Mark Norman Francis

Internet Boffin

On Brevity

Published on July 31, 2009.

The other day, Stuart Langridge says he spent the evening fuming. At me. For being a snide, sneering Mac user.

I thought I’d explain my side, as much to Stuart as to anyone else.

So, as you’ll read in his article, I tweeted that I use a Mac because I value my time at more than £0/hour. He read into my comment a subtext that I was claiming some sort of superiority over Linux users.

Far from it. I know Linux users don’t spend their time recompiling the kernel. Because I am one. I run Ubuntu on three of my four servers, and highly recommend it to others.

Unix nerd

Take a look at my CV, and you’ll see that before I started building websites for a living I was a back-end programmer and systems administrator. I cut my teeth on Unix boxes at university, first SunOS (yes, this was before it was called Solaris) then later NetBSD. I have been a Unix lover for almost two decades. In fact, that’s what attracted me to OS X in the first place, the idea of being able to have Unix on my laptop.

In 2004, I switched from using Windows on the desktop to OS X.

In one way of looking at it, that switch lost me about two weeks of decent productivity. I had to change my habits, learn the new UI and find replacements for the software I was so very used to using. It cost me time and money.

Another way of looking at it, that switch gained me tremendous amounts of productivity. I gained the ability to run software on my laptop that previously required me to have access to a server (or wasting CPU and memory running VMware). I stopped having issues with networking that could lose me hours at a time.

But I could’ve switched to NetBSD, or some form of Linux. In fact, I switched from Unix desktops to Windows in 1997, after discovering that the Windows NT interface was more useful to me. I hate a fussy UI. And at that time Unix only had fussy UIs. Various window managers that needed to be tweaked to be useful. These days, Gnome, KDE and others exist that make using Unix as a desktop not eye-gougingly painful.

Mac nerd

But this is all a distraction from the real point I want to make. You see, the question Stuart flippantly asked was not why is anyone using OS X but why is anyone using a Mac. The Mac is the hardware, not the operating system, not the UI. And I have lost more development time in my career to bad hardware than to bad operating systems, software or user interfaces.

I use Apple hardware because I have found it to be more reliable than anything else I have used since my trusty Sun hardware, back in my university days. Hell, I have a SPARCclassic manufactured in 1993 at home that still runs.

Sure, it’s not perfect. But it’s the most beautiful hardware I can buy. And by that I mean it is satisfyingly well engineered as well as aesthetically pleasing. Combine that with an OS and UI specifically tailored to use that hardware, and the result is something that very rarely lets me down. And when it does, I can be back up and running within minutes of the hardware being replaced, even if it means I now have a virgin machine again.

The real problem

Of course, it’s very hard to say all of the above in 140 characters. The real problem here is not attitude, it’s brevity. Twitter encourages throw-away comments. But they are really only throw-away for the writer. The readers can, as Stuart has shown, read a lot more into it and obsess over the hidden meaning of your comment.

So, sorry, Stuart. Next time I’ll try and explain myself better.