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For Software Addicts: Yes!MaybeNah!
Mars Report:

Why Buy A Mac Instead Of Windows?

Published May 18th, 2005

It’s hard for me to see choosing Apple over Microsoft as striking some great blow for populism just because Apple is a smaller company… In my mind, choosing Apple is substituting one greedy corporation for another.

Microsoft Meets Macintosh

It’s a sad commentary on my peers when I hear them voice opinions like this. What it means is that they think Microsoft’s behavior is the norm, and that all companies would behave like Microsoft if they could. This is the same cynical view that destroyed our faith in politicians after Richard Nixon’s crimes. For some reason, rather than understanding that Nixon was a political outlier, we adopted the view that all politicians would behave like Nixon if they could. And many people appear to be making the same mistake with Microsoft.

Good grief, to a man from Mars this looks like mass insanity. Microsoft is no more the norm than Richard Nixon was. But what they have in common is substantial:

  • A total disregard for the truth
  • A willingness to engage in dirty tricks against enemies
  • Corrupt management from the top down
  • A paranoia about–and intolerance of–deviations from any standards they have set for the world.

If you’re a Microsoft fan who’s just wandered into this article, you’ll no doubt think this is pure hyperbole. And though nothing I can say is likely to convince you otherwise, I do intend to try.

The question at hand is, “Why should I give my dollars to Apple instead of to Microsoft, since they’re both evil in the end?” And the answer to that is like a magnet, with a strong positive force on one side, and a strong negative force on the other. On the positive side, you have the significant contributions Apple has made and continues to make to personal computing. On the negative side, you’ve got the damage done so far by Microsoft. This is too large a topic to cover in one article, so I’ll need to split it up. This first article largely covers the positive side–the factors that should attract users to Apple’s computing platform. A later article will cover the negative side–the factors that should repel users from Microsoft’s platform.

Before I start saying nice things about Apple, though, please permit me to reveal a few more unpleasant things about Microsoft. It’s just so timely that I can’t resist. You see, like Nixon, Microsoft and its top management are willing to say just about anything, whether true or not, in order to win. If they can fan the flames of customers’ fears at the same time, all the better. And those Microsoft boys have been on the road lately saying all kinds of nasty things about Apple.

Microsoft’s current beef with Apple has nothing to do with competition, really, but is instead about control: The control of computing standards. Returning for a moment to Richard Nixon, he was a guy who was also openly hostile to any deviations from his personal values, but he never had enough power to get megalomaniacal about trying to enforce them on society. Microsoft, on the other hand, has more than enough power to think it can, and should, set the standards for how computers work and interoperate. And the company is openly hostile to any third party that attempts to develop a technical standard outside of its control. Because, you see, Microsoft perceives every non-Microsoft standard as a threat to its dominance. And as more and more of our lives get digitized, the parts of our lives Microsoft insists on controlling continues to expand. Which explains why Apple’s runaway success with the iPod and the iTunes music store is driving Microsoft crazy this year.

Besides having to endure Apple’s rogue success with a non-Microsoft standard for digital music, Microsoft’s cozy bear-hug on the world’s computer desktop has been shaken this year by a rash of negative publicity about Windows. I mean, who hasn’t talked about computer viruses, spyware, and adware lately? Some people have actually penetrated Microsoft’s FUD on the subject and realized that these things don’t have to be a source of continual worry and expense. That you can switch to Mac OS X and go on a download spree again without fear of what those files might contain. Because the Apple platform has ZERO viruses and ZERO adware/spyware, and it’s not just because Apple holds only 3-5 percent of the market as Microsoft would like you to believe. It’s because Windows is fundamentally flawed, while Mac OS X is brilliantly secure. More and more Windows users are switching to Mac OS X and shouting, “Super ultrafast DSL broadband connection, get ready to party!”

Oh, and then there’s the next version of Windows that Microsoft keeps talking about. And talking about. When did Microsoft first start talking about “Longhorn”? According to Paul Thurrott–keeper of the infamous “Supersite for Windows” and one of Microsoft’s top publicists for its FUD–Microsoft began talking up Longhorn in June 2001. Yep, that’s right–the same year that Apple released the first version of Mac OS X. Which was FOUR YEARS AGO. Paul must be so sad, cause according to Microsoft he still has at least another year and a half to wait before he can start bragging about Longh…. But wait! Not in Paul’s case. If you visit his site, you’ll see that he has already filled a deep and stagnant trough with brags about the promised features of this bloated vaporware called Longhorn. And though Thurrott may be able to maintain his cheery pro-Microsoft stance, a lot of other folks who’ve been watching this l-o-n-g-h-o-r-n show are a bit discouraged. After all, the rest of us don’t make our living by selling Microsoft.

But I’m being too hard on Paul. To quote from Paul’s review of the latest preview release of “Longhorn,” “I have to be honest here.” Paul says that he, too, has gotten discouraged with Microsoft:

After a year without a single new Longhorn build and very little concrete information about what was going on with the project, I had high expectations for build 5048…. It gets worse. Apple’s Mac OS X, recently upgrade[d] to version 10.4 … is more than “good enough.” In many ways, OS X is simply better than Windows, especially for experienced computer users, and Tiger rubs Microsoft’s nose in the embarrassment of shipping a key Longhorn feature–instant desktop search–a full year ahead of the software giant. That’s right folks. We already knew that Microsoft was facing smaller, nimbler competitors. But those competitors are now starting to outperform Microsoft in the feature department too…. Longhorn build 5048 is pretty boring.

Boring is definitely not a characteristic of Apple’s latest operating system, Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), which by the way is the fourth major OS release from the company in the 5 years Microsoft has spent thinking about Longhorn. This technological lag is even more notable when you recall that Longhorn represents Microsoft’s latest attempt to copy Apple’s ideas and sell them as its own. They’ve had 4 years to get there, but Apple keeps sprinting ahead, perfecting its previous advances and introducing new ones. (It’s humorous, and a little sad, to read reports that Microsoft employees think Apple is stealing ideas from them, when clearly it’s the other way around.)

Tiger is actually attracting a lot of interest from former Windows users, helped along by Apple’s recent strategy of building products for the lower-price tier of the computer market. That, together with the “halo effect” surrounding Apple’s extraordinarily popular iPod platform and bolstered by Apple’s hugely successful retail strategy, has given Microsoft and its fans like Paul their first genuine worry in years that the Windows market share will start falling instead of rising, possibly even threatening Microsoft’s desktop monopoly.

What to do?

Well, where some companies might actually try some original thinking and put those billions of research dollars to work on exciting and useful new products and technologies, Microsoft sends its top corporate executives on the road to spread fear and loathing of its competitor. Honestly, when was the last time you heard the chairman of Citibank say nasty things about a competitor one-tenth its size? Now, it’s true that other top technology executives engage in bashing their competitors’ technology–Larry Ellison of Oracle, Scott McNealy of Sun, and of course, Steve Jobs of Apple are all pretty outspoken. However, there are two crucial differences here. First, the only bashing they really do is directed at Microsoft, which after all started the “nobody can throw an insult better than me” behavior that now infects the industry. And second, none of those guys has a market monopoly or enough clout to follow up their verbal bashing with equally threatening actions. By contrast, when Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer do it, people assume the company has some kind of “hit” in the works. After all, it was a taunt directed at Microsoft that got Marc Andreessen and Netscape in trouble to begin with. They didn’t realize that Microsoft is a big bully… a huge Goliath ready to squash David for looking at him cross-eyed, let alone pulling out his slingshot.

Now, bullies bashing weaker foes would be less objectionable if they were actually making an honest point. But Gates and Ballmer think consumers are so stupid they can say whatever they want…. whatever will sound good and make Microsoft look good. For example, earlier this month Gates set out to try to talk the iPod down once again, telling a German audience “You can make parallels with computers: Apple was very strong in this field before, with its Macintosh and its graphics user interface — like the iPod today — and then lost its position.”

Now, Gates knows that there aren’t genuine parallels between the Macintosh and the iPod, but he’s hoping that you’ll think so. The lack of parallels is extremely well documented, but the story sounds good, and a superficial understanding of the facts may lead one to think there are parallels. However, I know Gates is a bright guy. He knows, for example, that the peak market share of the Macintosh computer was only about 20%, whereas the iPod has about 90% of the market for hard-drive music players. He also knows that the success of the IBM PC against the Macintosh in the mid-1980’s had nothing to do with people’s desire to use Microsoft technology instead. Rather, it was because IBM had this huge installed base of commercial customers who went with IBM’s product rather than risking operations on a young, unconventional company like Apple. Bill Gates’ genius lay in his opportunism, for if IBM’s PC hadn’t been relying on Microsoft’s awful, text-only MS-DOS operating system (which Microsoft merely acquired from another vendor), Microsoft would never have had the advantage to transition DOS users to Windows over so many years. So the story is radically different with the iPod. And besides, the iPod is strictly a consumer device used for playing digital music that, thankfully, is available in formats that are totally agnostic of computer operating systems. And that’s just the start of the argument….

This is hardly the first time Gates has tried to spread this lie. He did so in January in an interview for CNET, and also last fall, in this article for the New York Times. How curious it must seem to Microsoft that despite its almost constant iPod-bashing since Apple opened the iTunes music store in April 2003 and then, in October, ported iTunes to Windows, the iPod has not only survived, but actually increased its market share! I’m sure each passing month without some Microsoft-supported “iPod killer” accomplishing its mission must ratchet up Bill Gates’ worry index a little bit more.

On a related front, many analysts believe that the upcoming convergence between computers and entertainment centers will be a huge victory for whoever gets there first with a workable solution. Naturally, Microsoft is convinced that it’s a shoe-in for that victory, especially after it was “first to market” with its much-ballyhooed Windows Media Center PC last fall. Only, no one really likes the Windows Media Center, which seems a little like Microsoft’s ill-fated “Bob” interface–a concept that simply doesn’t mesh with people’s notion of what they want. In the wake of the new product’s bad publicity, Steve Ballmer was dispatched to do a little dirty work. At a press briefing in London he announced that “There is no way that you can get there with Apple… The critical mass has to come from the PC, or a next-generation video device.” Oh really? The fact is, the Macintosh is already there. With a couple of simple add-ons, you can turn a Macintosh into a device that can stream video, audio, photos, and the Internet to any television in the house equipped with a suitable receiver. Microsoft just doesn’t want you to know that, since their own solution for this technology is so lame. (You could use the same kind of add-ons with a regular PC, but (a) that bypasses Microsoft’s control points and (b) there’s no such thing as a “simple add-on” to a Windows system.) And besides, the crucial point is that they want to control the format and the delivery mechanism–the only suitable technology is one that uses, as Ballmer said, “Microsoft Media Player 10, the … Microsoft Network (MSN), and Microsoft’s Portable Media Center.”

But I digress. I was going to focus in this article on the positive side of the magnet–Apple Computer.

To begin, I need to set a little more context by observing how difficult it is for Apple to reach consumers with the positive story about its computers. Twenty years down the road, there are simply too many computer users who have one ingrained attitude or other about Apple and/or Microsoft.

  • Some, like my friend, see two companies in a bitter struggle for domination. It doesn’t matter who wins in the end, because they’re both greedy corporations just out to make a buck. As you’ll recall, my friend also thinks Apple would “go for the gold” in the monopoly sweepstakes if it could, following Microsoft’s example in dominating as much of the market as possible, gleefully swatting would-be competitors with either buy-out offers (to the lucky) or predatory pricing policies (to the unlucky).
  • To others, there’s really no choice to be made. Microsoft won the OS wars long ago, and it’s somewhat annoying that Apple users still exist at all. Microsoft is a shining example of the best in American capitalism, and to not support the company would be almost unpatriotic. They’re the same folks who earlier in the 20th century believed that what was good for General Motors was good for the country. To the extent that Apple poses a threat to Microsoft, Apple is bad, and Apple users are bad for being so nonconformist. This is the dangerous mindset that leads to fascism… you know, “If only we could just eliminate those [ inferior | different | odd | liberal | commie | homo | long-hair | colored | etc ] people, the world would be a better place.”

    A subset of this group has grown openly hostile to Apple, and they seem to believe they can simply insult the company and its users to death. Their arguments typically reflect a total lack of experience actually using an Apple product, and all the writers seem to know is that they’re sick of hearing Apple users putting the company and its products on a pedestal. (Gee, I hope they don’t read this article!) Perhaps these are people who’d like to buy an Apple, but had to make do with a cheaper PC or MP3 player, and resent a friend or colleague who forked over a few extra bucks for a really well made system. An article by a writer at some paper called the RhinoTimes, based in North Carolina, is typical of this drivel. Read one of his article’s many insults–this one directed at the iPod–and you’ll see what I mean:

    Then the iPod comes out and it doesn’t do anything that I needed and didn’t already have. Not only that, but it was deeply ugly, a plain ivory-colored box with pathetic controls that looked like it should hold generic earswabs. Compared to my Rio Riot, it was a piece of junk and looked like a piece of junk.

    I mention his article only as a way of illustrating this group’s hostile attitude… it’s definitely not worth the visit unless you’re a like-minded individual who needs to know you’re not alone in your hatred for the company.

  • Many other people do have a positive appreciation for the contributions Apple has made to the personal computer market since its inception in the 1970’s, and a recognition that the company is still doing innovative things today. Nevertheless, the market has spoken, and Windows is the winning operating system. It’s not so bad anymore, either. Much better than before. It’s too bad about Apple, but very often the superior technology loses in the marketplace. The worst you can do is to go with what you intellectually believe is a superior technology, only to be caught in the Betamax nightmare all over again…. investing your life in a platform doomed to extinction. Note that this is one of the groups that Apple probably should be able to win over, and it’s this group that Microsoft targets so intently with its subliminal Apple-is-like-Betamax messages. Why do I think so? Well, I was hearing this kind of argument way back in 1996 when I bought my first Mac. Here it is, 9 years later, and the Mac still hasn’t done its Betamax thing. This group of people is smart enough to soon realize that it never will, and that it’s finally safe to buy a Mac.
  • And then, of course there are humans who simply don’t pay attention. They don’t know who makes their computer, and they really don’t care. And it’s not that they actively don’t care, it’s just that it would never occur to them to do so. You know who these folks are. If Apple ever gets Walmart to start carrying its product line, a few of these folks might start walking out with a Mac.
  • I’ve even encountered a disturbing number of former Apple fans who are angry at Apple for losing the OS wars and for allowing itself, through gross mismanagement, to lose. As a result of which, they will never buy another Apple computer, and they’ll always be angry. Like hurt children who can never forgive a father that walked away when they were young. Or the sports fan whose team has let him down once too many times and has been dazzled by the new team that seems to always win. (There really are a lot of Apple fans who set themselves up for emotional trauma by pinning too much of themselves on the ups and downs of the charismatic Steve Jobs…. or of any other human or team.) To be fair to this group, a lot of them remain Apple loyalists. They deserted the platform in the 1990’s because the OS became stagnant, the hardware uninspiring, and the shopping difficult. Meanwhile, Windows had finally reached the point where it wasn’t so bad anymore. It was in the late 1990’s that some big computer retailers stopped carrying Macintosh software, and many stopped selling Apple computers, including mega-stores like Price-Costco. A resurgent Apple could probably win back some of these folks, especially with its wonderful new retail stores which make Apple-shopping so easy and enjoyable.
  • A smaller group of anti-Apple people consists mostly of techies who’ve either lived through or who instigated a pogrom of Apple computers at their workplace. These purges of non-Windows machines typically took place within the last 10 years, and they involved messy, emotional reactions from the Apple users, who simply refused to be assimilated. None of these techies wants to go through that again, and they have totally closed minds about non-Windows platforms and a blind faith in the virtue of an all-Windows desktop environment. This, despite the fact that closed-mindedness in information technology is a trait that will get you and your company killed in the long run…. This, despite persuasive evidence in the last few years that a heterogeneous computer environment is much healthier than a homogeneous one when it comes to virus attacks, among other biological parallels… And this, despite the ever-rising cost of defending the corporate desktop against attack due to the clear security weaknesses in the Windows platform.

    The kicker? Many of these head-in-the-sand types are now the ones running your organization’s IT department. Fat chance of Apple getting a foot in the door there.

  • Oh, and don’t forget the huge number of people who are Microsoft shareholders, either owning individual shares or shares through mutual funds. Don’t laugh… I’m serious! It’s clearly in the self-interest of Microsoft investors to put down Apple and other competitors and to keep the gravy train rolling for everyone’s favorite monopolist. Support for Microsoft is subliminal for most of these folks, but even so I’m sure they’ve noticed how Microsoft shares have stagnated in the last couple of years while Apple stock has soared. (I’m putting the chart comparing indexes of the companies’ stock price here just to annoy any die-hard Microsoft fans who are still reading.) Apple and Microsoft stock price, 2003-2005By the way, a map of all the above groups would undoubtedly be a venn diagram, with most of the Microsoft shareholders overlapping with the other anti-Apple groupies.

And then there are people from Mars, like me.

We are people who admire and appreciate a company like Apple that clearly encourages its employees to push the envelope of personal computing, a company willing to take chances on new ideas that might further the possibilities of the human-computer interaction, a company that understands the importance of good industrial design in consumer products. With Apple hardware products and user interfaces, there’s a sense of intelligent design and lack of compromise that you just don’t find in most PC products.

Apple’s approach to design has parallels in great art and architecture and in intelligent zoning. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Apple’s designers understand that elegance in everyday objects is a necessary attribute, and should not be just an afterthought. Human beings appreciate good design, whether they know it or not, and Apple cares enough about its products to make them beautiful as well as functional. It’s the same impulse that led the first human potter to create a lovely bowl… not just a plain one. And the lovelier, the better.

Similarly, humans can tell when they’ve walked into a town that cares about its appearance. Rules have been established that dictate how and where signage will be placed, how wide the sidewalks will be, where and what kinds of trees will be planted, what substance will be used for curbs and gutters, how the lampposts will look and what kind of lighting they’ll use, and so on. In the best towns, the rules will not be so bureaucratic as to restrain creativity, so that houses and buildings can blossom in a multitude of beautiful styles. But there’s a strong underlying order that governs growth in an intelligent and sustainable direction. I live in such a community (Arlington, Virginia), and I think everyone here appreciates the fine planning of current and former town leaders. This kind of planning is inherent in the design philosophy of Apple computers: Intelligent design extends across the entire framework, with clear methods for extending the platform in both hardware and software. It’s one of the reasons Apple insists on providing an integrated hardware/software package, rather than sticking to just hardware or just software. You can achieve a far more sublime design if the folks who create the software architecture and user interfaces are the same ones who create the hardware architecture and interfaces.

Humans can also tell when they’ve wandered into unfettered suburban sprawl. These places look like no one cares at all about them–neither how they look nor how they function. Or at least, they didn’t care until they’d handed out too many building permits without building enough roads, and now it’s too late. In such communities, it can take half an hour to get to the grocery store only a mile from home. And while you’re sitting in traffic, you have to endure the monotony and visual cacophany of garish signage, unkempt median strips, telephone and many other kinds of wires, sparse and neglected greenery, and ugly, boxy buildings. This is the design of the Windows PC platform and reflects the same basic laisse-faire attitude: Provide a basic black box, stick an Intel chip and a Windows OS inside, and let customers worry about the rest. If you’re a geek who likes to build and dismantle PC’s, and you ca troubleshoot Windows pretty well, this is fine. There’s definitely a place in the market for such a system. But it has no business being the dominant system.

Unlike its competitors, Apple also stresses the importance of providing immediately useful technology that doesn’t require taking a course or reading a book. Somehow, Apple’s culture has fostered programmers who put usability before programmer convenience in designing a user interface to their software, which means always trying to find the simplest interface possible to enable a particular job by both novices and experts. One of the reasons people think so highly of Steve Jobs is that you get the sense that he personally tests everything Apple creates and weighs it against his intuition about what will be both easy and functional, both powerful and elegant, for Apple’s customers.

As someone who relies heavily on intuitive decisionmaking, I understand this approach completely, and Apple under Steve Jobs is an affirmation that such a style can be successful in business. Unfortunately, most American companies are headed by CEO’s who are the “show me” types, who are only comfortable with ideas that are well baked and ready to serve. Or by CEO’s who think their intuition is correct, but are sadly mistaken. Apple at the moment is blessed with a CEO who, despite his many shortcomings, has an intuition about software and computer hardware that’s working overtime and appears to be spot on.

But admiring the company for its great ideas and innovative thinking in 2005 is only part of the reason why we buy Apple products. Our support is also fed by pride in recalling that the company making today’s innovative iPods, iMacs and PowerMac G5s is the same one that led us into the brave new world of personal computing in 1977, with the original Apple II, and then into graphical computing in 1984, with the Macintosh. A man from Mars who visited the United States in 1984 at the unveiling of the Macintosh and who learned of the remarkable achievements of this small California company since its inception, would not have been wrong to conclude that he had glimpsed the future of personal computing. For today, in 2005, virtually everyone uses computers that look and behave roughly like the Macintosh did in 1984. (Not counting the fact that hardware capabilities have gone through the roof. I don’t think anyone in 1984 had an inkling about what powerful hardware we’d be using 20 years down the road…)

The man from Mars who pays a return visit today would be shocked to learn that the company that pioneered all of these great ideas and showed the world how to build an operating system and applications that use them, had been relegated to a small corner of the market. Rather than reaping the rewards of its efforts, the company ended up being trampled on by another one whose primary motivation was wealth and power, not excellence in computing. Here we enter the realm of morality, and there’s no way of avoiding it. For me and many others, Microsoft broke the rules of civilized business practices to achieve their aims. They were a corporate pirate with no qualms whatsoever about stealing what they couldn’t create themselves. And then behaving as if it was their idea all along. Unfortunately, the courts condoned the behavior, which only led Microsoft to bolder acts of technological thievery.

Oops! Sorry, I’m veering off topic again. I’ll cover more of Microsoft’s misdeeds in a later installment. However, it’s pretty clear that the historical injustice Microsoft perpetrated against Apple is part of the motivation behind the perceived “evangelism” of Apple users. It largely explains why we Martians keep popping up periodically to remind people about these inconvenient truths. The Web is filled with our lists, compiled over the years in attempts to explain why you should support the Mac platform over Windows. Many have been motivated by the desire to convince a company or school system to not switch to an all-Windows environment. Most failed. But the truths they point out remain. And what are these truths? OK, get your pencils ready…

  1. Windows XP is really just a species of Macintosh.
  2. Virtually every aspect of your computing life was pioneered on a Macintosh and only later, if ever, adopted by Windows.
  3. In terms of software capabilities, Windows XP is today about 3-4 years behind the latest Mac operating system, “Tiger.”
  4. Virtually everything you think is wonderful about your computer is something Microsoft either stole from the Macintosh user interface or first developed for a Macintosh–including Microsoft Word and Excel.
  5. Virtually everything that is wrong with Windows is an example of some mistake Microsoft made when it veered away from the Mac OS model.

Like I said, many have made these points before, so I’m not going to list all the facts underlying these truths here. But a few more examples will help illustrate what I’m talking about, and then I’ll provide some links to much more detailed lists you can explore on your own. Here is an edited list of Apple innovations “introduced or popularized with the original Macintosh” in 1984, adapted from the Wikipedia entry for Apple Macintosh:

  • A graphical user interface, icons, a desktop, trashcan, etc.
  • The use of a mouse or other pointing device in personal computing
  • The “double click” and “click-and-drag” behaviors to perform actions with a pointing device
  • WYSIWYG (”what you see is what you get”) text and graphics editing
  • Long file names, with whitespace and no file extension
  • The 3.5″ hard-shelled floppy disk as a standard feature
  • Audio as a standard feature, including a built-in audio-quality speaker
  • Standard shortcuts and behaviors for copy/paste, undo/redo, and use of a “clipboard”

Now, you gotta admit that’s a lot of what we take for granted in the modern personal computer, and it was all there for the taking by the end of 1984 with the early Macintosh operating system. Before that guy in the back of the room gets his back up and starts shouting, let me remind everyone that nobody ever argued that all of these ideas were Apple’s. But I do argue that Apple’s engineers had the vision to actually put the ideas together into a user interface that advanced the technology. Apple showed the world how it could be done, and they contributed unique ideas as they adapted ones that had not been fully fleshed out in earlier non-commercial products.

Back in 1984, our man Bill Gates made no effort to conceal his admiration for the Macintosh.

QuickTime 7.0 with h264 encoding (0.6mb):
Bill Loves The Macintosh!

Like the Martians who visited and saw the future of computing, Bill Gates saw it, too. He was in fact quite vocal about it, and Microsoft was one of the first to enter the new Macintosh market with GUI software (first Microsoft Word, and then Excel). Take a gander at the accompanying video if you have any doubts about this.

Yes indeed, Bill was a true visionary. In November 1984, he told Business Week, “The next generation of interesting software will be done on the Macintosh, not the IBM PC.” Only thing was, he wasn’t content

Older QuickTime (3.6mb):
Bill Loves The Macintosh!

to just write software for that platform. He wanted to own it. Had Microsoft been the Goliath then that it is today, he no doubt would have done just that. Instead, he pursued a different, but in the long run equally effective, strategy. (There are a lot of web sites and books that have tracked the whole saga… This one is kinda ugly, but it’s chock full of interesting material. For just the facts and an excellent timeline, visit Ken Polsson’s Chronology of Personal Computers)

It took Microsoft many years to mature Windows into an operating system as elegant and useful as the Macintosh was in 1984. Contrary to popular belief, Apple didn’t stop innovating and simply rest on its laurels in the years Microsoft was consolidating its hegemony of the corporate desktop. However, in the years leading up to Windows 95, Apple and its users clearly committed the “sins” of arrogance and condescension as the competition started warming up. Apple’s pace of innovation simply wasn’t fast enough, as the company’s corporate leadership seemed to lose its appetite for risk-taking, instead following the pattern of many other American companies into managing for short-term financial reports rather than for the long-term.

Still, Apple’s contributions since 1984 have been plenty significant to earn the admiration of users and fans. Here’s a partial list of “innovations introduced or popularized with later Macintosh models or software” since 1984:

  • The PostScript laser printer
  • Desktop publishing
  • The SCSI interface
  • Audio input/output as a standard feature
  • A CD-ROM drive as a standard feature
  • Ethernet support as standard feature
  • FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394
  • The first commercially available computer to rely primarily on USB for peripheral connection
  • The first affordable DVD-R drive (”SuperDrive”)
  • First notebook computers with built-in pointing devices and rear-mounted keyboards
  • IEEE 802.11b and IEEE 802.11g wireless networking, branded AirPort and AirPort Extreme
  • User interface advances that have never evolved Windows equivalents, so you Windows folks won’t know what these are, including “spring-loaded folders,” “pop-up tabs,” “Expose window management,” “Folder and document color labels,” “sheets,” “drawers,” and so on.
  • Integrated, comprehensive, real-time desktop search.

For further reading on Apple’s many innovations in the design and functional operation of personal computers, check out the following links:

Of course, one thing you’ll notice is that Microsoft didn’t copy the entire Mac user interface verbatim. They have actually tried to innovate here and there. Most of the differences are just annoying confusions to users who try to switch from one platform to the other… like using the “Control” key instead of the “Command” key in standard keyboard shortcuts. And the “Start” menu which was such a big deal in Windows 95 was simply an adaptation of the Apple menu in Mac OS… except the Start menu was in the lower-left corner of the screen, while the Apple menu was in the upper-left corner. Oh, also, Microsoft called the button “Start.” This is innovation?

Actually, the lack of a menubar is one of the biggest shortcomings in Windows. It’s one of my favorite Mac features that Microsoft still hasn’t decided to copy. In Windows, every separate window has its own menubar, but only one menubar can be active at any one time. So the proliferation of menubars in Windows just adds to the generally cluttered appearance of the desktop. On the Mac, you have one menubar, and it’s always at the very top of the screen. It changes depending on which application you’re working in. Not only is this a cleaner look, it’s far less confusing for users. The menubar is always in the same place, and it always has the appropriate menus.

Other advantages inherent to the Macintosh platform are powerful keyboard shortcuts, and a powerful and easy-to-learn scripting language, AppleScript. It may seem odd to your average Windows user who’s never driven a Mac to learn that some Macintosh power users don’t use a mouse much at all… as little as possible, in fact. Some of the most popular add-on utilities to the Macintosh are ones that extend the keyboard to the point that you can do virtually everything without ever touching the mouse. This, despite the fact that until Mac OS X, Apple’s operating system didn’t have a text-based interface, as the IBM PC did (MS-DOS). The ability to easily build and invoke powerful multi-step keyboard shortcuts is one of the most beloved features of the Mac. Combine that with AppleScript, which enables extremely powerful natural-language programming, and you’ve got a productivity-enhancing powerhouse of a computer. For those inclined to utilize such power, this encourages workers to dream up creative ways of working faster, of running 7 routine steps by hitting one key.

In “Tiger,” Apple has introduced an even easier-to-use layer on top of AppleScript, a program called “Automator.” Automator will allow and encourage creative thinking about productivity enhancements by non-programmers, and it’s already giving Macintosh software developers a new way of adding value–by building and selling pre-built “Automator Actions” beyond the ones Apple provides by default.

There are several other new features of Tiger, as well as preexisting capabilities of the Mac OS, that I’ll be writing about in future articles, so stay tuned.

Returning to Windows for a moment, one of the differences between the Mac and Windows operating systems has always been the matter of file, directory, and volume naming. It used to be much more lopsided in the Mac’s favor than it is today. It took Windows 10 years to add the capability of handling names longer than 8 characters, which led Windows users to develop some very creative (but unnecessarily frustrating) file-naming conventions. However, one of the Windows stupidities that persists even to now is the concept of lettered drives. I mean, huh? What is the advantage of labeling the drives with letters? Back when you were stuck with just 8 letters for a directory name (plus 3 letters for the extension), perhaps this was useful. But nowadays it just means that it’s hard to attach more than 26 drives to your system at a time.

Another of my favorite Windows “innovations” is the system registry, where every software package you install is supposed to write information about itself so you can manage it later on. There are many detailed rants about the registry on the web–including this one from one of my favorite Mac nerds at Daring Fireball, and I don’t have the space or time to replicate those arguments here. Suffice it to say that in practice, the registry appears to be one of the worst ideas to enter mainstream computing. It’s basically the win.ini file from Windows 3.0 all grown up, which simply made a bad idea worse.

On the Mac, you have no need for a “registry”, especially in Mac OS X. Applications all live in their own directories and don’t ever install little pieces of themselves all over the system directory. The only exceptions are things that aren’t integral to the program and its functioning… like contextual menus, application support items, and preferences, which can be trashed without rendering the software nonfunctional. What this means is that on a Mac OS X system, all you need to do to install most software is drag a directory or file from a CD to your applications folder. No need for an “installation” program at all, unless there are setup or component options you want to offer users. What an elegantly simple solution, a product of Mac OS X’s Unix heritage.* I honestly haven’t tried to keep track of the “innovations” coming from Microsoft in “Longhorn,” but if they’re smart, they’ll find something more stable and secure to replace the registry.

Now, I’ll concede that a couple of Microsoft’s ideas have actually been good ones.

In my early years as a Windows user, the only Windows GUI innovation I missed when I started using the Mac was the very geeky secret shortcut “Alt-Tab.” It wasn’t until Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” that Apple adopted something similar. I still remember what a time saver it was when I first discovered Alt-Tab, as well as my continued mystification that it was such a hidden feature. Now, Mac users had numerous other ways of using the keyboard to navigate applications and windows, but nothing quite as convenient or reliable.

And the only other standard feature of the Windows world that I wish Apple would adopt is the multi-button mouse. It’s just too big a boon to productivity to not at least make this an option for customers. The absence of a second button on Apple’s default mouse has unfortunately also given Windows users the impression that Mac OS doesn’t support a two-button mouse, and that Mac users don’t use contextual menus, which of course is nonsense. The Mac OS has had contextual menus forever, but Apple just hasn’t provided a second mouse button for activating them. (For Windows-only folks: On a Mac, you typically hold the control button as you click the mouse in order to see contextual menus. In earlier versions of the OS, you could also just hold the mouse down for a couple of seconds rather than clicking to activate the menus.)

So the PC’s contributions to the art of personal computing can be summed up as the Alt-Tab shortcut and the two-button mouse. Virtually everything else was pioneered or popularized on a Macintosh, or it was a bad idea.** Now, don’t you think Apple deserves a little more credit than it gets for this? Don’t you think Microsoft deserves a little less, if any? From this perspective, it’s easy to see why people like me see Apple as the “good guys” and Microsoft as the “bad guys.”

And why we continue to root for Apple. The last few years have been a very exciting time to be Macintosh users, and the future looks bright indeed. This year, with the introduction of Tiger and the Mac Mini, against the backdrop of an iPod platform that continues to thrive despite the many “iPod killers” thrown at it by Microsoft and its clan, we finally see the opportunity for Apple to actually gain a few “switchers.”

Now if only Apple would get out there and market “Tiger” as aggressively as they’ve been marketing the iPod, those of us who write articles like this one could retire from the “Apple Boosters” club for good!

* Mac software developers also have the capability of adding “frameworks” to the Mac OS. In this case, they utilize information from the frameworks directory that the framework developer includes with the software installation. However, most Mac software utilizes the frameworks built into the OS rather than third-party frameworks.

** In case anyone thinks I’m a Windows newbie, let me set the record straight: I’m not. I started using Windows in 1987, with Windows 2.0, and have used every flavor of Windows since then (except Windows ME), usually on the most powerful hardware available at the time. It wasn’t until 2 years ago that I finally talked my boss into letting me have a Mac to supplement my Windows desktop. I hardly ever use my Windows machine anymore, though I keep it running and am so grateful I’m not suffering through the slowdown that occurs every time I hear that damn Macafee antivirus software start poking around. Good grief, what a time-waster that was!

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Just Say No To Flash