January 30th, 2015

Hard Stare

Are Macs still better than PCs, or isn't there any real difference any more?

They're a bit better in some ways. It's somewhat marginal now.

OK. Position statement up front.

Anyone who works in computers and only knows one platform is clueless. You need cross-platform knowledge and experience to actually be able to assess strengths, weaknesses, etc.

Most people in IT this century only know Windows and have only known Windows. This means that the majority of the IT trade are, by definition, clueless.

There is little real cross-platform experience any more, because so few platforms are left. Today, it's Windows NT or Unix, running on x86 or ARM. 2 families of OS, 2 families of processor. That is not diversity.

So, only olde phartes, yeah like me, who remember the 1970s and 1980s when diversity in computing meant something, have any really useful insight. But the snag with asking olde phartes is we're jaded & curmudgeonly & hate everything.

So, this being so...

The Mac's OS design is better and cleaner, but that's only to the extent of saying New York City's design is better and cleaner than London's. Neither is good, but one is marginally more logical and systematic than the other.

The desktop is much simpler and cleaner and prettier.

App installation and removal is easier and doesn't involve running untrusted binaries from 3rd parties, which is such a hallmark of Windows that Windows-only types think it is normal and natural and do not see if for the howling screaming horror abomination that it actually is. Indeed, put Windows types in front of Linux and they try to download and run binaries and whinge when it doesn't work. See comment about cluelessness above.

(One of the few places where Linux is genuinely ahead -- far ahead -- today is software installation and removal.)

Mac apps are fewer in number but higher in quality.

The Mac tradition of relative simplicity has been merged with the Unix philosophy of "no news is good news". Macs don't tell you when things work. They only warn you when things don't work. This is a huge conceptual difference from the VMS/Windows philosophy, and so, typically, this goes totally unnoticed by Windows types.

Go from a Mac to Windows and what you see is that Windows is constantly nagging you. Update this. Update that. Ooh you've plugged a device in. Ooh, you removed it. Hey it's back but on a different port, I need a new driver. Oh the network's gone. No hang on it's back. Hey, where's the printer? You have a printer! Did you know you have an HP printer? Would you like to buy HP ink?

Macs don't do this. Occasionally it coughs discreetly and asks if you know that something bad happened.

PC users are used to it and filter it out.

Also, PC OSes and apps are all licensed and copy-protected. Everything has to be verified and approved. Macs just trust you, mostly.

Both are reliable, mostly. Both just work now, mostly. Both rarely fail, try to recover fairly gracefully and don't throw cryptic blue-screens at you. That difference is gone.

But because of Windows' terrible design and the mistakes that the marketing lizards made the engineers put in, it's howlingly insecure, and vastly prone to malware. This is because it was implemented badly.

Windows apologists -- see cluelessness -- think it's fine and it's just because it dominates the market. This is because they are clueless and don't know how things should be done. Ignore them. They are loud; some will whine about this. They are wrong but not bright enough to know it. Ignore them.

You need antimalware on Windows. You don't on anything else. Antimalware makes computers slower. So, Windows is slower. Take a Windows PC, nuke it, put Linux on it and it feels a bit quicker.

Only a bit 'cos Linux too is a vile mess of 1970s crap. If it still worked, you could put BeOS on it and discover, holy shit wow lookit that, this thing is really fsckin' fast and powerful, but no modern OS lets you feel it. It's under 5GB of layered legacy crap.

(Another good example was RISC OS. Today, millions of people are playing with Raspberry Pis, a really crappy underpowered £25 tiny computer that runs Linux very poorly. Raspberry Pis have ARM processors. The ARM processor's original native OS, RISC OS, still exists. Put RISC OS on a Raspberry Pi and suddenly it's a very fast, powerful, responsive computer. Swap the memory card for Linux and it crawls like a one-legged dog again. This is the difference between an efficient OS and an inefficient one. The snag is that RISC OS is horribly obsolete now so it's not much use, but it does demonstrate the efficiency of 1980s OSes compared to 1960s/1970s ones with a few decades of crap layered on top.)

Windows can be sort of all right, if you don't expect much, are savvy, careful and smart, and really need some proprietary apps.

If you just want the Interwebs and a bit of fun, it's a waste of time and effort, but Windows people think that there's nothing else (see clueless) and so it survives.

Meanwhile, people are buying smartphones and Chromebooks which are good enough if you haven't drunk the cool-aid.

But really, they're all a bit shit, it's just that Windows is a bit shittier but 99% of computers run it and 99% of computer fettlers don't know anything else.

Once, before Windows NT, but after Unix killed the Real Computers, Unix was the only real game in town for serious workstation users.

Back then, a smart man wrote:

“I liken starting one’s computing career with Unix, say as an undergraduate, to being born in East Africa. It is intolerably hot, your body is covered with lice and flies, you are malnourished and you suffer from numerous curable diseases. But, as far as young East Africans can tell, this is simply the natural condition and they live within it. By the time they find out differently, it is too late. They already think that the writing of shell scripts is a natural act.” — Ken Pier, Xerox PARC
That was 30y ago. Now, Windows is like that. Unix is the same but you have air-conditioning and some shots and all the Big Macs you can eat.

It's a horrid vile shitty mess, but basically there's no choice any more. You just get to choose the flavour of shit you will roll in. Some stink slightly less.