think different. really.

November 4, 2006

Long have I considered myself a “power user.” While not skilled in the ways of coding until quite recently, I lorded over my PC with an iron fist, keeping tabs on the minute details of processes, services, and registry obscurities whose operation is essential to the stability of any Windows session. How humbled I was, then, when the MacBook Pro arrived, and with it OS X, an operating system whose power and elegance are only nominally under my control at this early juncture. What a rush.

Yes, the “welcome” video is hokey. Yes, the Aqua interface has its cutesy bits. No, OS X is not perfection incarnate. But it’s close, far closer in almost every way than Windows XP manages to be and even than Vista promises to be. Start with built-in search (called Spotlight). With it, any file, regardless of location, can be instantly located and opened from any window in the Finder (OS X’s file browser). Examine the beauty of the whiz-bang effects that accompany even the most minor of operations–the fade-in of Dashboard is particularly nice.

Then consider that I have yet to have OS X crash, seize up, or otherwise fail despite numerous deliberate attempts to do just that; simply put, OS X is steeled against all manner of would-be catastrophes by virtue of its UNIX underpinnings. That framework also allows its command line, Terminal, to behave just like a UNIX shell–you can ssh and chmod to your heart’s content with no additional software required. PDF support too, is native to the OS, and reading those files is far more responsive than is Adobe Acrobat on my PC. Much faster, indeed.
In fact, the sheer usefulness of each and every included feature, coupled with a few freely available 3rd party programs, is staggering, so much so that I wonder how I ever got along without them. The Finder is not without its oddities–no photo thumbnails, for one (a feature that Windows does have)—but I love the simplicity of having an “Applications” folder with one, and only one, file per program. Installing and uninstalling are a snap to perform, with no unnecessary detritus to clutter things up.

Windows never struck me as especially bad in any regard, but compared to OS X it seems faded and old. Much of this is due to the advanced graphics subsystem, but using both makes me recognize a difference in design philosophies: both are quite powerful, but Windows chooses (perhaps wrongly) to make its options and features plainly obvious in the form of myriad tabs, buttons, settings menus, and utilities.

OS X can seem a bit simplistic on first blush; the Terminal is where its power ultimately lies, and Apple designers have done a miraculous job of channeling that sophistication into a spare graphical interface that displays relatively few settings at any one time and for any one application or feature. Once glance at the Windows Registry or Device Manager is enough to send any Mac fan scurrying off in abject terror.

I jest, of course, but not as much you might think–or, perhaps, not as much as I should. Simply put, Redmond and Cupertino think differently about what an operating system can and should be about. Both have their merits, and both have their established audiences–Windows’ being much bigger of course. As a newbie, a technically-minded computer user, and unabashed fan of the Jobsian mystique, I find my initiation into the Cult of Mac positively delectable.

–D. S. W.


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