I used to really like skinning my desktops to make them look like another operating system. I stopped doing that years ago; and not necessarily because I wanted to do something more useful with my time. I stopped doing it because I somehow saw how utterly pointless it was. Why? I’ll explain– using Aston Martins and Jaguars. Yes, it’s time for another car analogy, boys and girls. Note: This is this week’s Sunday Eve Column.
First, let us try to isolate why one would put considerable amounts of time in making the stuff that appears on one’s screen resemble something that’s not running off of one’s hard drives. I think one of the reasons is to gain some bragging rights; “look, I’m l33t, I made Windows look exactly like CDE. Worship me.” Ok, that’s probably overdone, but you get my point. I think the biggest reason, however, is because you simply like the looks better. This might seem like kicking in open doors, but it is important for that car analogy I mentioned.
But let’s start the analogy. You see, lately, there’s been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding Jaguar’s new sportscar, the new Jaguar XK. Reviews and tests have been almost unanimously positive; yet one ‘complaint’ often rears its head: doesn’t this car look just a little too much like the already legendary Aston Martin DB9?
How did that happen? How is it possible that two of the most legendary car brands in human history produce two cars that look so similar? Well– I think it’s because Jaguar wanted to.
You see, Jaguar hasn’t exactly seen record-breaking sales as of late. Even though the new XK isn’t supposed to be Jaguar’s saviour (the successor to the S-type, planned for 2007, will take that role), it is supposed to show that Jaguar can still design and build stunning automobiles (remember, the legendary Jaguar E-type is regarded by many as the most beautiful car ever built). And, during the planning stages of this car, Aston Martin unleashed the DB9. It was an instant hit. Everyone was simply stunned by the DB9’s lines, its hips, its rear, its engine, interior (with crystal ashtray and crystal ‘start engine’ button), its existence in general.
We Dutch have a saying. It’s better to steal something good, than to create something bad. This is what Jaguar must’ve thought as well. So, they hired the same lead designer responsible for the DB9. Hence, a car was born that in itself is just stunning, but will always be compared to the DB9.
And that’s a problem for Jaguar. You can hire the same lead designer. You can make a stunning interior. You can even price the car 20000 Euros cheaper than the cheapest Aston. But all that means jack. It will never be an Aston. It will never have the same exclusivity. The inherent ‘Bond-ness’ that comes with every Aston. And most importantly– it will never make people like and appreciate you as much as when you own an Aston. Where an Aston breathes British ‘gentlemanship’, exclusivity, and general sense of taste, the XK will always be tainted by the fact that you can get a Jag for 40000 Euros (even in Estate form, for crying out loud)– whereas the ‘cheapest’ Aston is 120000 Euros.
In other words– everyone can own a Jag. Few can own an Aston.
And the same goes for operating systems. You can skin the pajeezers out of it, you can apply a thousand icon sets, you can create dozens of colour schemes, you can apply hundreds of modpacks. But it will never be the operating system you’re trying to copy. You will never lose the weak points, and you will never gain the strong points, by giving your operating system a new dress.
And that is why I saw how futile all that work was. Just get the real thing.