The Mac Gets a Little Respect

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Computer Player, March 1998

They say that confession is good for the soul. So I?d like to start off with a few confessions:

? Like 90% or so of the world?s computer users, I use Microsoft Windows. Unlike many of you, I?ve been using various versions of Windows for about a decade now, starting way back before it became the world?s standard computer interface. (Let?s save the debate on whether Microsoft is too powerful for another time, okay?)
? I?m aware that an awful lot of what works well about Windows is copied from Apple?s Macintosh. When I first started out using Windows, there was a series of ads from graphics software company Micrografx promoting their product line as being for Windows users with ?Mac envy?. (I?m also aware that much of what works well on the Mac originated at the Xerox Parc research lab).
? Over the years, while Windows has been my primary computing platform, I?ve tried to remain reasonably familiar with Macs? but while I?ve owned and continually upgraded PC machines running various generations of Windows, I?ve never owned a Mac. As much as possible, I?ve tried to be sensitive to including Mac-issues in my writing, but as a non-Mac owner, my perspective has inevitably been limited at best.

So recently, I went out and got myself a belated Christmas present? Contrary to current marketing trends, I bought a Mac.

At this point, I?ve had the machine for about a month, so I can?t present myself as any kind of an expert. My machine came with Mac OS version 7.5.3, not the new, fancy OS-8? and I haven?t yet upgraded the operating system, so any comments may be specific to that older version But here are a few first impressions:

? More things are similar than different between my Mac and my Windows 95 systems. The same applications, reading the same datafiles, working the same way. Most things work the way I?d expect them to. As a Windows user,  it takes practise to remember to hold the mouse button down to keep menus down? (something that, I gather, OS-8 changes). Windows 3.1 is noticeably clunkier than the Mac, but the Win95 interface and long file names make the two systems pretty similar, at least on the surface.
? With the Mac?s PC Exchange system software, it?s easy to move files from the PC to the Mac, and most standard applications can read data from either platform. Add-ons like DataViz?s Conversions Plus on the PC and MacLink Plus on the Mac translate between less-common file formats (and MacLink allows serial-port connections to shuttle back and forth files that are too big to fit onto a floppy).
? Much about the Mac?s interface is, as its proponents have always claimed, elegant and intuitive. But as with the PC, there are also some things that are not particularly user-friendly. Does anyone discover on their own that Command+Shift+3 takes a screen shot? Is that more intuitive than the equivalent PrintScreen command in Windows?
? Software and hardware add-ons are harder to find, as the Mac market shrinks. Adding RAM and an Ethernet card cost more on the Mac than for the PC.
? I?ve had my share of system crashes and freezes, and had to struggle to discover which Extension was incompatible with what software. Some Windows users imagine that the Mac is more stable? I?m afraid not.
? There are things about Win95 I miss on the Mac? right-clicking to bring up context menus (also added in OS-8); the Control Panel?s Device Manager, showing settings for all installed hardware. The Start Menu and Taskbar (which, ironically, can be added to the Mac with the shareware GoMac utility).

There?s always been a love-hate relationship between Windows and Macintosh. The Mac did it first, and in many ways did it better; Windows started late, went through an awkward adolescence, but has grown up to dominate most areas of the market. As a result, many Mac-users? attitudes towards the competition have evolved from amusement through scorn to a kind of fear.

All of us, Windows and Mac users, have benefitted over the years from a strong Apple? I hope the company manages to prosper.

Has the Mac stolen my heart? Is it so obviously superior or more fun that it will become my primary computer for work or play? I don?t think so. It is, however, a solid platform that I will continue to use, and that deserves better than it?s received, both from the press and from the market.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan