Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why Mac OS X? My Journey from DOS to Mac OS X, and Why I Like the Mac

This is a question I get quite a bit, and often from friends who have known me from my early days with DOS.  Why do I prefer the Mac over other computers, and why Mac OS X?  Those who use Windows can't understand why I don't just use what they use, and those that use Linux can't understand why I don't go for the completely open operating system.  So, let me tell you a story about how I made my choice about my computing platform. 

I started with DOS, like most of us did in the late 80's, and I liked the command line experience.  I could play various games, write documents, and do generally what most teenagers needed to do with a non-network computer.  It worked well, and I was happy.  So happy in fact that to this day I have Dosbox installed on my Mac with many of those nostalgic DOS applications installed. 

Then Windows came along.  I didn't much like Windows 3.x or earlier, because I didn't see the point.  It took up a lot of memory and disk space (very precious back then), and didn't give me any advantage over using DOS.  So I ignored it.  Until Windows 95 came out, and I couldn't ignore it anymore.  But it was buggy, crashing constantly, with memory allocation issues and whatnot being the bane of computer users.  About this time I started working for Packard Bell/NEC on the NEC technical support line.  So I knew computers on the inside, and knew how to troubleshoot them through Windows 95/98 (we will not discuss ME).

So my foray into Windows began, and about this time I was introduced to the Mac OS.  Mac OS 9, to be precise, and I was not impressed with it.  Sure, it did the job, but it was difficult to work with memory allocation, and I would often get memory leaks that killed the entire OS.  It was like working with Windows 95 all over again, and I didn't like it. 

Then a friend introduced me to Linux (officially called GNU/Linux, but I'll just refer to it as Linux for simplicity).  I had heard a lot about it, and at this point I was getting jaded with Windows and Microsoft in general.  I wanted to find something that didn't require purchasing to use (legally), and Linux was the new kid on the block.  My first experience with Linux was...  frustrating.  It didn't work (at least from what I could tell, because of inexperience), and left me with a pink screen and a mouse.  What was up with that?  It wasn't until a year later after playing with different Window Managers that I realized it was twm, and all I had to do was right-click to get my menu.  But after a couple of false starts with Mandrake, I got it working. 

Linux was sort of a heaven for me, and took me back to my old DOS days.  Most of the free software for Linux was based in the command line, and all of it could be executed from the command line.  I was back home again, and I loved it.  The only problem with Linux was the time it took to configure a computer.  And to get the best performance, it took longer to configure.  Now, many people will call this a definite benefit, as you can tweak performance and get the most efficient system for your needs, but my needs became very basic.  I didn't need anything fancy, just something that would get me through college and my Masters while allowing a little recreational activities.  And that was another drawback for Linux:  games.  Sure, there are games, but not many of the big name games worked on Linux (though I did spend a lot of time playing Unreal Tournament). 

While working in a Mac lab, I was introduced to the new Mac OS:  OS X.  My boss, an avid Mac user, said I would probably like it because it was based on UNIX, much like Linux.  He, on the other hand, wasn't too impressed.  So, I sat down on the one Mac OS X computer they had (the rest were OS 9.22), and quickly found the UI useful, and the Terminal application.  I smiled, but still wanted to see what would be coming to the new platform.  At this juncture, anything released for the Mac short of a view software titles were still only available on OS 9. 

And then, while I was working for eBay, I checked out the Mac again.  By this time, Mac OS X v10.2, the Mac had matured considerably.  It was very well developed, had a great UNIX platform and developer base, and even had big name games that were released for it (like Starcraft).  What's more, I had some of that software already.  I didn't have the money to buy a Mac computer at this point, but it was the first time I wanted one.  So, I configured XFCE on my Linux box to look like the Mac, in preparation for my purchase. 

And then, when Mac OS X v10.4 came out, I got a 12-inch Powerbook G4.  The hard drive wasn't huge, only 80 GB, and I only had 768 MB of RAM, but it was a great little computer.  The computer was powerful enough to do everything I wanted, including play World of Warcraft, and I had all the Office software I needed in Open Office.  It was, quite frankly the best laptop I had ever purchased as it had lasted the longest.  That, my friends, is why I like the Mac platform. 

So what sold Mac for me overall?  The first and foremost reason:  it does, actually, just work.  The OS will get out of my way and let me get the job done.  Linux required a lot of high maintenance, much like the pretty but expensive girlfriend you had that you knew wouldn't ever be your wife.  Windows went through a lot of reliability issues, so much so that even with as good an OS as Windows 7 is I'm not trusting it.  But the Mac, with all the drivers either pre-installed or quickly available through Software Update, the solid user experience, and the overall focus on the product rather than the process makes it a winner for me.  It also has much of the same security benefits of any other UNIX environment, which is a huge incentive. 

So, that is why I like the Mac.  It's not because I was "brain-washed", or that I have a burning hatred of Bill Gates, it's just because the user experience on the Mac is so polished, so simple, and therefore so impressive it won me over.  I still use other operating systems for specific tasks, but I find the Macintosh is a fantastic way to get things done and not worry about compiling, configuring, or having to authorize every action you want to do every 5 minutes.  The same reasons spill over onto iOS devices, as they have that same level of polish and customer experience that makes it a joy to use when I want to, and easy to let go when I have something else to do.  It does the job and gets out of the way, leaving me to the task at hand rather than the process of trying to get the task done. 

So, what are the reasons you like your operating systems?  What operating systems do you find useful?

No comments: