The Poor Man’s Apple

Whilst I’ve been off work for a couple of weeks recuperating from my hernia repair, I’ve spent a lot of time tinkering with my multiple computers and thinking about their continued place in my life.

Since I first had a chance to work with a microcomputer back in 1984, I’ve gone from intrigued, to fascinated to completely obsessed with computers and their associated technologies. Though I use them every day for writing, research, composing and essential workplace transactions, I’ve been more drawn by their essential “computeriness” than all the things they could enable me to do.

My reason for having so many systems at home is more to do with the way each one does their tasks in a slightly different fashion, how one system is better for web design, another better for experimentation and another for just general web browsing.

As I write that, though, it strikes me as being similar to having multiple cars or vehicles to drive down different surfaces – a hatchback for traversing the suburbs, a boat for water recreation and a motorbike or four wheel drive for off road use.

The conclusion I came to when tinkering with each system is that whilst Windows 7 (and I’ve spent enough time over the last two weeks testing Windows 8 to learn to deal with its quirks and benefits) is probably most suitable to my requirements, I don’t particularly like it.

Its kind of hard to explain, but I suppose you have a system that has expanded and encompassed so many features and attributes that it has come to collapse under its own weight. Having multiple versions, each with their own licensing scheme, confuses matters more. And having come from a background where individualism and innovation were encouraged, it has long frustrated me the way Microsoft often made a person feel that if you weren’t following their instructions specifically (and thus using only their tools and hardware), you were a dangerous and potentially destructive influence.

Of course, with Apple‘s resurgence in recent years, Microsoft have learned to pull their head in a little and get on with making products that work, as well as showing a little more respect to their customer base.

I bought a second-hand Mac Mini a couple of years ago as I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about but find out on my terms, not as according to the marketing material and hype (and fashion culture).

That is certainly one area of the Apple marketing that caused me much frustration and indignation. They had a very good system and peripherals, but they promoted it like a fashion accessory. I’d encountered too many people who pushed the “coolness” factor rather than the “ability to do stuff well” factor. If you had a Mac, you probably drove a BMW and had a house in Nedlands as well. That Sort of Approach. Of course, you probably just used it to type an email now and again and defrost the occasional pizza…

I upgraded the memory on the Mac Mini 18 months ago and after a few false starts, configured it more or less the way I want it and have been using it as my primary system for a while now – although I still flip back to the Windows notebooks from time to time.

About five weeks ago, I purchased a three year old second-hand PC from a friend with a house full of such things. He was clearing things out in an effort to raise some cash by selling old and unused items at the JAFWA geek-mart swap meet at the end of August. I pre-empted it by a few days.

With a little tweaking and adjusting, I had Ubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS and Windows 8.1 Pro preview up and running to greater degree of satisfaction. Ubuntu running well enough that I decided to clear out one of my backup drives, do a fresh installation of Linux onto a 1.5TB drive and copy all my essential data to the new setup. Once configured, I had what I felt was the poor man’s MacIntosh – a layout that does more or less everything that I can do on my Mac, and perhaps a little more, for a fraction of the price of a real Mac. With WINE installed, I can even run a number of Windows applications if required (though I’ve found that there are few tools that I need that I can’t already find a Linux equivalent for).

But despite all of that, after only a couple of days, I went back to using the Mac.

Maybe its the coolness factor.

One of the things I wanted to do whilst I was resting was catch up on a few documentaries I’ve collected over the last few months – including two about Steve Jobs. Its impressive how much influence and charisma the man had, his “reality distortion field” as its frequently referred to, though “Billion dollar hippy” portrays Jobs as an understated genius, “One last thing” is more critical and suggests that Jobs was not a particularly nice man at all. I still find the whole affair fascinating though, so I’m looking into buying his biography and related books (in dead tree format, I’m not much into ebooks just yet).

Its a shame Dennis Ritchie didn’t garner so much fame or riches during his lifetime.

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