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.

Advertisement





20 Responses to Computers are tools, not metaphors.

  1. word. No more OS wars, simply choose the OS and the hardware that will work best for you.

    -Lover of all OS's

  2. word. No more OS wars, simply choose the OS and the hardware that will work best for you.

    -Lover of all OS’s

  3. yeah, the same thing happened when I wrote 10 flaws I see in ubuntu. It was meant as a feedback and article about what I wanted to see be added to the distribution.

    It got digged and the haters started commenting, not seeing what the article was about. As if they only read the title and skipped down to leave a hate comment.

    It so damn silly that people have these fights over nothing, the same thing is regarding programming languages especially with ruby php and python right now.

    Whatever you write that is a little pro or against you'll see a huge mob trying to through dirt at you, and a side defending you (or well the language to be more presicely).

  4. yeah, the same thing happened when I wrote 10 flaws I see in ubuntu. It was meant as a feedback and article about what I wanted to see be added to the distribution.

    It got digged and the haters started commenting, not seeing what the article was about. As if they only read the title and skipped down to leave a hate comment.

    It so damn silly that people have these fights over nothing, the same thing is regarding programming languages especially with ruby php and python right now.
    Whatever you write that is a little pro or against you’ll see a huge mob trying to through dirt at you, and a side defending you (or well the language to be more presicely).

  5. Well said Brian.

    Similar in emotion to a recent article over on ExtremeTech, where the writer said the worst thing about macs is often not the machine or OS, but fellow users (the fanatical ones).

    When I sell computers (Mac or PC), the most annoying thing I deal with is not people who know nothing, but those who maintain a cemented allegiance to one machine, when all they know is he-said she-said.

    Picking a computer should be based on one's needs, not the irrelevant ramblings of interweb fanboy's. I owned a mac back in the day, but never since. Not because I hate macs or had a bad experience, but because Windows does everything I want and more.

  6. Well said Brian.
    Similar in emotion to a recent article over on ExtremeTech, where the writer said the worst thing about macs is often not the machine or OS, but fellow users (the fanatical ones).
    When I sell computers (Mac or PC), the most annoying thing I deal with is not people who know nothing, but those who maintain a cemented allegiance to one machine, when all they know is he-said she-said.
    Picking a computer should be based on one’s needs, not the irrelevant ramblings of interweb fanboy’s. I owned a mac back in the day, but never since. Not because I hate macs or had a bad experience, but because Windows does everything I want and more.

  7. My Mac-using boyfriend gets really annoyed at me for hating on OSX. It doesn't work the way I do, and he thinks I need to change how I work (ex: start using the mouse more) instead of saying that OSX annoys me to no end. Leopard's addition of workspaces are a huge plus. I can't decide if I'd rather use Windows (where the command line sucks) and add Cygwin or use OSX and have to deal with annoyances like the universal menu bar and lack of keyboard controls.

  8. My Mac-using boyfriend gets really annoyed at me for hating on OSX. It doesn’t work the way I do, and he thinks I need to change how I work (ex: start using the mouse more) instead of saying that OSX annoys me to no end. Leopard’s addition of workspaces are a huge plus. I can’t decide if I’d rather use Windows (where the command line sucks) and add Cygwin or use OSX and have to deal with annoyances like the universal menu bar and lack of keyboard controls.

  9. Agreed. Telling someone they need to use a wrench when clearly using a pair of pliers will work is asinine. Maybe the OS fanboys don't like to watch Handy Manny with their kids? :)

    The problem lies with people who think that they know what the best tool is (more than the recipient of the unsolicited advice does), and in many cases, they might be right. But really…don't tell me what I need to use without knowing why I'm using it, or what I'm doing with it.

  10. Agreed. Telling someone they need to use a wrench when clearly using a pair of pliers will work is asinine. Maybe the OS fanboys don't like to watch Handy Manny with their kids? :)

    The problem lies with people who think that they know what the best tool is (more than the recipient of the unsolicited advice does), and in many cases, they might be right. But really…don't tell me what I need to use without knowing why I'm using it, or what I'm doing with it.

  11. Its a similar reaction to criticising Scientology. Both are, lets face it, cults. And rule 1 is NEVER let truth get in the way. Of anything.

  12. Its a similar reaction to criticising Scientology. Both are, lets face it, cults. And rule 1 is NEVER let truth get in the way. Of anything.

  13. Pingback: Preview of “Makers” - The Star Wheel | [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News

  14. Human reaction is to defend what we know, and to fear the unknown. So let me defend what I know: without Apple, you PC folks wouldn’t even have a GUI; you’d still be sitting in your dark caves staring at green text on a black monitor. Macs jumpstarted the personal computer revolution, so we “fanboys” (and -girls, BTW) are quite justified in supporting our “cult”, thank you very much.

    Of course, in the move to OSX, Macs inherited many of the flaws of Windows, for two reasons — 1) the underlying UNIX (such as taking years to display a Finder window’s contents, which used to happen instantly) and 2) to facilitate OSX adoption by Windows users. I hate Apple for the second decision; they destroyed a number of good interface components merely because they weren’t what Windows users would expect to happen.

    All that having been said — agreed, you’re absolutely right, Brian. It’s a tool, use the one that works. But also complain like hell when it doesn’t work.

  15. Human reaction is to defend what we know, and to fear the unknown. So let me defend what I know: without Apple, you PC folks wouldn't even have a GUI; you'd still be sitting in your dark caves staring at green text on a black monitor. Macs jumpstarted the personal computer revolution, so we "fanboys" (and -girls, BTW) are quite justified in supporting our "cult", thank you very much.

    Of course, in the move to OSX, Macs inherited many of the flaws of Windows, for two reasons — 1) the underlying UNIX (such as taking years to display a Finder window's contents, which used to happen instantly) and 2) to facilitate OSX adoption by Windows users. I hate Apple for the second decision; they destroyed a number of good interface components merely because they weren't what Windows users would expect to happen.

    All that having been said — agreed, you're absolutely right, Brian. It's a tool, use the one that works. But also complain like hell when it doesn't work.