Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silicon is Not Religion

If blogs from the 60s existed, I’m willing to bet that there would be plenty of lamentations about how people tend to lose all sense of rational thought when they start debating computer preferences.

Another example popped up a while ago in a blog post called From MSFT evangelist to Mac enthusiast. In this post, the author suggests that he’s writing about the difference between Apple and Microsoft. In reality, as you read through each argument, it’s clear that logic is taking a back stage to opinions.

Just so you don’t think I’m falling into the same trap, here’s my viewpoint upfront. I used to work at Microsoft, I own an iPhone. I don’t have a Mac, but my wife does. I wrote about the problem of criticizing Microsoft in my post The Microsoft Paradox. I’m perfectly willing to have a good argument with someone about hardware or software—in fact, I encourage it—but I hate to see bad arguments applied to technical topics. Technology should be free of such indiscretions.

Argument #1: “The most obvious distinction between Microsoft and Apple is design”
This is when I knew I had to write this post. In a classic case of comparing apples to oranges, the writer has decided to ignore the fact that Microsoft didn’t design his computer. “My Windows machine was a Lenovo X301” he writes.

Argument #2: “End to end experience”
”One of the major advantages Apple has is controlling the end to end user experience. This means the hardware works perfectly with the software.” I’m willing to grant that if you make both the hardware and the software, this can be an advantage. However, since Apple is the only major computer manufacturer that decided to maintain this level of  “control,” you also have to acknowledge that an open system that encourages competition amongst peripheral vendors also has its advantages—like price for one.

Argument #2: “Functional differences”
The author uses multi-touch as his main functional difference between his new Mac and his old PC: ”Finally someone tipped me off that the Mac does many of the same ‘right click’ function by holding two fingers on the touchpad.” Unfortunately, this argument is exactly that, a comparison between an old computer and a new computer. As anyone who attended PDC can attest, multi-touch Windows machines have been available for some time.

The post really falls apart with the assertion “From a functional point of view you can do anything on a Mac that you can do on a PC…and vice versa.” This would have been a great chance for him to point out differences between the software available on the two systems, but he doesn’t do it. Unless he’s abstracting to the fact that one can run Windows on a Mac—I don’t think that’s where he wanted to go. I can’t use iLife on my PC and I can’t run Visual Studio on my wife’s Mac. That’s the sort of thing that a logical person would think about.

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