Posted by Calixte Pictet | 3 comments
Stability: The Mac Myth
Before becoming the anti-Apple activist that I am now, I loved Macs. Macs represented a break from the common head-aches of the Windows Me machine we had at home. Windows Me was quickly replaced, but even though the subsequent releases of Windows were definitively more stable, Macs still represented a sort of safe haven from the Microsoft-developed bugs. My first “Mac vs PC” comparison was done sometime around 2002, between my family’s home computer running Windows XP and the school’s Mac OS X -based PCs.
I must admit that I liked Mac OS X. First of all, it seemed a giant leap from the old Macintosh 9 operating system that we were using earlier, and though XP’s “Luna” interface was a step forwards compared to the old interface Windows 2000 used, it didn’t stun me. Windows XP was fresh, and it did give an impression that Microsoft was moving forward at a fast pace, however, my final conclusion was that–dispite the disappointing lack of games on the Macintosh platform–Mac OS was actually winning the race.
I was a supporter of the Apple cause for some time. Microsoft was not exactly loved in my family, and although a switch to Apple’s platform never happened (nothing could justify the higher price), and if I was to give victory to one of the two camps it would have been to Apple, with no hesitation whatsoever.
Now I’m in college. Almost half of the students own MacBooks, and the rest are switching at a steady pace. Although I like the way Mac OS X looks and works, I’m what you would call an “Apple hater”: I can’t stand Apple’s hold on its products, the lack of choice, and the fanboys’ and the company’s arrogance. However, one thing struck me that never had done so before. Macs have bugs. You might laugh at my candidness, but it is something that I truly hadn’t noticed before. This week, two Mac users came to me to ask if the wifi was working (it was for me) because they were unable to connect. Later, one person was unable to add pictures on her presentation software (there was some weird error message) and today, one girl was unable to log on (I believe that it’s the login manager that crashes each time).
Believe me, I’m not saying Windows machines have no bugs–that we have always known–but rather that there is a myth about the stability of Mac OS X that is far from the truth. However, ask any one of the Mac users that have come towards me for help, and they will tell you that Macs have no bugs at all. How is that possible?
My first explanation is that they have all been brainwashed. Yes, the evil Steve Jobs has sent waves of Mac-iness from his Mac-y ad campaign and now they all believe that they live in a bug-free world, regardless of what happens to their computers. I do suspect that most newly enrolled Apple fans (iTards?) have a tendency to augment the Mac’s strengths, but how far can this argument go? As much as I would like to believe that the sole truth lies in a worldwide brainwashing campaign led by the World Corporation that owns Apple (or the other way round), I’m not really into whacky conspiracy theories (and I’ve used Macs enough to be sure that they don’t try to control your brain).
Another explanation is the quality of the hardware provided by Apple. Almost everybody agrees that “Macs” have better build quality as “PCs.” As much as this assertion is ridiculous (both the hardware and the assembly of both “Macs” and “PCs” are done by the same companies), it has some truth in it. People don’t really understand the difference between their computer’s hardware and software. If a PC breaks down, it’s because it’s a PC, not because it’s a cheap computer bought for $300. That’s one of the reasons why Apple does not sell $300 computers, but it doesn’t explain how a Sony Vaio user can become a unilateral Mac OS advocate.
Even people who understand the hardware-software difference believe in the myth of the indestructible Mac. Why? Beyond the fact that Mac OS X is in fact more stable that Windows Vista, Mac OS X has a look and feel that makes it look more solid. A consistent interface–that changes only gradually over time instead of the bounds that Windows–and a more solid look that the Aero “glass” interface gives the user more confidence in the system. When you use a Mac, your screen never blinks like it does when you use Windows or the GNOME desktop environment, it gently fades in and out. Even when my friend’s Mac OS X refused to let her log into her desktop, it smoothly returned to the same login screen. It didn’t look like a bug, it looked like a feature. A big and ugly error message and a blinking screen would have scarred her. She stayed calm, regardless of how consequent the bug was. The computer made her feel as if it wasn’t so much of an issue, and if it was, it was her own fault.
Is this a problem Macs have? No, it’s a feature. Mac OS X makes the user feel confident. Even when everything goes wrong, the user knows the computer will resolve the problem. Windows users, by contrast, often receive error messages from failing components that they did not even know existed, and that they would never have noticed if the error message was there. Scarry screens appear all the time, even when the computer is able to resolve the problem automatically. Another example is Ubuntu’s login: the screen blinks a few times, freezes, and then proceeds to the next task. I see this every time I log in. No bugs are involved, just a harsh transition.
Windows and Linux developers should learn this from Apple: Until the user notices a bug (or any weakness in the system for that matter), it doesn’t exist. On my same Ubuntu netbook, with the same (exact) OS, I have KDE41: I feel better after a KDE Plasma login than when I open the GNOME Desktop, thanks in great part to some pretty crossfades. Apple did it right. KDE is doing it right. Microsoft and GNOME should follow.
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1KDE is a Desktop Environment for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems