This is an oldie but a goodie, and I haven't written about it before — at least, not on my blog.
I'm writing this entry sitting on a sofa and using a Macbook Air. The desktop computer in my office is also a Mac. Why?
There are several good arguments for not using Apple's computers. For one thing, they're expensive; no cheap netbooks here. If money was all there was to it, I'd stick to generic cheap PCs — and indeed, I have run PCs in the past.
I'm on the public record as being a UNIX bigot. Although Mac OS X is BSD UNIX based, these days the various flavours of Linux will turn just about any PC (except for a few portables with exotic hardware) into a decent workstation. If it was just about the UNIX experience, I'd be running Linux on commodity PCs.
The reason I choose to pay through the nose for my computers is very simple: unlike just about every other manufacturer in the business, Apple appreciate the importance of good industrial design.
Most of the major computer vendors were started by salesmen or engineering executives. Over time, marketing took over as the main driving force. Design doesn't get much of a look in edgeways — with the intermittent exception of Sony's high-end kit, most PC vendors wouldn't know good industrial design if you hit them over the head with it. Apple, however, is different.
There is a focus on industrial design at Apple that is ubiquitous in other business sectors but absent from the rest of the personal computing industry. Automobile marketing is almost entirely design- and fashion-driven these days, followed by technology in second place. The PC business isn't; what passes for design is a choice of differently-coloured injection-molded plastic cases stuffed full of badly-integrated cruft. There are wires everywhere, bad ergonomics (did I rant yet about the iniquities of far eastern keyboard designers and their contempt for the right-shift key?), and to cap it all there's Windows — a dog's dinner of an operating system — plus lashings of try-before-you-buy junkware. Sure you can get decently designed PCs, but you'll end up paying as much as you would for a Mac: and you still have to scrape the crud off them to get a halfway acceptable experience.
Worse: for the most part, PC people don't understand the value of good design. The value of good design is simple, literally: stuff that's well designed is easy to use, fit for purpose, and doesn't put obstructions in the way of you using it to get stuff done. Design, in the computing biz, is all too often confused with technology, which is something entirely different. Yes, there is a place for advanced technology: but it shouldn't be getting in your face. All too often, PC vendors market their products by over-emphasizing the technology that goes into them, rather than by making the damn things useful. And then they look down their nose at anyone who complains that this stuff is hard.
I use Macs because I appreciate good industrial design when I see it; I work sitting in an Aeron chair in front of a 1970s vintage Swedish desk, and I don't want to spend sixty hours a week sitting at that desk staring at something that looks like it was thrown together from the spare parts bin. I want an operating system descended from UNIX under the hood, because I have twenty-plus years experience of bossing UNIX systems around (and UNIX, in my opinion, exhibits a degree of basic design consistency in its userland experience that is missing from the Microsoft world). I like the Mac OS X graphical experience because it looks good, (as it should, because before it could be released it had to satisfy a fanatical design perfectionist obsessed with caligraphy). And I am sitting in front of this thing for sixty hours a week. I have better things to do with my time than nurse a balky, badly-designed system that shits itself all over my hard disk on a regular basis, or spends half its time running urgent maintenance tasks that stop me getting stuff done.
I could write while sitting on a cheap IKEA stool in front of a kitchen table, banging away on a netbook loaded with Windows XP. But after a week, my back and my wrists would hurt and I'd be bleeding from the eyeballs every time I looked at the screen. It'd be like spending sixty hours a week driving a cheap Chevrolet Shitweasel instead of a Mercedes: sure, think of the savings — but the pain will get to you in the end.
Let the average price of a laptop PC (when you add in the necessary applications) be £600, and the average price of a Macbook Pro be £1200. Amortized over a year, I'm paying about £2 a day for a decent working environment. That's the price of a cup of coffee in Starbucks. If you drive to and from your day job for an hour a day, you'd seriously consider buying a more comfortable car. A better, more comfortable computing environment costs peanuts in comparison.
One day, I hope, the entire PC industry will cotton on to the value of good industrial design and start taking it as seriously as Apple; or that those companies who don't will go bust. I'll spend less of my time answering questions from confused friends and family. Maybe it'll mean less employment for technical support staff. But for the rest of us, it'll mean more time to do the things we consider to be important.