Pick Your Poison

For the past 21 years, I have worked with personal computers including DOS machines, Windows 3.1 and higher, and almost every version of the Macintosh

For the past 21 years, I have worked with personal computers including DOS machines, Windows 3.1 and higher, and almost every version of the Macintosh operating system ever released. I've even kicked around a few lines of Unix. For more than a third of that time, I had a Mac and a Windows machine sitting side-by-side on my desk.

Like everyone else, I have had my share of computer issues, and on too many occasions I have been told that the solution to my problems would be to switch to using something else altogether. Although I don't argue with the wisdom of cutting and running in certain instances, doing so almost invariably incurs consequences. Switching platforms — whether hardware or software — is a big, messy ordeal that takes a lot of time, effort, money, and patience. I would need a very compelling reason to justify moving to a different platform.

Of all the times that I have been advised to switch rather than fight, the most egregious — and frequent — admonition I have heard (especially from IT staff) when having some sort of Mac problem is, “Get a PC!” There are several ways to look at the sentiment expressed in that statement, but almost all of them amount to the same thing: the implication is that a PC will have fewer problems or ones that are less severe than those of a Macintosh. I put as much stock in this idea as I do in the idea of the “paperless office” and the concept that computers make our lives easier. Everybody has piles of printouts that belie the promise of the paperless office, and although computers may make life better in some ways, they definitely don't make life easier. If you believe in those computer myths, you probably think that the Easter Bunny is real and that he's online, too!

So when I encounter computer problems, I don't want to hear any lines about the superiority of either the Mac OS or Windows. Although it is true that every operating system has its strengths, each system I have used is a pain in the patootie in oh-so-many ways. (I remember an old minicomputer operating system I used to have that would have inspired Edvard Munch to paint “The Scream” had he not already done so.) Add to that the multitudinous complications that are heaped on by various applications, network connections, and such, and the realization begins to sink in that what is meant by “Get a PC” is really “My platform is better because I don't have that particular problem on my platform, and the other problems I do have that are at least as troublesome are less visible to me because I'm used to them and I have found ways to deal with them.”

I could be persuaded that “better,” in this context, could be defined as “that to which one is most accustomed.” Sadly, this judgment of “better” is based on which set of stupid hassles an individual is better able to handle. Following that logic, I should remain a Mac user.

I think that what is generally meant by “My platform is better” is that the platform in question involves the sort of hassles that the person who is speaking is accustomed to, and is therefore willing to handle. That's not at all the same thing: hassles that are acceptable to me might be the end of the world to you. Who am I to say what's right for anyone other than myself?

It is easy to see that delivering the “Get a PC” advice (or telling a Windows user who is experiencing computer headaches to get a Macintosh) is rather like an experienced diver telling a woodsman who is facing an angry bear that he would be better off dealing with a hungry shark. Yikes!

There are always cases in which one platform provides a clear advantage over another, often thanks to an application that has no equal on another platform. Most of the time, however, it comes down very simply to picking your poison. I've seen people fool around in the Windows Registry only to find out that they had just carried a torch into a room full of dynamite. I hope that that scenario comes to mind the next time they are tempted to administer the admonishment, “Get a PC.”