Yoknapatawpha Crossing

Whoo for Design

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As planned, I bought a MacBook a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been using it pretty obsessively since it showed up in the mail. It’s really nice, and I want to talk about why, but not for very long.

My background is Windows, and before that MS-DOS. The first computer I ever used was a Tandy 1000 SL. It had no hard drive, just two 5 1/4″ floppy drives. You booted everything off of a floppy disk. It could run all kinds of awesome games, like Think Quick. These worms chased you around some castle, but you could use a plunger to distract them. It was great. Also, I wrote book reports for school with this word-processing program; I can’t remember the name of it. The instruction manual for the program included this whole murder mystery story to explain how to use the cut-copy-paste functionality of the program. Instruction manuals nowadays are uninspired and banal.

The second computer we had was a CompuAdd, and it ran Windows 3.1. Windows 3.1 was all right in my book; it was a thin veil you could lay on top of MS-DOS to make it prettier, and like MS-DOS, it was pretty stable. That computer ran Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, which is when I learned how to look things up in an almanac.

Since then, the family’s had several computers, all running Windows. It’s gotten progressively worse, as most people who use it have noticed. XP, now that it’s been out for however many years, is pretty stable, and that’s cool. It took them two major service packs to get it that way, though. This is what happens when I boot my Windows computer running XP (the machine has a 1.8 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM):

  • The BIOS loads and does its song and dance.
  • The RAID drivers for my hard drives do their thing.
  • Windows throws up a loading screen, which looks like it’s about 640 x 480 pixels with 256 colors (=crappy).
  • The login screen shows up; I click my name; I type in my password; I hit Enter.
  • Windows shows me a desktop with no icons on it.
  • Windows draws the icons on my desktop, but with generic icons instead of the correct ones.
  • Windows replaces, one by one, the generic icons with the correct one for each item on my desktop.
  • Windows finishes all its crap and lets me actually interact with the desktop.

This takes about five minutes from the time I hit the power button to the time I can actually open a program.

This is what happens when I boot my new MacBook (2.0 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM):

  • I press the power button.
  • The computer makes a pleasant sound and shows me a neutral grey screen with a loading thingy.
  • A status bar shows up (which actually does not measure anything).
  • The login screen shows up; I click my name; I type in my password; I hit Enter. I mean Return.
  • The fully rendered desktop, all icons in place, shows up on the screen; the Dock saunters in from the right.

That takes about 30 seconds.

This is how you install a program in Windows: download the file, run the install program, which asks you about where you want to put the program, do you want a desktop icon, do you want a start menu icon, do you want to associate files with it, you need to restart your computer, BLAH!

This is how you install a program on Mac OS: download the disk image thing, double click it, and drag the program to your Applications directory. Boom.

It’s silly to try to say that one operating system is “better” in some qualitative, absolute sense. But Mac OS is better for me. And also in general.

At this point, I am, in fact, completely off the Microsoft. I have a ton of Word and Excel files lying around, but there’s this group called OpenOffice.org, and also NeoOffice for the Mac, which makes a suite of programs which have almost all the functionality of the Microsoft Office Suite, but are free. And that’s a good price.

There’s nothing else I can say about the Mac OS that hasn’t already been said too many times. To me, the biggest difference between it and Windows is this: in Windows, you constantly have the feeling that you are using things that were hacked together early in the development process, and then got a fresh coat of paint quickly applied before being released. On the Mac, you constantly have the feeling that someone sat down and thought hard about the programs you’re using and spent a lot of time polishing them before they ever got to you. Maybe you don’t agree with their decisions all the time, but they were at least actively making design choices, and that counts for a lot. Now I’m done.

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Written by Daniel Grady

August 28, 2006 at 00:40

Posted in Fanboy

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