Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What a Computer is For

Nathan linked to an article by some guy in The Guardian. Apparently the Guardian guy doesn't like Macs. Here is his principle reason for preferring PCs:
"PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC)."
By "people" I think he means IT types, gamers, or others with an almost preternatural understanding of computers. I am not one of them, when I was a child I was convinced that computers understood conversational English. In the dark days of DOS they clearly did not. Apparently the sort of person who can easily customize a PC also understands what in the hell "the Tardis" is. I have vague memories of Doctor Who, but what is a Tardis? A time machine? A robot? A vacuum cleaner? All of the above?

I would point out that you can also build an automobile from scratch, and customize it into oblivion. Why don't people do that? Well, they realize that in a modern society there is a division of labour, unless you work on cars for a living (or can afford it as a hobby) it's just not worth your while. We also don't build our own furniture or hunt and kill our own food (unless again, that is your profession or hobby, in which case I thank you for my nice desk and delicious steak).

I once raised this point with a Microsoft-certified IT guy and he maintained that customizing PCs is easy. He then gave an example using words like "registry" and "formatting" to show me that this is a simple task. I think my confused face was the most substantial rebuttal that I could have delivered.

Macs aren't perfect, I think even Mac-heads admit that. But the customization argument is a sort of red herring for 90% of computer users who buy a Dell or an HP off the shelf. If we are to be sensible in this debate we must argue on merits like reliability, software availability, speed of processing and the like.
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