Why Geeks Hate the Mac?

I have the opportunity to work with a Mac at home and a Win98 lab at work. I was only exposed to the Win98 way of doing things eight months ago; during this time, I’ve gone through several evolutionary changes, summing up to one epiphany: I know why geeks hate the Mac.

When I started in my new job, for all intents and purposes, I had only used Macintosh before. Although I had used some Win95 and 98 through an emulator, I didn’t deceive myself into thinking that this emulated a real-world experience. By the way, I’ve found the emulator useless, because all the software I want I can find Mac versions of. But that’s another story. Win98 didn’t exactly intimidate me, but I did get “Win98 for Dummies.” Which was also useless; I already knew most of it, or discovered it through simple intuition.

At first, before I was hired, I laughed at folks who had discovered the Blue Screen of Death. I was unsympathetic to Minions of the Dark Side who lamented viruses, crashes, buggy software, and other assorted ills. I felt superior in my computing choice, knowing full well that Microsoft had stolen and made a bad mess of a better Operating System. I seriously considered carrying iMac brochures with me, a selfless evangelist to the heathen hordes.

However, I was hired for a Compaq lab while I bit my tongue at the interview. When I started my new job, I was surprised at how much Windows 98 acted like a Mac. All of the same basic processes were there, with trivial differences. The usefulness of the taskbar was apparent; the recycle bin was an obvious renaming of my Trash; the “Programs” listing of available applications is duplicated by a pop-up window on my Mac. I wondered where my floppy was a few times, before I remembered to look in the A: drive, and I found the interface plain ugly, but those weren’t things I could scream about in comp.sys.mac.advocacy. Not to say other people don’t, to be sure.

I gained a tolerance of the PC. It was still ugly, but I could see some of the attractiveness: cheaper, similar enough interface, and you didn’t have to read FAQ’s to determine when, or even if, the download would install on my system.

However, I’ve since met the explorer, and the uglier files contained therein. I dare any PC advocate to tell me what any given DLL will do. However, I can do that for 90% of the files on my Mac, not least because they have human-readable names. (Incidentally, the Mac files that I have the hardest time with are those that were installed by, you guessed it, MS Office.) I’ve since had video cards blow on one year old machines. The kernel crashes on a regular basis, requiring a hard reboot. Security is a joke; integration of IE and Office makes it impossible to lock my students out of DOS, which they cause trouble with.

So now I’ve begun swinging back the other direction. And I’ve come to this conclusion: geeks hate the Mac, because there’s nothing to break. My students, Win partisans all, and some fairly sophisticated, love to go tooling around in Explorer. They open files, just to look. They really dig opening auotexec.bat and config.sys and seeing how much they can change before it crashes or fails to boot. They hack and slash all over the system, figuring security holes, changing settings, and seeing what they can see in DOS.

However, there simply isn’t this opportunity on Macs. Sure, it’s there, but it’s much more buried than it is on PCs. This is by design, to be sure; part of the Mac’s selling point is that it’s built for the inexperienced, who have no need for a CLI. But my students look at the control panels, and it just doesn’t present the opportunities to tweak, twiddle, and break. They look in the system folder, and it makes just too much plain sense: there is no adventure in dragging and dropping extension files. They want to open in text editors and do homebrew hacking. There is just nothing, from their perspective, to do. So they dismiss it as a toy, before they realize that this facility is actually a strong suit.

If I had the guts, I’d introduce my students to ResEdit. Instead, I’ll wait for the geek market to come back when we get a Unix CLI with OS X.