10 March 2011

PC or Mac?

Umberto Eco compared a Mac to being Catholic and a PC to being Protestant years ago. Briefly, being Catholic meant that it was all done for you, at least on Earth, you just had to follow the rules; whereas a Protestant was a free-thinker, and had to work it out for himself.
An ingenious argument, and one with more than the proverbial in it. Anyone who struggled with DOS, or even Windows 3.11 knows just how difficult it could be to get things working properly, and how often we had to refer to a thick manual (usually called a handbook) to work out what to do, or how to work around the problem.
A small confession: the first computer I used was an Acorn, twenty years or so ago. It had a simple, graphical interface, and a three button mouse. Yes, three buttons; the middle one was for ‘menu’. Acorns had a stable operating system, but used proprietary hardware and software which was more expensive than DOS stuff. I had to get a Windows laptop to be able to use email and chat with the Open University around 1996 — the Acorn didn’t support their software, or if they did, it was only through some sort of ‘emulation’. I then used PCs exclusively, and once I got onto Windows XP most of the problems were sorted. I have found Windows 7 and the latest versions of Word to be regressive; they may look simple, but in use I find them over-complicated.
They used to say that your choice of computer depended on what software you wanted to use. We wanted software for the kids, and the Acorn was by far the best choice at the time. Things change, and now the kids are divided between PCs and Macs.
A little while ago I thought I should try to be more serious about writing. I’d dabbled a bit over the years, but never produced anything very worthwhile. I did get a few scientific papers published, but I don’t count this as writing. A little research showed that Scrivener was the most favoured writing program. Or, perhaps, the most favoured drafting program — you still need something like Word or Nisus or Pages for the final editing tweaks. But, when I was looking, it was only available for the Mac. (It’s on Beta for PC now, though in the earlier generation.)
So I ended up buying a MacBookPro, the fancy carved-out-of-a-block-of-aluminium one. Same functionality as the carved-out-of-a-block-of-plastic MacBook, but the Pro has a SD card reader and a Firewire connection.
Well, if I thought that Macs were easy, I was mistaken. It took me a while to work out where things were; the keyboard differs from a PC laptop or netbook, and I couldn’t, for example, find where the # was. I had to get a book about changing from the PC to the Mac to help me out.
I’ve a largish photographic archive, around 40k images. I could set up Lightroom, my primary photographic program on the PC, on the Mac both in ‘native’ form and also in Windows under Parallels. But I’ve never found how to use it properly; Lightroom will say that the images (on an external hard disk) are on a network drive, or it will say it can’t write the file format (for the catalog). So that hasn’t been a success.
Scrivener is easy enough to use, at least the way I use it — like most programs, I probably only use about 10% of its capabilities, but it works for me. I find it very easy to drag web links, and links from programs such as MindManager, into it, so I can easily find them again.
Am I undergoing a religious conversion? I think of the Mac/PC divide more as being for the right and left brained. Left brainers — analytical, logical, independent loners and yes nerds and anoraks (and I guess empirical) — would be at home on the PC. Perhaps more at home in the previous versions of Windows, because modern versions actually seem to work more or less as they are supposed to do. Right brainers — creative, artistic, disorganised, needing support and hand-holding — would be at home with the Mac. It just does what it says on the tin, you don’t have to understand anything, and pretty well everything works the same way. 

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