Friday, September 15, 2006
We Have Found Two Problems
I'll be the first to admit these Apple ads are a trifle on the smug side, if pretty funny.
However, this one, which touts the Macintosh's immediate usability right out of the box, is as true as true gets. I've had the pleasure of taking three brand-new computers out of their packing cases in the last four months: This PowerBook that I'm typing on now (bought for me by my employers; I can't afford that kind of luxury), a Mac Mini for Freddie's birthday present, and an Acer Aspire laptop that I acquired for the local Historical Society, on whose board of directors I sit.
Both Macs were an absolute pleasure to unpack and start for the first time. Apple is so concerned with providing a sleek and seamless user experience that even the packaging the computers came in was very carefully designed. After plugging it in and turning it on, you're presented with a very brief (I think it was five steps) wizard that asks you what you'd like your computer to call you ("Percy Whips," in my case), how you're going to connect to the Internet, whether you'd like to register with Apple, and a few others. Once you're done with this, you're on the Desktop, ready to go. That. Is. It. Firewall on by default, Net connection working, a representative set of iLife apps ready to be launched from the Dock. Go. Have fun.
I really and truly didn't know how good I had it until I unpacked the Acer laptop last night. OK, I won't hold the packaging against them; pedestrian, like opening a box of cereal, but not objectionable. It wasn't until Windows XP reared its ass-ugly face that I started to get that oh-shit-here-we-go feeling. First, you did get something similar to that five-step interview wizard -- but it was conducted in a nasty little underdesigned window, not the welcoming immersive experience that Mac OS X gives you, and while the interview was going on, thousands of other little windows were popping up and disappearing in the background with baffling messages in DOS-ese. Why the hell can't these windows be suppressed if they're giving me information I can neither understand nor act on?
Then I had to reboot. Twice.
When the hullaballoo had died down, I was presented with an incredibly hostile-looking screen that told me I was in grave danger because I had no anti-virus software running. Wow. The first time I boot this thing, and the first thing I'm presented with is a shrieking, blinking-red reminder of the shoddiness and vulnerability of the OS I'm running. (The first thing I saw on my Mac was GarageBand.) I've heard horror stories of Windows machines being booted without virus protection and becoming so polluted with crap that they're unusable within four minutes. So now the first thought I have is that this thing is searching for my house's wireless network (one of the thousand superfluous messages I saw on boot) and it's completely unprotected! Yikes! Better get that digital condom on, toot-sweet!
Whew! There's an icon for Norton Antivirus there on the desktop! Hit it, quick!
"Please insert Norton Antivirus Install Disk."
I mean, WHAT??!?!!?!?! You give me a free copy of Norton Antivirus, and you can't be bothered to install it on my hard drive before you ship it? And while I fumble with the disks that came with the laptop, grubby little hackers in Russia are installing god-knows-what on this computer, which only seconds ago you told me was desperately vulnerable?
Now there's a well-thought-out experience!
Well. So. I got the disk inserted, Norton's installing itself, and then a weird little window pops up in the lower right of the screen. It's not branded, so I can't tell who's trying to talk to me. It says, "We have found two problems. Would you like us to fix them? [Yes] [No]."
I'm beginning to get a throbbing in my temples and a strong desire to go get the vodka bottle. The large Norton-branded window in the center of the screen continues to tell me how many thousands of virus definitions it's loaded and how many thousands are left to go before I'm safe, but as to the nature of these "problems" and exactly what "fixing" them entails it is silent as the grave. I click "Yes" with some reluctance -- I wish they'd provide a "Uh, yyyyees..." button -- and the little window goes away. I'll never know just what the fuck those "problems" were: Massive kernel panic? A corrupted .dll file? Mayonnaise spilled on the disk drive? Got me, Chuck-o. I'm just a dumb Mac user.
So the machine had finally settled down, I was now safe from viruses, my firewall was running. So I decided to check out some of the fab features the Historical Society had paid for. A sort of crab-shaped icon on the desktop advertised itself as "AvRack." I clicked it. And absolutely fell off my couch, roaring with laughter.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS THING?
No, I mean seriously. What the fuck is this thing? I've had to reduce it in size about 20% to make it fit in this column, but the labels and icons are still readable. To judge from the presence of the "Recorder" and "Equalizer" labels on the wings (ears? antennae?) of the thing, it's a media-recording and -playback interface with playlisting capability, but sweet Jesus on a Segway did you ever see anything so unrelievedly, mortifyingly, hilariously ugly? I'm a goddamned grownup, for Christ's sake -- and, presumably, so are the majority of people who can afford laptops -- is the expectation that I am to be somehow impressed by the planet Saturn on a dongle hanging off the default skin of my media player?
OK, OK. That's a cheap third-party dingus placed on the desktop by Acer to fulfill some kind of contractual obligation, and not part of Windows XP. But Boy Howdy is it symptomatic of the Windows world, where cheap, gimcrack -- and above all, butt-ugly -- software abounds. Yeah, cheaper, blah blah. Yeah, more compatible, yadda yadda. Yeah, more games, woof woof (some of us don't give a rat's ass about games). Most of these objections are, if not outright myths, then easily refuted. The truth is that Corporate America forces its slaves to stare, day in and day out, at deeply repellent, hideously badly designed, user-hostile garbage. And because the slaves can't fight back and demand better, because the goddamned IT Department, peopled with Morlocks with Microsoft Certifications in all kinds of drudgery, has a vested interest in keeping the status quo ante.
I'm a Mac. I'm not a PC.
(There, that ought to generate some Comments. Heh, heh.)
(PS: I use an XP machine extensively, although not exclusively, at work. I'm not iggerant.)