How to Fix a Problem That Doesn't Exist

In the current issue of DaringFireball, John Gruber talks about Joshua Marshall's interest and uncertainty about buying a Mac. John mainly talks about familiarity being a reason for staying with Windows, but also succinctly addresses the idea of "being tied to one company."

As much as Microsoft tries to make it seem like the Windows platform is "open," it's really the antithesis of the term. All Microsoft means is that they don't make PC hardware. In fact, Marhsall makes a rather self-incriminating statement about this (emphasis added):

And over the years, I’ve invested a serious amount of money in software and various gizmos, all of which are PC-based. That in itself is probably enough to keep me shackled down in the Wintel universe.

It's right there. The DaringFireball article addresses all of these issues elegantly. The one other bit I found interesting, though, is Marshall's comment about maintenance:

I can open up my PCs and install things and actually do a certain amount of maintenance on them. Not sure one can do that with a Mac, at least not to the same degree.

Certainly a Mac is not made out of alien materials. It's still just plastic, metal and hard drives, just arranged in a different way. The question is, what do you want to do in there?

Serviceable Parts

Certainly installing memory is a reasonable expectation. Although it's a bit difficult in the Mac mini due to the small size, it's not impossible. Upgrading memory in an iMac is straightfoward, and doing the same in the towers is about as easy as it gets. Laptops are a different story, but that's not unique to Apple.

Other than memory, what sort of maintenance is there to do in a modern machine? Unless you have a well-cooled tower, you don't want to muck with the CPU or GPU because we're not dealing with 486s anymore. You add something faster or bigger and you risk upsetting the delicate heat equillibrium inside a compact form factor.

So what's left? You want to solder things to the logic board? Replace individual chips? Really, other than memory or a hard drive, what is there to replace or perform maintenance on?

Only Four Slots?

These phantom concerns remind me of when the Blue and White G3-style cases came out. There was an outcry from some media professionals because the new case didn't have six slots. Even at the time I wasn't sure what the fuss was about. A media professional needed a SCSI card and perhaps a media card or two, but that's still only three slots. What else is there to add?

Over time, we saw that Apple simply negated the need for most of these sort of slots by adding integrated hardware or software-level replacements like Final Cut Pro. This simplified the hardware design and allowed much more compact machines to be built.

Quick, to Macsbug!

The same phenomenon surfaced during the switch to Mac OS X. Some users were absolutely panicked that their existing Mac OS 9 troubleshooting techniques would be ineffective under Mac OS X. In this light, troubleshooting was cast as a feature, not a burden.

In reality, many of these tools were solutions in search of a problem. There's no need to rebuild the desktop database or quit applications in the reverse order to avoid memory fragmentation.

So my suggestion to potential switchers is to not worry about how to translate a Windows maintenance technique to the Mac world until you are at least sure that you'll have to do the same sort of hand-holding on that particular issue.
Design Element
How to Fix a Problem That Doesn't Exist
Posted Mar 6, 2006 — 9 comments below


Chris Grande — Mar 07, 06 914

So very true. Once I get most switchers past that first major mental block things normally move very easily. Also Joshua just bought a Mac:

Wayne Allison — Mar 07, 06 915

There is an amusing video which pokes fun at owning a Mac but at the same time highlights some legitimate points.

Then again using a Windows machine to do .NET development isn't exactly a day full of fun or free from crashes.

As for Mac ease of use I've always been surprised that the Command and Option keys are so well disguised for the new user.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 07, 06 916 Scotty the Leopard

There is an amusing video which pokes fun at owning a Mac but at the same time highlights some legitimate points

I saw it a while ago. It's really well acted and entertaining, but I honestly don't think much of it is reasonable. Mac key combinations are more awkward than Windows? Is he serious?

Dan Price — Mar 07, 06 917

This reminds of a PC article I once read reviewing a Mac. The author concluded that Mac wouldn't be at all that useful to him, because it wouldn't run his familar disk-defrag, anti-virus and registry-cleaning utilities.

No joke.

Jarl Robert Kristiansen — Mar 07, 06 918

A point here is that many Windows users have their pc so that they can maintain it. This is a fenomena mostly found among the Windows users, and seem to be absent from the mac community, most likely caused by the absense of fixes needed.

Theese Windows "fixers" seem quite happy with it though, scanning their harddrives, updating their firmware while lurking around in the big mysterius universe of their OS called Dos, and they have also been known to upgrade their ram when the appropriate three months of computing are over.

PS! don't be afraid to approach theese "fixer's"; while they might seem focused and somewhat dangerous, they mostly ignore any attemt of sosial communication, so it's quite safe to have a little look at them while they are searching for the latest in patches..

Adrian Cooke — Mar 16, 06 935

This discussion points to something interesting about the way that people seek out and respond to feedback from the OS and the computer as whole. I began computing life as PC user and switched to Macs about four years ago, though I still use a PC from time to time.

From my point of view the maintenance tasks that Joshua Marshall refers to are, on a PC, both functional and reassuring ways of dealing regularly with your computer. We believe that when we defrag the hard drive, clean up the registry, etc. we are keeping things lean, clean and running smoothly. The idea about getting under the hood when I need to probably emerges from experiences like upgrading a video card, adding a wireless device or replacing a broken hard drive—things that can be done inside the box and give us the sense that, if something goes wrong we can probably fix it instead of digging out the receipt and lugging it back to the store…

On a Mac life is simpler, but I'd make two points: (1) you don't really know that unless you've either had one, or as happened to me, you hang out with people who pour so much scorn on PCs that it gets you thinking about what it would be like… and (2) Macs really don't give you as much feedback about what they are doing, at least not through the GUI. This can be a good or a bad thing. I think that in contrast to Windows XP, someone who wants to learn how to get things done using the command line in OS X is faced with a much more daunting task—if, that is, they learned how to fiddle around with computers through DOS, not UNIX. And let's face it, that's probably a lot of people.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Mac and think that OS X is awesomely superior to Windows 2000/XP. But the purpose of John Gruber's article was about understanding the barriers to switching and I'd say it has a lot to do with this feedback issue, and the psychological reassurance attached to it.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 16, 06 938 Scotty the Leopard

Macs really don't give you as much feedback about what they are doing

What do you mean, specifically?

Adrian Cooke — Mar 17, 06 939

The first things I thought of were the daily, weekly and monthly UNIX maintenance scripts that OS X schedules and runs in the background. But that's perhaps a minor example. Your question got me thinking. Running through the back of my mind when I wrote that was, I think, the sheer number of in-your-face blue progress bars and stuff-is-going-from-this-to-that icons that Windows throws at you, whether you're deleting, copying installing, virus scanning, whatever. The graphical defrag window is an obsessive-compulsive's dream. There's also dialogue boxes galore (especially with the default firewall that runs in XP) and icons in the Taskbar that are a constant reminder that something is happening, like the network icon—is data flowing into my computer? Now that I think about it, OS X has a lot of these things too, but I guess the difference is that they are much more discreet, and that the interface is not organised around making you have to deal with them so much.

Abhi Beckert — Apr 04, 06 1028

If someone wants more feedback, they should check out iPulse


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