“We need another revolution”: in defense of the Mac, freedom

This iBrotha article was originally published at MacAddict.com by Rodney O. Lain. In honor of Rodney’s death, a good friend and contributor, we are reposting here with the permission of MacAddict. We would like to thank them for their generosity in allowing us to remember Rodney by keeping this archive of his work.


“We need another revolution”: in defense of the Mac, freedom

fri jun.09.2000

Lacking a systematic framework for understanding the clash of forces in today’s world, we are like a ship’s crew, trapped in a storm and trying to navigate between dangerous reefs without compass or chart.

A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it.

— Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave


Remember when you were a child?

Remember those times when you knocked a tooth loose? Ready to fall out any second, it often seemed to dangle by a tender piece of gum tissue. Sometimes, your tongue accidentally touched that tooth, causing a slight stab of pain. After a while, you intentionally jabbed at the tooth with your tongue, no matter how painful. A latent S&M impulse we all possess? I don’t know.

Mac OS X is my loose tooth, of late.

I don’t know what it is, but something about OS X pains me. I try to get it out of my mind, but I am drawn back to it again and again. Yet, I could never figure out what it is that bothers me about Apple’s next generation of its venerable Mac Operating System.

And then it struck me: the OS’s intuitiveness may be sacrificed for next-generation features. For reason, many believe that OS X will be a flop. A BIG flop.

I overheard a conversation last Sunday that echoed these fears:

“People are gonna hate OS X!” the lady said, her voice rising above the volume necessary to carry on her conversation with the man in the store’s Apple section.

I was making a rare appearance at the local CompUSA’s Mac section, where I work every blue moon — until the next Minnesota winter forces me indoors, once again making CompUSA my weekend cure for cabin fever.

But, I digress.

That day, I ran into the customer who’d made the previous comment to one of our regular Mac shoppers.

“What don’t you think people will like about OS X?” I interjected into the conversation.

“The fact that it isn’t OS 9,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“It isn’t OS 9.”

She argued that, according to Apple’s web site and press releases, it seems that OS X won’t have the niceties that grace the current Mac OS. That will elicit a hue and cry from some Mac users.

“So? People have always hued and cried over changes,” I asked.

“’So?’ So, it won’t have the features that have spoiled Mac users into expecting ease of use out of Apple products: the pop-up folders, the control strip, the Apple Menu. Mac users aren’t PC users, you know: we don’t put up with just any slop thrown into the code and called an OS.”

“But you haven’t given OS X a chance,” the other customer said. “After all, it’s only a developer-release stage, which is only an ‘alpha’ release; hell, the beta hasn’t even been released yet. Besides, you would appreciate the features of OS X if you had to deal with the things I have had to suffer with OS 9. Like the time my Extensions Manager kept crashing. I deleted preferences, rebuilt the desktop file, everything. Then, I realized, ‘hey, it’s not a control panel; it’s an application.’ So, I gave it more memory, and problem solved! That kind of thing will never happen in OS X, where memory is allocated dynamically. And imagine never having to reboot your computer for anything except to install software?”

“Okay, I guess you have a point,” we conceded. “We get it.”

How about you? Do you “get” what OS X is all about? Do you get the true significance of this paradigm-shifting upgrade to the venerable Mac OS?

Sand fighting against the waves

Social critic Alvin Toffler, in his book The Third Wave, describes the march of civilization’s progress by using the metaphor of three “waves” of change. Each wave represents the three major evolutions of mankind’s relationship to technology and the society that it creates:

First Wave — Highest technological advancement is the agrarian society; family structure represented by the extended family.

Second Wave — Industrial society, represented by the nuclear family

He spends most of the book discussing and theorizing about the Third Wave, yet he doesn’t spell out a clear definition, like he does with the previous two. But this much is known: in a Third Wave society, the family is represented by the individual. We are, or will be, more individualistic than ever before. Family ties will be tenuous due to our having moved greater distances. Working longer hours and spending more time in front of our computers will help create a society that is more impersonal than ever before. Technology will change at a dizzying pace, and likewise will be its growing influence on our lives.

Toffler argues that many of society’s problems are due to our collectively spending the last 50 years shifting from a Second-Wave society to a Third-Wave society. This results in resistance to the change, a change that is occurring whether we like it or not.

Sounds familiar?

Well, it should, since that is the type of “paradigm stress” and “paradigm paralysis” that the advent of OS X is creating within the Mac community. It’s the proverbial change that is inevitable…

The Third Wave of Macintosh-dom?

Change has been needed in the Mac world for quite some time now, you must admit. Sure, the Mac still leads in ease of use, and no other computer racks up style points the way Apple’s Macintosh does. But there is something more troubling beneath all of the glitz surrounding Apple’s resurgence of the last two years.

Dare I say it? Yes, I dare: The Mac OS is old. It is antiquated. It is behind the times.

Apple knows this. Those geekier than thou (and I) know this. Hey, Windows actually has a leg up on us, if we’re willing to stop looking in the Mac mirror for one moment!

Excuse me… <washing my mouth out with soap>. There. Sorry about that. I know I spoke truth, but I can’t help but feeling dirty…

Now where was I? Oh, yes.

Apple knows that things have to be, uh, Done Different. This is where OS X’s radical changes come from. Apple is willing to do something that Microsoft was not make a clean break with the past. Windows was Borg’d onto DOS. With NT, Microsoft had a chance to make a clean break, but they merely sewed the Windows GUI onto that New Technology underneath. OS X is the equivalent of NT, except Apple is rewriting the surface elements and the beneath-the-surface elements.

Sure, like you, I often wonder if OS X is Steve Jobs’ chance to foist NeXT upon us. Sure, I wonder if the cart (form) is being placed in front of the horse (substance). Sure, I wonder if Apple knows what they are doing.

Well, recent history shows that they know much more than in times past. Can you say Copland?

Earlier this week, I attended a technology expo called “Strictly Business,” at which Apple made a prominent appearance. I sat in on a presentation that covered OS X. The presenter, an Apple employee, said that OS 9 represents the furthest extent to which Apple can take the current Mac OS with its present code base.

But sacrifices needed to be made in order to bring the Mac OS up-to-date features like true memory protection and preemptive multitasking.

I understand the need for these things, and so do you. But many of us are wondering if Apple is changing many things for the sake of change. The Dock looks good, but we will all miss the easy access and functionality of the Apple Menu and the Control Strip. Also, echoing the comments made in MWJ’s June 3 issue, Apple may be making the OS X too much like Windows (MWJ is referring to the fact that DP4’s file-pathing scheme and folders are now linked in the same fashion that makes Windows file management the horror that it is).

It’s understandable that such a ploy will attract the PC users and those who are fed up with Microsoft, but will this lowest-common-denominator scares many of us.

Again, we hope that Apple is living up to its claim that customers are being listened to throughout this OS X effort.

Crossing our fingers

Apple has its work cut out, to be sure. As I’ve said at the outset, the Mac OS is antiquated in many ways. So something must be done. But, also, there are many things about Mac OS 9 that remain light years ahead of Windows, many of which are ostensibly being tossed aside in favor of the OS X (what many are asking for, I think, is for Apple to, at the very least, provide OS X equivalents to some of the set-it-above-the-rest features that are currently part and parcel of the Mac OS.

Apple says it’s listening to the customers and is modifying its products accordingly. Yet I understand that every customer contention cannot be taken into consideration. At some point hard decisions must be made. I just ask that we be considered. I don’t kid myself into thinking I am on par with Apple software engineers, but I’d like to think that Apple is aiming every consumer product to the average user.

I feel pretty average, so that makes me an expert in terms of pointing out good and bad things about OS X. I don’t know much about OS X, so notice I am not critiquing DP4 until it ships as a true beta product.

Many of us feel that Apple should build OS X upon the strengths of OS 9; we want an OS evolution, not a revolution. I, for one, will miss OS 9, but I look forward to my copy of OS X Beta. The finished product, however, is what we all are interested in. Will Apple really listen to the customers and bring back some of the things that made the Mac, well, a Mac?

Mac OS 9 had many things that have been “fixed” in OS X. But were they really “broken”?

This summer will prove interesting. As a Mac user, I can’t wait.

Nevertheless, OS 9, we will miss you. We only knew you for a short while, but you will be missed terribly.

Rest in peace.

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