fatal exception

a blog about sundry things

A Paean to the Macintosh

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I have become an avid fan of the Mac platform over the years, but that wasn’t always the case. Far from it, actually.

My first encounters with Macintoshes (and Apple IIs, for that matter) were cursory and fleeting; they were ever-present at my elementary schools, but rarely did I have any opportunity to experience the actual operating system. I, like most young children of the early Nineties, was consigned to playing pixelated games that taught basic addition, subtraction, grammar and spelling. Being fairly advanced at school, I found the majority of those games irritating and an utter waste of time.

Because of this, I had developed an unfair association with “Apple” and “annoying children’s software applications that irritate me.” It didn’t help that most of the programs that I used on those Macs were actually old, black-and-green-screened ancient applications meant for the Apple II, not the Mac, which didn’t help my opinion of them at all. After all, the PCs with which I was familiar had games with full-colour VGA graphics! (This led me to believe, for several years, that the Mac was behind Windows PCs in “innovation.”)

It didn’t help that I didn’t use Macs at home; my household had nearly always been a PC one, except for a brief dalliance with an Amiga. Our first “real” computer was an early-Nineties Packard Bell, running Windows 3.1. Windows 3.1 was the first operating system which I had a proper chance to explore, so I had imprinted myself on it. Apples were not quite in the picture, yet; they were merely something which I used very occasionally at school.

The first time I truly appreciated the Mac was about ten years ago, when I was in tenth grade. The computer lab in which I was meant to work was full of fairly new platinum iMacs, with shiny candy-like colours. They were the original G3 iMacs, a far cry from the current wide-screened Intel iMacs for sale now. This was back when Steve Jobs had only been back at Apple for three years, and the company was still trying to find its bearings after having been shoved into the margins by Microsoft.

I admit that when I first saw the dreaded Macs, I sighed, remembering my previous experience with Macs and earlier Apple computers. I found it awkward, as I had been so accustomed to Windows and its vagaries over the years. Those illegal operations and fatal exceptions, with their blue screens and “X” error message boxes, might have been signs of a bad operating system, but to me, they were just simply part and parcel of using Windows 95.

Nevertheless, I was determined to make my relationship with the Macintosh work. It was a combination of steely determination and a desire to do well enough to not allow the strange operating system to impede my academic performance.

As I grew accustomed to working on that little G3 iMac, I grew fonder and fonder of the Mac OS. OS 9 felt more intuitive to me than Windows 95 did, and all the little quirks of the classic Mac OS felt like being around an old friend. The “Welcome to Macintosh.” The silly voices in the speech control panel. The platinum interface and the variegated colours and the talking system messages and the rainbow Apple menu. It felt more advanced than the PCs with which I was familiar, with its FireWire ports and USB connections. It seemed far friendlier than Windows 95, and that wasn’t just because of the smiling Mac logo that appeared whenever the computer was booted.

It was a few years until I would have a Mac of my own, and I went through the Windows upgrade cycle, from Windows 95 to 98 to XP. I dallied with a few older Macs on their last legs, and a couple of PC laptops running Windows and Ubuntu Linux, until I finally resolved to buy myself a working Mac that was serviceable enough for everyday use.

My budget was quite limited, so there was little chance of me being able to buy a brand-new MacBook Pro, or even an earlier generation MacBook. I ended up finding an iBook G4, with a RAM update. Despite its age and deprecated CPU architecture, the machine works beautifully under OS X 10.5.8 with few “beach balls.” Computing has been pleasant and smooth, so far, and it is what I would expect from the Mac platform. I feel that it runs more efficiently than even the fairly new PC I had before it, and compared to the aforementioned end-of-usable-life Macs, there is absolutely no contest.

OS X is a joy to use, and I feel that it makes basic computing an experience to be cherished, rather than endured. I feel as though Mac OS X works with me, rather than working against me, as Windows does, or working with me occasionally, as Ubuntu does.

When I used Windows, I found the interface frustrating and counterintuitive, and most of my enjoyment was derived from non-platform-dependent features, like Internet surfing, graphics applications and listening to music. Windows tried too hard to hold my hand, and as a “power user,” I dislike wizards and other operating system features targeted towards people with little to no knowledge about computers. I found Linux less irritating, but I feel as though Linux distributions are geared towards those who prefer to use computers as an end in themselves, rather than a tool with which to manage tasks. (You know, the people who go on YouTube and blog comment threads talking about how “Macs suck because you can’t BUILD YOUR OWN MAC and Linux is so much better and Mac is for NOOBS.”)

In sharp contrast, OS X is elegant, intuitive and easy for me to use without holding my hand. Workflow is greatly simplified, and I find myself needing to tweak settings far less than I did when I ran Windows and Linux systems. Apple’s interface is clean and understandable, and it is much easier for me to find what I need without digging through hundreds of cryptically named folders. There isn’t any need for me to download anti-spyware and anti-adware applications, as I did under Windows XP and Windows 7. As an aesthete, I greatly prefer Mac OS X’s handling of typography, both with on-screen font rendering and implementation of advanced typographical features like ligatures and other special characters.

I feel that it’s a superior computing experience all around, and I have absolutely no desire to go back to Windows.

Written by Finn

March 3, 2010 at 11:07 am

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Nifty Website Roundup of the Week

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Maybe I’ll try to make this a Thursday habit. After all, my Thursdays could stand to be more interesting.

Toasty Tech’s GUI Gallery
Nathan Lineback’s comprehensive collection of GUI screenshots. There are the usual suspects, like Windows and Mac OS X, but there are some rarer operating systems like RISC OS and VisiOn, which were neat to look at.

GUIdebook
Marcin Wichary does something similar, although he hasn’t updated his website in about four years.

Brand New
Love this blog, because I’m kind of a design/branding geek.

Written by Finn

February 26, 2010 at 2:57 am

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Status symbols

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I had a commenter drop by recently, who’d followed me from the Brand New blog. We’re currently having something of a debate over my “Intellectual Property and Theft” post–I am arguing that many high-price items are that way both because of quality and social engineering, and he is arguing that all high-priced items are automatically higher quality, and all lower-priced ones are automatically higher quality. I don’t believe this is true, because I have seen expensive items that are made poorly, and cheaper ones that are made fairly well.

For example, Microsoft Windows in its more functional versions costs quite a bit of money out of the box, and I find it unintuitive, annoying and vulnerable to attacks. Quite a few Linux distributions are free, and they do not come with Windows’ security vulnerabilities, and many of its applications are comparable to commercial ones. I can’t say that GIMP or Open Office are, but VLC, AbiWord, Empathy, Pidgin and other applications perform quite capably. Inkscape is also quite good, and has comparable features to Adobe Illustrator. Ubuntu has grown increasingly friendlier to users over the past several years. Mac OS X is similar; a full version of OS X bought from Apple costs somewhat less than what Microsoft wants for some of its distributions of Windows, and OS X is a better operating system, with better included applications and a more efficient workflow. (Ron claimed that Windows was worse and was therefore less expensive–this is untrue. Apple charges a flat rate for a full-featured end-user operating system; Microsoft charges varying rates for several crippled versions of Windows, along with the full-featured “Ultimate” edition.)

I also disagree with his opposition to free and open source software. I think that F/OSS has a lot of potential–it’s just that people from disciplines other than programming need to get on board with it to lend their perspectives. The reason why the GIMP isn’t ideal for graphic designers is not that it’s free; it’s that the majority of the people working on it are programmers, rather than graphic artists who would have more of a user’s perspective on its design. I’d gladly use the GIMP if more graphics people got on board and made contributions to it to make it a worthy free competitor to Photoshop.

Written by Finn

February 25, 2010 at 12:13 am

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I am now free of the PC, and picked up a sort-of late-model iBook G4. It’s definitely not the newest Mac portable, but it fits its purpose, and runs applications more smoothly than any other computer that I’ve had, with the possible exception of my old XP desktop.

Written by Finn

February 23, 2010 at 9:52 pm

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Put this computer up for sale on Craigslist. No buyers yet, but I just tried a different way of writing the ad. It’s a good computer, but I really don’t like PCs/Windows at all, so there’s really little point in my keeping it when I can sell it and use that money to buy something I’ll actually enjoy using on a daily basis. I hate Windows. I find Linux not quite what I need, so I’m just going to get something that DOES work for me, once I have this thing sold. Kind of worried that there isn’t going to be enough demand, but I’m pretty sure that if I keep trying, someone will go for it. It’s not like it’s in bad condition or anything; everything runs well.

Written by Finn

February 18, 2010 at 2:08 am

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Fun Geeky Link Time

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Symphony of Science is fantastically wonderful and geeky. You really MUST MUST MUST see it, NOW. I mean, electronic music! With Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and David Attenborough and Jane Goodall and Michio Kaku and Bill Nye and … yeah. LOOK AT IT.

Written by Finn

February 12, 2010 at 7:58 am

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New New Wave, I warmly welcome you.

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You know, there’s something about Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” that’s strangely compelling. In fact, there’s something about Lady Gaga herself that’s compelling, as well as other artists who can be loosely categorised under the “wonky pop” genre. 2009 was the first year in quite some time that I’ve felt even remotely moved to pay the slightest bit of attention to what’s being played on mainstream radio, and there is a reason why. Inventive, creative artists who are willing to take risks seem to be coming back into the public eye, as opposed to the prefab bubblegum Britneyesque singers who were popular at the beginning of this past decade, or the subsequent invasion of the loathsome pop-rap bands that proliferated later on. (Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, I’m looking STRAIGHT AT YOU. And what the fuck kind of name is Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, anyway?) There’s more playing with the pop formula than there was before, and it’s quite reminiscent of what people were doing back in the 80s. It’s ebullient. Effervescent. It’s the sort of music that actually makes a space for itself; it’s not merely auditory wallpaper or ephemeral ringtone- and dancefloor-ready beats that will be forgotten within a week. You can practically fucking see the sparkles and multicoloured lights when you hear this stuff. (But then again, that might just be me; I’ve got synaesthesia.) Energy and verve seem to be suffused throughout the music, with heart and soul pouring out from the synthesiser keys.

And people say that you can’t be expressive with synths. Balderdash, I say.

It’s not just about the music, either: their appearances are just as challenging as the music, or even more so. Let’s take Lady Gaga for example. She expresses a femininity that feels more like drag, rather than classic femininity. She’s a woman who’s using femaleness as an in-your-face, stereotype-defying performance, with her over-the-top costumes and geometric hairstyles. Her appearance is challenging enough to mainstream femininity to cause people to question whether she was born female in the first place. (I find the transphobia inherent in such speculations disturbing, but I do think that it does point out exactly how much she does twist gender boundaries.) Elly Jackson of La Roux does something a bit similar, although for her, it’s a revamped version of Eighties androgyny, a la Annie Lennox. It’s clever, but it isn’t quite as striking as Gaga’s twisting of femininity for her own ends. To me, that’s clever and interesting, unlike Britney clones with perfect hair and precisely matching costumes and the same banal lyrics about cute boys and not-so-messy breakups.

In short, it’s fucking awesome. New New Wave, I warmly welcome you and hope that you provide me with earcandy for the next ten years, or until I grow tired of it.

Written by Finn

February 12, 2010 at 7:36 am

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