15 June 2005

Mac & Windows

I'm going to have to admit that I do everything in MS Windows. For years I dreamed of a Macintosh, but put aside those dreams when Steve Jobs ended licensing of the Mac OS, and insisted on a monopoly of the proprietary operating system. Since then, the user base of Mac OS has dwindled as a share of the total, and Job's focus has been on Mac as an expression of profound individuality. However, I have observed repeatedly that there is an awful lot of really good creative blogging out there being done by Mac users. I've noticed that the Mac user base, far from being the group of technical novices I would have expected, is actually more technically competent and shrewd than the Windows user base is.

I still have this big ugly pool of frustration with Steve, because I think he spent so much energy marketing Apple products as fashion accessories, but I've gotten older and increasingly I recognize that Apple products have retained a crucial technical edge over Intel ones in many respects. The anarchistic piece of patches and bugs that is Windows essentially uses up all of the skill and talents of coders. The hideously dysfunctional business climate for Windows software developers consigns entire cohorts of coders to arbitrarily-inflicted obsolescence. There's a great Japanese word for this, muda, which IMO describes about 75% of the effort in Windows development. Here we are, twenty years after the development of the GUI, and we're taking up Linux as the alternative to Windows. The fact is that Windows is not a programming environment, it's a cross between the Cold War and the Bosnian Civil War. The Mac OS community is, by this analogy, a stable productive society. So Steve handled the technical issues successfully.

As to the marketing: I have a really tin ear. My ability to anticipate the effect on the public of a certain thing, like the presidential debates, is so poor I've had to give up on the exercise entirely. The sort of reasoning that win arguments nowadays is not my reasoning.

That's where we're going with this: the market of ideas and products as a programming environment—a civil OS, as it were. I'm used to thinking of operating systems as a bunch of specialized code that you install on a computer so the damn thing can open Word files. But it turns out operating systems are a metaphor for society. The components of the program (institutions) work by collecting what we know about pieces of data (individuals) and associating that data in ways that serve the survival of the institution. The system files mostly evolved in different places, and they don't necessarily work together very well together, but it's much to late and too difficult and too controversial to revise them so they make any sort of sense. There's also the core of the OS, which gradually absorbs more functions of the system software (software drivers, social welfare systems and child protective services) but there's always going to be things that the OS cannot do, that have to be done (things that the state cannnot do, that require spontaneous or traditional associations).

And I notice that the programming API (the standards that applications have to fit into in order to run in a programming environment) for our society is set not by political philosophers like John Locke or Thomas Aquinas, but by fashion. This is not a terribly original idea, but it's something I keep overlooking. Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, W.E.B. DuBois, and Joan Robinson came up with really compelling analytical models to explain how societies interact with their institutions—yes, they did. But these models are terrible at predicting the future, and people who understand them become worse, not better, at reading the responses of their neighbors.

The Mac OS deserves to beat out the Windows OS because it works like a properly engineered design. It's a more effective, waste-avoiding strategy of doing what programmers and computers are supposed to do, than Windows ever will be. It spawns creativity; the anarchy of Windows, as we've seen (and seen, and seen, and seen again) spawns drudgery and frustration. This is not because Windows programmers are stupid; nor do programmers code for Windows because they're masochists. They do it to earn incomes and get their ideas on people's desktops. Windows is the world in which we live; Mac OS is an enclave of sanity. It's like a tiny little corner of Bosnia where Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks live in harmony. The rest of the country is chaos, and that's the world of computing: massive waste of potential because of chaos. People never actually chose chaos, but that's what we get. So we plan for it, and we assume it.

And that's why fashion sense—a system of hierarchy that explicitly repudiates any logic—is the law of the jungle. Jobs understands that. Why did I not see this before?

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