Friday, July 11 2003

Why I’m not a Switcher

I own two Windows machines that I rarely turn on any more. Even at work, the only thing I use Windows for is handling expense reports and accepting meeting invitations. I own two Macintoshes and an iPod (well, two, but only ’til I find a home for the old 10GB model), and I’ll almost certainly buy a dual 2GHz G5 later this year.

I spend most of my time using Macs these days, but I insist that I am not a Switcher. Why not? Because the Switch ads aren’t about technology; they’re about validation. For years, Mac users have been the whipping-boy of the mainstream computing world, and they’ve responded with a “cold, dead hands” attitude and a cultlike devotion to all things Apple. The Switch ads play up to that.

Janie Porche saved Christmas, did she? Was it because she owned a PowerBook, or because that particular digicam had lousy Windows support? We don’t know, and Apple isn’t going to tell us, because they know that not all digicams work better on a Mac. Some might not work at all, especially under OS X.

Ellen Feiss lost her paper in a PC crash? That other guy (sorry, can’t find his ad at the moment) was bitten by The Blue Screen Of Death? Okay, everyone who has ever heard the terms “sad mac,” “force quit,” or “bomb box,” raise your hand. Everyone who has ever had to reboot their Mac while holding down three or four random keys, raise both hands.

The simple truth is that before OS X, the MacOS was at least as unstable as contemporary Windows versions. Even now that it’s got Unix under the hood, Macintoshes still lock up on a fairly regular basis if you start stressing them. A quick glance at the various support forums reveals all sorts of common bugs and crashes.

Is Windows better? No, not really. Is it worse? No, not really. Is Windows harder to use? No, not really.

So why the fuss? Because the real message of Switch is that Mac users are better people. The ads exist to stroke the user’s ego, so he can stop feeling as defensive as the guy who just paid too much for last year’s digital camera. This reinforces the fanatic loyalty that leads outsiders to suspect that Mac zealots would, in fact, drink the Kool-Aid if their leader told them to.

The long-suffering Mac owners see people who “switch” as a validation of that loyalty. “We were right all along, and now you can admit it!” Unfortunately, the cold, hard truth is that I hate and despise the Mac they’ve loved for so long. I started using the Macintosh in 1984, and got progressively more and more annoyed with its expert-unfriendly UI and missing OS. What brought me back is the thing that so many of the old school despise: OS X, with its Unix and its Aqua and its near-total abandonment of all things Maclike.

I’ve had to boot into OS 9 a few times, and each time I’ve recoiled in horror. It’s dreadful. It’s like a moped with training wheels. It’s like Pleasantville without Reese Witherspoon. It’s like…using a Macintosh again! Ugh. I’ll pass, thanks. Berkeley Unix and Photoshop at the same time, yes; the Classic MacOS, no, not even if the only alternative were Windows.

Incidentally, I didn’t like the Think Different ads much, either. It’s the kind of campaign where pictures of Uri Geller and Dan Quayle make just as much sense as Richard Feynman and Amelia Earhart. There’s nothing superior about being different, not when it’s just as likely to make you the object of public ridicule as to grant fame and fortune. But the print ads, at least, were well-done and basically sincere. Switch? Borderline fraud.

And the next simpering moron who sees me shopping in an Apple Store and chants “tired of the blue screen of death?” will be patted on the head and told to go drink the kool-aid somewhere else; grown-ups are talking here.