Computers are tools, not metaphors.

by Brian Boyko
[GAS] Contributor

This is just a quick note from my own experiences.

People often throw around brand names in the computer market as if they were status symbols. While there’s nothing wrong with trusting a particular brand based on previous experience, there are instances where “brand loyalty” may lead people to make poor decisions in choosing computer equipment.

The reason why is that people often forget that ultimately, a computer is a tool, which is used to solve a particular problem or set of problems.

For example, a few months ago, I wrote a series of articles on three major operating systems – Windows Vista, Ubuntu Linux (6.10) and Mac OS X 10.4 as a freelance project for HardOCP. HardOCP is a Web site designed for hardware enthusiasts – people unafraid to upgrade, tweak, and overclock hardware. Their concerns are utility, upgradability, and gaming.

It is by these criteria that I wrote all three reviews.

By far, I got the most criticism for my article on Mac OS X – mostly because people didn’t understand that I wasn’t writing the OS review for the typical Apple user.

Apple’s computers have a number of strengths – aesthetics in hardware, aethetics in software, good multimedia performance, and ease of use.

But these really didn’t matter to the HardOCP audience. Ease of use wasn’t really an issue for them – they were already technically savvy. They weren’t multimedia professionals and so they would probably have not been wowed by the multimedia capabilities of the Mac. And while the Mac’s aesthetics were better than the Windows equivalent, they weren’t better than Linux’s Compiz-Fuzion interface… since the audience was tech savvy, I didn’t think Linux’s steeper learning curve was as much of an issue there.

So, in short, I wrote that Mac OS X was mediocre – not bad – just mediocre in the areas that I thought were most important to the readership and that there wasn’t a compelling reason to switch. It didn’t solve the problems it was designed to solve.

For this, I was savaged by legions of Mac fans who questioned my methodology (often without reading the article) and the conclusions. They accused me of being a Microsoft shill – which was hilarious considering the fact that my review of Vista was completely negative.

Look, I have no grudge against Apple, but at the time, it just wasn’t the right tool for the job.

In the past week, however, I’ve purchased, and started using a MacBook Pro – paying nearly $3,000 for the privilege. You can bet that I absolutely did my homework before making the purchase, which is quite literally the most expensive object I now, or have ever, owned (including my car.)

The difference between then and now? My needs changed. Since then I’ve become an amateur documentary filmmaker, and through strokes of blind luck ended up in a position to make a potentially awesome feature-length film overseas on my vacation. But rendering times on my PC were extremely slow.

So, after a test at the Apple Store, importing video from my camera into Final Cut Pro, I was able to scientifically show that the Apple/FCP rendering time was much quicker – quick enough, in fact, for me to make the expensive investment.

As my needs changed, the Apple computer became the right tool for the job.

Computers are tools. If one tool helps you do what you need faster, cheaper, or better, then go with it.

Computers are not fashion statements, a declaration of counter-cultural values, a replacement for companionship or social acceptance – a computer is a tool, no matter how slick the marketing campaign.

Whatever computer equipment you buy, make sure it’s the best tool to solve your problems.

Geeks are Sexy needs YOUR help. Learn more about how YOU can support us here.