Macintosh...Help me understand why

Macintosh...Help me understand why

Summary: I can feel them...the flames...they're coming. But I have to ask this question again (yes, I've asked one very much like it before) in light of recent events.


I can feel them...the flames...they're coming. But I have to ask this question again (yes, I've asked one very much like it before) in light of recent events. The recent events, of course, involve the release of a particular Linux distribution with a funny African sort of name and, maybe more significantly, the first tier-one vendor's adoption of said funny-sounding distro as an OS choice.

Macintosh, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly focused on consumer appliances (oh yeah, AppleTV, that has applications in the classroom), notebooks (even their "budget" Macbooks are running Core 2 Duos), and high-end workstations (rumors are flying about the demise of the Mac Mini and the 17" iMac). While I'll be the first to admit that OS X is a truly elegant operating system and that both Mac hardware and software are full of useful little features and innovations, so is Kubuntu. And Xubuntu. Sorry, not loving Gnome so much lately, so I'm leaving the actual funny-African-named distro off the list, but I can't say enough good stuff about Edubuntu.

Several readers have mentioned recent innovations in Mandriva that they believe makes it even better than the 'buntus; I've had great experiences with Fedora Core and OpenSUSE. I know a bunch of former Mac owners who think Yellow Dog Linux is about the best thing since sliced bread. So with all of these innovations and really refined interfaces, with so many great alternatives to Windows, why would I stretch my budget for a really pretty case? Why would I buy a really expensive laptop with JUST ONE MOUSE BUTTON??!!!

Is it Photoshop? Or Creative Suite? Because they run beautifully on a cheaper PC. Plenty of open-source alternatives exist as well, and I don't just mean the GIMP, although this is one heck of a powerful program. Sodipodi and Inkscape are out there free for the taking as are Paint.Net, CinePaint, Gimpshop, and Krita, among others.

Sure, Garageband is really cool, too, but has little or no application in education and there are plenty of open source and/or Windows tools that allow for easy music content creation to keep the band geeks happy.

I can't even buy the high-end workstation argument anymore. There are very few video editing tasks that we might encounter here in Ed Tech that can't be handled quite nicely by a Linux or Windows machine with a good video card and a big hard drive. Open source development in this area is particularly fierce right now.

Near supercomputing capabilities on a workstation? Like Macs, most Linux distros now natively support clustering and Windows and Linux boxes have access to the same hardware as Apple. I'm sure that there are some animators at Pixar that would beg to differ with me, but for most of us here in Ed Tech (and virtually everywhere else for that matter), the latest Mac Pro with 8 cores of 3GHz goodness are probably a bit of overkill.

I even tried to accommodate a teacher recently who ran a journalism program on a bunch of badly dated iMacs. I installed new Mac Minis for him, to his delight, but question the value of the investment beyond delighting a teacher who works particularly hard for his students. Most of my readers agreed that I probably could have made a sounder IT choice by just making him use Windows, since we've standardized to a Windows platform everywhere else. I got some kudos for being a nice guy, and the Mac setup was truly effortless. However, so is Ubuntu's.

Apple has been a niche player for some time, but I maintain that the utter maturity of Linux as well as the generally low cost of Windows machines further marginalizes Apple in education. Can anyone give me a reason to keep paying the premiums associated with pretty white and silver boxes in an educational setting? I know I can spec out some midrange PCs such they are comparably priced to Intel Macs, but Apple doesn't even play in the sector where I spend most of my time. So what gives? Give me some better reasons than "Apple was at the forefront of 1987 classroom technology" or "Little Johnny just lights up when he uses Garageband." Just talkback below.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Windows

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Mac - the Get it Done PC

    Simply put, Apple engineers think further ahead and software, including iApps and
    the OS itself, from Apple is usually better thought out. Means less bugs, and lot's
    of "wow, I can't believe they thought of that." As for Adobe apps, it's probably not
    as true anymore, but when I worked there, everything was done on a Mac first and
    it always seemed to work better on the Mac when it was done. There is no short
    term economic argument I can make, but over the years I've spent more of my
    time on Macs just getting the job done, and with PCs (Windows), I spend an awful
    lot of my time futzing with configurations. So, in a nutshell, that's my story, and
    why a cheaper PC just doesn't do the trick. Besides, if I have to look at a computer
    all day, might as well have a nice slick exterior.

    One final note - in spite of the faster hardware on PCs, and greater abstraction
    from the low level interrupts on the Mac, the mouse on a Mac seems somehow
    more responsive. From the original Fat Mac through to my Mac Pro, the mouse has
    always seemed more connected - the cursor seems more responsive. I can't
    explain it, but on my PC, it seems to go places I didn't intend and it's harder to
    click on a single designated pixel than on the Mac. Real or imagined, this makes a
    huge distinction. Pre-OSX Macs had only one level of code between mouse and the
    hardware, and I know there's now a hardware kernel, but maybe it's just better
    code than what MS uses?? Anyone know anything about that?
    • Strange

      That's funny, but when I work at my PC, I spend my time looking at what's on the screen, not admiring the exterior. As for the mouse, I find my Logitech to be very responsive, even with all those extra buttons and the inferior MS code. I just don't see how so many of us keep going, day after day, year after year, doing our jobs without one of those oh so pretty Macs sitting on our desk.
      • Missed the Point

        I said that I like the straight forwardness of the Mac primarily and secondarily, it's
        not bad to have a nice looking machine to boot. I have no way of measuring the
        minute delay between mouse movements and the corresponding movements on
        the screen, but even on the latest of each generation of PCs and Macs, it "feels"
        like the Mac is more responsive. I think it's the level of interrupt assigned to the
        Mouse and the amount of code abstracted between hardware. MS has always
        written fat code and their tools (ever notice why Intel publishes the specINT and
        specFP results for their processors based upon their compilers and not MS's??)
        generate 4 or 5 times the machine code necessary.

        I think all OSes have their place. There are better networking tools in Redhat than
        either Windows or Mac, better design tools for Mac, and I have an inverted laptop
        hanging from my moon roof with Windows for GPS, iTunes, and in-car video.

        I think the overall story is that the OS field narrowed during the 90's with MS
        almost taking over the world and now it's broadening again. I think the real
        consolidation took place at the processor level with Intel being the big winner. It
        was a long battle and I don't like the outcome, but x86 based processors beat out
        Sparc, PowerPC, and DEC's Alpha. I think in the long run, we'll care less about out
        OS and will see a migration away from general computing devices to embedded
        devices like phones, iPods, and settop boxes for video and gaming.
        • Re mouse: run Windows on the Mac

          There's an easy way to test it. Get BootCamp and run Windows on the Mac.

          Frankly, I think it's entirely psychological. Years ago I found I had to replace a "mushy" keyboard with a "click" keyboard and after I did I found it very uncomfortable. I decided to bring my mushy keyboard from home and was shocked to find I had been using a click keyboard at home and hadn't realized it. For some reason, the click keyboard felt comfortable at home but not at work. It had nothing to do with different position, etc., it was purely psychological.
          • Just a question...

            What happens in Windows when you only have one button? Seriously, I would think that would get ugly.
      • Brainwashed zombies?

        Maybe that's why you have no problems with Windoze...? As far as the exterior goes, well gee - I bet you keep your house and your car painted, even though you're not spending your days looking at them. Beauty, in Mac's case, is more than skin deep.
        • Right on target

          I've not been disappointed. It usually takes three posts to any comment before rebuters come out with fangs bared and hurling insults. Conclusion: Overall, many computer folks are really nasty people underneath their shiny exteriors. This is not an insult, but a fact that is easily verifiable throughout the history of these posts.
        • Beauty...

          is also in the eye of the beholder. I personally find the Macs to be cutsy, artsy pretenders. Yes, I keep my house painted, in simple earth tones rather than pastels. Yes, I keep my Toyota painted, but do not drive a Lexus, Jag, or BMW that the Mac people keep comparing their computers to. Yes, I can spell Windows and Apple, and write an intelligent post without insults. My point is, the beauty of a computer is being able to use it for whatever task I need. It is the work, or play, that is important, not the artsy package, which you think is cool and I think is ugly and pretentious. It all boils down to choice. You choose the Mac, great for you. I prefer the almost unlimited choices that the PC market provides, choices in hardware, choices in software, choices in companies to do business with.

          As for brainwashed zombies, read the posts from the Mac fanatics like yourself in this thread, and see who the zombies really are.
          • Unlimited possibilities?

            [i]I prefer the almost unlimited choices that the PC market provides, choices in hardware, choices in software, choices in companies to do business with.[/i]

            I'm sure you also prefer Advil, so when you have configuration and driver issues, your headache goes away faster. As for me, I don't miss updating my drivers to make something work at all, since Mac OS is pretty seamless in that area.

            BTW, more isn't better. 15 versions of the same video card makes the common consumer's head spin, if anything.
          • Now this one really is stupid - ADVIL?!

            First a better mouse action from another post and now a 'putdown' suggesting a Window's user is.....well, stupid or misguided because they might prefer Advil is just really puerile. It doesn't move this 'debate' one single millimetre forward. Advil's active ingredient is Ibuprofin which is common to a huge range of painkillers around the world (just like paracetamol in another related category).

            However, unwittingly, you might have shot your argument a little bit here. Whether you get rid of your headache using Advil or something else (BTW, what painkiller do YOU use?) is similar to achieving a work task with a computer. Do I care if I use Mac, Windows, Linux or an abacus, as long as it's reliable and gets the job done.

            Personally, I use Linux because firstly, it gives me choice without being locked into proprietary $$hardware/$$software (and I still have a responsive mouse LOL) and secondly, I get superior computing power at low/no cost.

            PS. But I'd love to be able to build, at the same price as a PC, a desktop box that's as gorgeous and so well laid out as the guts of some of Apple's products that I've seen.
          • No headaches here

            You know, I keep hearing the Mac people throw up the same old arguments, and they just don't wash. Driver issues? Rare, but I have occasionally seen them. Generally they are easy to fix, and not the major headache that you seem think they are. 15 versions of the same video card? Yes, but add about a hundred totally different video cards, each with 15 or more variations, and you will be closer to the truth. And yes, it can make some peoples head spin, but there are others who actually enjoy having choice. For those who don't, there are plenty of companies like Dell and HP who offer preconfigured systems. Why do the car companies offer so many choices in body styles, engines, colors, interiors, options, etc? According to you, we should go back to the days of the Model T, when you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

            The point is, having a choice is good, even if you don't choose to exercise it. I, and many like me, revel in the vast variety offered on the PC side, not the least of which is the ability to choose the companies that we do business with. I choose not to do business with Apple. The poster above me chose not to do business with Microsoft. At least we have that choice.
    • Personal adjustment

      Until Mac embraces fully the power of the right-click in all it's software, leaving such power and control as an afterthought reduces Mac's effectiveness. I know you "can" right click with an add-on mouse, and you "can" right click with both hands if need be, but it's a philosophical mindset that relegates right-clicking to a programmer's option and not a systemic mandate.

      As for responsiveness, go to Control Panel | Mouse and set it how you like it. Speed and acceleration for greater pixel accuracy are all adjustable to your liking. It won't be how I like it, so, no, it's not "better out of the box."
      • right-click has been there for years...'s just that Apple finally figured out how to put additional buttons on the mouse or emulate them on the track pad.

        [i]As for responsiveness, go to Control Panel | Mouse and set it how you like it. Speed and acceleration for greater pixel accuracy are all adjustable to your liking. It won't be how I like it, so, no, it's not "better out of the box."[/i]

        Also, most "in the box with the CPU" mice suck, since they have no weight and slow sensors. Apple's mice are a little better (better sensors since they're manufactured by Logitech), but nothing beats a good Logitech or Microsoft mouse in terms of ergonomics and sensitivity.
        • Nothing?

          I like my Wacom tablet, personally...

          And as far as sensitivity/response, I think the original commenter was referring to a reduction of lag time in processing, not to the amount of motion involved...
  • Edubuntu et alia

    Somewhat OT: Edubuntu is Gnome, so I'm glad to see that you do like Gnome, too.... :-)

    Another thing: Xubuntu is great, but I advise not to use the LiveCD of Xubuntu 7.04 for hard disk installations. I've had some strange results with that. The Alternate CD however yields flawless results, and is much faster, because you don't have a LiveCD-session in your RAM.

    I also highly recommend Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux. These are mini-distributions, aimed at the really ancient PC's: you can even resurrect a 486 from the dead. They are great fun!

    Greetz, Pjotr.
    • Actually...

      I installed KDE on my Edubuntu server, so now we can all choose KDE but still make use of the LTSP facilities.

      :) Thanks for the recs on the other distros - I do have some really old PCs I'd like to pass on to students who can't afford PCs so I'll give them a shot.
  • Sturdy cases?

    Computers really are getting very commodified. It's been pathetically funny to watch Apple since Jobs's return try to impose his vision of luxury goods which failed both in his first stint at Apple and at NeXT on the field. With the iPod and other machines, of course, he is taking that view where it belongs.

    At the same time, do we really need two three or more mouse buttons? Apple charges premium prices for what are very good, but not premium, machines, Perhaps because I used to use the Mac so much in the old days, that's one thing about the Mac which has never bothered me much. We can pretty much do what we need to with hardware which is much less complicated than that available to us. I spend most of my time on Linux now, and spend a lot of time pushing hardware which can charitably described as halfway to antique, so I'm not Apple's market. At the same time, educational institutions can get discounts. Some of these discounts can certainly make them comparable to Dell. Especially with the sharp limits on Dell's offering of Ubuntu, this means less hassle setting them up (I'm an M$-hater).

    As far as Ubuntu goes, it sounds like you associate Swahili with the old Tarzan movies or something. That is unfair. My own jokes about Ubuntu tend to be Linux for Humans doesn't mean me. haya ni katika nususi ya mambo.
  • Macintosh?

    Most of my readers agreed that I probably could have made a sounder IT choice by just making him use Windows

    Apple TV Converter
  • one button complaint and why use Macs v Linux

    The one button complaint is a very old, tired, and uninformed complaint.
    You might as well still complain about the puck-shaped mouse.
    1. Plug any two-button mouse into any apple computer and it "just works."
    2. Any Apple lap-top made within the last four or five years (mine) uses two
    fingers on the touch pad to scroll (very convenient) or two-fingers plus
    click to "right-click"--so easy I taught it to my mother. As a left-hander I
    find this method easier to use than awkwardly hunting around with my
    thumb for the left click. Yes, I could remap the buttons (if there were two)
    which I do with my mouse (which has four buttons).
    3. Try explaining to 14-year-olds the difference between left and right
    click while giving directions to the class in a computer lab (yes, it's
    Windows). Not all kids are computer geniuses. Most of them only use the
    left button and are intimidated by contextual menus. Most of the time I'd
    prefer it if the computers used in education were simpler and had fewer

    Why Mac v Linux
    If you are going simply on price then get Dell and Ubuntu Linux. That
    seems obvious to me.

    The viruses and malware that plague Windows seem to leave Mac and Linux
    alone so that's a wash.

    Current Macs will run both Windows, Linux, and/or Mac OSX, so if cross-
    compatibility is an issue, a few Mac minis plugged into the nearly infinite
    keyboards and monitors (that we have from years of Dell purchases and
    upgrades) would seem to be cost-effective. At least this is the argument
    I've made to my tech committee. It's mostly fallen on deaf ears as Dell
    seems to have our school contract locked up for the near future.
    • You are right, so why did Apple resist giving us one for so long?

      Yes it is a very old argument, made even older because Apple didn't answer it for so very long! We all know it works to plug in our favorite multi-button USB mouse, (not just "any two button mouse", as you said, think PS/2) the thing is, why did we have to pay so much for the Apple box, and then pay a few dollars more at another vendor to get an essentially industry standard mouse? Mac finally makes a cool multi-button (well, sort of button) mouse now, the Mighty Mouse, and finally includes it with the base level iMac. Or you can buy it separately for about $70, yet another case of overpriced Appleness.
      And seriously, you can't get 14 year olds to use two fingers? These kids run 10 button game controllers on the game consoles, and you can't get them to right click? Give me a break! And the little contextual menus are a chance to incorporate reading into your classroom, come on, get into the spirit of things!

      The Mac Mini is only cost effective if you NEED to run Apple-only apps, or have a tech crew that simply can't admin a Windows or Linux lab, otherwise, you're better off spending $200-$300 less per seat on base model Win or Linux boxes. Our tech dep't is TOTALLY Apple fans, they don't have to go through the board to spend their funds, and they STILL end up buying Windows installed hardware, because they can fill a lab for less cash, even though they WANT to do Apple so bad they can taste it. They work their butts off trying to figure out how to use TCO or any other thing to get a bid to favor buying Apple; but they still can't use any other argument than user preference to buy a Mac. So we have about half our teachers using Macs, and a few elementary school labs running their leftover Macs, but most of the machines we buy now are Winboxes.
      Seriously, if Apple wants to compete in the educational market, they need to cut their prices; more than their present educational discounts do. Our Apple biased techs keep our Windows based systems safe from malware and such, through Linux based firewalls and mail servers and Windows Domain servers, and they are frustrated that Apple won't come to the party; so my argument is that Apple has no clue what education wants or needs today, otherwise I'd be typing this on a Mac.