Mac Zealots, Linux Zealots, and Windows Zealots

Mac Zealots
For a while, I read with interest a site called X vs. XP. After a while, though, I got sick of all the zealotry, particularly on the part of Mac users. Now I understand that people like their OSes—that’s generally why they use them. What bothers me most is that some Mac fanatics will not concede that there is anything wrong with Mac OS X. Even if you give three criticisms of Windows for every one criticism of OS X, Mac Zealots will fight that one criticism with all their might. They also have the cheap defense of “Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse” or “What’s intuitive for Windows users isn’t necessarily what’s intuitive in general.” Of course, Mac crazies think it’s more intuitive to delete a file by pressing Cmd-delete than it is to delete the file by pressing only delete. I just stopped participating in the site’s forum, since in one particular thread, I attempted to bring some peace, saying that one OS is not necessarily better than the other but that each one suits the needs of its users—I included specific examples of some things I thought were worse in XP and some things I thought were worse in X. The site’s owner (who claims to want to minimize bias as much as possible) insisted that OS X was clearly superior as an OS and would not concede that there was anything wrong with X. One Mac zealot even got quite upset by one of my criticisms of X (despite the fact I had many criticisms of XP as well), explaining that I had come on to his “territory” and he had a right to defend it.

Whoa! Operating systems may be used by your family, but they are not your family, or shouldn’t be, anyway.

Mac zealots think that OS X is always superior to XP, that whatever Jobs decides is the best and most intuitive way to do anything, and that anyone who uses Windows must be a fool. Mac zealots used to never shut up about how superior PowerPC architecture was to Intel architecture. Now that Steve Jobs has announced Macs will be moving to Intel architecture, they don’t know what to do. Mac zealots used to laugh at flash-based MP3 players until Jobs announced the iPod Shuffle. It’s just speculation on my part, but my guess is that if the iPod was the only flash player that had a screen, Mac users would say, “Apple’s iPod is clearly superior, as it has a screen”; since iPod Shuffles are the only flash players without a screen, naturally Mac zealots exclaim that screens are stupid and that you should always know your own music anyway. This is the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard. Speaking as someone who has a flash player with a screen, I can tell you there are many reasons I use the screen. The screen not only tells me what’s playing at any given moment, which is helpful particularly for songs that start off quietly or new songs that I’m not yet familiar with, but it also gives me various displays and menu options (options iPod users should be more than familiar with from the regular iPods)—equalizer settings, volume levels, battery life, etc.

What bothers me most about Mac zealotry is its counterproductivity. No one will listen to someone who is unreasonably in favor of only one position, who does not admit that there is any fault with that product. Several months ago, I advised a friend of mine to buy an iBook, explaining all the pros and cons of getting an iBook versus a Dell. He was impressed and said it was the first time anyone had actually convinced him a Mac was worth getting. According to him, anyone in the past who’d recommended an Apple computer never admitted there was any alternative. Too many Mac users think Mac is the only way—that’s what turns most Windows users off from “switching.” Remember that operating systems aren’t a way of life; they’re simply computer programs that help us do what we want to do. Don’t make an operating system into a religion.

Linux Zealots
Recently, I’ve become a big fan of Linux. I have to say, though, some of the Linux zealots are nutcases. They insist, similarly to Mac crazies, that Linux is the only way… well, a couple of Linux zealots concede that Mac OS X might be okay to use. What matters most to Linux zealots is not that people use Linux (again, OS X is okay) but that people not use Microsoft products. There’s a definite anti-Microsoft passion in the Linux community. People will often refer to Windows as Windblows, Windoze, or Window$. What’s most ridiculous about some Linux nutcases is their insistence that there’s no reason to use Windows and that only brainwashed automatons would ever use Windows.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot of good reasons to use Windows. First of all, I recently tried to switch a Windows user over to Linux, and she had to switch back because Hotmail and Thunderbird were not working well together (even with the webmail extension in Thunderbird that enables Hotmail checking). People get attached to their email accounts (because it’s a pain to change emails and then notify all your family and friends of your new address and still check your old address in case there are lingering emails that still arrive there—and a lot of commerce websites have your login be your email address… Netflix, for example), and Hotmail and Yahoo just don’t work that well in Linux. Even if you check your email with a browser instead of an email client, Yahoo! mail has limited functionality in Firefox or any non-Internet Explorer browser.

There are a lot of Windows applications that just do not have sufficient Linux equivalents. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard Quickbooks does not have a good Linux alternative. I’ve also heard that while GIMP is a very good graphics program, it lacks some of the features Adobe Photoshop has. Linux has a wealth of free applications—far more than Windows has, and without all the spyware—but for commercial applications and compatibility, Windows just can’t be beat. If you play a lot of computer games, Windows also cannot be beat for selection. My wife loves the Sims games and is bummed that it takes so long for them to be ported to Mac OS X. As far as I know, Sims does not get ported to Linux at all.

My point isn’t that Linux is a bad OS. In fact, I love it a lot. If it weren’t for iTunes (and, believe me, I’ve tried Muine, AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Juk, XMMS, and all the rest), I wouldn’t even be dual-booting—I’d go straight to a Linux-only desktop. You just can’t blame people for using Windows. Sure, a lot of people who just check non-Hotmail, non-Yahoo email, who surf the internet, and who write the occasional Word document, Linux is probably a more appropriate OS than Windows, but there are good reasons for a lot of people to use Windows.

Windows Zealots
Rare though they are (or at least rarely audible), I have to say Windows zealots are the worst of the bunch. I prefer Linux zealots to Mac zealots, but I prefer even Mac zealots to Windows zealots. I mean, Microsoft already dominates desktops around the world. Isn’t it something like 90% of desktops that are on Windows? Why rub it in? Being a Windows zealot is like being a white supremacist in America. You already rule—what else do you want? Despite spyware and virus problems, despite endless bugs, Windows zealots still think Windows is the best, bar none. Of course, rarely has the Windows zealot even bothered to give Linux or Mac OS X an honest try.

What They All Have in Common
No one can truly be objective about OSes, but, as someone who dual-boots a desktop with Windows XP and Linux and also uses a Mac OS X G4 Powerbook, I have to say that each operating system has its merits, faults, and ideal users. I laugh when Mac users complain about Windows’ “blue screen of death” because I’ve never seen a BSOD on Windows XP or Windows 2000. Control-alt-delete handles all instability or program crashes. Likewise, most criticisms of Mac OS X by Windows users are unfounded either because Windows users have not really explored OS X
or because they’re actually thinking of Mac Classic or OS 9. Linux users usually do have some exposure to other OSes but may have become so geeked out that they don’t realize how difficult it is for people who’ve grown up their whole lives with Windows to learn how to use Linux.

You should not force someone to use an OS. It’s like forcing someone to learn a new language. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to learn a new language, and being bilingual or trilingual can actually be useful and also be an enriching experience, but when it’s forced, it’s unpleasant and often builds resentment. I’ve also found that learning new languages is useless unless you have a way to practice that language. What’s the point of forcing someone to learn OS X if she doesn’t want to shell out the money to buy a Mac computer (even a Mac Mini with a decent amount of memory—512 MB of RAM—is $550. You can get an eMachine for the same price with twice the processing speed, four times the hard drive space, and three times as many USB slots… oh and a keyboard and mouse)?

So, which OS is best for you? I wish it were as easy as just “picking an OS.” Unfortunately, Mac OS X is tied to hardware—you can’t just install it on any computer you want. And it’s not easy to find a computer with Linux preloaded on it. If you get Linux, you probably will put it on a native Mac or Windows computer. Well, I’ll give you the basic run-down, anyway:

OS X: If you like a name-brand computer with slick-looking graphics, and you don’t want to worry about spyware and viruses, and you have enough money to shell out, and you don’t play a lot of video games, Mac OS X may be your OS of choice. It’s also handy for people who work heavily with graphics (graphic designers, for example). The ideal audience, though, is the clueless computer user—someone who knows almost nothing about computers and just wants to check email and surf the web. Even though that’s the ideal audience, Macs also appeal to total geeks who like tinkering under the unix-like hood of OS X and who like to memorize keyboard shortcuts that can sometimes involve as many as four keys pressed at once.

Linux: If you don’t mind doing a little bit of set up and learning of a new language, Linux may be for you. Unfortunately, if you’re tied to certain programs or proprietary software, you may have difficulty using Linux (see above part about Hotmail). The best part about Linux is that it’s almost always free (cost-wise), including the thousands of programs you can download. It’s also endlessly customizable. What pushed me to Linux this last time (the first time was spyware on Windows) was that customizing themes and styles in Windows required either money to Microsoft for some Plus thing or money to a third-party vendor for a special widgets-modifying program. Like Mac, Linux will appeal to both super-geeks and super-novices alike. The only difference is that Apple will preconfigure Mac OS X for you before you buy it. If you’re a novice Linux user, you’d better have an expert Linux user set up Linux for you.

Windows: If you game heavily, Windows is for you. If you use Hotmail and Outlook, Windows is for you. If you like “maintaining” your computer, Windows is for you (I’m talking about updating virus definitions in anti-virus software, defragmenting, scandisking, cleaning the registry, etc.). If you like cheap computers and don’t want to learn Linux, Windows is for you.

Find what’s best for you… but chill. It’s just an OS. Don’t be a zealot. Be a user. Be human.

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

  1. Heya

    Whilst I try not to be a zealot, I think that sometimes it’s very difficult to not get annoyed with a certain environment when you are used to something else.

    I work as a programmer in a windows environment — and there is so much that I miss from my Linux desktop. Real virtual desktops (VirtuaWin comes close; nearly there… but not quite. I still use it though). I miss a plethora of choice for the programs I want to use — and all of them not only free as in no cost, but free as in I can tinker with them. And I don’t say that lightly — I have tinkered with some of them in the past. I know that isn’t a drawcard for a lot of people — but it means a lot to me. If a developer doesn’t want to implement my idea, well, then , I’ll just do it myself (:

    My personal thoughts: I tried a Mac (OS X), and found the interface to be counter-intuitive. But I would imagine that a mac-to-windows switcher would probably feel the same. I have to work on windows, and it often annoys me by momentarily freezing and doing “odd” things. Not to mention that I just find system administration easier on a Linux machine — but that’s again probably because of my history. I like Linux because I can get it to behave how *I* want it to — not how Steve or Bill wants it to be. As you said, for example, it’s much easier to theme the way you see fit.

    I know this article was way in the past, but I’m sure that most of the problems you’ve encountered are fixed or worked-around. WINE, for instance, lets me play my good old Diablo II better than it did under windows on the same hardware. There are many many games which work with WINE, or, if you don’t mind a monthly fee, with Transgaming’s Cedega, which is WINE with some extra DirectX stuff (which they do contribute back to the WINE guys). There’s also CrossOver if you find that WINE doesn’t let you use Microsoft Office adequately (though, again, I prefer the free alternative, OpenOffice, to MS Office. My latest bugbear is the forced themes (all 3 of them) for office 2007. Why can’t it just look like the rest of my OS? It’s not like the app is incapable — try switching to a high contrast color scheme. As long as your base window color stays black, Office 2k7 “fits in”. I don’t get the rationale behind that decision).

    I concede that Windows is better overall for gaming. Not necessarily for *my* gaming, since about 99% of the things I play either have native Linux ports (eg: Doom 1-3, Quake 1-4, Serious Sam) or WINE well (Diablo, Sacred, other pure opengl games and directx games which don’t rely on the latest directx features or have fall-back). But for people who have to play the latest games — I concede, Windows does it better. Actually, it’s not so much that Windows does it better as that the game devs targetted Windows. Not as a superior platform (the dev tools for Linux are better, especially when it comes to things like memory debuggers (I can’t find a windows app to beat valgrind ): )), but simply because Windows has such a large market share, and game devs have to eat (:

    Things are changing though — the road of Linux has broadened and looks bright. Thanks to the negative effect of Windows Vista, the cost of Mac, and good, friendly distros like Ubuntu, more people are shifting — or at least dual-booting, so they can see what lies on the other side.

    Whilst I agree with you on the general “take a chill pill” attitude, you’ve forgotten something very important from the Linux zealot’s arsenal — there’s a good chance that he or she actually CONTRIBUTED to the OS itself (or an application hosted in it). Unlike a Mac or Windows zealot, the Linux zealot actually often enough put something back into the final product — even if it was “only” bug reporting and helping to solve bugs/issues. There’s a sense of ownership there. I think it’s quite OK to have some pride in the things that you put your time and effort into.

  2. About windows zealots “rubbing it it”…

    I am not a windows zealot. I have had good luck with MS products on many machines for several decades. I am quiet – I go back to MS because I find their products reasonably mature – meaning easy to use and good value – at least if I consider that my time to learn stuff I don’t really need to know has value if I spent it doing something else. (Linux being the case in point here.)

    Over the last 3 decades it has been an endless stream of different kinds of zealots all putting down the PC/Intel/MS (orignally intel was a “bad” as MS). Now, according to the people, I should want to learn all this Linux stuff. (I have sucessfully used UNIX back in the Risc computer days. I hated it, compared to DOS then.)

    So I have quietly stood back and tolerated how good the Apple II was, how good the Commodore 64 was, how good the Mac was, how good Risc processors were, how good UNIX was and now how good Linux is – and listend to everyone flame against PCs while over this whole history, the only machine that did it for me were the PCs.

    I think many “PC zealots” are just so sick of everyone promoting all this crap and criticizing the ONE GOOD THING that sometimes, we too, might say something zealous.

    I doubt that over the approximate 30 year history, I mentioned, I have tolerated less than 5,000+ hours of PC bashing and zealous talk about some machine that wasn’t worth owning. It’s always PCs are bad and some piece of absolute crap are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    One employer I had let themselves be talked into buying literally hundreds of RISC UNIX machines at about $30,000 each by these people only to have to later replace them all with PCs.

    Computer zealots do a lot of harm. They are just machines, for god’s sake. PCs have proven to be one good solution for most people.

    I have never meant to “rub it in” but I do get sick of the BS and will, at times, defend the PC because it is the better way to go.

  3. I will add one more point. Virtually all of the “anything but PC” types I have known of these years, that I have kept in touch with, now use PCs (and windows). I have not rubbed anyone’s noise in it, even though I would like to know what all the BS was about.

  4. I think you did a very good job in this post. I am a windows programmer, and I am not a zealot. I see a place for all the OSs. I think modern society threw away religion, and many replaced it with worship for an OS or yoga, or a raw food diet or some other craze. Zealotry is just always wrong, and almost always committed by emotionally stupid people. I never care if people have Macs at home; I just think they cost society a fortune to integrate them into the corporate or academic environment. The company car should be a dark blue hybrid Ford Focus, not a bmw using premium gasoline, or your homemade kit car.

    http://mac-zealot.urbanup.com/4275690

    http://ubuntu-zealot.urbanup.com/4275679

    http://microsoft-zealot.urbanup.com/4274116

    http://chrome-zealot.urbanup.com/4279177

    Pretty much sums it up for me. :)

  5. I would have to agree with you, but you forgot about the BSD zealots. They are the least common (probably since BSD’s other than OS X have less than a 0.2% market share), but they do exist. BSD zealots believe that any OS is okay except for Linux, and that all Linux users are idiots for not choosing a better FOSS operating system.

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