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September 05, 2004


Rudy Rucker pondered geeks in the sidebar of BoingBoing. He wrote:

Working with computers isn't quite like biting the head off a live chicken, but it's close. The thing is, computers are somewhat repellent. Computer cases are a dull, ugly shade of beige. Computers are the tools of telemarketers, dot-commers, oppressive governments, and digital snoops. Many of us have office jobs where using a computer is part of the daily grind. The damned things never work like you expect them to for more than a few weeks at a time. You have to constantly upgrade their software and hardware. They flicker and they make an ugly noise. A lot of us lost money on computer stocks in the Dot Com Bubble. And so on.

Who but a chicken-head-biting geek could stand to spend much time with such machines?. What could less life-affirming, mind-manifesting, or philosophical than computers? Ah, but if you look, the secrets of life float just beneath the pulsing screen.

Meanwhile, my friend Judith appeals for a geek, chicken-biting or otherwise, because her computer is suddenly booting into safe mode after she installed anti-spy measures because unidentified calls had turned up on her phone bill.

Not long ago, we spent a couple of evenings over at another friend's house, tinkering with her computer. Classic sort of problem, she'd tidied up her hard drive to release some extra space, she'd deleted some bits and bobs, her email had stopped working, there was no easy way to sort it out.

Last week Steven rang to say that our PC had stopped working. When I came home, I fiddled with it for a bit, and it started working again. No form of alpha-geekery here: I checked the connections, turned it on and it booted -- though Steven had tried that already and it hadn't. It made an ugly sound so I vacuumed as much dust as I could find out of the innards. It's been fine ever since.

My text for the day is "The damned things never work like you expect them to for more than a few weeks at a time." This is true for the computers of each of my friends above. It's true of my PC, and of Firebrick, our unloved PC laptop. It is true of my work machine, which delivers two separate errors each time it boots -- I reported them to the sysadmins, who said oh, click through on OK, does it work, just ignore them then.

It is not true of our Macs.

I realised that I'd sort of lost the knack of tinkering with recalcitrant computers. I don't spend anything like as much time as I used to tinkering with my own computers, and that discourages me from volunteering to help other people.

It's not, I think, that Macs don't go wrong, or don't have idiosyncracies. For example, the cross-platform networking remains a little tetchy. My beloved anglepoise iMac is inclined to crash messily when I have my 14000-song iTunes collection, Photoshop, and 50 Safari tabs all open at the same time. But at worst, an occasional reboot restores harmony and equilibrium.

I have become the worst sort of evangelical cultist. Whenever people tell me about their PC problems, I'm inclined to tell them how much better off they'd be with a Mac. I know that it's 'cheaper' to salvage parts, recycle and rebuild old PCs (and when we update our PC that is probably what we will do). But. But.

If you just want to be able to come in, turn your computer on, and productively get on with whatever you want to do, then get a Mac. It will take you about a month to learn the ways in which Macs are different from PCs -- less if you aren't simulatenously using a PC at work. Broadly speaking, there are no viruses and no malware on Macs (not just because of the smaller user base, but also because it's inherently harder to exploit). And they're beautiful and fun to use; not beige boxes.

Macs are contra-indicated for:
-- those who like to have the latest graphics-intensive games (Mac games release later, and some not at all);
-- those who need Microsoft Access, which is not available for Mac; and
-- those who really like spending their spare time taking the side off their computers and fiddling with stuff.

New Macs start at £549 (for a machine that has a small hard drive (40Gb) and no DVD burner, but is otherwise entirely adequate for all sorts of general use), and there's a healthy second-hand market. Consumer-level Macs (eMac and iMac) come with all the software that most people need for their computer except Microsoft Office. If you are a student or teacher (eg you have a child in school or you attend an evening class), you can buy and use the cheap (£100 for use on 1-3 computers) edition of Office, but otherwise this could be a sticking point.

If you have other expensive, specialist software, you would need to budget for the Mac version, and make sure that it or an equivalent exists for Mac before buying. For example, I bought the Mac versions of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

It's all just much better. Honest. You can't understand it until you've truly seen the light. Or something like that.

Posted by Alison at September 5, 2004 09:21 AM


Gosh, I should have phoned you when my PowerBook started crashing last week (the root user had vanished for no obvious reason) and I had to reinstall OS X...

Posted by: Steve Davies at September 7, 2004 08:03 PM

What are we doing tonight, Brain?

What would you reckon the frequency of Mac OS X reinstallations compared to Windows ones is, though? It's sort of a standard troubleshooting tool with Windows.

Posted by: Alison Scott at September 8, 2004 12:01 AM

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