What Apple do brilliantly…

…is tell people what they want. We didn’t know we wanted a phone with a big touch screen until Apple made us one and showed us what it could do. Same for a bigger touch screen that lets us consume content readily and easily (iPad). A company that really can come up with products that are real-world ready (unlike, say, Newton) and meet a need we did not even know we had (either by really doing this or inventing the need successfully) is something to admire in many ways.

Of course… now I begin the rant.

Personally I don’t like iTunes (having to install a great big local client to use the store, for example) and I have often found the quality of their hardware (I have only used their computers, I should say, not iPads, iPhones or iTunes mp3 players) massively over-rated. It always seemed to me that if a company is going to sell the hardware and software bundled and charge a premium for both, then the gear ought to work seamlessly. (When something goes wrong with a Windows install, Microsoft at least has the excuse that they don’t control the hardware.)  I’ve used four Macs (provided by my work) and on the Powerbook the magsafe power cord failed (twice, including leaving scorch marks on the computer itself), and when the computer went to sleep it could not be woken up.  But it sure looked nice in its brushed aluminium, as it sat there comatose.  The big desktop 27″ iMac needed the OS reinstalled twice before it would work properly — prior to that it would crash at random intervals.  Oh, and the PowerBook, a large laptop, came with a single mouse button which is some kind of joke and one of the prime bits of evidence that Apple likes to tell us what to do, and does not always get it right. Also, the thing had only two (yes, two) USB ports.  Given that one always had to have a mouse in it since the built-in mouse is next to worthless, a big, powerful computer effectively had only one USB port.  Since the CD drive gave out after a couple of years (just outside the warranty period, actually), I had to use a USB CD drive when I wanted one, so when I was using it I had no USB port at all.  Brilliant design? Hmm, I’m not so sure.

Oh yes, and the Enter key broke in half under normal usage conditions.  (Having said that, I mostly use one of these, so perhaps I was hitting it a bit too hard.)

Apple’s one button mouse is like Microsoft’s 640K RAM.  Simply wrong. 

Mac OS X, being built on BSD (which is a very good thing, though even the choice of BSD is interesting), works really well as a terminal onto a Linux server, especially if the wonderful MacPorts is installed.  But using X-windows without all three mouse buttons is very clumsy.  With only one is almost impossible. Since  the one button mouse emulated a right click by holding down Control and ‘left’ (‘only’) clicking, you need two hands to do one click — hardly brilliant design or ergonomics or feng shui or whatever.  Now, X-windows will in general let you emulate a middle click by simultaneously clicking left and right buttons.  But how to do this when right button is the left button?  Maybe there was a key combination, but who would bother?

I won’t even talk about how quickly support for versions of Mac OS X is withdrawn.  Say what you will about Microsoft, but support for Win XP lasted over a decade, similarly for other versions.  Apple customers can only dream of Apple showing that kind of commitment to one of its products.

Bottom line: Macs are great if you use them only in the way Apple expects and intends.

All the lousy behaviour Apple indulges in — tax evasion (OK, if it is legal but poor form we call it ‘minimisation‘), paying slave wages in sweatshops, vexatious litigation, filing ridiculous patents, and so on — is, let’s face it, just what big companies do.  No one wants to pay more tax than they have to, no one in a competitive industry wants to give their competitors a free ride.  Apple chose BSD to underpin OS X largely because its very permissive licence allows them to use it any way they like and not let anyone else make use of their code, unlike the GPL that governs Linux, for example.  That is not to say they don’t give back at all.  I think CUPS is funded by Apple and is a GPL’d project, and there are others.

Thus endeth the polemic.


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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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