Me and My iMac 4 — the operating system

Posted: July 12, 2008 in Technology

Ok, let’s get this out of the way up front: I am not an operating system guy. I don’t program in assembler (I don’t really program at all) and I don’t wax rhapsodic about registers, memory allocation, the fine points of the GUI, storage or networks. I am a USER. I take what they give me, hope the screen doesn’t turn cyanotic too often and hope I can find a decent array of applications for the OS to help me do my job. I would be boring at a geek cocktail party.

When I compare Windows and Leopard, it is as a user and my standard of comparison is how well these things help me do my job. If you have been reading this series you know that my judgement on Windows/Vista was that it would not help me do my job and so I began looking elsewhere. If Vista had managed to capture just a little less bad press than it did I might be fighting with it right now rather than writing this on a new iMac. But there it is — Vista is what it is and I made a decision. By and large I am happy with the decision even though it involves some relearning on my part which includes adjusting to a new operating system paradigm.

Here’s the way it appears to shake out for me. Windows is/was good for business applications for a long time and maybe it still is. It was certainly not the best in a range of categories but whenever it seems to be in danger of falling too far behind, Microsoft dumps some money into it and voila, it gets better.

In the GUI itself, Apple has the lead but every time Apple makes a breakthrough Microsoft plays catch up. They did it with the GUI itself, with the browser, with better resolution graphics, with managing sound and pictures and I would reasonably expect that Microsoft will do something astounding with video in the not too distant future.

That’s Microsoft’s method. Let somebody else define a standard then pour money on it until you gain the lead. Look at spreadsheets and word processors and browsers and you get the idea. Microsoft even tries to find ways to extend the functionality as in their superiority with integrating the mouse. That tactic doesn’t always work though — look at what they’re trying to do in CRM. In a vain effort to catch up and protect another franchise in the process, Microsoft is building Outlook into CRM or vice versa. Their contention is that people already spend the majority of their days in Outlook so it must be a perfect place for CRM users.

(Most people I know spend their days at work because they have to, not because they love it.)

I don’t think that will fly — too many free office products on the Internet. If you ask me hitching Office to CRM isn’t as bad as throwing an anchor to a drowning man but it isn’t as good as throwing a life line either.

But back to the operating system. It’s not that Windows and Leopard are different, though they are, it’s that they are aimed at different audiences, a big one and a smaller one. Windows is aimed squarely at the millions of desktops in the corporate world. Apple tries to capture the high end of that market, the sophisticates in marketing and other creative outposts as well as education. I didn’t know it but when I swapped my PC for a Mac, I was crossing a divide, acknowledging the reality that as someone who works for himself and writes and develops other kinds of content, I have a lot more in common with the creative types than with people who live in spreadsheets all day.

The Mac OS is built for people who need a lot of computing power to manage creative processes and who don’t want to be troubled with managing their machines. That means that the OS makes decisions that simplify your life by masking some things. There are great and powerful things built into Leopard that help you find things if you can only remember their names or fragments or when you last opened them but diving into a file structure which is easy in Windows, appears to be less so on the Mac. I think I can live with that as long as I can find things when I need them.

The other thing about the Mac is the orientation toward the creative person or the solo worker. Whether you develop content, pod casts, video, stills, Web sites or music, there are good programs that enable you to develop and edit within your art form even if your primary data type doesn’t look like your grandfather’s rows and columns.

My issue with the Mac OS is that I am still new to it and a good deal of the learning curve that I have alluded to on the Mac will be dedicated to learning the OS. Some things are very nice like the preferences you can establish for every application. Some applications don’t go deep enough into preferences but most give you more rope than you need to hang yourself.

Other things will take a while to get used to like the Application folder that you need to access if an application doesn’t happen to already exist in icon form in the doc at the bottom or side of the screen.
In my analysis Vista has opened up some important flood gates at a dangerous time for Microsoft and all of its ecosystem. As more applications are built to run in the cloud the type of computer and operating system you use will continue to lose importance. Safari and Internet Explorer along with Firefox and other browsers constitute the majority of the competition in the foreseeable future.

That Vista is poor enough to make people like me switch is, or should be, troubling for Microsoft. Someday some analyst will calculate how much Vista ended up costing companies like Dell and HP and it could be quite a bit. Intel made a sweet deal with Apple to provide CPU chips for the Mac, HP printers plug into either brand, so these large corporations have covered their exposure (HP still makes PC’s though, I think) but companies that only make Windows PCs will be hurting from Vista for years to come.

The situation is compounded by the continuing exodus of smart, creative people from corporations to set up little businesses on their own terms. These people constitute a big part of the workforce — tens of millions of people according to Daniel Pink author of “Free Agent Nation”. Most of these people will stay small but some will grow and in either case these people now have a legitimate choice of which platform they use. That selection is much less of a slam dunk for a generation that hears music through an iPod, talks and swaps text on an iPhone (and doesn’t even have a land line and probably never will) and thinks in shapes and colors and is serious about production values.

That’s the end of this series. I hope it’s been a little bit useful to anyone who is thinking about a new computer. Good luck.

So, what did you think?

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