Pick a card, any card


forced. tr.v.

1. To compel through pressure or necessity: I forced myself to practice daily. He was forced to take a second job.

2. To gain by the use of force or coercion: She forced a confession from the suspect.

3. To inflict or impose relentlessly: He forced his ideas upon the group.

Why the language lesson, you ask? An associate of mine recently said

“If MS did things that harmed users then the users wouldn’t buy the products. Nobody is forced to buy [their] products; people can and do buy offerings from IBM, Sun, Oracle, Apple. They can choose to run LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP] freeware. In some cases they do. In other cases they don’t. People buy products because they meet their needs.”

My associate was rght, of course: Microsoft has never said “if you don’t buy Windows XP we’ll kill your daughter”. (Well, not that I’ve heard, anyway.)

Yet the comment showed a distinct lack of understanding of the word “forced”. Certainly, people and companies can buy what they want: it’s their money. But like a magician who seemingly allows you to choose freely from a deck of cards, while in fact pushing a particular card into your fingers, sometimes having a choice and being able to freely use that choice are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

There are thousands of people who use Microsoft products—specifically Windows—because everyone in their particular universe uses Microsoft products, and to use their freedom of choice would result (they believe) in an inability to operate effectively within that universe. This is one of the main reasons Microsoft continues to hold such a large market-share: people use it because “everyone else uses it”.

To be sure, there are some people who buy Windows and x86-based hardware because it’s the least-expensive system they can get from a brand-name company; or because it successfully meets their current and future needs; or because they genuinely like the OS and the hardware it runs on.

And then there are those who purchased Windows on an x86 machine because all of their clients, friends and business associates were using Windows, and that made it difficult (though not impossible) to buy a machine that, from everything they may have heard or read, was incompatible with Windows.

They may have wanted to do things that are difficult on a Windows machine; they may have wanted hardware or software functionality that doesn’t exist or is expensive on Windows. They may have wanted spiffy-looking hardware that meshed with their decor.

But if doing so would make it hard to interoperate with the machines that exist within their universe, they had to make a different choice.

Was that consumer “forced” to buy a Windows machine?

Let’s rephrase that question with one of the definitions from above.

Was that consumer “compelled through pressure or necessity” to buy a Windows machine?

Without question, I’d have to say, duh! The “pressure” comes from “everyone else is using it” (accurate or not); the “necessity” is from the need to easily interoperate with “everyone” (again, ignoring the possible inaccuracy of the statement).

My associate then questioned why so many people are using Windows if it’s an inferior product, implying that people don’t buy inferior products, or that they don’t stay in the marketplace very long, and that “most people prefer Microsoft software as a computing platform”.

In reality, people make all kinds of decisions having nothing to do with quality. If people could, a whole butt-full of them would prefer to drive a BMW or a Mercedes, but they can’t afford them, so they drive a Kia or a Honda.

They would like to have a new car every year or two, but they can’t, so they drive cars that are 15 years old.

Now, you’re probably saying that if a BMW were cheaper, more people could afford it, but you’d be missing one important point: BMWs cost more because they provide higher quality: they’re better designed, with better parts.

Jetblue, which I have flown and enjoyed, keeps their fares low by not providing food, having fewer planes and a smaller crew than American Airlines. They pay their crew less than American, and have they have less experience.

Jetblue is making money because people are willing to put up with some inconvenience if it sames them a significant amount of money.

It’s a trade-off people have been making forever.

Even with computers.

People often choose their computers based on cost and compatibility: firstly, it’s the cheapest computer they can afford (and damn being able to do certain things with it); and secondly, it’s the seemingly-most-compatible (and damn being able to do things faster/easier).

And then there are those who don’t get to choose their computers at all, like my friends the teachers whose school gave them Dell computers, which Dell gave the school at no cost (that’s “free” for those playing along at home).

In giving away computers, Dell makes it near-impossible for people to make an informed computing choice. By giving away a wintel computer (“WINdows-inTEL”, or machines that have Intel-based chips (generically x86) and ship with Windows OS), it extends the wintel cartel by convicing other people to then purchase a wintel machine to “be compatibile” with their friends, family and business associates.

My friends, who might have otherwise considered a Macintosh because it met some of their needs, rejected Macintosh because Dell gave away computers. They never got the chance to make an informed choice, yet they count among vast army of “Windows users”, making it more difficult for others to make real choice. Now, sure, they could have “chosen” to spend $1000 and get a laptop from Apple, but that’s a Hobson’s choice, “an apparently free choice that offers no real alternative.”

Giving something away will often get people to use that thing, even if it doesn’t meet all of their needs. If Kia gave away their cars, there’d be more Kias on the road. That wouldn’t make Kia a better car.

(The difference, of course, is that driving a Kia doesn’t make it more likely that others in your universe will also drive Kias, because there is no perceived compatibility problem — your friend can drive your Kia as easily as her Beemer.)

And as for “most people prefer[ing]” Microsoft, that implies that, given two machines at the same price, and the same marketshare, and no disadvantage for choosing one over the other, that people would pick Microsoft.

I don’t think there are very many people who would make that choice.

This Is Not Mac OS 9

I recently got into an, uh, discussion with an associate about Mac OS X. The gist was Mac OS X hides “useful” things from people. He was told to try (from the Terminal command-line):

% grep 90210 /usr/share/misc/zipcodes

and enjoy the results. He then tried looking for that file using Finder, and Sherlock, only to get no results. Upon realizing this, he exploded:


“This is where OSX makes me CRAZY, and every little pulsating blob of blue glass on the screen just makes me want to PUNCH ITS FUCKING FACE IN that much more. Where is this file? Why can’t I find it?”

For those of you familar with Unix, you know that the file “zipcodes” is in a directory structure starting at “/usr“; this directory us part of the Unix heritage of Mac OS X, and as such, is hidden from “normal” users.

We went on and on for hours, hashing out the “it’s hidden from me and I don’t like that”, “It’s hidden from you because it’s Unix and you can easily access it anyway” argument.

He was pointed to the Terminal. “Terminal’s no friend of mine,” he retorted. “What, exactly, was wrong with The Finder? All I want to do is locate and open a file.”

Get to know your OS, I told him, directing him to the Go > Go to folder menu in the Finder, where he could enter “/usr/share/misc” and have the folder open.

“I really don’t like the idea that it’s the GUI that’s restricting my access to files,” he exclaimed. I reminded him that Apple made a concious decision to hide the Unix-y part of the OS as much as possible, but gave full access to the system for those who insisted on it.

He claimed Apple was acting as though their user-base was evenly divided “between butterfingered grannies and Unix ninjas” and that Apple was preventing the “average user” from accessing useful information. I pointed out that the vast majority of Apple’s Mac OS X users were anything but “Unix ninjas”, and could care less about the Unix side of things. I also noted that while those some of these files are indeed “useful,” they certaily aren’t “essential”, and still, the Finder will allow you access to them.

I felt that had he been aware of how to access these files, he wouldn’t be complaining that he couldn’t get access to these files; it irks me when people aren’t familiar with their tools and vocally display their ignorance.

Having (admittedly round-about) access to the files wasn’t enough. “What I’d really like to do is poke around inside to see what’s there,” he submitted. “Trust me to tell the difference between user-servicable parts and things I shouldn’t touch. Is there really and any differences from OS 9, where there’s something in my Extensions folder called “N065U Library” which my spidey sense says Don’t Just Trash It?”

So let me say this to everyone out there using Mac OS 9 and looking to move to Mac OS X.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Over the last two years or so, i’ve heard that complaint a million times, in fact, early on in my OS X career, and occasionally since then, I’ve made that complaint myself.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s a brand new operating system, based on Unix, with much of what made Mac OS 9 one of the easiest user interfaces available for computers. Note that i said “much”, not “all”.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Much of what is “hidden” in /etc, /usr, and so on are things that either didn’t exist in Mac OS 9 (and are there only as legacy bits because it’s Unix, and thus could be safely ignored by folks who don’t give a whit about Unix), or items that were previously subsumed by things like the System and Finder files. Those files were large, and contained many things that you couldn’t easily get to.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s Mac OS X, and it has its own quirks to get used to. Certainly, it hides some of what’s “under the hood” from 99.99% of the users, but it’s “under the hood”, it’s supposed to be hidden from 99.99% of the users… why should a user care about the Unix bits and all these extra files that they know nothing about? And yet, and yet, Mac OS X allows those who do care to get to the files! How much more flexibility do you need?

That’s what’s wonderful about Mac OS X. For those who don’t care, they can successfully use their machine without being encumbered by thousands of extra files on their system. For those who do care, they can get extra power from their system, at very litle cost, just by changing their expectations a tad and learning a just a bit of Unix.

Mac OS X makes it possible for people to use their machines as they see fit. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can at least give them options.

Love me, love my virus

Bill Gates, that paragon of love, has suggested that people show their affection for each other this Valentine’s Day by purchasing Microsoft software. Which, thinking about it, makes sense. After all, this is the company whose applications enabled the wonderful “I Love You” virus a couple of years ago. Nothing says “undying love” like wiping out your hard drive.

Of course, considering his audience (developers at a keynote announcing Visual Studio.net), it’s very possible software is exactly what their significant others want. Assuming they have significant others.

And speaking of things that’ll never happen, looks like Microsoft’s push to secure their software is taking its time getting off the ground. Yet another flaw was found, and, in an Alanis Morissette-ish stroke of irony, it was in a software option meant to prevent a common problem: a new version of their Visual C++.Net compiler may be responsible for creating buffer overflows instead of eliminating them.

Of course, Microsoft being the consumer-friendly company it is, immediately halted the release of the product until the flaw could be fixed.

Ha ha! No, of course not. Just having a bit of the fun. What they really did, of course, is attack the company that brought the issue to the public’s attention, insinuating that they did it because a competitor got a Microsoft contract instead.

At least they didn’t outright deny the problem, which can be considered an improvement.

Microsoft, those cuddly teddy-bears, care so much about the public, they’ve requested that people who find security breaches in their software contact Microsoft and give them 30 days before talking about it.

Supposedly in that month, Microsoft will release a fix, and no one will be vulnerable to an attack in the meantime because no one knows the problem exists.

This is what techies call “Security through Obscurity”. Regular folks call it “Sticking your head in the sand”, otherwise known as “la la la I can’t hear you!”.

Any reasonable person knows that by announcing a problem, you give people the opportunity assess their risk and take what they consider to be appropriate action. I’m guessing Microsoft is concerned that “appropriate action” might include wiping your drive and forswearing all things Windows.

Media delays facts about Apple

Apple’s relationship with the mainstream press has always been one of love-to-hate: on the one hand, Apple is the underdog to Microsoft’s homogeny, and a media darling, the company who creates stunningly-designed, easy-to-use computers. On the other, they’re an arrogant, marginalized, ready-to-fold business with a sub-five-percent marketshare, which cares more about form than function; and the press revels in painting Apple in a bad light.

So when Apple announced recently that they were ready to release the next generation of their QuickTime software, which would include MPEG-4 (along with other products based on the new version) and at the same time announced that they would delay shipping QuickTime until they could negotiate better user licenses from the MPEG group, it came as little surprise (but with great frustration) that the press headlined with “Apple delays next version of QuickTime”.

Well, what do you expect from an industry that for years must have though the company’s full name was “beleaguered Apple Computer”?

From the headlines (another example, from the L.A. Times: “Apple Set to Withhold Latest QuickTime”), you’d think there was a technical reason that forced them to delay the release, when in fact it’s because Apple is trying to do the right thing by its customers.

The issue at hand is MPEG-LA (the largest group of MPEG-4 patent holders) wants to charge both the companies making the software using MPEG-4 and the people creating and streaming content using MPEG-4. In other words, they’re double-dipping, wanting their cake and to eat it too….

Apple on the other hand, thinks content providers should be able to use MPEG-4 without paying additional royalties to stream their creations.

The sound you just heard was a massive, collective Duh! from the creative community.

Content providers have no problem paying for software to create their masterpieces, but will balk, rightly, at being asked to pony up two cents for every hour of paid video.

So here we have Apple taking a stance to protect an important part of their customer base (many of whom are media, by-the-way), and instead of being praised to the heavens for doing so, are made to look like incompents for “not getting their software out on time”.

The mainstream media has to start giving Apple some even, unbiased coverage for a change. In this case, a simple “Apple’s newest QuickTime software ready but delayed by licensing concerns” would have sufficed and gotten both important facts out.

(Re-) Covering your Assets

You’ve heard the cliché: there are two types of businesses in this world, those that have lost data, and those that will. When 30 gigs of valuable corporate information pull a Houdini and you don’t have current backups, there is an option besides chaining yourself into a vat of water: a data recovery service.

Below is a brief list of companies that will do their best to resuscitate your drive, and some things to consider next time your disk treats your data like a distant relative. Print it out and stick it next to your computers as a talisman.

Of course, a good backup-and-recovery policy is your best friend in case of drive failure or data loss. Is your policy adequately protecting your information?

Data Recovery Companies

ActionFront/DataRec: www.actionfront.com 800.563.1167

CBL Tech: www.cbltech.com 800.551.3917

Data Recovery Group: www.datarecoverygroup.com 888.462.3282

Disk Doctors: www.diskdoctors.com 800.347.5377

DriveSavers: www.drivesavers.com 800.440.1904

Lazarus: www.lazarus.com 800.341.3282

MDS Disk Service: www.mdsdiskservice.com 909.352.2425

OnTrack: www.ontrack.com 800.872.2599

Things to consider

  1. If your drive whines, clicks or screeches, shut down your machine immediately. These are potential signs of a head crash, maybe the worst type of drive failure around. Disconnect the drive, contact one of the companies on the list, and pray.
  2. Despite what you’ve heard, hitting, tapping or shaking a drive to get it working is not a good idea. Hard drives are delicate creatures, and a sharp blow can break the microscopic alignment among drive elements.
  3. If you accidentally delete files, stop working. The odds of getting your data back are best before you write new information to your drive. Use a file recovery program like Symantec’s Norton Utilities, and save recovered files to a different disk, or you may end up overwriting the very files you’re trying to recover. Ouch.
  4. These companies aren’t cheap. Most offer a free assessment, but you might pay as much as $8,000 to get your data back. Far cheaper is a reliable backup. Start by deciding how much work you’re willing to re-create after a data loss, and back up at least that often (I backup twice a day). You don’t have to get elaborate; even copying to a CD-ROM or another hard drive manually will suffice in a pinch.

Reasons to hate Microsoft (today)

Entourage (Microsoft’s email app that comes with Office v.X for Mac OS X) has some great features. The seemingly unlimited criteria and actions for rules (filters) makes managing vast quantities of email a breeze. Other features I particularly appreciate are the ability to link messages to contacts automatically, and to filter messages based on categories in your address book (for example, I keep email addresses I accept direct mail to in a category called Direct Mail OK, and with one filter I can move them into a single mailbox. Much better than creating dozens of individual rules).

But Microsoft giveth and Microsoft taketh away: they sometimes do something so awfully stupid, you wonder if their software’s written by a schizoid programming team. For example, they have both “rules” to filter your incoming email, and “mailing list rules”… to filter your incoming email from a mailing list.

The difference? I’m not sure, really, but some mailing lists aren’t recognized as such, meaning you have to make a regular old rule if you want to filter it anyway!

So why bother with a separate “mailing list rule”?!

Another annoyance is Microsoft’s definition of “preference”. They offer you the “choice,” for example, of turning off the ability to view attached images in the body of your email.

But choosing that preference doesn’t work. How do I know? Because right now I’m looking at porn-spam, with attachments — pictures of naked women showing me how well-shaved they are — right in the body of my email.

Entourage also has an “option” to turn off “complex” html. What its definition of “complex” is I don’t know, because I’m constantly getting spam with color backgrounds, font changes and horizontal rules. I suppose “complex” includes only tables and CSS.

I dislike HTML email because it’s both a significant privacy and security hazard; by sending a “web tag” — an image hosted on a website — anyone can validate your email address: the minute you read the message they know you’re legit. They can also craft HTML that exposes your system to future attacks. Why would anyone want that feature turned on? And if you turn it off, why won’t it be honored?

But suppose I should feel secure that I’ve also turned off the “allow network access when displaying complex html” option, and rely on Microsoft’s stellar track record providing stable, well-designed and secure software.

Seriously though… Entourage has a slew of time-saving features (I haven’t even begun to delve into the calendaring system), but as glitzy as it is, the shortcomings, like the inability to completely turn off html email will probably be the number one reason I run back into the warm, comforting arms of Eudora 5.1b20 for OS x. I just value my privacy and security to0 much to be seduced by the pretty baubles.

One Airport deserves another

That’s what the folks over in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport seem to be thinking: they’ve taken to installing 802.11b wireless internet connectivity, a mouthful better known as Airport (or Wi-Fi), and come March 1st, it’ll be accessible to all travelers passing through their concourse.

The best part? It’s free if you have a laptop that’s Airport-enabled (all Apple iBooks and PowerBooks, and many other laptops are Airport/Wi-Fi-capable). Now business travelers will have an easy and fast way to get online while on waiting out the inevitable plane delays (and harried moms can keep Junior occupied).

It’s great to see the airport honchos in Minneapolis-St. Paul take the lead on something I believe will prove revolutionary, although I’m surprised that it wasn’t done first in, say, New York’s JFK or LaGuardia, or perhaps in Los Angeles’ LAX, all of which are much busier than Minneapolis-St. Paul. But the Twin Cities airport is ranked at the 13th busiest according to an organization that has too much time on its hands; there are plans to roll this program out to JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and Detroit Metro airports in the future however.

I’ve believed for a long time that wireless internet connectivity is going to become ubiquitous, simply because the Internet has taken on such a central part of many people’s lives. We’re demanding the ability to find a decent Thai restaurant in a strange city, with ratings, prices and turn-by-turn directions at our carpal-tunnelled fingertips, and we don’t want to stroll through the yellow pages (or the wrong part of town) to do it.

People want to go online anywhere and everywhere, and wireless connectivity makes that possible. More and more “FreeNets” (802.11 networks made available to anyone within range) are popping up in the three-Starbucks-to-a-block neighborhoods, and that (unlike the Starbucks issue) is A Good Thing.

After Macworld San Francisco this year, with a couple of hours to kill, I kicked back at the Sony Metreon with my iBook and was pleasantly surprised to find an Airport connection. It made my downtime pass significantly faster, and made it more likely I’d return to the Metreon when I need to get out the house. And since the Metreon has a food court (and, yes, a Starbucks), I’ll probably end up spending money there.

Everybody surfs, everybody wins.

Apple releases new machines

Apple released new machines today. Nothing significant, really. Intel and crowd have had machines with higher megahertz than what’s now available on the Macintosh for a while. After all, what good is a dual-gigahertz Macintosh when you can get an Intel running Windows at 2.2 gigahertz, right?

And you’d be right.

Except for the rest of the specs.

512MB RAM, standard. A brand-new, still-to-be-announced-by-the-company-who-makes-it NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX with 64MB of DDR RAM, with dual monitor hookups. An 80GB Ultra ATA hard drive. A SuperDrive, Apple’s pet name for a drive that can burn home-viewable DVDs, in addition to your run-of-the-mill CD-R/RWs. Gigahertz Ethernet. USB. Firewire.Airport-ready.Oh yeah, and those two one-gigahertz G4 chips, offering up 15 gigaflops of pure, mainlined power.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, you say. Who can afford to pay Apple’s historically high premiums for their top-of-the-line, drool-inducing computers?

Anyone with three grand.

You read it right. All that power, all those flopping gigas, can be yours for $2,999.

I suspect this is going to be hugely popular.

Ultimate Re-cap: MacWorld Expo, San Francisco 2001

Well, another MacWorld has come and gone, and left in its wake a ton of product litter-ature, six months’ worth of t-shirts and enough tchotchkes to fund your retirement account through eBay sales.

As I have every year since 1995, I roamed the bright, carpeted halls of MacWorld Expo, the bi-annual gathering of Macintosh faithful, held every January in hilly (and chilly) San Francisco, seeking out products useful to my clients and friends.

In this brief recap, I’ve focused on a few “Ultimate” items from the expo. Top of the list, of course, is Apple’s gorgeous new PowerBook G4. So let’s jump right in!

Ultimate Sleekness

Without a doubt, the greatest buzz was generated by Apple’s stunning new PowerBook G4. This has to be the sexiest laptop I’ve seen since the Sony Vaio. Unless you’re in the market for a new portable, don’t get anywhere near this baby. Sure, the long list of technical specs, like a 500 MHz G4 processor, up to a gigabyte of RAM, a built-in slot-loading DVD, a five-hour battery and a 15.2″ screen are fantastic, but that’s not what had everyone who caressed this hotrod ooh-ing and ahh-ing.

No, the reason hordes of fawning fans were ready to sacrifice their credit cards for a machine that won’t even ship until the end of January was the silvery titanium case, which, when closed, measures a miniscule one inch thick.

Yes. Titanium.

Yes. One inch.

If you’ve lusted after one of Sony’s Vaio laptops (and, honestly, who hasn’t?), you’d better have a napkin to wipe off the drool after seeing this PowerBook. Sure the Vaio is a bit lighter, but it doesn’t have a built-in DVD player; its battery lasts only two hours; and you can’t hook it up to a presentation system on the road. Add all that stuff, and you’ve blown past the 5.3 pounds and $2,599 price tag of the everything-included PowerBook G4 (the loaded Vaio weighs in at 6.5 pounds and $3,350).

And don’t forget those technical specs! This is not some wimpy retread laptop in a pretty wrapping. Oh no. This is Apple’s fastest laptop ever, and it’s faster than most Windows portables on the market.

Every executive, designer, sales manager and sysadmin you know is going to want one. As Steve Jobs said during his keynote, “Power + Sex”. www.apple.com/powerbook

Ultimate Compatibility

Even non-Mac users might consider the PowerBook G4 thanks to Virtual PC 4, from Connectix. Thanks to this ingenious software, Macs are now the most compatible computer in the world. You can run Windows 98, ME, NT and 2000, along with Mac OS 8, 9, the forthcoming OS X and Linux–all on one machine.

This version takes full advantage of the G4 processor so you might be hard-pressed to tell you aren’t running Windows natively.

Web designers can now use a single machine to see their work in multiple browser and operating system combinations; sysadmins can use the best tools available to manage their networks; and support specialists can solve problems from a single workstation.

Think of the desk space you’ll save! www.connectix.com

Ultimate Undo

I have an itchy trigger finger. If the phone rings, I save. If I pause to think, I save. If I’ve deleted 15 paragraphs worth of brilliant prose, and I’ve saved… well, that’s what screaming into a pillow is for.

Or, more productively, I can jump over to Power On Software’s Rewind window, click the document name to see the last several versions I’ve saved, and revert to the one containing my pearls of wisdom.

Rewind tracks every change to your computer’s hard drive, including deleted preferences, corrupted System files, and, yes, bone-headed mistakes. Your computer worked fine this morning but suddenly won’t boot? Rewind has a startup feature that lets you jump back to that working System, so you can get back to work.

This is total CYA protection. www.poweronsoftware.com

Ultimate Integration

I hate having multiple lists of contacts—one in my email program, another in my regular contact manager. When I add someone to one list, I have to waste time adding them to the other. Well, no more. Microsoft’s Entourage is an integrated Email , contact manager and calendar application that works great and might make me upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office 2001 for Macintosh (since that’s the only way to get your hands on Entourage: it’s bundled with Office).

Now, when I receive Email from someone asking for a meeting, I can add them immediately to my contact list, enter the meeting date on my calendar, and sync it all to my Palm device. It takes laziness—sorry, I mean productivity—to a new high. www.microsoft.com/mac

Ultimate Apple News

Apple’s new PowerBook wasn’t the only news to come out of Cupertino (just the best-looking). Here are a few highlights.

  • You know the megahertz wars mean very little in the real world (a brand-new 1 GHz Pentium 4 is just barely faster than an older 1 GHz Pentium III, for example, and Apple’s G4 processors handily beats Pentiums at the same speeds). But the general public uses those numbers as an indicator of speed, so Apple’s release of new machines with speeds from 466 MHz to 733 MHz is fantastic, and long over-due. www.apple.com/powermac
  • Media professionals are rapidly running out of space on ordinary CDs, and are looking to the higher-capacity DVDs to store and share presentations, portfolios and marketing materials. Creating professional-quality DVDs which play on almost any consumer DVD recently required $5,000 devices, but Apple’s SuperDrive, which reads and writes DVDs, along with CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, is bundled with their $3,499, top-of-the-line PowerMac G4. You also get the new iDVD software to easily assemble and burn your DVDs. www.apple.com/dvd

Ultimate Wrap-up

With three hundred or so booths and thousands of products, this brief recap can’t come close to doing justice to the spectacle that was MacWorld San Francisco 2001. Macintouch has an in-depth report, or contact me, and we can talk about which products might be useful to you.

The Mac’s strength is its usability

While “user-friendly” and “Macintosh” have been used together for a long time, it is not the only thing that makes a Macintosh a Macintosh.

Certainly the ease-of-use factor is a big one.

But inherent in the macintosh is a sense of “usablility”. I distinguish this from “user-friendly” and “ease-of-use” because I find that these latter two come from extended periods of learning, despite the concept of “intuitive”.

No, the Macintosh’s strength is its usability.

This means things work the way you think they should work; they show a level of consistency in the way they work; and using the system slows you down as little as possible.

All of these things lead to being both “user-friendly” and “easy to use”, but these two are the results of the Mac’s usability, not the cause of it.

When I see that Mac OS X is “un-Macintosh” I take it to mean that the user interface that has worked—been usable—for many years no longer exists. In Mac OS X, it often means that things that were once usable are no longer useable—or at least the usability has dropped significantly from previous incarnations.

In many cases, it’s tiny things: a huge clock that takes up significant portion of the screen, rather than a small corner; windows whose minimum size are two or three times larger than they were before; a font that is larger than it needs to be for no apparant reason; a lack of control in how the user is able to see their system.

I think of things like people with poor vision. In previous versions of the Mac OS, you could choose a font and size that was appropriate to your needs.

That’s no longer possible.

In many ways, using Mac OS X feels like we’ve stepped into the Way-Back Machine, to a time before many of the problems of previous Mac OS incarnations were not fixed. Why, for example, can you only change the name of a file while in icon mode, not in list or browse mode? The fact that it’s a known issue doesn’t excuse such basic functionality.

Likewise, why is the new Finder so difficult to navigate? In OS 9 and earlier, I could move around the Finder without ever touching a mouse. This didn’t require any command lines or dozens of paths: only the command key, the four arrows and the return key.

Basic things a Mac user with almost any time invested would come to expect.

Like pressing “command-period” to activate the close/cancel button in a dialog box.

Or “command-w” to close a window.

Or dragging and dropping of text.

Sometimes they’re implemented, other times, they’re not. And when they’re not, it’s often in the most unexpected of places, like Apple’s very own applications shipped with the OS.

The interface’s consistency has gone down the drain.

The frustration many people feel is based on not knowing why 16 years of a constantly-improving interface was so unceremoniously shoved by the wayside.