posted by Adam S on Mon 9th Dec 2002 19:10 UTC

"Month with a Mac, Part III"

Mac computers are gorgeous - no doubt. Since they retain the hardware specs, and therefore, a lock on the hardware on which Jaguar will run, they've done a great job at making said hardware sleek, modern, and fancy. They've done a lot of work to make the computer look like a futuristic device. Gone are the kernel messages and the terminal like prompts as the computer boots. It's been replaced by a sharp stark white screen with a classy blue apple in the middle. The Mac knows what to do because there are so few options. Apple has designed the system from the ground up, so there is very little chance that anything unplanned occurs.

That's all fine and good, but let's just get to the meat of it, shall we? What makes Mac users so fanatic? What makes them appear to be an exclusive cult? Is it such a life-changing experience that people feel compelled to doodle apples on their notebooks and put decals on their car? Mac users are a community, and for that, you must acknowledge a certain satisfaction being in the Mac crowd. This community is not like the Linux community, which in my experience, is tiered, judgmental, and, I'll even say i: elitist. The Mac community welcomes "newbies," not shuns them and makes them feel stupid, unvalued, and generally unloved. I thought for sure that after a month with a Mac - a top of the line model, at that - that I would either be a die-hard Mac fan, saving for a Mac, or at a minimum, won over by OS X. I thought I'd be knee deep in a society of PC users who love and respect their hardware, software, and fellow users, and feel loyalty to a company that has done well by them.
But I'm none of the these. And although some will claim otherwise, it's not because Windows has spoiled me or defined my expectations.

Apple has gone to great lengths to research user behavior and and user interface. Their much discussed Aqua interface is clearly attractive, although I find its behavior, after weeks of use, more show than action. While it's very professional and sleek looking, at times, it feels like what it actually, like many Linux applications - a GUI front end to a much more powerful system underneath. With Jaguar, Apple has introduced the Quartz Extreme graphics engine which claims to render graphics at breakneck speeds. Although apparently successful, the OS is general is graphics heavy. While more attractive than Luna, for example, the transparency and animations are definite eye candy, and it's RAM that, frankly, I could spare for more complex operations. In my opinion, while Jaguar looks like the most modern OS on the market, it also feels effortful at times. Even after weeks of use, the Mac environment felt alien to me. Not that it's so obscure, just that it feels less natural to use a panel that doesn't have an expanding "Start-menu-like" drawer. I feel more "at home" in Gnome and KDE.

Some of the tricks OS performs will impress many. For instance, when you use the yellow "minimize" button equivalent, the application will jump down to the application panel and reside in a thumbnail view. While "cool," it's annoying after awhile. Soon, these "features" begin to look more like tricks with tradeoff. In fact, when I became aware that the Mac wasn't winning me over, I became almost jaded. I wanted so much to love my Mac, and it wasn't impressing me. I had high expectations - maybe too high, and they were simply unmet.

However, there are plenty of features I did like. The best feature I can brag proudly about is that when an application is started, whether you close the app using the X or not, it doesn't kill it from the memory. You'll need to use a keystroke combination or actually choose Quit to kill it rather than click the the close button. This is a neat idea. Let me explain. For Mozilla users, or better yet, for anyone who uses Java applications or apps like Openoffice.org or StarOffice, you'll notice a delay in starting these applications. However, launching a second Mozilla window, for example, barely takes a second. By keeping some of the program loaded, you'll only experience these "startups" once per session. Of course, you can close them if you want, but it's nice to launch, say, a Navigator browser window and not have to wait for the next succession of windows.

While Apple, with Jaguar loaded PCs, offer a great system, I hope it's just a step, because at the price, unless you're a multi-media author, it's simply too expensive. Users each have special needs from their computers. I know that I use my computer primarily for web surfing, e-mail, office documents, and web development. I also know that not everyone has the same wants or requirements that I do. Some computers have specialized purposes and excel at those things specifically. Some try to be everything. Apple has offered up the Mac as a solution for everyone, and while gorgeous and smart in some subjects, it didn't impress me as such. If it were a high school student, it would be good at art and might be voted homecoming queen for it's looks, but it probably couldn't serve on the debate team, be captain of the football team, or pass that damned Trigonometry class.

I know this has been a long, convoluted, stream-of-consciousness review. I know it's covered many aspects in detail and virtually ignored others, lingering on some points longer than it should. But over the course of my Month with a Mac, I found myself simply drawn back to my PC. For the same money, I can build myself one hell of a PC, be just as productive, run twice as much software, have tons of OS choice, and not be slave to the will of any one company.

In summary, if that's possible, the Mac is clearly loved by many. It presents the cleanest, sleekest, most modern interface I've seen to date. It provides UNIX-proven stability, ultra-modern flexibility, intuition, and friendly animation unlike any other computer system available. However, doing the job best has to be proportionate to the value, and Mac's hefty price tag along with some of the (admittedly trivial) pet peevish annoyances along with an untraditional layout left me PC hungry. While the Mac and Jaguar are compelling, for my buck, I'm content with the PC alternatives. Can the Mac replace my PC? Nope. But check my desktop in 2005, we'll see who wins this challenge yet.

Table of contents
  1. "Month with a Mac, Part I"
  2. "Month with a Mac, Part II"
  3. "Month with a Mac, Part III"
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