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Apple and Mac OS X

Macs are just computers, not magic

Hey, I love a good Mac just as much as the next person. Unlike some Linux users out there, I actually appreciate and love the look of Aqua (hell, even Brushed Metal). The animation in OS X is slick. Dashboard is cooler than Superkaramba or gDesklets. And there’s even a *nix-like terminal available and something like apt-get. Even though my wife’s Powerbook experience has been relatively painless (with a few bumps here and there—like “dist-upgrading” to Tiger screwing up permissions so she couldn’t print), we recently migrated my parents-in-law from Windows to Mac, and the migration has been painful and feels like those “I just switched to Ubuntu / Linux is free if time has no value” experiences… except that Mac isn’t free at all.

The problem is that every time my wife and I visit our parents, their computer is bogged down with spyware and viruses. We tell them not to use Internet Explorer. We tell them not to run as administrator. It’s no use. They do it anyway. I’d suggest Ubuntu, of course, except that they actually make a lot of use of the iTunes Music Store and the auto-fill iPod Shuffle feature—neither of which is supported in Ubuntu, and my folks-in-law aren’t exactly eMusic/Jamendo/Magnatune lovers.

So my wife and I, as a gift to ourselves and to them, decided to get them a Mac Mini. But a lot of the migration woes have been the same as what a lot of new Ubuntu migrants encounter:

  • Canon printer: no go. No Mac driver. We had to dig up an old HP printer that wasn’t being used. The parents-in-law weren’t happy about that, but we told them the Canon “just wasn’t compatible with Mac.”
  • Mac Mini takes USB keyboards and mice but not PS/2. So we had to get a converter.
  • What should we do with MS Office, since we don’t want to purchase a copy of MS Office for Mac? Well, use NeoOffice (the Mac equivalent of OpenOffice). Well, they don’t exactly use Macros in Word or complicated formatting, right?
  • Uh-oh. We boot up the Mac and the monitor is out of range. Well, how do we fix that? We didn’t know. We kept booting and booting, and we didn’t know how to change the Mac Mini’s initial resolution. Luckily, I had another computer (my trusty Dell Inspiron 500m… with Ubuntu on it) on hand to research. Apparently, you have to boot into “Safe Mode” by holding down the Shift key immediately after you hear the bootup noise. It took my wife several attempts to get this “Safe Mode” working.
  • Then we experienced some random hangs with the rainbow circle of death and Cmd-Option-Esc couldn’t get us out of them, so we had to force a shut down a few times.
  • Airport Extreme wasn’t recognized as even existing. I double-checked on the box—it’s supposed to be included. After a few reboots, it was finally recognized.
  • We had to copy over all the pertinent files and settings from Windows.
  • We had to constantly assure my parents-in-law this is for the best.

Now that it’s all set up, though, I think they should be okay. Even as administrator, my mother-in-law will still have to sudo to make system-wide changes. But, in addition to the few troubles my wife has had with her powerbook over the past few years, this just reinforces my belief that computers are computers. Sometimes Mac zealots try to make it sound as if Macs are magic. They will solve all your problems. They require no work. It’s not true. Macs are computers. Macs have problems. Windows PCs have problems. Ubuntu PCs have problems. Computers are man- and woman-made constructions that are extremely sophisticated, work most of the time, and sometimes have flaws. While I think there shouldn’t be any major problems from here on in, there’s no way in hell we could have just handed the Mac Mini box to my parents-in-law and said, “Here. Plug this in. Everything will ‘just work.'” Nothing “just works.” “Just works” is a clever advertising slogan that both Ubuntu and Apple have made good use of, but there will always be glitches.

2 replies on “Macs are just computers, not magic”

Nice article! I especially like how you sum it all up:

Couldn’t have said it better my self. Everyone who have problem switching from Windows to, well, anything else, should read this.

Gotta say that my experiences with Mac haven’t been exactly rosy either. But my experiences are slightly more cynical than yours. There’s an article on my website which used the cliched “Ten Things I Hate” format. Knock yourself out : http://scaine.net/home/node/32.

Like you say – nothing just works, but what annoys me about the Mac interface is that it will /never/ work for me – because unlike Ubuntu (or most Linux distos for that matter), I can’t change what I don’t like. At least, not without paying a lot of money and going through a lot of hassle (quick example – change Front Row to Itheater… a great idea, but Itheater crashes, uses a different file structure, uses RealVideo instead of Quicktime, etc, etc).

I know those “10 things I hate” articles are old hat, but I had to write it. It was driving me nuts the way Mac zealots look down that narrow little tunnel of theirs to see the computing world at large.

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