Why a Mac?

March 15, 2004

Groucho: “You’re a peach, boy!  Now here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.”

Chico: “Why a duck?”

“I’m all right.  How are you?  I say, here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.”

“All right.  Why a duck?”

“I’m not playing Ask-Me-Another. I say, that’s a viaduct.”

All right. Why a duck? Why that… why a duck? Why a no chicken?”

“Well, I don’t know why a no chicken; I’m a stranger here myself.  All I know is that it’s a viaduct.  You try to cross over there a chicken, and you’ll find out why a duck.”

The Cocoanuts (1929) – The Marx Brothers

Why a duck indeed.

Another long-time Windows user recently mentioned that he’d been considering adding a Mac for awhile, and was curious as to what good reasons there might be for doing so.  Since I’ve quite recently gone down the same path myself, I’ve had a little time to reflect on this.

Back over the holidays-from-hell, my trusty old ultralight Windows notebook decided to shuffle off this mortal coil, just as I was packing it up for a trip.

About two weeks ago, I finally replaced it, with a 15” Powerbook—and I couldn’t be happier.

Most of what I do, and pretty much everything I’m likely to do when I’m away from my desktop, I can do on a Mac.  Since I still maintain clients with Windows-specific sites (there are still some things you just can’t do with Safari; others, you can’t do with anything other than IE), I can’t move entirely away from Windows.  But I can come awfully close.

On the other hand, there is nothing I need to do that I can’t do on a Windows notebook, which can be acquired cheaper and need no re-learning curve (I used to write Mac apps, years and years ago).

So why am I so thrilled with a Powerbook?

Well, first off, this thing is seriously over-engineered.  Prebuilt Windows boxes (including notebooks) are pretty much commodity-built items.  They still have the occasional bells and whistles, at least on the high-end ones, but for the most part they are built to give the most bang for the least buck.

Working with the Powerbook however, I can just picture some of the product design sessions—an engineer would say “Hey, I just thought of this real cool thing we could do, but it’ll add $50 to the final price”, and everyone else would chuckle and say “So?  How cool is it?”

This kind of thing is all over this box—little stuff that just makes you go “wow!”.  A power supply whose connector tip lights up different colors to show charging status.  A battery with a button that indicates the charge on a little string of LEDs when you push it.  A lid that pops up “just enough” when you press the latch to open it.

The aluminum case is a wonder itself; it feels solid and well-built without being heavy.  Handle a Windows notebook after handling the Powerbook and it feels like it was made by a toy company.  This thing feels more like a piece of fine camera equipment or precision instrumentation.

OS X (that’s Oh Ess Ten—say OS Ex and the Mac wonks all look at you funny) is getting nicely mature and stable with 10.3 (Panther).  It is both attractive, and well thought out.  Most entertaining for me, underneath it all is Unix, which lends some interesting possibilities—both for making the machine turn tricks, and for getting more comfortable with *nix on the workstation (something I’ve never really tried).

Which is not to say there aren’t issues—for a product from a company that controls both the hardware and OS platform, Apple still manages to have some fairly interesting problems with some of these machines (check the message forums at places like Mac News Network sometime).

What’s more, I’m somewhat set in my ways and a little demanding as to facilities that I expect, and how I expect to use them.  Making some things work on the Mac the way I want them to work has been (and will continue to be) an interesting experience.  It will probably also be one that I’ll be blogging heavily, mostly to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for myself, but also to hopefully put up a few pointers for fellow travellers.

On the whole, though, I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.


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