After spending the last month and a half in a constant state of productivity, working and reworking my website, resume, business card, projects, portfolio, etc; then going straight into a full-blown job hunt with no break for rest in-between, I decided to take the last couple of days off. Taking an actual break felt strange after too long, so I quickly found a new project to pique my interest:
To turn my Windows 7 laptop into a dual-booting hybrid, combining Windows and Mac OS X into one package. And after a long, stressful day comprised of backtracking, headaches and some therapeutic alcohol use, it’s complete. Operation Apple Pie is a success: the laptop now boots in either Windows 7 or Snow Leopard.
I’m glad it’s done, and proud that it worked, but after spending the latter half of my day in this new OS territory, I find myself asking: what’s the big deal with Mac?
My first impression: …why is everything so…grey? It feels…not even cold, so much as just industrial and somewhat bland. Lifeless even, like a reminder of what operating systems were like a decade ago. After googling it, I feel like I must be the only one to wonder such a thing. Already I miss Windows’ style and brightness. But I soldier on anyway, who knows, maybe it’ll grow on me.
A few hours in and I still can’t figure it out. Where’s this charm, this mystique that the Apple devoted seem to breathe for? As a designer, I don’t find any sense of charm or vibrance from what I’m seeing or experiencing; it’s got no soul. I find the interfaces frustrating, and the processes even more so. Why on earth would dragging an icon into the apps folder = installation process? Everywhere I look, the options have been dumbed down, control taken away from the user in favor of ‘simplicity’, but overwhelmingly so. I once heard someone compare it to a Fisher-Price toy toolset; it certainly resembles the pieces you need, but at a steep cost to functionality and usability.
I slowly feel that I’m beginning to understand: This is an OS for people who don’t know anything about computers (and, for that matter, probably don’t know what an OS is). They want something that feels individualized out of the box. They don’t want to adjust settings and preferences, to put in any effort to actually make it their own, they just want that illusion. But in giving in to that illusion of individuality, their computer is very far from unique and personal. They become just one of many. But maybe that’s comforting to them, feeling like an individual without the risk of messing it up, having someone else make their choices for them. The way I’m putting it may sound rather dramatic, but I have come to find this entire system’s design to be an incredibly shallow and superficial thing, and it’s quite a disappointment. As far as I can tell, a Mac that’s fresh out of the box will look and perform almost identically to any other, no matter the owner. I think that’s a sad thing.
On the other hand, it’s making me appreciate the little details and overarching freedom of Windows 7 more and more. Maybe it’s just me, but the feeling of a new install, the blank slate that you get to personalize and tweak in a thousand different ways, I love that feeling, and I enjoy making my laptop uniquely my own through the ways I interact with it. Even beyond that, the little touches are so brilliant: dragging windows to the screen’s edges to resize is delightfully effortless, and it sure beats anything the Mac can do. Couple that with the fact that the software that makes a Mac ‘unique’ have, for the most part, their own equal Windows counterparts that are only missing hip marketing names. This is probably because none of them are really a big deal - screenshots, photo viewer, video chat, etc. Even the iconic Apple menubar can be easily recreated with free software, and endlessly customized from there.
The irony in all of this is that, prior to this little experiment, I was seriously considering that my next laptop purchase could be a Mac. I am a designer, after all, and they can’t all be wrong, can they? But I think that, beneath it all, there’s some strange combination of marketing mysticism and somewhat-clever ideas that have made this system all the rage. To begin with, the standard Apple laptop is a gorgeous piece of industrial design, that certainly helps. But think about this: there’s not really any way to test drive a Mac system. It’s very difficult to install to a PC, and the OS only works with a handful of hardware configurations (I got lucky, if you’d call it that). Becoming a Mac user is a huge commitment, financially and logistically, a leap of faith, and surely not one that’s entirely painless for everyone. This is purely conjecture, but maybe that’s why some of them become so defensive. Perhaps they feel the need to justify the decision to themselves and others, creating a false sense of elitism in the process. (Sorry if that sounds somewhat critical, but that’s not how I mean it, I just don’t know how else to put it).
No matter how it works, though, I can now definitively say that I won’t be joining them. I will not be an Apple aficionado anytime in the near future, for the personal freedom, choice and expression in my computer’s operations simply mean too much to me to give up.