Unshelved comic strip for 8/10/2007

The Slippery Slide to Apple

I lead a conflicted life, technologically. I owned the original 128k Mac, and was a professional Mac II programmer for several years. Then I started at Microsoft and had a DOS and later a Windows machine on my desk. The Windows OS matured while the Mac OS languished. When I got married we bought ourselves a home computer, the first I'd owned for over a decade, and Macs weren't even an option. The OS had become a joke, and the hardware and software ecosystem was a tiny island.

Things have shifted since then. The advent of Mac OS X, a real operating system at last, brought them back into the game, and their shift to Intel made that game highly competitive. Their design has always been good and its now the best in the world, orders of magnitude ahead of the competition.

But even so I held a religious conviction that the Mac represented a totalitarian regime which crushed freedom. And this is of course in many ways true. And Microsoft, which many despise as a monopolist, nonetheless enables an incredibly free and fertile hardware, software, and media economy. Laptops come in every shape and size, gaming desktops which bring fantastic worlds to life at incredible speeds, servers that run the world, from thousands of vendors. Software and music and movies from everywhere. (Linux is at the far end of this continuum of freedom, but for reasons I will shortly explain it's not a good option for me.)

So I probably wouldn't be writing this post if it weren't for the iPhone. My wife Sara wanted a phone that was a PDA, so that she could manage her complex parenting schedule on the fly without carrying two devices. While I, for my part, hated my Motorola Q (running Windows Mobile 5) with a passion. It was just a year old but everything about it was unexpectedly hard to use. Every time I used it I was annoyed. It was a complete compromise - it didn't do anything well. End result: we spent our children's college education for a pair of these beauties.

Executive summary: the iPhone is a complete delight, with every detail crafted to please. And that started me thinking. Don't I deserve to have the rest of my life work that way? I realized in a flash how sick I am of configuration, of devices that work together only begrudgingly, software designed by people who seem not to actually use software. I manage our home network, and it's an enormous pain. (And this should explain why Linux isn't an option for me).

Then our wireless router died. And I made a sudden but profound decision - I was going to replace it with an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station. And I did. And it's beautiful. And it just worked, with incredibly intuitive setup tools. And because it's from a company that understands what real people need, it included the facility to plug in a USB hard drive to create a file share. So I was able to throw out my aging (and loud! and hot! and power-hungry!) file server computer with a tiny USB hard drive. And that just worked too.

So now I fear that I am lost. The prospect of a life filled with beautiful things that just work calls to me with a siren song that I cannot easily resist. Even Sara, a staunch Windows person, is becoming convinced by her iPhone and glimpses of iPhone and iMovie. Unless I am convinced otherwise I suspect we will slowly replace our computing infrastructure with Apple products.

But there is hope for we Microsoft shareholders. First of all they are starting to get it, look at the Xbox if you don't think so. And secondly their server group (for which I currently work) absolutely delights, and looks to continue to do so. There the commitment to users, in this case developers and IT professionals, is unmatched. Unshelved.com loves being on Windows Server. So there's that.

Meanwhile the Barnacle household is sliding down the slippery slope to Apple. And we're liking it.

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