About "just working"

07.03.2007 19:56

A couple of people pointed me to this "amusing" web page about Mac users. Now while I usually ignore individuals using language like this, I am guilty of answering "it just works" when people ask me why I use an Apple laptop. So I feel like I ought to explain this a bit.

My Powerbook certainly doesn't always "just work". As any other software I know Mac OS X has its share of bugs and I can even say that when something does go wrong, OS X is the worst of all operating systems at giving you a clue about what went wrong (to give a recent example I encountered: Connection error: -5. See also my previous post about iPod problems). In that case your only hope of finding out the cause of the problem is a Google search turning up some insider information that was leaked by an Apple developer.

However from my experience if any system deserves the label "it just works" it is definitely a Mac. To give some examples why I think so:

  • My mobile phone connected via Bluetooth to my Powerbook and synchronized contacts, shared GPRS connection and sent SMSes without needing one bit of tweaking configuration or installing drivers. On a windows computer a similar trick involves spending several hours installing gigabytes of software, setting up network connections, "My Bluetooth places" and I don't know what else, including reinstalling everything once every three months because the installation mysteriously broke.
  • I have connected and printed to numerous printers from HP to Xerox again without installing drivers or configuring anything. A lot of times it was far easier to connect a printer to my laptop to print something than to convert a document to a format that can be read by some other computer that was already connected to a printer.
  • OS X is the only operating system with a usable sleep mode I saw. You close the lid, and the computer goes to sleep. You open the lid, computer is ready almost instantly. Compare this to you usual (Windows-running) laptop for example where a) suspend-to-disk takes longer to restore than a fresh boot (I can quote a number of examples of this, mostly from Compaq/HP) or b) suspend-to-RAM drains the battery in a couple of days. I have also not yet seen it crash when you connect or disconnect some device while it is in sleep.
  • Installation of native OS X applications doesn't require clicking through wizards or similar nonsense. If you no longer need an application just drag it to the trash can and its gone. Of course this one-file-per-application principle has its (not-so-short) list technical problems, but so far I haven't come across a single one. Majority of apps will work correctly 10 seconds after you drag them to the Applications folder. A lot of free software will also work without problems.
  • Another thing about software installation is that (again, from my perspective) I needed so little extra applications beyond what OS X provided by default. My Powerbook was useful from the moment I unpacked it from the box. I'm perfectly happy with the built-in address book, mail reader, web browser, calendar and music player. With vanilla OS X I access files on Windows shares, NFS exports, SSH servers, etc. and I can give others access to my files via a Windows share or a HTTP server.

Again, I don't want to give the impression that I'm making a commercial for Macs. In most cases I prefer to use free software. For example all my desktop computers have Debian GNU/Linux installed. Debian usually requires me to spend more time to set up a specific feature (for example a new piece of hardware, a new network configuration, etc.) but the flexibility provided by free software far outweighs this problem. Desktop computers also don't move much and their software and hardware configuration is quite stable and time I spend on maintaining them is minimal. On the other hand, when I'm traveling I usually don't have time to tinker with some configuration until the feature I need at that moment works correctly. I just want my laptop to be always ready.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Life

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