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More Flame Bait

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.



I recall Ellison talking about Fritz Leiber and saying that towards the end, Leiber was living in a one room apartment. It was so small that it didn't have a table. When Leiber wanted to write he had to prop his typewriter on the sink.
So whatever works and makes you happy.


The PC manufacturers are hosed by their OS, really- because at the end of the day, no amount of industrial design on their part is going to change or differentiate the core experience. That money is just wasted, because at the end of the day it is just a frame around Windows. (Which is much improved with Win7 but still the same everywhere.) If they had more control over the OS, and could improve or differentiate that, then it would make sense to invest in hardware. But they don't, so they won't. (Daring Fireball wrote more about this here: It puts your fairly wishy-washy Mac advocacy to shame ;)


As much as I like working on Macs under OSX, I cannot agree that non-removable battery is good. Apart from that - yes, Apple hardware+software gives overall better experience, even if because of the fact that there are no third party drivers that you need to cater for. Everything should and will work, in majority of the cases, from the first moment. And my criteria were kind of similar to yours - enough of Unix to let me do what I want, reasonably good UI and glue around that.

This still doesn't mean Apple's hardware and software are godsend, nor that Mac OSX is vastly superior. It's like mutt - just sucks less.


Back when I was in grad school, ecologists used PCs, evolutionary biologists used Macs, and people who studied both had both.


Mac was fucking clueless about relational databases, and when you had large amounts of inter-related data (aka ecology), you had to use Access or something similar to manage your data. Nowdays, it's GIS data, which has the same issues, and is similarly bound to PCs, because there's ENSR is the only game in town (although Google's giving it a try. We'll see what happens).

Similarly, until around 2001, there were no usable cladistics analysis programs for the PC, so you had to have a Mac to analyze all that nifty DNA data that was flooding in. When NONA and the Ratchet turned up for PCs only, most cladistics labs simply bought a PC to run them on, in the corner, so that they'd get different analysis of the data that was already perking away on a bank of Macs.

Yes, I do wish Apple would appreciate good industrial design. Make that good design for industry. AFAIK, they ceded the whole small-medium data management field to PCs. If they'd had the guts to go for it, Apple would be a serious player now.


Good design is rare in almost any industry. Recall that in the 1970's UK industrial and consumer goods were so bad
that the "Buy British" campaign devolved into a "Please look at British goods before you buy foreign". What turned this situation around was the promotion of design by the UK design Council.

The US, in contrast, is still mainly in the pre-design phase of goods manufacture, with the notable exception of automobiles (which are still not designed well, IMHO). As a result, most US goods emphasize technology and features, but look like crap. Contrast that with Italian goods that look great, but work like crap (unless they are low tech). With outsourcing, the US may never reach the "good design phase".

Part of the problem is the status of designers in the US. Except for the rock-star designer, most design is done at the "tarting up the product, because it looks like s**t phase". But if good design is introduced early, it takes almost no time before the Marketing droids have ruined the design in the belief that design can be done by anyone, and product advertising is more important than esthetics or functionality.

Apple, under Jobs, is a notable exception. Whether the design DNA is now part of Apple or not will be evident when his successor eventually assumes the helm. As you found out with your Sony Vaio experience, Morita had not impregnated his design DNA into the firm in any lasting way.


Apple generally does a good job on industrial design, but even they can screw things up. Take the ipod touch, for example. For some inexplicable reason they chose to put the headphone jack on the bottom of the unit. This means that, approximately 100% of the time that I pick it up out of my shirt pocket when I'm listening to it that the UI is upside down, and I can't unplug the charger without unplugging the headphones first. It's extremely annoying, and it could have been easily fixed by just allowing the UI to display upside down, the way many ipod/iphone apps do.

And the media player app is in some respects a downgrade to the old ipod software. I primarily use it to listen to audiobooks, and it's extremely easy to accidently forward to the beginning of the next chapter stop, which may be an hour or more of audio away from where I was listening, with no easy way to get back to where I meant to start listening from. Now it's still better than most devices, but the move to general-purpose computing device from targeted audio-video player did come at a cost.


Would you mind expanding on what exactly makes the Mac an example of good industrial design?

I suppose I'm looking more for a "here's what Macs do right" rather than a "here's what PCs do wrong". Not that I'm complaining, I'm just wondering what you personally find great about the Mac.

(And yes, I paid more for my PC laptop than an equivalent Macbook, almost as much because of the design as the technology. Being able to turn off my touchpad so I don't accidentally bump it while typing is one of the greatest design features ever.

Not because it added something I didn't know I wanted, but because it removed an annoyance I didn't realize I'd have.)


What's your thoughts on the design of Alienware Laptops?
Match the design of Apple?

Smallish, niche company, but beautiful computers.




For years my colleagues had urged me to get a Mac, right after relating horror stories about dead Macs. (I had been using mostly FreeBSD and some Windows in my laptops.) They insisted that even with the hardware problems, Macs were worth it.

When I started at AT&T Labs about three years ago, I had them buy me a 17" Macbook Pro. After four hours, I decided I was never going back. Even the touch pad, which I wasn't a fan of, disappeared beneath my notice, doubtless because it was engineered correctly.

The battered remains of that machine is warming my lap right now after nearly three years of hard, daily use, and despite two drastic failures, including a motherboard meltdown right before a PC meeting. (I had to use my iPhone for the meeting notes: it worked.)

So, get a Mac, get the extra Applecare, and pay for the BMW of machines. You use it every day: it is stupid to skimp, and it is a pleasure to work with an engineering marvel. And FreeBSD is just underneath, ready in case you need to do real computing.



This may end up sounding like management-gobbledygook, but bear with me...

People often say that Apple distinguishes itself with its devotion to industrial design, but it seems to me that people who say that don't quite grasp what that means. Attention to detail, yes... user-oriented, yes... aesthetically pleasing, yes... but that's only a piece of the story.

The big thing that Apple understands is that industrial design is a long-term process. You have a concept that you try to realize concretely, and once you've done it you keep working at it. Compare the original iPod with the iPod touch, or the original iMac with the current model. Physically, completely different-- but conceptually the same.

This is the trick that Apple pulls off again and again. No one else in the tech game even comes close.


People scoff at my use of a mac, but that doesn't stop them from coming to me for advice when they don't understand what's going on with their PC. I've always had trouble describing exactly why I like OSX so much, but you've hit the nail right on the head for me with this description.
On the other hand, as a student, I think I'll be stuck with this plastic Costco folding table and IKEA chair a while longer.


Bill@9: Recent stats from the companies that track this kind of thing show that Apple has a pretty poor record for reliability overall. For pure reliability, some of the Taiwanese brands do much, much better.

Mattf is right: it's not enough to put out a single good product, you have to keep on working at it.

The other big difference between Apple and the other companies in the same space is that Apple by default thinks about the user experience of the whole system: the hardware is just a small part of that.

Think of the iPod: it wasn't just that the hardware was polished. It was the integration with iTunes & the music management & ability to buy music online that really made the difference. The Taiwanese mp3 player manufacturers were all trying to compete on features, not realising that the majority of their customers found their products frustrating and difficult to use. Apple sold their customers a product that did the minimum that they needed, but with style & ease and ate them for lunch.

It's this that really distinguishes Apple from anyone else & why products like the iPhone are such a success. *Anyone* could have made the iPhone, but the existing players in the smartphone market were stuck in a local minima of selling contract phones which competed on tick box feature lists. Apple came along and turned the market on it's head by refusing to compromise on the user experience (which is why initially they could only get the weakest of the US carriers to take the iPhone: the others were unwilling to give up their control of the platform).


People do go on about Apple's concentration on design, but I have to say that Apple designs generally leave me cold. They're just not my thing; my brain and my hands just don't "grok it" the way Mackistas' do. Maybe it's because I started with Commodores and TRS-80s or something, or because my own first personal computer ran DOS and I never dealt with *NIX environments.

In any case, this is very much one of those "your milage may vary" situations. For me (particularly now that my main media server is my Xbox game console) Windows is my preferred environment.

-- Steve

PS: I still don't understand all the hyperbole over the as-yet mythical iSlate. I like my micro-tablet PC very much and likely will replace it with a similar design when it dodders off, but all this passion for a device that hasn't even been announced yet (apparently on the merits of the name) baffles me.

PPS: Be it resolved that integral batteries are Marks of the Daemon whose forbidden name is "Planned Obsolescence", and whose Evil must be driven back into the darkness from whence it came.


I agree with Charlie about how nice good design is, and that Apple are probably the only company designing the whole system with an integrated experience in mind. I think they could do better, though.

I've poked around various user interfaces, including writing an FVWM setup (which I doubt I'll want to do again) and a Gnome theme (gtk2, where is your documentation? what do all these options actually do?). I'm firmly of the opinion that OS X favours "shiny!" over usability. Watch someone who's never used it before: they look confused, with good reason. Lots of important stuff accessed by clicking the apple logo, whose function as a button isn't at all obvious: it doesn't even light up when you hover over it. Ditto the shared role of the dock icons as launcher and minimise symbol: the only difference is a tiny little black arrow that might not even be obvious if your desktop has a dark background. The modal ribbon along the top of the screen is entrenched by tradition, and belongs in the dark ages where desktop systems could only do one thing at once. I'm pretty sure most of this stuff breaks Apple's own usability guidelines, which are widely pointed to as being the Bible for the field.

You no doubt get used to all these things pretty quickly, but they're not actually good design.


At work, I've got a Dell desktop. It was assigned to me by the company, so I didn't really have much choice about it. I did have the choice of putting Linux on it, so the OS is decent. The box itself is decent, and it's under my desk, so I don't even see it. The LCD screens are nice. The mouse is okay. The Dell keyboard, however, is worthless. Here, I do have a choice, and I brought in one of my IBM Model M keyboards. This keyboard turned 18 in October. Since this is the main way people work with the computer, it makes sense that if nothing else, spend money on a decent keyboard. The Model M isn't for everyone, but it is extremely solid and well made. The Apple keyboards that I've used are not so good, especially not the tactile feedback.


Decent (good enough) industrial design is incredibly easy to achieve. It takes great talent and resources to achieve excellent design such as Apple's or Nintendo's.

Problem: good enough design is very rare. So very rare. I only have an amateur interest in the subject (and am by no way a professional), and I'm appalled by what I'm seeing in both software and hardware.

I'm not sure what causes this, although I suppose it's just that not enough people ever ask themselves "how are people going to use this?" There is also, I guess, a common misunderstanding as to what "industrial design" is. No, it doesn't mean "pretty gizmos."

Disclaimer: I'm your average Linux-using, Microsoft hater, I have to admit. On the design front, they're terrible. The latest Office looks pretty good, admittedly; but generally they're terrible. Let me take an example I experienced recently: how IE handles self-signed SSL certificates. In short: badly. When presented with such a cert, IE displays a not very explicit warning (most people won't understand what it means), and when you waive the warning, it displays a red url bar. Next time you go back to the same site, it will have forgotten you've already ack'd it, and will warn you again. Problem: people get used to seeing that warning, so they pay no attention to it anymore, and will happily log into a phishing site on a dodgy WiFi hotspot instead of their banks.

Contrast with Firefox: it will store the certificate, and will not bother you if you connect to the same site and it has the same certificate. Users will see the warning only once, in a specific situation, so it will not lose its meaning. Hence they will pay attention if it pops up.

Good enough user interfaces do not require fancy gizmos. The good ole terminal mail app Pine has had an excellent UI for over a decade, with no graphics. Much better than many desktop apps.


I first used a Mac before I ever used a PC, and before Windows was even released.

I hated and despised it instantly.

I wanted to do accomplish a perfect Mac-task: create some simple graphics slides for a presentation (meaning printing them on letter-size transparency sheets for use on an overhead projector). MacPaint seemed the best tool around, so I tried to use it.

It was completely opaque, and completely lacking in documentation. I ended up making those slides by photographing the screen of a GIGI graphics terminal driven by a command-line graphics application on TOPS-20; the application wasn't that simple, but it was documented.

I suppose I hated Apple before that, though. I'd tried to do some simple things on an Apple II belonging to Will Shetterly and Emma Bull. It had Basic on it, and I'd been working with Basic since the summer of 1970. However, on that basic, with the documentation that came with it, we couldn't figure out how to do the simplest file-handling tasks. Completely opaque, documentation absent, unlike anything else.

And the fervor of the Apple fans is a huge contributing factor too. When anybody raves about the wonders of stuff like that, it has to *deliver*.

I guess I sit at a computer about 60 hours a week myself -- at work. And then another couple of hours in the evening, and another 5 hours or so on weekend days, so that'd be more like 80 hours I guess.

I've worked with good designers; more, with good designers trained in user interface. They were very, very useful to work with on website projects. They could explain WHY they thought certain things helped, and rank the priority of things on a rational basis (some things were easy to do, some hard; so do all the easy stuff, and pick out the most valuable of the hard stuff that can fit the schedule). It was great.

For me, Apple is grotesquely inconsistent. The concept of dragging your disk into the trash to trigger an eject is enough to make my blood run cold; only somebody totally impervious to what using a computer is like could have contemplated that idiocy for a nanosecond. In lots of other ways, they do pretty good user interface.

They do great industrial design, too, but that's irrelevant bullshit, that's what stuff LOOKS LIKE. Don't give a flying fuck what my computer looks like, sorry. I also don't think the Aeron chairs from my last two jobs are nearly as comfortable as the more conventional chairs from the job before that (one of which I'm still using at home). The Aeron seems a classic example of the triumph of design, looking good, over function.


David @12: I will admit to cheating -- the Aeron chair came second-hand by way of eBay, and the Swedish desk came from a charity shop fifteen years ago. (But unlike computers, desks and chairs don't rapidly go out of date.)

Anton P. Nym: the thing about the iSlate is ... we know Steve Jobs is just a little bit mad, right? I'm pretty sure Steve is chasing a vision. He's been chasing it since at least 1984, when he insisted on marketing the original Macintosh as a closed box -- perfect unto itself. He's polished this vision through successive products, and it gets a little bit more visible each time, culminating -- so far -- in the iPhone. What Steve wants is: a single, smooth, shiny device, like a sea-washed pebble. One control, and one only. You stroke it and it comes to life and light. It does what you want -- whatever you want -- smoothly and instantly, so intuitively it doesn't need a user manual, yet with incredible, unfolding, flexibility and power when you call for it.

This device does not exist. Arguably, it cannot exist. But Steve Jobs is trying to bring it into existence, because anything short of perfection irritates him to the point of throwing temper tantrums.

The iSlate is Steve's fifth attempt at giving birth to this Ur-device. #1 was the Macintosh. #2 was the iMac, or maybe the Titanium Macbook. #3 was the iPod. #4 was the iPhone. #5 ... will probably be the iSlate, and if it delivers even 10% of what Steve wants it to be, it'll be an eye-opener -- not because of any single thing, but because the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.

See where the buzz is coming from?

Chris L: you're right, actually. Part of the problem is OS/X's heritage, which goes right back to NeXTStep circa 1990. The UI grew and has accreted cruft. And the apps ... iTunes is a crawling horror these days, grotesquely in need of a simplifying redesign.

I still maintain that they pay far more attention to the user experience than Microsoft, much less the box-shifter OEMs who buy Windows and lard it down with cruft like McAffee AntiVirus and assorted third-party movie players.


Two drastic failures in only three years? And for that kind of crappy badly-built quality you're willing to pay BMW prices?

Charlie's idea of "industrial design" means it looks pretty, or at least attractive to him at a given moment in time. My idea of "industrial design" is kit that can be abused and/or ignored and Just Works, like the fourteen-year-old laptop I stood on the other day. It's a Panasonic Toughbook, ugly as all get out, weighs more than four Macbook Airs and it has never been serviced or repaired or anything. It Just Works (although the keyboard could do with being hosed down).


Well said! The only thing that I am missing on my macbook is a built-in SD card reader and the ability to swivel the screen back all the way until it's in line with the keyboard/body.


niczar@16, I sort of have to go with the Microsoft model over Firefox here on your self-signed SSL certificates thing. By choosing to accept a self-signed certificate you're making a poor decision in the general case. Sure, there may be specific situations (testing SSL in a lab, etc.) but in those cases you just install the correct root cert and avoid them anyways. In virtually every other case it was a bad choice.

With firefox, you make the bad choice once, and you're locked in. With the IE model you get the chance to reconsider your poor decision.

Now, one thing that IE could have done was a much better explanation of what the errors actually mean. IE, how difficult would it to add an explanation like, "This website claims to be administed by 'company x' but there is no way of verifying this, so be wary before giving them sensitive information". Or alternatively, on other cert errors, something like "This website is administrated by 'company x' but its security credentials expire on 1/1/2008" where you could look at how long ago it expired.

I'd figure the most common cert errors I see are expired certs, certs for a different domain, and self-signed certs. In the first case, if it's a recent expiration it's nbd. In the second, if it's for a clearly related company, again it's nbd, but if it's not, probably not. In the third? Depends on context, but someone not willing to spend the very minimal cost for a real SSL cert is not likely to be in business long enough to do business with them, the risk is too great.


The truth is, the only thing that makes a Mac a Mac is OS X. Remove OS X and it's just a well designed piece of hardware with all the same problems as the average PC, whether you're running LINUX or Windows.

When I purchase a Mac, I am not buying industrial design. Industrial design is just a bonus. When I purchase a Mac, I'm purchasing the privilege of not having to run the god awful Windows operating system.


Charlie@20: I think the 'One control to rule them all' obsession is the very reason I loathe Apple design(apart from the shiny white surfaces that burn my photosensitive eyes in anything approaching direct sunlight).
I like having many control options, it adds flexibility. Case in point, my current phone (HTC touch pro) has 5 different ways of inputting information, 3 of which, in theory, could do everything all on their own.

I also build my own desktops (Why should I tolerate a closed case if I wont tolerate a closed OS?), and would do the same for laptops if it wasn't far more difficult to do so at the current time. being able to shop for your own, unobtrusive case notable mainly for its complete lack of plastic is a good feeling.


Charlie, I wish I could disagree with you, as I used to be bigoted against Apple (and still am when it comes to desktop operating systems - right on to the complaints about outdated and arcane interface elements), but the ease and simplicity of using my Ipod, the smooth, slick interface, the fact that it "just works," and its convenience and portability are something I have never seen in a mobile device after years of looking.

There's no loading times (the animations cleverly conceal them - enhancing the user experience instead of throwing hardware tech at the problem) and I've never seen an application glitch or fail, at all. The search function on the Ipod is instantaneous. The overall integrated experience is unmatched by any competing device.

After 20 years of using X86-based PC Dos/Windows operating systems, I can never go to a Mac. (Plus, they are just less effective for most of what I do.) But I can see why others would, and why Apple might clean up in certain product categories. They sometimes offer a well-designed "user experience," something that a whole lot of Windows-based software and hardware developers forgot about or abandoned around 2000/2001. (Witness what has happened to PC games, the Vista debacle, the hot-rodded, tacky, cheaply-built computer cases, failing keyboards, etc...)

I still use a netbook instead of a Macbook air, though. The Macbook Air just won't fit into the compartment of a knapsack. And it costs twice as much as a netbook without offering significantly more power. I can't justify that. But yes, it would be more pleasant to type on - but it won't fit in cramped bus/plane seating arrangements.

This is where Apple goes wrong for me - they don't care about the netbook market because it could cannibalize their own high-end sales. So I'm a "crappy" customer in their view. Fine, I'll buy netbooks and run an OS that handles the most apps. The "Apple Way" works on Ipods, but I find that I don't want to get stuck into the "Apple Way" of doing things on a laptop/desktop.


I love how everyone's convinced that the awful "iSlate" is going to be the actual name for Apple's upcoming device, just because Apple's reserved a domain and trademark.

People, Apple's got enough money that they can register domains and trademarks just on the off chance that they one day might use them.

It's entirely possible that "iSlate" and "Magic Slate" are working names, or red herrings, or names for licensable technologies rather than consumer devices.


I think MattF makes a very good point. I had a perfectly nice Nokia phone a few years ago, which eventually gave up the ghost and had to be replaced. I swapped it for what the man in the shop told me was an "updated model"; slightly more compact, a few extra features, but essentially the same phone.

Instead, the operating system seems to have been re-engineered from the ground up with the same set of features on paper, but with none of them done quite as well — the calendar in particular had a bug which cost me over £300 in missed flights. Everything was less responsive, cheaper feeling, slightly less consistent.

Essentially, what Nokia had done was to see that a particular phone was popular, but give only lip service towards updating it — probably because they were more excited by new, untested designs.

So many companies underestimate the value of a well-tested, well-loved product line. Apple is very much the exception.


@22: if you have to work with a self-signed cert once, you have to see the dialog several times, every time. The most common occurence is a web config for a web application. Where I work we buy certs even for such apps, but there are times when I have to ask some users to log on a self signed cert thingie, because I'm testing something, and I don't want to waste 12€ and half an hour getting a fucking cert for a one time thing.

What you don't seem to understand is that users get bad habits very quickly. If you have them confirm the cert just once, they see it as a one time thing. They don't get the habit. With IE, they get to see the damn thing a dozen times even if I run the test service for only a couple days.


«Depends on context, but someone not willing to spend the very minimal cost for a real SSL cert is not likely to be in business long enough to do business with them, the risk is too great.»

What you fail to grasp here is that users pay the price for those cert warnings, by becoming vulnerable to phishing. There's no point warning a user several times. If you get MITM'd on a dodgy wifi connection, it does not matter whether the bad certs has been stored as ack'd or not; if the user has accepted it once, the deed is done. So you might as well store it for those 99.99% cases when it's good, because the 0.01% case is toast anyway, PLUS the users doesn't notice the warning anymore.


Hardware side: if you build it yourself, you'll save tons
Software side: see "Hackintosh"


whats funny is that apple products of today looks very much like german kitchen and living room products from the 60's.

me, i got a sweet spot for the ibm/lenovo thinkpads. Sure, the basic design is a square of black plastic, but they are built like workhorses (unless lenovo decides to mess with it, so far so good it would seem).

to me, mac invokes the mental image of a peacock. But that could probably be related to my first encounter with a mac user, who would never stop berating me when some kind of exchange between our computers failed (like say transferring a zip archive over irc, where mirc would refuse to accept as the file had no .zip, resulting in him going on about metadata files and whatsnot).

since then i have scaled back my windows use, only reason i keep a partition around is for that ol gaming addiction. Besides that its the way of the penguin. Mostly because when something goes wrong, its often right there in plain english whats wrong, rather then a screenful of hex that seems to be what windows barfs each time something goes wrong.

Sure, i could go mac, if i felt like trashing all the hardware i have and getting new stuff, or wrestle a hackintosh. The latter to me sounds like a hair from wresting a linux install, so...

i find myself wondering where the company had gone, had woz gotten more into the daily running of things. But then that was never his style i guess.


David@18: "They do great industrial design, too, but that's irrelevant bullshit, that's what stuff LOOKS LIKE. Don't give a flying fuck what my computer looks like, sorry."

Industrial design is not just what stuff looks like. Esthetics is just part of the design process. It is about ease of use, functionality and yes, preferably robustness.

You may not care what stuff looks like, but esthetics are important. As Donald Norman wrote, things that are esthetic and designed well are used more because of that. It's hard not to want to use your iPhone, the pebble like nature of the device just encourages you to play with it.

As for Apple doing the hardware well... As others have said, there are some questionable choices. I have a MacBook Pro (the older plastic case, not the new metal one) and I think that the lid bending up on either side of the catch over time is bad design. For me, the esthetics are ruined by this weakness.

Having said that, the design is still streets ahead of almost any other PC. The keyboard alone, with its light-up keys in dim light and which the alphanumeric characters cannot rub off with use is a good example of good hardware design.


There's also long term maintenance issues. Every Mac I've ever owned has lasted a minimum of 6 years (my G4 Powerbook recently died but not because of a virus or bad software but because I did something ill-advised to it). Most PCs I've used, even my well-maintained work PCs with a small battalion if IT support to keep them running, are exhausted in 2-3 years. A Badly maintained PC (i.e., the one your parents use to download viruses and answer email from their friends in Nigeria) will last you 18 months, if you're lucky. Twice the cost but 3-4 times the lifespan is a huge plus in Apple's corner, even without considering the industrial design angle (for which I am 100% in agreement).


Oh, I grasp what you're saying, I just don't agree with it. What you're saying boils down to 'oh, I gave a key to my flat to someone who turned out to be untrustworthy, but the deed is done, and I just have to deal with him having a key and not being able to keep him out'. And I vehemently disagree with your characterization of a 10000 to 1 ratio of good to bad on cert warnings - for a self-signed cert, I'd basically never want to accept it in any situation where I wouldn't trust the company issuing the cert to just give me the root cert to install. For an expired cert, if it's more than, say, 30 days out, I wouldn't want to accept it. Once again, that's because if someone can't afford to pay the minimal fees for a renewal, or doesn't have the support staff to ensure that this is done, they're simply not someone that it's worth the risk of doing business with.

Now, as I said, IE's not off of the hook here. "There's a problem with this website's security certificate" doesn't give the inexperienced user enough information to make an informed judgement, and they could do a much better job there. But 'compromised once, compromised forever' simply can't be a good thing.


oh, and a couple of replies to other comments:

@24, shuttle was showing off a laptop motherboard format this CES that they hoped would be the basis for making laptop as user upgradeable as desktops.

@25, iirc, the ipod firmware was bought by apple from a startup, not grown in house (hell, it may well be that apple grabbed the whole statup for all i know). Same with itunes, btw. Whats really funny is that ipod was doing so so until itunes hit windows. And maybe it helped that one could tell at a glance if a person was using a ipod, thanks to those white wires (make them also a easy target for thugs once the dap got attention).


I believe that the above complaints about Mac OS X are based on 2 issues:

- Being extreme power users purchasing products aimed at mass markets. No one makes a computer that's Just Right for you b/c there's no economy of scale to be had.
- All today's computer GUIs are modest variations on what Englebart designed 40 years ago.

I further believe (or hope!) that the promise of the slate lies in the possibility of establishing a worthwhile new approach to HCI. If it does that, it will be a tremendous accomplishment. 99% of what you will read about it will downplay that and focus on purchasing advice.


I think what is at work here is a typical case of Stockholm syndrome. I mean, who could love Apple mice, unless you've be whipped by them insane for so many weeks that you suddenly feel sympathetic for their design? Usability-wise they have often sucked really bad.

Tell me the name of a PROGRAMMER that appreciates Apple keyboards, and I'm sure we have another case of the same syndrome. Sure, they're pretty, but where are the curly braces? Oh, they aren't pretty enough to be given a bit of black ink so we can find them. Same with so many other special characters.

Then we have the solid aluminium body. Ooooh. But, seriously, is it so cool that you drool over it worth 2 pounds every day? Really?

But the hardware is good quality, right? I don't have any solid statistics on this, but my colleagues that are Apple addicts sure have more disk failures than people would be willing to take, unless, of course, there's that Stockholm syndrome at work again.


whats funny is that apple products of today looks very much like german kitchen and living room products from the 60's.

Modernism in action. Whatever it is you build, it will be used by human beings (whose basic parameters don't change much) to do something. Therefore, you need to design it for people to work with. The original modernist statement is roughly that, therefore, there are rules for designing anything to fit humanity if you just stick to ergonomics, function, and eliminate the cruft.

You can argue about the art and the literature. The product design, graphics, fashion, photography, movies, not so much. This is probably not surprising; modernism began with applied art, at the Bauhaus and Wiener Werkstatte etc etc, and extended from that into the abstract. The difficult bit here is the architecture; pretty much nothing else is more controversial or more varied in its degree of success or failure. here a Unite d'Hab, there a Castlemilk. But then, architecture is perhaps the strangest form of creativity - too many variables, always so subject to the blundering forces of history and nature.

I've done the Mac-PC hop twice - having learned Windows from 3.1 through XP, I went to Mobile Comms International, and found Informa was a Mac shop (for designers, reporters, and editors only - everyone else had PCs). I actually really hated it for three months while rewiring all the muscle-memory, then loved it for the rest of my time there. The Mac in question was a 450MHz tower (styled like the iMac lappy) but it didn't seem any slower than most recent PCs. Later, I managed to get hold of a G4 iBook going spare. Then I quit Informa and had to hand back the lappy and adjust to a new Samsung Q45 and Windows Vista. This time I spent two months relearning Windows...and installed Mandriva Linux.

I've still got the Q-ship and it's now running OpenSUSE 11.2, which means the screen brightness controls work. (In fact, SUSE 11.2/KDE 4.3 is fantastic, justworky, fast, elegant, and I recommend and endorse it.) I do like the ThinkPads - hyperfunctional anti-design - and some of the netbooks (notably the Samsungs) look great.

An example: Apple mobile devices always seem to have the audio socket on one of the narrow ends of the gadget, so if you slide it into a pocket, the plug and the cable run nicely out of the mouth of the pocket, and there is no sideways force on the interface between the two. I've never had a mobile music player or any other piece of mobile electronics that got this right - the headphone socket always goes sporky as the leverage at right angles beats up the connection behind it. The otherwise excellent Nokia E71 does this, for example. actually, I tell a lie. I did have an HTC Windows Mobile device on product review that got it right, but it also destroyed a 1GB mini-SD card full of music and photos, when one of those cost money.


Today there are plenty of data management options for OS X. PostgreSQL (including PostGIS), MySQL, and native options like FileMaker or Bento.

In my case, as a MS SQL Server DBA, I can run local databases in a VM on my MBP, without having to downgrade to a Windows only workstation.

I suppose this option would be available for MS Access as well, but who wants Access anyway? ;)


I use Macs because I appreciate good industrial design when I see it; I work sitting in an Aeron chair...

Me too. I like Alain de Botton's comments on design in The Architecture of Happiness. Although I think Macs are nice, and I like them, I would add one caveat: you don't need one for writing. I realize you don't argue that one does, or should, but I see that kind of sentiment floating around often enough to write the linked post.



I used to have a Cowon iAudio MP3 player. When it died, I bought an iPod because all the reviews said how good the UI was (and because it had a 120GB disk). And it has been annoying me ever since.

iTunes is the worst part. I have my music stored in a folder hierarchy, organised as I want to organise it. iTunes and the iPod insists on presenting my music to me in predefined organisational structures. In essence, Apple is telling me that they know how I should organise my files better than I do. And that goes against the primary rule of usability design: put the user in control.

There are hardware aspects too. Because the buttons are overloaded, sometimes when I touch them they do something other than what I desire. This is irritating.

To be fair, the button layout on the Cowon wasn't that good either. But the software was much better.

I'm glad you're happy with your iPod. I'm not happy with mine.



all true, absolutely true, but things changing, I won't hold my breath.. we now have windoze 7....


I prefer to use a small crochet hook between the keys on my keyboard to clean it out. I think water might be a bit much.


@24: One button to rule them all...

@19: Charlie, I think this is what you're trying to say.

According to Apple, good design consists of the following:

One fine day about four decades ago, Steve Jobs drops acid and watches 2001 (ref). He gets this *great idea* of what the ideal computer is supposed to look like: it's black, it has this single red eye, it has 1:4:9 proportions. And he's been trying to create it ever since.

Is that what's driving Apple? Wow. Duuuuuuuuuude.

No wonder I don't understand good design.


Something else. In my first week at MCI, I diagnosed a power supply snit on my editor's Powerbook. This was the removable battery era, and I advised him to debattery the thing, which worked. I just wish it hadn't started singing "Daisy, Daisy..."


My Gateway is 11 years old, with no problems so far other than drive capacity.


I haven't seen a Mac in a number of years, but it would be impossible for me to use unless they've fixed this:

My hands are not steady enough to hover over the top of a drop-down menu and then move to hover/click over one of the drop-down choices. With a PC, I can click on the top of the drop-down and then click on the choice.

Using my trackball makes this kind of thing easier, but I'm still losing the drop-down menu a lot more than I get to the choice.


It's a Panasonic. Higher-end models come with drain-holes (seriously). When they were asked the question by a somewhat sarcastic reviewer, the designers said "Yes, you can put it in a dishwasher but we recommend the top rack otherwise you are likely to void the warranty."


As an alienware laptop user circa 2007-ish I can say they won the aesthetics award but were disqualified on the engineering contest. While it had the great design of being removable/upgradable, the video card on mine overheated and had to be replaced several times due to inadequate ventilation (last count before the warranty finally ran out was 4 video cards and would have been 5 if it was still under warranty).

I seem to remember an old addage about programming that when modified slightly describes this perfectly...
You can build a cheap device, a good looking device, or a well-engineered device, pick two.


Good news, @47 about holding down the button on menus. They fixed that in 1997.


@Marilee 47 - Wow, you really haven't used a Mac for a while! They added support for click and release menus around a decade ago back in the pre-Mac OS X era (before Mac OS was essentially replaced by a descendent of NextSTEP) and it remains to this day.

The Mac OS of today is absolutely nothing like the Mac OS you remember, and whether that's a good thing (it's not, entirely), it's certainly reason to abandon any old objections and give it another try.


Some of us believe the near future will be vaguely like some of your novels. As our computers become more important aspects of who we are, control over the source code is very important.


Design is evolutionary. Good design is also expensive - iteration is necessary.

Any product Apple begets upon the world reflects 30+ years of investment in human/machine interaction. You're paying today for tomorrow's design.

Apple computers also cost more because, generally speaking, the bits you touch are high quality. Netbooks are cheap for a reason.

Personally, can't stand OS/X (mainly due to ignorance of how it works), and my partner's one button MacBook drives me insane, but man does her black MacBook look great. Magnetic power cable? Give the person who thought of that a Nobel Prize.

One question though: how do you know those laptop keyboards sans right-shift aren't specified by someone in the US when they place their orders? I'd prefer to place the blame on the prime not the sub-contractor!


My dad had a saying for what you're getting at. He was a Mac user very early on, because he said that using a PC was "just like using a computer". I've used Macs, but lots of other things as well. Right now, I have a macbook, but I also netbook with Ubuntu installed. It's OK, but every time I use it, I'm reminded of what my dad said because just like using a computer.


but my colleagues that are Apple addicts sure have more disk failures than people would be willing to take, unless, of course, there's that Stockholm syndrome at work again.

As it looks like my (

But it's so pretty...


I've been using computers since the early 80s but, with the exception of a Sinclair ZX81, I've never actually bought one. Ever since I built my first 640k IBM XT from spare parts in 1986 I've been addicted to the fun of seeing a box of random parts come to life after a couple of hour's work. And that is probably the reason I've never been attracted to MACs. I've used them in college and work situations and in VMWare and Hackintosh configurations on home PCs but they just never grabbed me that way. Over the years I've probably invested more money in software then I have in hardware and even that isn't a lot. You see, my version of "user-friendly" involves opening the bonnet and getting my hands dirty and MACs just don't seem to be that way inclined...


Charlie, once again you've articulated something I couldn't (& helped me make a decision). I'd just like to add something tech sophisticated people forget. Tech disadvantaged/challenged people are better off in the in the admittedly limited -but also closed cozy- Apple world/system....It is easier


"Is that what's driving Apple? Wow. Duuuuuuuuuude.

No wonder I don't understand good design."

So you make up something about Apple and then mock them for it? Gee, that's an easy approach: Bill Gates has acne! Eeewwww!


I'm a Mac-using writer, but there are other ways to cheat when it comes to saving money. I'm writing just now on a refurbished PPC G4 ibook I bought maybe three years ago for about £400 from Cancom, a Mac specialist. It's been a brilliant experience, and the only time I've had any problems have been my fault (because I'm a clumsy dolt).

I'm no expert in how the refurb business works, but my understanding is that you pretty much end up with a brand-new computer at maybe half the price. Apparently the refurbs start life as returned machines that proved to have some issue on unboxing, like maybe a dead battery or a malfunctioning keyboard, all easily replaceable, but once returned can't be sold as new.

I took a glance on Ebay just the other day and saw refurb macbooks on sale from what looked at a glance like reliable resellers for a lot less than you'd be paying in an Apple shop. Any money that might otherwise get spent on a brand spanking-new machine could be funneled into buying, say, a second-hand Aeron chair.


It's true that Apple products, unless you get a lemon, tend to have very long lives. Thus, used and refurbished Macs are often a great deal.


I have a Mac in the attic (is it the computer of Dorian Grey? This self-assembled Windows box is lasting well...).

It's a Mac Classic, what might be called the iconic early Mac, and it doesn't have the Meccano nature that was in IBM PC at the beginning. If you wanted to write a book on it (and it still worked) it would be fine.

The UI is different enough to be tricky.

I don't think MS Windows existed at the time it was made. I remember a graphics program, which would run on an XT, that was sold with this thing called a "mouse".

Microsoft has a lot of influence on what a PC can do. Every version of Windows has set a minimum standard of some sort, but they don't care what the hardware looks like. Somebody else's problem.

One big difference is that Apple sell iPhones and iMacs and iPods, and they're clearly different, all the way through. Microsoft, on the other hand, sell Windows, and so, when I see some portable gizmo that runs "Windows CE", the effort that went into that is tainted by my experiences of all the versions of Windows that I have used.

(Where does the Xbox fit in this? Dunno.)

The impression I get is that Apple are willing to build specialised software for the machine, even if there might be parts of the code going back a long way. They're selling a complete machine. And they've had things go wrong--Apple Newton, anyone. But they're distinct. There aren't the blurred edges that make me hesitate over anything Windows.

A good designer has to be something of an engineer, and a good engineer has to be something of a designer. And good design involves the whole thing.

It wouldn't be difficult to take standard PC components and put them in a case that emulates the Mac Classic concept. I think monitor size would kill the concept, but the physical pieces are there. What would kill it would be that you can't, as the designer, control the OS.

And, if my experience with the Eee is any guide, while you can do a good design job with Linux, you have to follow through. You should make the effort to properly test the upgrades you supply. Cheap Linux is a bit of an illusion.

That problem is why Macs cost a lot more, not the hardware.


I was going to go for $HUGE_FLAMING_RANT_ABOUT_MACS and $GODWIN but decided it's better just not to bother.

Slapped wrist for Charlie for being so naughty.


"Would you mind expanding on what exactly makes the Mac an example of good industrial design?"

For me - the MagSafe power adaptor (which has saved my machine on a few occasions), the large multi-touch trackpad (which finally made me ditch using a mouse with a laptop, to a degree that I miss it when using desktops), the way that all their laptops since the iBook implemented S3 sleep properly * - close the lid & go, open the lid and start typing - no boot, no wake from hibernate.

(I compare that with colleagues walking between buildings with their laptop lids open to avoid sending them into hibernation).

The use and position of the Cmd modifier over CTRL (look at the position of CMD-Z to V, vs CTRL-Z to V). This really dates back to the fact the original Macs came with their own keyboard, so could add additional function keys, while Windows was created to run on existing PCs - but you would think that PC firms might have realised the ergonomic benefits of locating CTRL when the Apple CMD key is located.

USB ports - the last Win laptop I bought was an Acer, at slightly over £1000 - and the USB sockets were basically wobbly USB ports hanging off the motherboard exposed by a hole in the back of the case. On switching over to a Mac Mini as my next purchase I immediately noticed that each USB socket was individually cut into the case - i.e. the case acted as a guide for the cable, and there was no possibility for the user to 'wobble' the connector on the motherboard.

Oh, and before I forget, chaining the mouse (on a short lead) from the keyboard.

Then there is the casing on the current Macbooks (the single piece construction, whether Aluminium or plastic) - pick one up with one hand, compared with the previous generation of plastic Macbooks, and you can feel the difference in rigidity. Ditto a comparison with most other laptops.

For me, it is numerous small details like that, rather than the big grand design, that counts. The same is true with the operating system.

Since Windows 7, there are no big ticket features that cannot also be found in other operating systems, and Linux/other Unixes have been ahead on things like Virtual Desktops for years.

For me, though, it's the little features that count - having a single, universal dictionary & editor keyboard shortcuts shared by any application that edits text - even if the default bindings are emacs. The dominance of a single framework (Cocoa) for desktop app development also means there is a greater degree of consistency and integration.

(In contrast, with Windows, Microsoft promote .NET, and C#, as the preferred way to develop applications, but relatively little Windows software, other than line-of-business apps, does).

(There are suck points - the Dock has improved a lot over the years, but it's still not easy enough to replace it with a third-party solution. Finder still sucks. And Finder's integration with Spotlight, more so. Obviously these can't be things that offend Jobs much).

* OK - they actually took a step back with sleep on recent machines, in that it also writes a backup hibernate to disk as well, so you shouldn't move your machine. But practically speaking it still works.

#13 - the hype over the Slate is largely in expectation of the software. In terms of hardware, the iPhone contained little that was new. A lot of the concepts go back through Palm and even Apple themselves with the Newton. What distinguished it from other touch phones was execution. That someone had obviously designed something that could be used in one hand with your thumb, and with UI elements large enough to be used with fingers, rather than a stylus.

It's evident that a standard desktop OS is not the best fit for a direct-interaction UI. Neither is scaling up something designed for a 3-4" screen. The interesting question is around what will work. (And we have seen a few interesting ideas built on top of Linux and Windows).

Lastly - I'd agree with Charles. I spend a lot of time with my computers, so I don't have a problem spending more on them - in the same way that if I drove a lot for a living, I'd probably get a decent, reliable car.

On the other hand, I always remember the other side of that comparison - there is nothing more annoying than an Audi/BMW/Volvo owner telling you that you should have spent twice as much on a reliable car. Yes, they might be right, but at the same time I'm just NOT going to spend twice as much on a car - even as I acknowledge it's better engineered. So I can understand entirely why some people feel the same way about computers - they're just not something they care about.

(While Linux enthusiasts oft strike me as the same as people who enjoy working on their cars, with a preference towards things they can maintain themselves. I can see the appeal, but I'm now in the cash-rich/time-poor stage of life. Well, the time-poor side at least).


I think you've missed out the one big reason Macs have never really broken out of the niche they're in for home computers - gaming. Because Mac gaming just sucks. For this, and this alone Windows (shudder) is the One True Way. (Consoles are for kids !)

I paid as much for my PC as I would have done for a decent Mac - and I keep spending to replace bits as I go along. I have a big clunky monolith of an aluminium case (covered in stickers courtesy of the kids) which means I can have the side off and the guts rearranged soon as you like. The internals are designed very nicely though, which I appreciate.

My wife's iMac on the other hand is a beautiful piece of almost sculpture - and I wouldn't even think about going near it with a screwdriver and a chunk of hardware. (I'm sure it looks at me funny, maybe it smell other OSs on my clothes)

Oh, and if we're bragging about distros, I use Ubuntu and KDE for all my non-gaming needs. I hear Ubuntu translates as "Can't be arsed to try Debian", sounds about right to me.


but my colleagues that are Apple addicts sure have more disk failures than people would be willing to take, unless, of course, there's that Stockholm syndrome at work again.

Not quite sure what happened at #53, but as I was trying to say, as my iMac's hard drive looks like its about to fail for the second flipping time (while being less than 2 years old) due to chronic overheating, I'm sceptical about some of Apple's engineering nous.


@59, my impression is that the newton did fairly well, but was canceled fairly quickly after jobs walked back in the doors. And now he seems to be aiming at rebuilding it, if these islate rumors have any meat on them.


The unibody MacBook Pro that I'm writing this on is my fifth Apple portable computer, each one has been an improvement over the past in terms of the quality of the design. Brighter screens, magsafe, pushing for smaller video connectors, digital audio out etc. Especially the unibody one, it feels utterly solid. Though I think that moving the DVD to the right was a mistake.

The previous powerbooks and macbooks are all still being used, though the pismo was stolen. Even the nine year old TiBook is still acting as an iTunes machine for my brother in law. Apple offer well designed products which support long lived use.


Steveg @53: I've observed that Japanese keyboards have a right-shift key the size of a regular key, near to the arrow-key group -- on small handheld devices they leave it out entirely. Keyboards made by Korean or Taiwanese netbook makers ... if you look at the early Eees and their competitors, before they moved to chiclet keyboards, they had tiny or misplaced right-shift keys. Note that the Eee design was put together by Asus in RoK, not by any prime contractor in the US.

I speculate that these keyboard layouts are designed by people who don't touch-type in English (or indeed in any roman language) and either didn't work to a brief prepared by westerners or didn't subject them to target-market usability testing. It's not a feature shared by, e.g., the HP mini series of netbooks.

Asus have gotten much better on this since roughly the Eee 1005, but if you're a touch-typist thinking of buying a netbook, check the keyboard before you buy it or you may end up spending weeks swearing at the device.

Gary @59: the one problem with the refurb you've got is that in about 12-18 months Apple will stop releasing security updates for its OS -- it's a PPC machine so won't run 10.6 or later. While 10.6 is current they'll continue releasing updates for 10.5. But when 10.7 comes out, 10.5 hits end-of-life. From then on, your machine will become increasingly vulnerable to security exploits.

On the other hand, by then you'll have had it for 5-6 years and the machine itself will be 8 years obsolete ...


Having been a die-hard Linux user for scientific computing for over ten years, I went for a Mac about three years ago. Yes, I can recompile kernels. Yes, I know I can go and Google it if something's broken or missing. Yes, there's probably a patch for the sleep mode on my Thinkpad/Dell/netbook.

But guess what? I got tired of maintaining my Linux box.

As I've gone on in my life and scientific career, it's not worth my time anymore to play with config files every new version of $LINUXOS to get back the same functionality from the previous version.

Macs, like all computers, suck in certain respects. But they suck a hell of a lot less than many PCs and netbooks. I can get my work done and get the hell out more. It's worth the money for me.


I am a bit sceptical about the MagSafe. I've heard lots people saying their MagSafe saved their laptop on multiple occasions, but I never heard of someone who actually lost a non-magsafe laptop by accidentally pulling on the cord.

Just try it: a random jerk on a power cord feels as if it will pull a machine to the ground, but in practice it takes a reasonably long and coordinated pull to actually get a laptop off a surface.


My wife lost a laptop to a power cord based pull off a table, the cord was wrapped around a chair leg, the chair moved and the laptop was pulled off the table. Several similar situations recently have resulted in the magsafe connector simply disconnecting. Lateral pull is the key, the half inch of collar inside the socket for a normal connector is enough to pull a laptop to the ground if it is close to the table edge.


Yeah, that sounds like the scenario needed. I can imagine you like magsafe after that.

I wonder how much cost magsafe adds to a machine. If it's in the 1 pound range, a you only need 1 in a thousand machines to die from falling to make it a worthwhile expense. But if it's more in the 10 quid range, it seems less likely to be worth it.

Of course, the ease of mind is worth a bit too.


Well, I really like the Apple engineering too, but I can't stand OS/X. I mean, for sure it's better than Windows, but since I got used to linux, I also got used to have a computer that behave *exactly the way I want*. I tried OS/X, I wanted to like it, and I was lured by the idea of having an OS that did not need to be heavily managed. Only, Jobs idea about how a machine must behave are quite different from mine, so, after 4 months of finding bugs recognized and not resolved because related to interoperability with other OSes, struggling with poorly integrated shareware instead of repository-managed full-featured software, bloated interface full of eye-candy that stubbornly refused to be configured like I wanted, well, I gave up and installed linux on it. Every apple enthusiast I tell this cry horrified, but really, the Jobs way is not mine, and with Linux I may have to struggle a little at first (but it's at least 7/8 years since I had to recompile a kernel or install an application by hand an application), but after that everything do behave like I expect it to do.


Well, I find the computers I self assemble to be superior in aesthetic and experience to an Apple desktop. They are a labor of love and undoubtedly not cheap, but they have extremely long lives as their guts are interchangeable and of the best quality. I also prefer the machined and oiled look which I can achieve building my own computer. The shiny plastic look which apple products emit is not for me.

Of course, for laptops, one cannot reasonably construct a slim attractive case without using especially engineered parts, an industry-wide fact which I find sad (much as others find DRM and locked down devices sad), the do-it-yourself laptop market is small and limited to either those who accept low quality or those who are willing to machine their own parts at great expense and effort.


I have seen a couple instances of catastrophic failure using the old (pre-magsafe) power connectors - it was entirely possible to pull a laptop off a surface to its doom with one, but the much nastier problem was that the center pin in the connector could detach itself inside the socket in the laptop. How do I know this? Two members of my old lab did exactly that to their laptops, and I had the pleasure of completely disassembling the units to get at the eternally damned power management board.

The magsafe connectors and power bricks are not perfect (they need better strain relief where the computer cable attaches to the transformer), but they are an immense improvement over their predecessors.


Charlie @58: Absolutely. There's a limit to how far you can push these things up against the relentless tide of Moore's Law, and I might end up upgrading for the hell of it in the next couple of years, possibly sooner. But this wee machine's done me good so far (at least when I'm not spilling things on it or knocking the hell out of it) and I'd certainly consider another refurb.


Gary: actually, you do have one option for running a G4 iBook safely after Apple end-of-life's the PPC architecture and the security updates stop -- I believe Linux for PPC is still readily available and it ran fine on a white G3 iBook for me lo these many years ago. (Faster than OSX, too.)

Plus: I suspect the black hat hackers will be writing malware for IA64 Macs than for the diminishing pool of elderly PPC architecture machines ...

whats funny is that apple products of today looks very much like german kitchen and living room products from the 60's.

Modernism in action. Whatever it is you build, it will be used by human beings (whose basic parameters don't change much) to do something. Therefore, you need to design it for people to work with. The original modernist statement is roughly that, therefore, there are rules for designing anything to fit humanity if you just stick to ergonomics, function, and eliminate the cruft.

Evolution - it's not just for lifeforms! One wonders if somewhere out in space Beldar is thinking about getting his daughter one of the new 16G iMork's.

Does the end result everywhere for these sorts of machines look like a thin slab, whether the intelligence has six sets of pincers or a single tentacle cluster?


@58: re: mocking Apple. You mean the way the name Microsoft was mocked for being a reference to Bill Gates' sexual prowess? Loved that one too. I've also been extremely impressed by Gates as a legacy user. He's stuck with Wife 1.0, despite numerous suggestions that he should upgrade... Anything that can't stand being mocked is pretty worthless, IMHO. That definitely includes the Cult of Apple too.

As I've said before, I'm a habitual PC user. My point is not that it's the best system. Rather, I'm not a hardware junkie. To me, a computer is a tool to get shit done. PCs do the shit I need them to do, and they're readily available.

I'm also a fan of Top Gear which is the UK car show for those who don't know. This is not because I'm a car nut. Much to the contrary, I think getting the best car you can get for $5000 and running it into the ground is a much better option in almost every way. No, I watch Top Gear because I enjoy the comedy and the challenges.

To me, the cult of Mac is like the cult of hot cars, and the cult of the Unix progeny is like the cult of fast foreign supercars and exotic concept cars. They definitely are pretty, they do have their advantages, and to me, they're almost never worth the cost.

Despite Charlies griping about MS screwing with file formats, I can still open up all the databases I've created that I have access too, including the first one from Access 1.0. Since I was working on century-old oaks and other long-lived projects, the data are still relevant.


My wife (then-girlfriend) used to pull her Compaq laptop off tables by tripping over the power cord, but it was ultimately the power pcb going on fire which did for it. The power socket was simply soldered onto the pcb with no other strain relief. HP charged £175 to look at it and tell her it needed the logic boards replaced, which of course would cost more than a new laptop. A bottom-of-the-range Sony which I'd bought at the same time had the power socket attached to the case by a sturdy screw as well as by the pcb connections. What did that cost, an extra 1 cent on build costs? Anyway, since then there's been no HP/Compaq equipment in my house, family's houses or business for the last 9 years!
Happy user of a magsafe MacBook since May 06 (except when the first magsafe adaptor melted, the Apple Store replaced it and the battery...)


That's the first time I've heard Dell (of which Alienware is a subsidiary) called a "smallish, niche company"!


Outstanding flame bait. A++++, would troll again.

  • I hear you on the industrial design point, but
  • I think I get better design elsewhere, with a few small exceptions (I want that magsave thingy as soon as the patent expires .. how long untill that patent expires?)

let me elaborate:

I believe design is good industrial design when two conditions are fullfilled:
a) it looks pretty (to me, of course)
b) it's functional
Therefore, there are a lot of cases where, to me, Apple is the Bang&Olufsen of the computer-world. Yes, it may look very nice, but if some piece of design-fluff doesn't actually enhance my user-experience of the device, I don't want it.

Plus, frankly, I don't really like the Apple-look.

Also, whoever invented touchpads should rot in hell.

Me, I'm still happily using a ThinkPad X31 that I bought refurbished a few years back. Except for the power-connection, where I'd prefer the magsafe, to me, the Thinkpads are perfect examples of good design. They look cool and like real tools that you can get work done with. They are sturdy and don't fall apart on you and, unlike some Apples that I've test-driven, have keyboards you can type on as well as is possible on a laptop.

as for typing long texts, there is a holy grail of keyboards and its name is Model M. I got as close as I could and bought myself a DasKeyboard (which also has individual switches in each key, a defined pressure-point, tactile as well as acoustic feedback ("click"), a weight that means you could use it as a LART and it has the added bonus of being completely blank, earning me the "office-weirdo" title. Not that I wouldn't have that anyway). How a professional writer (who has, IIRC, stated he has wrist-problems) can type texts of any length on one of them mushy Apple-keyboards with barely 1.5 millimeters of key-travel .. *shudders at the thought*

If/when this here Thinkpad dies or I have the monetary possibility of replacing it, whichever happens first, I'm buying another one .. (currently (or rather last time I checked) that'd be the X200 or somewhere thereabouts. Another subnotebook, anyway).


It's not just the boxes or the OSes. My power supply went wrong on my Mac Laptop. I called up at 5 and didn't have to wait to get a human on the phone. They sent me a new one without having seen the old one, by 11 the next day via UPS. The UPS man picked up the broken one. So quick my battery didn't even need charging. Now maybe it's because I live in Germany...


As a 20+ year user of Microsoft OSes, and a 13 month user of Mac OS, I have to say that they both irritate the hell out of me. However, with my longer experience of MS, I'm much more at home making Windows do what I want rather than battling with MacOS to get IT to do what I want.
At the end of the day, it comes down to what you're comfortable with, and what you have the most experience with.

As for the interface, a perfect interface should be intuitive - neither Windows nor MacOS are intuitive enough that someone with NO prior computer experience could use them fully - both need more work. As for Linux distros I've pplayed with, intuitive doesn't even register in their 'design philosophy' (if they had one to start with).


IA64 is Itanium, the competitor IBM's POWER series. AMD64/x86-64 are the correct terms. x64 is incorrectly used by many Windows kiddies (but at least it isn't referring to something else). And yes, there are several distros that work on PPC just fine.

As for keyboards, I rather like my full sized JP keyboard (had to buy it from JBox). Colon, at-symbol, tilde and some others are all more convenient. The smaller rshift and space don't bother me at all. Only double and single quotes are in a bad place (2 and 7 keys), and I don't need them that much.


Consoles are for kids? Really? What is more childish is pointless console/PC fanboyism from either side. If there are no exclusive games you want to play on given platform, sure, don't bother with it. But most adult gamers I know play PC games and at least one console. Personally, I play games on Linux, Windows, Wii, XBox 360, GBA and sometimes PS3 (although I wouldn't own one of those, due to expense and corporate policies).


Phil W @ 64:

My wife's iMac on the other hand is a beautiful piece of almost sculpture - and I wouldn't even think about going near it with a screwdriver and a chunk of hardware. (I'm sure it looks at me funny, maybe it smell other OSs on my clothes)
When my wife's current iMac arrived (her second, the first one we bought in 2000 and then replaced in 2004), I opened it up (could have been done by anyone who can hold a screwdriver) and admired the beautiful mechanical engineering. Then I checked out how to upgrade the memory (trivially easy) and the hard disk (not much harder). Then I put it back together and it's been running fine ever since.

Re: Apple hard disks. I've owned 7 Macintoshes since 1991, and I've never had a hard disk crash (I had one computer catch fire, but the hard disk was still good after I put it out). I'm expecting it, because of all the crashes I've had on PC's and various Unix development machines I've used in my work. Apple makes my current backup solution easier than any I've had before (to include backup to floppies, back up to CD, back up to helical scan tape, and backup to external hard disk using commercial solutions like Retrospect and home-grown solutions using scheduled jobs): I just hung a mirror RAID array off my wireless base station and use Time Machine on my laptop to backup. It's even simpler on the iMac: it doesn't have to move around, so I can plug in two external USB drives and use software RAID. Restoring files from Time Machine is easier (and usually faster) than any other method I've ever used.

Note to all the programmers who are bitching about Apple: get over yourselves; you are NOT the target market. I've been a software engineer for 30 years now, and I have done some software development on Macs, but that's not what I buy them for, in general. I'm with Charlie, the big advantage of Macs is you don't have to fuss over them all the time. If I want to do sysadmin tasks all the time, I've got an Ubuntu virtual machine on the Mac. I could put a Windows VM up if I could justify spending the money for the license. There's very little I need to do that I can't do with the Mac software I have, and I can usually download opensource and build it on the Mac for anything I don't have.


Huh. I haven't had to buy a new keyboard for a while (and I have a backup one in the storeroom). I'll have to remember that the next time I need to buy one.


"Anything that can't stand being mocked is pretty worthless, IMHO"

You thought what you did was "mocking"? Anything that includes the word "Dude" with extra letters in it so barely rises to the level of humor that you should label it ahead of time for those of us not expecting stupidity.


No, I've been retired on disability since 1986, so it's been a long time since I saw a Mac. I'm glad to hear that's been fixed! But I'm okay with computers now and would want to consider a Mac when/if I need a new one.


Would you mind expanding on what exactly makes the Mac an example of good industrial design?

I can change the RAM and hard drives on my Mac Pro without a screwdriver or cutting my knuckles. It's quiet because the case is used as a heat sink. It has handles. Little things, but they add up.


mhellwig @ 83:
How is the DasKeyboard? It appeals to me, but unless I start doing more writing and less technical support, it will be a 'want' for quite awhile.
I admit I did lurk in MicroCenter (US electronics retailer) this weekend, furtively unboxing one so I could feel what it was like. The tactile response took me, and the distinctive sound - unfortunately, my wife would kill me every night if I got one. Something about loud, fast typing keeping her up.


Apple doesn't make computers. They make prostheses. This is the lesson I wish other designers would learn.


Very disappointed by the level of courtesy and fact-based discussion. as an attempted flame war, I'm afraid it doesn't cut it at all.

You're losing your touch, Charlie!


Personally I'd rather save the £2 a day and have an ugly computer, but that's just me (plus I really enjoy building my own computers).
But if we're arguing about keyboards, my vote goes for the bog standard Dell USB keyboards, to my mind the action is the perfect blend of positive key action, without being too difficult to push the keys, or too loud. Best of all, they're less than £10 :)


It's not "the daskeyboard". "Das" is German "the", so "Das Keyboard" is supposed to mean "The Keyboard". "Die Tastatur" was apparently a marketing step too far.


well, there are a few things I'd change about the DasKeyboard if I could.

  • I'd add a trackpoint
  • matte finish instead of glossy .. because of the ugly-fingerprints-issue

But for the part that matters, i.e. the typing, it's just great.

Apparently there's a new keyboard coming out this year that should be even greater, in a way similar to the old "Happy Hacking Keyboard", i.e. small (only the size of the main key area, because after all that's all you need as a vim-user), blank, buckling spring technology AND with a track-point. If I didn't already have the DasKeyboard, I'd maybe go for that one. Lemme see if I can dig up the link ... ... hmm, my google-fu seems weak today.


re the DasKeyboard or not or whatever.

To this German-speaking-person, it seemed natural to, in English, say "the DasKeyboard", given how "das" is in this case a part of the productname (there is no blank between "das" and "keyboard" on the label).

But I get your point.


Their website is pretty confused in that respect.
They write:

Das Keyboard sports best-in-class German-engineered gold-plated mechanical key switches
Fast typists and gamers will be glad to hear Das Keyboard has an n-key rollover function

On the other hand:

The new Das Keyboard has been totally redesigned
The Das Keyboard Professional provides the best typing experience


I have also been recently converted into using MacBook Pro 13". However, my decision was based solely on the fact that it was the cheapest decent piece of hardware available - all comparable (other brand) PC hardware did cost at least 200 euros more, Lenovos nearly double the price of mbp. Finland is not a very good place for shopping hardware if you actually want to get a hands on feeling and not buy blindly.

I ditched OS X pretty much immediately and installed the same linux distro I would have been running on any (other) PC. Formfactor and HW specs is the only remaining difference. Happy so far :)


Keyboard-wise: I have an IBM M-series somewhere, gathering dust. I switched away from it to a Mathias Tactile Pro, which also uses buckling-spring microswitches but is USB enabled, designed to work with Macs, and doesn't weigh half a ton. That keyboard is broken, dammit, so I'm on the flattie that came with the iMac (which-is-now-destined-for-my-mother), and finding it surprisingly good. Because somehow in the past 20 years I've learned to touch-type without hammering the keys, and it's got more feedback than you might expect for a 1.6mm key travel.

I'm considering buying a new Tactile Pro once they're shipping outside NorAm, but the price is a bit off-putting. Might be worth getting a new PS2-to-USB dongle and trying the M-series again, but I'm not sure there's room on my desk. (The last dongle I tried had a fatal flaw: the "Windows" key was sent as a "Command" on the Mac, but didn't work as a modifier.)


If i was in work, apple would be a great choice.

but I'm not.

So I buy kit and put it together or I buy thinkpads of ebay

but I can completely understand your choices


I thought childish, pointless fanboyism was the whole point of this thread ?

Besides, consoles are for kids in my house, they stop me finding sticky little fingerprints all over my PC. And I shall defend that position to the death, or until we get a new toy and I change my mind.


(and also to Charlie @102)
the "new" keyboard I mentioned earlier that is coming out this year and also makes my inner geek go "squeee" is this one:

also, re the DasKeyboard: I understand (too much time-distance between using the two) that the action itself is lighter than on a buckling spring type Model M, because it doesn't have a spring, it has the Cherry Microswitches. It doesn't feel like I need any force at all to press the keys. But there is still some tactile feedback. IMO, that's pretty perfect. Of course, my colleagues in the same office may have different opinions, what with the clicking.


You're right, Apple does have some really well designed hardware. Which is probably a good chunck of the cost -- people do component price break downs, but that doesn't tell you how much was spent on design and research.

I think some PC designers are moving in the same direction. Often by copying Apple designs. Asus has some nice all-in-one designs, for example.


The Model M keyboard design is still being built. It was bought by a company called Unicomp and they sell them here:

I know, a sad website, but they are legit, just small. I have not used one of their models, so I can't attest to their quality, but apparently they do own the Model M design specs and build to it.


I tried to order from the pckeyboards people before getting the DasKeyboard, but
a) emails were not answered
b) they are a US-only operation, as it seems, which means customs/taxes for me to get it to Germany
c) I read in a few comparative tests that the EnduraPro (the pckeyboard thingy which would have the advantage of sporting a TrackPoint) is mechanically less sturdy than the DasKeyboard. I like mechanical sturdiness.


Now that we have moved on to keyboards, I will put my vote in for the current iteration of Apple's keyboards - they have had some awful ones in the last decade (original iMac keyboard, I am looking at you), but the current aluminum and white key model works wonderfully for me. I would love to see a full-size wireless keyboard from Apple (the current wireless one has mini arrow keys and no numpad, which irritates me).

And in regard to Phuzz, who likes the cheap Dell keyboards - I have no idea how you can type on them - I have always found them spongy and infuriating.

Now, while most of Apple's keyboards have been decent (and now damn good, at least for me), the mighty mouse irritates me massively. Stupid scroll ball that you cannot really clean (rar)...


I just build my own PCs. Buying a ready one from a store would never cross my mind. But can one build one's own Mac?



@109: About those spongy Dell keyboards... I have large hands, and I do 9 finger typing, simply because only 1 thumb will fit on the space bar. The other thumb is on the mosh pad of this Dell. I can also do it 8 fingered just as fast.

Yes, it's spongy, but with my hands, all I have to do is caress the keyboard to get the keys to register.

In other words, a Dell keyboard works for a certain type of hand. I learned on an old model M, and while I miss the click, I don't need it. It also required my hands to be more curled and fingers to move more, and that might have had something to do with the repetitive motion strain I experienced back then.

While I'm not an occupational therapist, I think there's a good case to be made for whatever keyboard lets you relax your hand and minimize the strain on all your finger and wrist joints when you're typing. Because of my big hands, a big flat keyboard works better. Your experience will almost certainly differ.


Leo, the whole point of a Mac is about not having to do that.

If you enjoy building your own PC, then great: been there, done that myself. But if your focus is on Getting Stuff Done Efficiently, rather than on first building the tools with which to get the stuff done, building your own PC is a drag.


I'm really late in the game, and this thread is too long for me to take part in the conversation, so I'll just say, yes. Apple makes really awesome hardware. Even if I was going to build myself a desktop gaming PC to run windows, I'd be really tempted just to buy a mac pro and just add to it. I've spent time looking on the internet for case as gorgeous as that, with as cool an interior, and haven't found it.


I bought a new all-in-one HP desktop for my mother a couple of weeks ago. The machine looked beautiful, and Windows 7 is pretty nice too.

But the difference between Mac and PC was hammered home for me the second I turned on the computer. There, for half a second, was an awful HP startup screen, which pretty much ruined the experience of the gorgeous Win 7 startup screen.

Anyone who uses a Mac (I switched in 07) is greeted with an Apple on their screen before it goes to the OS.

Of course Apple has beautiful design - they're the only computer manufacturer to control the hardware and the software. (I heard reports that they're actually the largest single seller of physical computers because of this). August de la Reyes of Microsoft had stories of working on the MS hardware team - their greatest triumph was getting manufacturers to use colour coded input jacks! Same with the iPhone.

For now, it's not a fair battle - Apple chooses quality and control over modularity. The day they sell their OS separately ... well, that's where it'll get interesting.


I wish Apple had the brilliant industrial design people claim to admire, but you can't provide it by me. I have a Macbook Pro, and I dearly miss the Thinkpad T23 it replaced. Oh, not the software... Apple's desktop is very very good. Not perfect, and there's things that I dislike about OS X, but it's so far ahead of the competition I put up with them.

But Apple hardware is one of those things I have to put up with for the sake of the software. My Thinkpad has a better keyboard, a better touchpad (oh, it wasn't as big, and it didn't support multi-touch, but it had TWO BUTTONS: Apple's passive-aggressive games with control double-touch click-and-hold to avoid providing a second 50c button just piss me off). Plus:

* I didn't have to hit "Fn" to get to page-up, page-dn, home, and end.

* The ridge around the screen fit into he chamfered edge of the base to keep foreign objects away from the screen and keyboard.

* The white LED over the screen was a better solution to working at night than Apple's illuminated keyboard.

* The easy access to components mean I don't have to go cap-a-pied to Apple to replace stuff that SHOULD be easy to replace, the battery and the easily-broken moving parts like the optical drive and hard drive.

* The power connector is a simple barrel connector, not the damn stupid "Mag-Unsafe" connector that falls out when you look at it wrong. Yes, the previous Apple power connectors may have been badly designed, but the solution they came up with was foolish.

* Docking station. Apple: docking stations are important for people who actually use their laptop at home and at work. I feel like such a GIMP hooking up five separate cables every time I set up at the office in the morning.

If I could run OS X on a Thinkpad I would be SO much happier. It was a far better piece of industrial design than my Macbook Pro.


Windows Vista...My Idea! :)


Oh yes, and the magnetic-mechanical latch for the Macbook Pro lid has been a nightmare. It's gotten stuck several times, and I'm painfully aware that I have to be super careful with it now lest I end up having to hold the lid closed with a piece of electrical tape like two of my Apple-using friends already do.


Okay, first of all, THANK YOU EVERYBODY WHO IS POSTING HERE! I think this is the first string of comments on the "PC versus Mac" issue that I have EVER read that didn't devolve into the kind of muckslinging that is best relegated to Jerry Springer and other questionable venues.

I have to weigh in here because I'm one of those really annoying people who will simply use the best tool for the job on any given day, whether it be Mac, PC, Unix, Linnux, I even used an Amiga 3k for animation and CGI before they finally went under a couple of decades ago.

For me the dream machine would be taking a PC and putting it into an Apple housing. Apple pays attention (yeah, okay, they have their bad moments (anyone remember the original iMac mouse?)) to the touch and feel of their hardware. It's more than just ergonomics. Its a question of temperature and texture, what parts catch your attention because they are shiny and whether or not your wrist keeps bumping against the corner of the keyboard. For the PC, well, even the sexxy looking ones are still institutional feeling, they have unpleasant corners and efficient, easily mass-reproducible spaces. But I can crash a Mac in under 60 seconds. The software I use (3ds Max and Maya predominantly)is problematic on a good day and will set a Mac on fire on a dodgy one. So, while I might like the "feel" of the Mac, I need the "functionality" of the PC.


Interesting. Once I achieve a functional, somewhat soundproofed home office I will have to acquire one unless something more interesting comes out. I'm looking for a keyboard that actually lives up to my typing speeds without exploding after less than a year. Mind, a $20-40 keyboard replacement isn't a horrible burden.

Thanks for the link on the guru keyboard, and the review of DasKeyboard (a nod to Zamfir - the DasKeyboard is redundant, but when they confuse themselves they also confuse me!)


"Note to all the programmers who are bitching about Apple: get over yourselves;"

Huh. I am a programmer, and I wouldn't want to work on Windows or Linux. OS X seems like the sweet spot. If necessary, I can fire up another OS in Boot Camp or a VM, but otherwise I have Unix and Apple's OO frameworks.


"I just build my own PCs. Buying a ready one from a store would never cross my mind. But can one build one's own Mac?"

No. But in this day and age, rather than putting together yet another PC (yawn), it might be more fun to buy a Mac and start building your own electronics projects based on Arduino or other processors.


The thing about macs and good design in general (I suggest reading a timeless way of building) is that it feels good to hold, look at and use.


I loved when I went to try the New Mac Experience with UNIX and integration and industrial design coming out the ears...thirty minutes in: Oh, the easiest way to do this system setting is via a terminal. Well, that seems a bit odd but it is UNIX and I love terminals. Let's fire up the terminal! Oh. On my Apple computer with the freshly installed Apple OS, in the Apple terminal, the backspace key on the Apple keyboard doesn't work.

"Ergonomic industrial design" my ass.


In other product categories, good design seems vanishingly rare. Who today is making things as nice as vintage Braun, say?

I was thinking: Once we get the technology to grow meat in a vat, we should next learn to grow beautiful wood in a vat. This would drastically increase the quality of consumer goods. Bonus points if products can be grown from CAD models without carpentry.


Charles, "Getting Things Done" is by no means an universal constant.

I'm mainly a DBA/programmer. To me, "Getting Things Done" means firstly "programming in the most productive environment I can get".

And while XCode and free apple programming tools are a nice thing, these are by no means an Apple exclusive. And XCode -- I've tried it, and I have ever bought Aaron Hillegass objective-c book -- as nice as it is, it is very awkward compared to other free environments available on other platforms. Even the most touted programmer's editor -- Textmate -- is no match for a well-configured Vim (emacs is not an editor, is an OS in its own right)

So, since my requirements for "Getting Things Done" are "a platform that allows ease of programmability and can run the latest Oracle version" I think that my OS chart will see Windows and Linux vying for first position, with OSX distant third.

Yes, I'm a part of niche which is in turn a part of a larger niche. My answer: Who cares?

And on the short lifespan of PC's compared to macs': In 21 years I had only six computers; my fourth one, bought in 1999, is still alive, runs Windows 2000 and is a nice emulator machine for my nephew, with added web surfing and office capabilities. Yes, it's got no antivirus... but who needs an antivirus when you use Mozilla and Thunderbird? Moreover, my current laptop is 4 years old, and runs Win7 snappier than XP, and my second-to last laptop survived for seven years before dying because of failing mobo. (and I managed to salvage the HD).

About Apple at large: to me, Steve Jobs is only a Bill Gates with better taste and more willing than him to limit my creative choices. If I were working in the music business, or in DTP/graphics field I'd surely use a mac, but since my main way to express my creativity on computer is programming them, I will always choose the platform that gives me more freedom and more options and lets me get my things done faster.


Peter da Silva: some of your complaints have been fixed in the more recent unibody Macbook Pros. Annoying magnetic/mechanical latch? Gone. Annoyance over only one button on your trackpad? Gone: we now have zero button multitouch trackpads that are, IMO, a great improvement -- more area for gestures, and the ability to do complex swipes as a replacement for th clicky thing. (Add a $35 stylus and software and it even works as a Wacom-lite digitizer.)

I'll grant you they need a docking station, and they're at the opposite end of the spectrum from the modularity you crave.

I disagree strongly about the merits of magsafe: it's saved my ass from a trip hazard numerous times.

Hypocee: that's because the bash shell you get by default gives you emacs key bindings. It's a UNIX shell. It does what a UNIX shell in a random terminal app is supposed to do, and gaily ignores your PC-world expectations.


There are plenty of old Windows PCs in existence. I have a 10 year old Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo laptop that still works fine, and will even play World of Warcraft. Granted its really S L O W in comparison to my quad core gaming rig but I can still play my favourite game on it.

What makes a computer last is looking after it and regular maintenance, just like any other product.

I challenge anyone to find a 10 year old Mac laptop that has been used by ordinary users all the time without maintenance and still 'just works'.


Building your own PC is two distinct kinds of problem.

The actual assembly can be fairly easy. It's simple mechanical work, sort of crafting.

The hard part is deciding what bits to put in to get a machine which will do what you want. How many CPU choices? Graphics? Motherboard? And on and on and on.

Buying a pre-assembled machine can also be expensive if you want something a little unusual. A lot of machines come with plenty of case-space for expansion cards, and only a couple of motherboard slots. USB? Things can get tricky, because some things like a USB port's full bandwidth.


The PC world is a commodity business that has appears to have become a race to the bottom to see who can deliver the cheapest product and get away with the least service. Dell?

Apple owns their os and hardware so can do what they like.. and charge what they like..and they make some great products as a result

But gotta chime in with some more love for the old IBM Thinkpad, mentioned by several posters

I have one a six year old T41 running Ubuntu and it has both a great OS and great industrial design.


Charlie, have a look at Keyboard Co's offering. They're in the UK and have all sorts of awesome mechanical keyboards. I bought a Filco "tactile" switch-based keyboard, and it's fucking awesome, and weeeell worth the £100. It's just as good as an IBM "M" but much more quiet. I estimate I can type 10% faster with it than with a regular spongy keyboard. They also have clickety ones, but I found them to be much too noisy and that they require more effort.


Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. I looked at the new unibody Macbook Pros, tried one for half an hour, and recoiled in pain:

* Single mouse button, and now it's harder than ever to "right click" on the "mouse button" without jiggling the pointer.

* Chiclet keyboard. Even less tactile feedback than the old Macbook Pro/Powerbook keyboard. I'm serious about the "pain" bit, here: my RSI doesn't like it at all.

* Even less access to what should be easily replaced parts. If my Macbook Pro had been unibody construction, it would have been destroyed when the battery failed and swelled out of its case instead of my just having to use it without a battery for a week while Apple sent me a replacement.

As for Magsafe: people keep saying that their magsafe connector saved them, but I have been using laptops since the mid-90s and I've never had one pulled off the table, or my lap... but I've had my Macbook Pro power down while I was working on it several times because I hadn't noticed the connector had pulled out.

Thinkpads have always had superb industrial design, better in many respects than anything Apple has produced. Apple knows it, too.. one of the best of the old Powerbooks was done in cooperation with IBM in Tokyo. It's not as cool and stylish as Apple, but what I have had to give up for that "cool factor" is a real cost.


"I'll grant you they need a docking station, and they're at the opposite end of the spectrum from the modularity you crave."

Seems to me that's a product category with a shrinking lifespan. I mean, now you can get a USB docking station. Just plug in one USB cable, and you get DVI video, USB peripherals, and networking. If you use wireless networking and bluetooth devices, there are even fewer connections to make.

And a USB-based dock doesn't suffer from being compatible with only one laptop design, and/or being saddled with a proprietary connector.


I'm sure this sounds petty as hell, but for me it's largely an aesthetic/interface thing. Steve Jobs has his aesthetic, and I've got mine, and I find the Apple look just completely offputting and weird. It all feels very... Ikea? Maybe it's just me. Both the hardware and Aqua look really ugly to me. Somebody upthread was talking about the fact that you're going to do it Jobs' way or not at all, and that's offputting to me also.

And I think I've had very different experiences than most people with Dell's service; my last two computers have been Dell laptops, and I've found their warranty support to be responsive and helpful.


@Jon/132 - when I can get incoming power and pass 1920x1200 fully accelerated video over USB, and plugging in the cable locks my laptop to my desk, you can talk to me about a "usb docking station". In the meantime, no, a "USB docking station" is not "superb industrial design", it's a hack that reminds me of, in Charlie's words, "a cheap IKEA stool in front of a kitchen table".


> It all feels very... Ikea?

Midcentury modern.

Growing wood in a vat? Is it plausible? Anyone?


I don't know if the biology makes sense, but if you could do that you could grow it in a mould. Additive rather than subtractive woodworking. Unfortunately, you'd face some interesting problems with regard to which way the grain ended up running and therefore which way the axes of compressive and tensile strength went. CRUNCH. Whoops! The worm bores helically into the wood, not knowing the dust left behind once made the table integral and good...



Mac users haven't ejected disks by dragging them into the trash for at least five years. Maybe it's time for you to take another look


For the record, we are a international forestry consulting firm running a new iMac 27" 2.8Ghz Quad-core Intel i7 with the ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB graphic card. We exclusively run Windows XP on this machine and ESRI GIS software (ArcView and Spatial Analyst) as well as MS Access, etc. All work FLAWLESSLY on the mac. This machine smokes our other ESRI configured Dell workstations. I highly recommend this mac for database, GIS and other mapping/graphic intensive work.


"Mac was fucking clueless about relational databases, and when you had large amounts of inter-related data (aka ecology), you had to use Access or something similar to manage your data. Nowdays, it's GIS data, which has the same issues, and is similarly bound to PCs, because there's ENSR is the only game in town (although Google's giving it a try. We'll see what happens)."

Nonsens! There were relational databases on Mac since 1985, so were GIS-systems starting in the 1980s.
I'm a biologist programming the GIS (MapGrafix) from a relational database (4th Dimension) und printing on sheets as huge as 914 mm by 2770 mm in 1993 with a colored bitmap in the background Photoshop of those days couldn't handle.


You have to turn off your trackpad before typing because the trackpad and software are poorly designed. Which is very typical of PC laptops. I haven't found one yet that is even close to Apple's.


Everything you said is wrong.

Google is your friend.


Uh..Alienware is owned by Dell.

I find their "design" to be hideous and designed for teenage boys.

They are also considered to be over priced with terrible tech support.



You are talking about the "reporting" from Rescue.Com.

First off this company is known to be run by scam artists. Google it. Second they only "report" on computers with warranties they sell. Nobody buys Apple warranties from them as almost everyone buys Apple care if they want an extended warranty. So you have a shady company reporting on services they do not sell to Mac users. Asus is the company they say has the best reliability btw but an awful lot of people would disagree with that.

Apple has a big issue with their most recent iMacs but as a Mac owner since 1984 and an IT Architect with 20 yrs experience with just about everything you can buy it is very obvious that Apple quality and support is head and shoulder above everyone else.

Try Googling" rescuecom rip off"


Peter peter peter

Macs have right click. You just have to enable it in the Trackpad control panel.

The MBP keyboard is quite well liked and lauded even by PC users. If your RSI is that bad then no laptop keyboard is going to make you happy and very few desktop keyboards.

Don't know why you have an issue with magsafe but plenty of people have had their laptops saved by it.

How much access do you need to the inside of a laptop? Its not like you can't get in there and replace the hard drive and ram. Its in the Apple owners manual. Most PC laptops make it easy to change battery but not everything else that you would do once in a blue moon. With the long battery life which is in part allowed by unibody construction as well as battery design I don't have to replenish for 7 or 8 hours anyway. Its not like you can take spare batteries on airplanes any more either.

My work issued Lenovo Thinkpad T400 is nowhere near as well made as my two IBM made Thinkpads I have sitting around the house. Plus the design is old. Thinklight instead of backlit keyboard. Terrible battery life. Plasticky and creaky. Flexy keyboard even with the stiffener they sent out due to complaints. Not to mention they run Windows even though I also have Linux installed on mine.

The only PC business laptops (I've used them all) even close to Apple quality and construction are the HP W series which cost as much and run Windows. HP's business products and support are decent but their consumer products and support are both awful btw.


PC fanboys :)

on PC's why do the graphics, buttons and wallpapers look like they were designed by a used car salesman? …always amazes me that something so cheap and easy to implement isn't, in fact is an ugly wallpaper any easier to include then an attractive one?

Having said that, PC users seem to think macs are about looking great or pretty
but really it is the whole thing eg. notice how the subtle shadows on window borders make a window appear further away from the desktop when it is the frontmost window.
this is an almost invisible and subtle visual cue, this kind of careful thought to design is right through the entire system.

as far as hardware who cares what chip or resistor is inside the thing or what the case looks like, but the case is designed to cool the components more efficiently, or use less power, weigh less. investigation of how and why macs are built like they are shows the same kind of thought as the design of the software albeit using the same hardware as a PC

Finally a question for the PC fanboys, why do mac users have a higher IQ and earn more per year?


can you eject disks by dragging to the trash?
is that an apple easter egg, nice!!!
i have always pressed the eject key on the keyboard :)

hey PC when u put a file in the recycle bin is it recycled?


I have used windows for years and always hated it. I recently purchased a new Macbook and I cannot believe the difference. My hardware and OS have stopped fighting me. It is a pleasure to use the computer and to work each day.

We are going to convert the whole office. Everyone is being upgraded. I should of done this a long time ago.


Peter wrote: "when I can get incoming power and pass 1920x1200 fully accelerated video over USB, and plugging in the cable locks my laptop to my desk, you can talk to me about a "usb docking station"."

Well, yes, I did say it was a product category with a shrinking lifespan. ie, not quite there yet for people with your specific needs, but *approaching* that point. We'll see what happens with USB 3 or Light Peak, which will have more bandwidth.


I will say that the one thing about Windows that drives me nuts is their predilection, even after all these years, for small, fixed-size, non-scrolling text fields for text that is almost certainly going to be too long to fit. Maybe this has changed since XP; I haven't used anything newer.

On the other hand, Windows' menus-in-the-window works better with multiple monitors than the Mac's single menu bar. I rather wish Mac OS were able to put a different menu bar on each screen. Or at least pop up a local menubar when you hit a function key or mouse button or something.


I've been a Mac user since 1984...

Never in that time have I've had a hardware failure - or a virus...

Last fall I sold my trusty 15" PowerBook to a friend. Despite being 7 years old and gotten doused with a large glass of beer it still works perfectly. My friend - a former PC user LOVES it...

I am typing this on my latest unibody 17" MacBook Pro. On the table in front of me is my backup - a 3 year old 17" MacBook Pro - running the same version of the system as this one - actually it is a clone of everything I have on this one...

On the table is also my wife's 6 months old MacBook. There is hardly a day when she doesn't comment on how intelligently the Mac OS is designed - yes, she was a PC user before me...=*^)

Now there is just no way she would ever go back to a PC..

As for me? Wild horses could not get me to use a PC..

Over the years I've introduced all my friends to Mac - some of them Stone Hard PC power users. They all now are on Macs - one of them have 7 iMacs in his B&B and two MacBooks for himself and his partner, another one runs his business on MacMinis..=*^)

None of them would ever go back to using a PC - and of course they - as we - all have iPhones...=*^)


I just got off an IM conversation with one of my clients and it looks like my next job for her will be done for a reduced rate and a Mac Mini.

Not sure when it's going to happen (it's contingent on her fixing the WiFi and also getting herself a new laptop), but I may well be trying a Mac soon.

I'm honestly curious to see what I think of it.


@ Craig,

I've heard that story about Leiber, as well, and I'm afraid you're referring to it out of context.

Ellison was making a point that so many well known SF and fantasy authors were clueless about making money. Ellison was referring to how Leiber (a masterful storyteller and a very intelligent man) was destitute and working for mere pennies a word.

Ellison was describing how Leiber had to work, not how he preferred to work.


Since the introduction of the Mac mouse with right-click functionality, right clicking on a menu bar does what you want


For the guy who says he is too used to Windows to ever change, did you notice that a while back PC magazine said the best machine to run windows on was a MacBook Pro? A nice machine, with fully supported windows drivers, and no crapware when you install it. If you buy even an upmarket Sony or something, you have no option to install your own windows (no drivers), or if you install Sony's windows, you get all the crapware. There never was a purer WIndows experience than on Mac.

And then who knows, if Mac OS is there... maybe you'd change your mind.


Give it a few more years!


I'm amazed that there is still an argument between computer users over Mac vs. PC, hasn't every other similiar technology battle had a final winner? Witness beta vs. VHS, ask any kid from the 90s what Beta is and they will just scratcht their head. So why does Mac continue to survive, I will always wonder?


A few years ago I thought of growing wood in a vat and did some research. It's plausible, but there's some fine detail biological research to do, and a large amount of engineering, before you could commercialize it.

One possible design is to grow some single-cell photosynthesizer in light boxes on the roof of the plant, process them to extract the basic biochemicals you need (sugars, amino acids, etc., and there are algae that synthesize lignin, a structural polymer in plants) then put the chemicals into a vat containing a support structure covered with heart cells of the wood you're growing. Control of the flow of chemicals would control rate of growth and wood density; the wood would grow on the support, and be shaped by the walls of the vat. The shape of the support controls how the wood grain is oriented within the vat. When the piece is conpletely grown, take it out of the vat and cut it as appropriate, or use the vat-grown shape.

Vat-grown wood could be of very high quality: uniform grain, large, knot-free, pieces; and it could probably be grown very much faster than a tree grows.


I think you missed the part about my hands shaking so I use a trackball. Trackpads are a problem, too.



* Tapping with two fingers on the trackpad or clicking while holding the control key IS NOT RIGHT CLICK. Already covered this. I use a Microsoft mouse on my Mac, don't have to do anything in preferences, plug it in, just works (no clue-anticlue explosion).

* Thinkpad keyboards are just fine. Apple keyboards aren't. Not even the desktop keyboards. The last decent Apple keyboard I owned was the Extended II keyboard on my Beige G3.

* Plenty of people THINK they had their laptops saved by Magsafe. Maybe the horrible old iBook/Powerbook power connectors would have failed on them, but I've never had the cables on my IBM and Toshiba laptops drag to laptop onto the floor... they come out when they need to. Magsafe connectors come out when they feel like it.

* How much access do I need to the inside of my laptop? Well, on my T23 I would routinely swap out the optical drive for an extended battery pack before going to a seminar, swapping out the hard drive took five seconds and I took plenty of advantage of that. And, no, I do NOT believe that a seven-or-eight-hour battery life really means seven or eight hours of my workload. Maybe seven or eight hours of TextEdit and Safari, but not photoshop and gcc.

* I miss the light on my thinkpad and the backlit keyboard bugs me.

The only reason I have a Macbook is OS X. Putting up with Apple's "style is everything" design is part of the price I pay for an OS that doesn't suck and applications that don't suck. I'm willing to pay that price, but I'm not willing to overlook it.

I'm no PC fanatic. My first Mac had 128k of RAM, and my first Mac running OS X was beige. The software has gotten very very good, but the hardware... meh.


Hmm, always been a PC man but can see the appeal in the 'it-just-works' Mac selling point. However, I'm intrigued to see just what our host makes of the latest addition to the Apple lineup; as far as I can see it's an absolutley bonkers one-peg-fits-nowhere boondoggle, at least in it's V1 iteration...


What my magsafe connector thingies have saved me is... powercords. I think I've got at least two powercords from old laptops that got yanked around so much that they're showing bare wires next to the plug. I'd stand up with the laptop in my hands and have less slack than I thought, or shift on the couch and *yoink*.

So my magsafe thingie, even if it does fall out annoyingly sometimes... has saved me $50-$100, I'd say. I'll take "oh, bother, the connector unlatched again" over "oh, bother, the power-cord's stresspoint failed and I see bare wires... *wigglewiggle* No, it's not charging, gotta buy a new one."



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 17, 2010 2:42 PM.

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