Fear the one-platform <BR>computer ecosystem!

A recent job switch actually compelled me to go out and buy my own computer for the first time since 1987. I bought a Mac, of course -- a "bronze" PowerBook G3 that had been discounted to make way for the latest and greatest Mac laptops.

A recent job switch actually compelled me to go out and buy my own computer for the first time since 1987. I bought a Mac, of course -- a "bronze" PowerBook G3 that had been discounted to make way for the latest and greatest Mac laptops.

The decision to stick with the Mac caused me scarcely a moment's hesitation. After all, I've been using these things since making the switch from a manual typewriter; call me provincial, but despite the encouragement of some good friends to consider standardizing on the majority platform, the idea of buying a Windows laptop barely creased my brow.

The hardest thing about getting this new notebook was finding a dealer that still had the older models in stock.

The round trip to Elite Computers in Cupertino, Calif., notwithstanding, I was up and swapping e-mails within 10 minutes of bringing this machine home. Which brings me to this week's philosophical issue: Would the world be a better place if I didn't have a choice?

As regulars to this space are aware, I¹m both amused and bewildered by the predictability of most of the TalkBack threads that follow the arrival of each week's column. No matter what the topic, the follow-up conversation ends up turning into a firefight between supporters of the majority and minority commercial OSes, with an occasional dose of Linux partisanship thrown in for good measure.

Generally, the Windows users take umbrage with the Mac camp's perceived arrogance and slavish devotion to Steve Jobs, while the Mac posters fault the Windows contingent for -- well, for its perceived arrogance and slavish devotion to Bill Gates.

That's why I'd like to attempt a different tack, one that sets aside platform specifics for a moment: What tangible benefits would a one-platform planet bring to end users?

Note the emphasis on end users here; I'm cognizant of the fact that a universal PC platform would indeed simplify the life of IT professionals currently compelled to support disparate hardware and software systems.

When it comes to putting hardware into actual users' hands, however, I can see nothing but benefits from maintaining a varied OS ecosystem (albeit one that currently maintains only a single 800-pound gorilla).

To my mind, the presence of multiple OS vendors -- a population that's growing exponentially with the rise of various Linux distributions -- has been the prime engine driving the evolution of the desktop over the past couple of decades. In the year 2000, who cares whether Apple invented the GUI or cribbed it from Xerox PARC? (Or whether Microsoft cribbed it from the former or the latter?) The graphical user interface's adoption and refinement has been fueled by continued competition among OS developers; on that level, I'm no more eager for Windows to disappear from the landscape than the Mac.

I also find a weird kind of reassurance from the level of vitriol that platform acolytes of all stripes can secrete; it confirms my belief that the PC has evolved from a glorified calculator or word processing box into something that people take personally. Are there sites where folks regularly enter into this level of heated discourse about the merits of their refrigerators or toasters, with Amana users and Whirlpool aficionados accusing each other of cultlike devotion and hubris? (Knowing the Internet, the answer is probably yes, but I'll bet the traffic numbers are a lot lower than ZDNet's.)

Laying aside the critiques of the other guy's laggard features or OS-induced personality flaws, does anybody want to step forward and tell me what advantages would accrue to you, me or him if everyone were to climb aboard your platform?

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is a contributing editor to ZDNet News.

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