John Gruber and Mark Pilgrim have been carrying out one of the more thoughtful and well written discussions I’ve seen about the relative merits of the Mac OS and Open Source, specifically Ubuntu Linux. Mark, who is a real Mac expert has finally gotten fed up with dealing with a proprietary operating system and some of the arbitrary changes that we end users have to swallow. His strongest reasons have to do with Apple’s use of closed formats and the fact that he has lost some of his work when old formats were abandoned.
I’m totally in agreement with him there. John counters that the Mac OS is a better tool, more elegant, more polished and easier to use. Again I find myself in total agreement. That’s why I’m using a Mac right now, even though like most Mac web designers, I also have a Windows Box. I even have a copy of Yellow Dog Linux on an old iMac that I play with occasionally.
Back to John’s position regarding Open Source and open standards. I sometimes resent that Macs are so much more elegant and easy to use. Like him I’m pretty pissed off that Apple decided to change Mail’s storage format from mbox to an Apple proprietary format. I want my email to be my email, portable and accessible on any computer I chose to use.
Yes, I can use a different email client than Mail. I use Thunderbird on Windows. But it is a more polished product on Windows. And, it doesn’t integrate with Apple Services, Address Book and a couple of other products I’ve become dependent on. Apple claims that the reason for the change was to better integrate with Spotlight. Yet Spotlight seem able to access any text based file, which mbox most certainly is. I laugh at most conspiracy theories, yet I’ve come to believe that the format change was a lock-in decision, to make abandoning Macs more difficult.
The simple fact is that I mostly love Apple products but dislike Apple’s high-handed policies. I guess that is to be expected with a CEO like Steve Jobs who holds incredibly high standards and is absolutely tyrannical about things happening his way.
So I really have a love/hate relationship with Apple. A couple of years ago my old G3 tower finally died and I spent about four months running Windows as my main OS. It’s not that I love Microsoft more than Apple. Each seems to be run by megalomaniacs. One wants to control all of the worlds computers. The other wants to completely control the end user’s experience. Perhaps that’s what’s necessary to be successful at the level these men have reached. It doesn’t make me loyal to their products from any personal sense of admiration for the individuals.
Anyway, I bought another Mac because using Windows was just too slow and clunky. Windows Explorer totally frustrated me. But even that wasn’t as bad as endlessly telling the computer through multiple confirmation dialog boxes that, yes, I really do want to do what I want to do, got to me. I gave up and got an iBook.
I thought of going with Linux. My sympathies and basic inclinations are for Open Source Software but I’m not willing to give up the elegance, ease of use, and polish of a Macintosh and OS X.
However, as much as I admire its philosophy, Linux isn’t as easy to use as OS X. And, the iBook is an excellent computer that has performed reliably. Mac OS X is such a relief to use after Windows XP. An Linux would have been more frustrating still.
Yet, I sometimes feel trapped with Macs. It’s like loving a particular restaurant even though I know the chef is a total tyrant and bully. I feel addicted, having experienced withdrawal symptoms when I didn’t have my Mac for four months. And Linux is so clunky. The desktop software, Firefox and Thunderbird excluded, mostly consists of more inelegant knockoffs of inelegant Windows programs. I actually feel a mild revulsion at the thought of having to work with such a primitive and inconsistent interface.
I have Linux using friends who still use emacs and are proud of it. But for me a computer is a tool not and end in itself. I need to produce content. Lots of content, day in and day out. I no longer care to spend months mastering a (expletive deleted) text editor. I want to write. I want to code. I want to edit images. And for better of worse, the Mac still makes doing those things faster and easier than Open Source Software. I even wish I had the intestinal fortitude that Mark Pilgrim shows and could let go of my elegant tool. Alas, I don’t and can’t.