Macs, PCs, who cares?

Last week's column about the Mac's enduring lead in industrial designkicked up a hornet's nest of contention between Mac and Windowsloyalists. Like any good columnist, I'm more than happy to toss anotherhandful of gravel in the direction of any angry buzzing I've incited.

Last week's column about the Mac's enduring lead in industrial design kicked up a hornet's nest of contention between Mac and Windows loyalists. Like any good columnist, I'm more than happy to toss another handful of gravel in the direction of any angry buzzing I've incited. Besides, I think the points I laid down last week are important enough to bear further elaboration.

Some of the Windows partisans out there interpreted my preference for Apple's industrial design as a purely subjective stance colored by my own aesthetic judgment.

Guess what? Those critics are absolutely right, and they only help to prove my point. Setting aside the eternally elusive quest for an objective benchmark that will satisfy everyone about relative hardware performance, the hands-on interaction with any of these devices is a completely subjective experience. That's why they're called personal computers, folks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to spell out the non-technical reasons I preach the Mac gospel.

One motive is totally self-centered: As a longtime Apple-watcher, I continue to find the company's rise, fall and rise a fascinating subject, and I'm glad to observe that the resurgent Mac maker will continue to provide story fodder for myself and my colleagues into the next century.

A second reason is geopolitical: I believe a Windows hegemony, no matter how empowering and productive the OS may be for its end users, would significantly dampen the overall creative spirit of PC development in the years to come. That's a big part of the reason I'm excited about the growth of the open-source movement and Linux's overtures toward the desktop, about the rise of Java and other cross-platform Internet technologies, and about the renewed vigor of Mac OS development, both inside the Apple campus and among third parties.

Sure, today's Mac OS won't run on third-party CPU systems -- and judging from recent remarks from Apple Vice President of Product Marketing Phil Schiller, that situation isn't about to change any time soon. Much as I'd like to see a new fluorescence of Mac hardware, I can understand the economic logic behind Apple's decision not to subdivide its current small percentage of the PC market, and I'm reasonably satisfied to be part of the loyal opposition.

When sizing up my platform preferences, however, these other concerns are trivial compared with my pure, visceral response to the user experience each system provides. Is that response subjective? Hell, yes, and it's got little direct relationship to any underlying hardware or software specs.

As I spelled out last week, I find the design of the current crop of Macs far easier on the eye that their Windows counterparts. Judging from the giddy reception afforded the iMac and iBook among consumers and the PowerBook G3 and Power Mac G4 in pro markets, plenty of other users feel the same way I do.

My bias extends to the software side as well: Despite Microsoft's admirable efforts to make its GUI more liveable over the past decade, I still think the Mac interface is a far more elegant place to spend my working day. I like the Mac's desktop icons better; I prefer the way the Mac OS handles windows and scroll bars and navigates among applications.

I'm eager for the multithreading, protected memory and other enhancements due to arrive under Mac OS X's hood, but I'm equally concerned that these future revs continue to offer me the interface detailing that I'm used to. And yes, I vastly prefer my one-button mouse to wielding one of those multibutton contraptions prescribed on the Windows side.

Is there anything objective about these preferences? Not as far as I can see, but that doesn't negate their significance when it comes time for me actually to accomplish something with this gear.

Now, if the Mac OS were to disappear tomorrow, would I still find some reason to get up in the morning? Absolutely, especially since the similarities between current Mac and Windows interfaces are marked enough to make the transition from one to the other almost intuitive.

Short of this sci-fi scenario, however, why in the world would I want to undertake such a leap? My Mac allows me to perform all the tasks I need in a hardware and software environment that I find far more pleasant than the parallel universe of Windows. The fact that users on the other side of the platform divide make the same argument only demonstrates the enduring value of a PC marketplace that's responsive to the varied perceptions of end users. And on that score alone, a healthy Mac market is an auspicious sign for the vigor of the industry as a whole.

Matthew Rothenberg is director of online content for Mac Publishing LLC, which publishes MacWEEK, MacCentral, Macworld and MacBuy.


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