Fish Out of Water
I was talking with the herring gulls the other day—not talking like King George III did to trees, or our British heir apparent does to his plants. I mean real conversations about topics we both understand and contribute to. In the case of the gulls, their subjects are more restricted than the builders I’ve had working on my house recently. They limit it to “Give me food,” or, “I am eating, get out my face.” Come to think of it, that is about the extent of the builders’ chatter too.
When they first adopted us, this pair of gulls was barely a few months old, all fluffy and covered in juvenile spots. They fluttered their wings, tapped on the windows, and soon got me trained to cook extra food to fill their beaks. It took them only a goldfish or two from my pond before they learned they didn’t like the taste, and if they did eat my fish they got no food from me for a week. Or until their plaintive mewing and tapping on the window got to me.
Now that they are four-year-olds, have lost their spots, and look very handsome in their adult plumage, these birds and I can hold stilted conversations. They are hampered by their lack of vocal skills, and they’re usually limited to wanting food or expressing appreciation about having it. Obviously the gulls are well able to fend for themselves but choose to stay around my garden in our symbiotic relationship. I feed them, they give me pleasure, and they use up any food leftovers and stale biscuits—though spaghetti or roast potatoes are preferred.
On this particular day they alerted me to a goldfish they were standing guard over, left on the lawn by a crow that has taken a liking to the fish. The crow has been the scourge of the garden for two years, flying around with his magpie pal, bullying the other birds, searching among the rocks for frogs and eating my goldfish. OK, so the gull’s warning was a bit like Flipper’s whistling being interpreted as “The kid is stuck down the mine-shaft,” or was that Skippy the Bush Kangaroo? In any case, the fish was still alive, a bit battered, but having survived the experience.
Being a fish out of water just about sums up my experience with Windows. I have never owned a PC that uses Microsoft operating systems. Any use of Windows and its derivatives is limited to cash point machines and searching the local library’s catalogue. When I gave lessons in QuarkXPress and Photoshop on PCs using Windows, I wasn’t in the driving seat so didn’t have to get to grips with right clicking, start buttons, and goodness knows what else. It helped to know the keyboard shortcuts. My only other Windows experience was running early emulators on my Mac, and of course then I was really running a Mac program so it doesn’t count.
When Apple announced its move to Intel chips, my first thought was that it would mean dual booting Macs, getting the best of both worlds: rock solid Mac OS X and all those lovely games I can ask for as birthday presents. Then it was announced that the Intel Macs would not be able to run Windows natively. Whether this was a bit of FUD from Apple is debatable. Or did they just mean that Vista wouldn’t run when/if it is finally released? In any case, it didn’t take hackers long to prove Apple wrong, and suddenly Apple released their own software enabling Windows booting on the new Macs. Is this a good thing or not?
From my own point of view, when I saw how much a copy of Windows actually costs, I cannot see any need to buy it. In the UK, Windows XP is around £120 (though prices seem to vary from £58 to over £200). For £249, I could purchase a Dell laptop that comes with its own, pre-installed copy. Microsoft has pretty much bottled-up Windows piracy, but it might be legal to use that copy on my Mac and run Linux on the PC. Another laptop is always useful even if only to act as a Web browser and word processor.
If it is very easy to install Windows on the new Macs, what is to stop software companies such as Adobe from only making a Windows version of their products, possibly bundling it with a cut-down copy of Windows? Why should Mac-only developers limit themselves to a potential 5% of the world computer market rather than the whole? Of course, the 5% who bought Macs did so because of the operating system and not the computer it runs on, so they would have no wish to switch to Windows. Consequently Adobe, etc, will have to continue making native Mac software or lose that market. But if that did happen, what then for Mac OS X itself? Apple is, after all, a hardware company whose computer section is dwarfed by the emerging new technologies of iPods and who knows what else from their ultra-secretive design department.
On the other hand, bench-testing head-to-heads with Macs running Windows up against PCs designed to do that from the start, show the Macs are very quick machines. Jason Cross at ExtremeTech describes his long-term search for the perfect Windows notebook. He wanted a computer that will run Windows, with a fast CPU, plenty of RAM, optical drive, and good graphics processor. He has just found it, a MacBook Pro. Unsurprisingly, he has started to prefer Mac OS X over Windows XP, though like many Windows émigrés he is still wanting a multi-buttoned mouse—something I find strange because I have turned off all the buttons on my Mighty Mouse to make it a one-button mouse with scroll ball.
The new dual-core PowerBooks and iMacs seem as fast as our desktop twin-processor G5s. What price for those when the pro end of Apple’s computer lineup moves to Intel? Usually I have a buyer or two waiting to purchase my old machines at about half the price I paid for them three or four years before. Maybe not so when extremely rapid Macs will be available, which means I won’t be able to afford to upgrade. Colleagues who have got new Mac laptops tell me the Finder is running at the fast speed it had under Mac OS 8. A mixed blessing perhaps, as memories return of folders lost “somewhere” when accidentally dropped while moving them around, and duplicated duplicates when I miss the progress bar that remains on the screen for exactly eight nanoseconds.
Apple Macintosh computers have always been a slightly risky choice to make, being off from the mainstream and up against rivals including IBM and Microsoft. The company has weathered some hard times, with the introduction of the original Mac itself almost bringing the company to its knees because of its price, lack of RAM, expandability, and software. Now, Apple is making another about-turn as they change chips yet again. Could this be the change too far? Developers who have only just adapted to Mac OS X may have a big job ahead to make their software ready for MacIntels. If those computers are able to run Windows, what is the point of making two versions available for the same hardware?
The answer is that users like the Mac OS X environment and the Mac-only applications that run in it. With Apple’s switch to Intel processors, the best computer system in the world will be the Mac. It will be the only one designed to run both Mac and Windows software, especially as Apple is likely to keep one step ahead of hackers trying to run Mac OS X on non-Apple computers. I just hope that it stays that way or else I’ll be a complete newbie and will have to learn a new computer system from scratch, something I will be reluctant to do.
Also in This Series
- What Trick, What Device, What Starting-Hole… · May 2012
- Do Androids Dream? · April 2012
- Our Macs Are Under Attack · March 2012
- The Best and Worst Christmas Presents · February 2012
- The Best Use for a Kindle · January 2012
- It’s Got No Blinking Light · January 2012
- Box-Shifting Causes Migration · December 2011
- The Best Thing About the iPhone 4S and How to Cope in Clink · December 2011
- Death of a Salesman · November 2011
- Complete Archive