Technology, grammar, and more technology.

Growing up Windows—and the slow struggle to love Mac

Growing up Windows—and the slow struggle to love Mac

Familiarity is a difficult barrier

I remember our first household computer. It was a beige plastic box, it sat on a desk, and it played games. I remember a pixelated bear—I don't know what the bear's role was, but I'm pretty sure he was wearing blue clothing of some kind (overalls, maybe). That computer ran Windows.

  Circa August 1994: Little Riley thought computers were pretty neat.

Circa August 1994: Little Riley thought computers were pretty neat.

"You started early"

I'm three years old in the picture above, and I have exactly three memories from that age:

  • my favorite stuffed animal, Lambchop (I was a big fan of Shari Lewis);
  • trying to fall asleep, listening to a cassette of The Police as bright green digits reminded me how hard it was to calm my mind (years later I would hear Every Breath You Take somewhere and cry—I was back in that bed for a second);
  • being fascinated with—and wanting to be on—the computer. 

My dad tells me he built the computer himself, and although he doesn't remember the game with the bear, he knows the computer was running Windows 3.1. Jay McDonald, forever the IT guy—a man who gave up getting into law school after discovering computers—helped begin my fascination with tech. It's hardly surprising, given how enthralled he was, that he would try to pass it on. He'd been evangelizing to everyone since before I was born. As my mom tells me:

Once, when we were dating, he brought me over to his apartment and showed me a computer. It was a black screen with a bunch of text on it, and he talked about how cool it was and typed some things. More text came up. He said "Isn't that cool?" I was like, "That's great, Jay, can we go now?"

Yet despite my dad's fascination with computers, he was always more of an open-source, "I'll figure it out myself" kind of guy. The closed system and high prices of Macs didn't appeal to him, and in his mind, tightly integrated hardware and software didn't justify closing the computer forever. As a result, Mac didn't even cross the threshold at the McDonald house.

Windows forever

A string of devices marked my childhood and young adulthood: a desktop to replace the Windows 3.1 machine, which ran Windows 95, then 98; a Personal Digital Assistant that ran Linux, handed down when dad realized he didn't use it and I liked it more; a Toshiba laptop running Windows ME, passed along when dad's new job gave him a better computer (I was 12 years old when I asked "Man, Windows ME sucks, eh?"); an Acer laptop that ran Windows XP, then Vista, then Windows 7 (a powerful hand-me-down that's still in my brother's room); and a family desktop computer that ran XP until it died.

That said, I wasn't always in the dark about Macs. I used them in Graphic Arts classes in high school, but I didn't really care for them—they were bright and cool and great for design work, but the operating system was too different. They were scary.

When I finally bought my first computer—in mid-2011, or maybe 2012, when the hand-me-down Acer wasn't cutting it for university—I went with Windows.

  The computer I'm writing this post on: an Acer Aspire 4830TG, bought at The Source 4 or 5 years ago for $736. Image courtesy of etrubka.com.

The computer I'm writing this post on: an Acer Aspire 4830TG, bought at The Source 4 or 5 years ago for $736. Image courtesy of etrubka.com.

The sour Apple

My dad uses a Mac now. Work provided him with a Macbook Air, and as he says:

It's great—seriously—but it still does some weird things. Like Finder—in Windows, if I double-click "My Computer" twice, I'll get two windows of My Computer. If I click Finder, I can't open another window unless I click on a different drive. Other than little stuff like that though, I love it. It's really fast, super light, and it works really well with my iPhone. [When I proposed that you could open multiple Finder windows if you hit File-> New window, he responded with "It's under a menu? That's fucking stupid."]

My recent attitude about Mac has been less flexible than my dad's. His Macbook Air is a couple years old now, and when he got it I was still staunchly "never for me, thank you very much" about it. I appreciated their design and durability, and I used them non-stop in Creative Communications (all our work was on Macs) from 2013–2015, but they still had caveats.

For one thing, Word for Mac is a mess of a program (I'll spare you the why to preserve word count), and you could argue that's Microsoft's fault, but it doesn't matter. Pages doesn't offer enough features for me, so until Word is fixed, it's a problem.

For another thing, Macs are extremely expensive for the same or lower specifications than PCs. I priced out a Macbook Air in 2011, and with the specs the way I wanted, it was more than double what I ended up giving to Acer.

And finally, although Apple held the title for a long time, it isn't the king of design anymore. Computers like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre are giving Macbooks a run for their money (their price points are similar, but the chip hardware in a Spectre is better than a Macbook Air). Design would have been a major factor, but Windows PCs are starting to shape up.

And yet, as I think about it more and more, I'll probably end up in bed with Apple.

Maturing into Mac

Times have changed. I think my next computer will be a Mac. It's been tempting me for a little while now, but there are a few new reasons pushing me to the edge.

First, I've come to really appreciate good industrial design, and although Dell, HP, and even Microsoft have been doing some good things (excepting the hinge gap on the Surface Book), Apple's got heavy design chops. They might not be the king of design anymore, but I give them credit for holding the title for so long.

Second, I use an iPhone and an AppleTV, and neither of them are especially fond of my Acer. I'd love to AirPlay my computer onto the TV, or AirDrop pictures from my phone to my computer, but I can't. It would also be cool to sync my phone to my computer occasionally, but iTunes for Windows is a lead-filled snail with an attitude problem. These inconveniences are starting to wear on me.

Third, I have software needs—my computer will run the Adobe Creative Suite, but not especially well. I'm not sure if it's the balance of Mac hardware or just a preference for Apple, but Adobe programs seem to fare better on Macs. That's going to be important to me, especially if I continue to use resource-heavy design programs for personal projects.

Finally and most importantly, if a fear of leaving Windows was the only thing holding me back, why not just dual boot? You can run Windows on a Mac, but you can't run OSX on a PC (at least not easily). If I'm so scared or frustrated with aspects of one, why not just do both? The price tag doesn't hurt as much now that school's over—what's left to stop me?

It took nearly 24 years, but my tastes have changed. I guess that's what they do. When I was younger, I hated bananas and Apple computers—now that I've matured, neither fruit seems so bad.

  Circa 1992: it started with the press of a key.

Circa 1992: it started with the press of a key.

 

 

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