a clean Windows installation. Of course, it seems he went to Linux some time ago, so I guess that’s not an issue for him, as it would be for most Windows users.

    The problem seems to be that he’s disenchanted to realize that Apple behaves just as much like a company that wants to make money as Microsoft does, and his own personal abhorrence of Apple’s strategy to do this. Mix in the fact that neither the hardware or the OS make up the difference for him anymore, and there’s no reason he’s going to want to buy a Mac. I can understand that.

    Thing is, though, his conclusion implies that not buying a Mac a matter of moral imperative. As if, for the reasons he’s given, no one else should buy one either. And this, after decrying the Mac community for looking down on the choices of others.

    If Choice is god, then I’ve got just as much right to find that Apple’s model suits my needs and tastes as he does to find that it doesn’t. Linux doesn’t have the apps I want, it has freeware approximations of them. And Windows pisses me off. Therefore, irrational as others may find me, my next computer is still going to be a Mac.

  • Michel Brisebois

    Not as par as ACCESS or FILEMAKER, talking of Linux, I am so sorry. I do not know if there is a port for OS/X of ODBC – SQL – MYSQL? I really do not like ACCESS for personal reasons and I cannot say anything against FILEMAKER because I never used it, but for sheer power both are not up to it. And for the hardware, I do not like products from Apple for many reasons still personnals.

    This fellow who do not want to buy another Apple is quite rational and as a free citizen is entitled to not like what Apple as grown to.

    I also did really liked everything that came out of Apple factorys, but for now, except for external cosmetics, nothing is catching my interest from Apple. I do not care the color of cpu box or monitor or keyboard, what I am proud of is to not having problems with my hardware.

    A good os is a good os, wich ever the one you choose, but still the hardware is as much as important and Apple as stopped innovating long ago.

  • http://undocumentedcode.com nousplacidus

    Im sure that OS X runs way worse on a “450Mhz Pentium 3 with 256 megabytes of RAM and a 7Gb hard drive”.

    Linux :)

  • http://undocumentedcode.com nousplacidus

    “While Linux has no shortage of server databases, both commercial and free, it does not have a serious answer to Access or FileMaker.”

    Are you serious? Do you know anything about databases?

  • http://michel.klijmij.net/ Michel Klijmij

    I’m particularly struck by the author going on about the virus scanner you need for Windows costing extra resources. I have used Mac, Windows and Linux. For a while I dual-booted Linux and Mac OS (9 and OS X). Linux was significantly faster on the same hardware.

    As far as maturity of the software is concerned, it’s the same for all three: there’s good stuff and bad stuff. Fortunately my Linux distribution comes with so much choice that there’s a lot of good stuff relatively. For Mac OS finding the right (preferably open source) sofware to do the job I wanted it to do was a hassle.

    When my iMac monitor broke, I decided not to buy Mac. And I won’t ever again.

  • http://psycho275.info Dave

    I think you may well find that OS-X is (apparently) more stable because it doesn’t have to support such a wide range of hardware that Windows does – Windows can (and does) run on a lot wider variety of hardware than OS-X could, unless Apple decide to add extra hardware support.

  • http://www.voidfx.net/nth_blog Neil

    “on the system I use XP on, a 450Mhz Pentium 3 with 256 megabytes of RAM and a 7Gb hard drive, it’s an absolute dog.”

    Mac OS X would be ‘an absolute dog’ on that too. I dare you to find a Mac that is sold with a 7Gb hard drive, or a 450Mhz processor, or on a Pentium 3. When I write this, I haven’t even read the rest of your article, and you already seem like a total idiot. If you’re going to compare OSes, and especially their performance, you’d better use comparable hardware.

    And then I read further down, and see you’re using a 1GHz machine on Mac OS X, with 384 Mb RAM; and you comment it is faster? Well, obviously. Apple would have to _really_ screw up to make it slower on a platform with a processor almost twice as fast and 1.5 times the RAM…

    [Having gotten to the end.]
    All in all, the message I’m getting from this article, reading between the lines is 1. “Well, there are flaws in other operating systems too!”, to which I say, ‘big shock, didn’t see that coming’; and 2. “I’ve got a well-used system of productivity on Macs, so I’m going to stick to them.”, to which I say, ‘Nothing wrong with that, but just recognize that others have created their own systems of productivity on other operating systems.’

    I personally used Macs for about 4 years on and off, and found they were fine for what I was doing (mostly graphic design and publishing). However, though most of my computer-using-life, I’ve used Windows, and become very, very good with it; and recently I’ve been playing around with Linux on as dual boot (writing this on Linux for example). And I have to admit, my productivity on Linux is significantly lower than it is on Windows. But that’s to be expected, I cannot expect to compare my 9 years of every-day Windows experience to 1 year of on-and-off Linux experience.

    It is nice, however, to see that you’re not a frothing-at-the-mouth Mac fanatic; and in all fairness, there are frothing-at-the-mouth fanatics for everything, from sexual preferences the best way to take your medicine to how to pronounce the words ‘potato’ and ‘tomato’.

    Anyways, cheers.

  • Aegrotatio

    The presentation of fonts on MacOS X has been a tragedy since MacOS X came out. Whatever Apple is doing to “smooth” the fonts is decreasing legibility. You need to compare the Windows ClearType sub-pixel smoothing against the MacOS X sub-pixel smoothing to understand that Apple has gotten fonts wrong in a horribly bad way. It’s embarrassing how bad font presentation is on the Macintosh. Even Linux/Unix font smoothing looks better than MacOS X, and that’s REALLY saying something. Do a side-by-side comparison before commenting about this–any other comment is invalid otherwise.

  • DrM

    Salam Aliakum Yusuf,
    Have you tried Windows Xp Peerweb Turbo edition v4? I hear its a fantastically streamlined and uses 30% less cpu resources.

  • Kristian Poul Herkild

    @Aegrotatio

    Windows ClearType is not a good example of font rendering. It _may_ be easier to read on some monitors, but so far I’ve found it to be inferior to FreeType2, and to standard antialiazing.

    ClearType == bad, incorrect hinting (but perhaps this equals easy read fonts?).

    Standard Windows antialiazing == Good and rather correct hinting (but perhaps less easily read on LCD?)

    FreeType2 and font rendering in Mac OS X look a lot alike. Great hinting, good subpixel systems, all the good from ClearType combined with correct hinting. All you have to do is playing with settings and you’ll see how good it can get.

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Indigo Jo

    Aegrotatio: the fonts on my Mac look the best I’ve seen anywhere. They are perfectly legible and far smoother than anything I’ve seen on Windows, let alone X11. Just about every X11 display I’ve ever used has had problems with asymmetry and general ugliness.

  • ConteZero

    I had a bad idea some time ago…
    I fell for Mac Mini because, huh, it was really small.
    I had it shipped here to Italy, it took weeks to get here and when it actually get here i was disappointed…
    I had a long experience with Linux and FreeBSD, but i find that crappy OS really useless if you’re going to use the CLI and unreasonable when you’re going to use the GUI.
    After less than two months it was lying under dust and books.
    The final destination for that hardware was a Debian.
    Next system I’m going to buy is a Dragon chip powered one (I’m curious to see how it works); rest assured that I won’t get another Mac.

  • Diogo Santos

    You’re confusing proprietary business models with the existence of comercial suport. For example I work as a Free Software specialist for a company who supports any Free Software the client wants.

    I’m a GNU/Linux user (I only use window$, when I’m not using my computer, like now). I also don’t use proprietary software. I can understand that someone might need to use a proprietary software when there’s no Free Software for the same role. But there’s no real necessity in any other case. And I’ve to say that most pieces of Free Software I use are better than most proprietary alternatives for either Mac, or any other systems.

    Access? That’s just garbage, just like other things (backpage, lookout, exchange, internet exploder, etc…). You can use MySQL with a modern GUI, for the same simple things, it’s fast and reliable. Have you ever saw a database done by someone without a tecnical background? It’s simply scary, you can’t trust in data integrity of thoes “databases”.

    OS X it’s a great OS. Based in many Free Software projects. But Apple is just another pigopolist!

  • GreySim

    As far as Filemaker and the other database thing, one answer on Linux that I keep seeing recently is Glom.

    http://www.glom.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

  • http://www.neurocentric.blogspot.com The Neurocentric

    Salam alaikum,

    I can’t say I’m fanatical about any system – I just need to get the job done. I have often been attracted to Apple Macs, but have never been able to afford one. Photoshop, PageMaker and QuarkXpress all work fine on my P3 PC any how and the designer-publisher compatibility issues were solved long ago thanks to Adobe Acrobat.

    My dad who has years of experience win Windows recently got a Mac Mini and has nothing but praise for OSX – but then he only uses it for email and internet. He’s back on his PC for the real work.

    My own PC is about six years old now – it shipped with Windows ME which was absolutely terrible – I used to do a lot of graphic work and it was constantly drained of memory – but I upgraded to XP in 2002 and the problem was solved. As an upgrade, it still has problems eg with video, but it is a vast improvement. As for my 3GHz, P4, 504MB RAM Dell at work – WinXP is a dream – no stabilty problems at all and real speed. Outlook 2003 is wonderful too – complete with its Hijri dates and Islamic holidays.

    The Mac vs PC argument irritates me however – a computer is only a tool. A friend of mine who uses Macs was telling me about how lightening fast Macs have become since the advent of this “new” chip – I had to point out that the speed of an Intel is actually nothing new. There are pros and cons in all software and hardware.

    The only thing that I’ve always wondered about Mac users is how they get by with a one button mouse. Hurrah for right clickability for high productivity!

    Wasalam.

  • dam7ri

    Your response misses the entire point of the original article. The point of the article was that the author questioned Apple’s business ethics and its followers blind loyalty (shades of Nazi Germany). His pointing out of the numerous and much publicized flaws in Windows is useless, as most people already know about them. While Microsoft’s business practices are despicable, Apple’s business practices border on unconscionable, and for a company with so little marketshare it is obviously poorly conceived.

    I am surprised that , just by mere mention, you didn’t attack the Amiga or BeOS. If you can see things for what they are, you will realize that, aside from the fact that all computers are flawed in some way, Windows is for the masses, Linux is for geeks (of which I am one), and Mac is for sycophants.

    While I agree that the Linux community can at times be vicious to new users, Mac users certainly are just as venomous, for a far more petty reason. Linux users often have to look long and hard to solve a problem that a noob is trying to get. Mac users seem to be angry because bad business decisions have put their platform of choice in the minority, and instead of targeting the makers of those bad decisions, they want to lash out at everyone else.

  • anonymous

    One of the main problems with Macs is word processing. I know Office 2004 is excellent on the Mac but the problem is you’re tied into MS Office, there are no real alternatives. NeoOffice /Openooffice are rubbish on the Mac. Nisus is ok, until you try printing. And I don’t trust Pages because they play around with the file format, just like my Apple Works files .cwk, won’t open on anything except Appleworks. I work on Macs and XP and while I like the stability of Macs, I like the opensource software esp. .odf files on Openoffice and StarOffice. I agree with the previous commentator, for some reason fonts on the Mac are increasingly awkward to read, though they print out better than any other system.

  • http://www.mooslim.com/ubuntu_screenshot.jpg musab

    I have used Macs, PC’s and various Linux distributions. As a professional editor and communication worker, each has its advantages and disadvantages.

    My operating system of choice now is Ubuntu Linux, not because of any technical superiority, but because of the community based nature of the system, and the fact that I am encouraged to share the software rather than having to pay large corporations.

    It doesn’t look too shabby either, having adopted the best visual elements from both Macs and PC’s.
    http://www.mooslim.com/ubuntu_screenshot.jpg

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/mt.php/2008/10/23/why_i_still_havent_replaced_my Indigo Jo Blogs

    Why I still haven’t replaced my Mac

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