Danger, excitement and the unexpected—good for travel, not so good for operating systems.
My estimable and learned friend, Mr Dustin Main, suggested that choosing between a Mac and a PC was missing the point.
As eloquent and intelligent as his argument was, I fear that we are not quite there yet. With respect to the right honourable gentleman, I would like to present the case that the choice of operating system is still very important for the connected traveller, and that there is a clearly superior choice: OS X Mountain Lion.
I grew up on Windows, started with 3.1, lived through the glorious revolution that was 95 and moved ever onwards to XP. I had always assumed that Windows was the pinnacle of graphical computing.
Then, in 2009, I switched from Windows 7 to OS X Snow Leopard and there have been few moments in my geek life that were as revelatory as that. There were no more inscrutable error messages. I plugged stuff in, no random device drivers were installed. Things actually did just work (this has slipped somewhat, I’ll get to that).
I want my operating system to be more reliable than the teenage tuk-tuk driver who agreed to pick me up from my hotel at 6am, failed to show and caused me to miss my plane.
I still use Windows 7 for website testing and gaming and every time I head back in there I face all manner of error messages and warnings and device issues (it’s a bleedin’ MOUSE, dammit!)
Then there’s the updates. Good grief, the updates!
When I hit shutdown as I’m running out the door to catch a bus to Lake Titicaca, I expect my computer to actually shut down, not spend an additional 15 minutes installing the never-ending stream of cryptically-named updates to fix bugs and security holes in programs I didn’t even realise I had installed.
When I don’t want it to shut down, though…
I don’t want to battle my OS, I want to get on there, get my work done, and get back out to the party because the mojitos are free and there’s going to be limbo later.
It’s true that Apple can no longer claim that OS X is virus-free, but viruses, trojans and worms are still a relatively minor problem for the system. Most users won’t even require anti-virus software, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
However, Apple is not slacking on the security front. Much malware gets on to a user’s computer through exploits that require some sort of user interaction, usually ending up with an install. With Mountain Lion, Apple introduced Gatekeeper which is an elegant solution to the problem. It requires developers to digitally sign their code and, if it’s not signed, the OS won’t let it run.
“Hark at thine dictatorship, Apple! Woulds’t thou keep me from mine own computer?” cry the geeks.
I consider myself a power user (if, by power user, you mean someone who fiddles under the hood until something breaks) and I would have Harked! along with them, had there not been the most elegant of solutions. Right click, and hit open.
“You Can’t Open It” turns in to “Are You Sure You Want To Open It?” Convenient for those in the know, while protecting those who aren’t.
If there’s only one thing that you learn from Too Many Adapters, it should be this: Back Up Your Stuff.
Thanks to Time Machine, my backups are now as regular as a traveller with Delhi Belly. Here are the steps:
- Plug in the drive
Trust me, you need it to be this easy when you’re on the road cause otherwise you won’t do it. Then bad things will happen and you’ll be sad.
Developers often neglect design in favour of functionality and you end up with crah-hazy screens full of all manner of buttons and switches and lists. Apple’s strict Human Interface Guidelines and attention to detail in its own work has filtered down to Mac developers, creating a rich ecosystem of user-centric applications that place as much focus on good design as they do on the functionality.
The result? Less friction. Consistency means I have to burn less mental cycles on figuring out how the app works and the quicker I get things done, the quicker I can jump in the pool.
Speaking of getting things done so I can take my clothes off, OS X is a goldmine of productivity workflows.
OS X is built on the same core system as most of the world’s web, Unix, allowing me to do all sorts of magical scripting to make my web life easier. I have a script that automatically makes a copy of my site’s database and files, downloads them, and installs them locally. I can then run WordPress updates and make tweaks locally to make sure nothing breaks.
Run another script, and it all gets pushed back up to the server.
Can you do this in Windows? Certainly, but it’s nowhere near as easy, the shells often miss key programs and there are tons of weird gotchas like the direction of the slashes (Unix = /, Windows = ).
Of course, if you don’t want to get down and dirty with the command line (There Be Dragons), then let other people do it for you! The App Store has encouraged an explosion of free, cheap and not-so-cheap apps that help you solve whatever precise problem you happen to have and because the apps are all reviewed and approved by Apple, they’re easy to install and you know you can trust them.
The Twitter and Facebook integration that came with Mountain Lion mean I can fire off tweets from Notification Center without breaking my concentration or right click images and send them to Facebook direct from the Finder.
Less time at the laptop = more time at the beach. It’s the little things.
The Bad News
Nothing is perfect and Apple’s biggest challenge right now is network services. iCloud was marginally better than the awful MobileMe when it launched and has since improved in leaps and bounds, but it’s still a long way off what services like Dropbox or Google offer.
Yes, the Just Works crown slipped a little. I was sad, but I am hopeful. Everything about iCloud except iTunes Match has worked wonders for me, but the clandestine nature of the service can be a little unnerving—I do like to know exactly where my stuff is.
So, Mac or PC?
Things are changing for sure. Windows 8 features an impressive, bold new direction for Microsoft and I’m actually excited for them—competition is good for everyone—but, for the moment, I will continue to recommend Macs to travellers who want to spend less time tweaking and more time travelling.