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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Philosophy of Computing Platforms (part 5)

Return of the Jobs

Is the fundamental difference between platforms all about philosophy and human nature?

After years of poorly executed plans, high cost of production, and failed opportunities, Apple Computer was facing death. Discounted, ridiculed and a market share as bad as OS/2 had, Apple was written off. But Apple would not go without a fight. In search for a New Operating System to jump start the company, Apple shopped around. Long story short, Apple bought NeXT--- Steve Jobs' company and in MacWorld 1997, Jobs stepped back on stage.

MacWorld 1997

When Steve Jobs returned, he brought with him Bill Gates' multimillion dollar no stock investment to Apple (think: loan) and Microsoft Office. This would prove significant. It wasn't the money. It was the deal that Microsoft would make Microsoft Office for the Mac. Jobs knew then that interoperability would be a key factor in reviving Mac shares. How could it not be? The world had standardized on Office. Everyone needed Microsoft's word processor if they were to pass documents to and from associates and business partners.

So began an Apple renaissance.

The seeds of what Mac OS X is today began after Jobs had exited Apple in 1985. The NeXT platform was Unix-based. It also had tools like Objective-C, a subset of the C language but was Object Oriented. These among others would prove to lay the foundation for the future.

The startling difference between Apple's then future OS X and Windows was its design. Clearly, OS X from the get go, was built around tools that painted a specific goal. It favored the creative mind-set of its core constituency certainly, but more than that, appeals direct to the non-hacker-non-technology-savant. The underlying layers of OS X--- Unix, Core Foundation--- Core Audio, Core Image/Core Video and now Core Animation (1997/1998) continued to serve as abstractions to the Geek dominated world of zeroes and ones.

The genius of Apple is that it uses technology and brings it to the level of art.

Take the iMac--- iconic desktop of Apple. Unlike its rivals, the iMac is an integrated platform. There are no CPU boxes, and there are three cables that go to and from the machine: a power supply, a keyboard and mouse (a fourth could be a Harman/Kardon speaker set). Heck, if you were really adventurous, you could simply run it with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The design is elegant. The machine is finely crafted. The Operating System that goes with it makes you work from the get go. Phones connect via bluetooth just like that. other devices can simply be plugged in and chances are they would just talk.

Macworld 2000

The beauty of OS X is its simplicity and well thought of design--- from simple buttons to how the computer interacts with the users in intuitive ways. Take installing software. In the windows world it would require you to answer series of questions just to install an Application. Often, this requires the user to be quite knowledgeable about technology. But with OS X, most Applications come in a disk image. It "mounts" like loading a CD on your system. And how do you install? simply just drag the App to your Applications folder (or any local folder for that matter) and you are done. Application is installed. just double click on the transferred app and you're working. No hassle. No need to think about complex stuff. Want to uninstall? just drag the App from your application folder into the trash and empty it. The power of this simplicity is that Macs don't require you to be a technology savant. It doesn't impose a barrier for the lowest most ignorant user. It makes these things abstract letting most people just use the machine. This beauty comes from a well thought of integrated foundation.

Elegance in everything is the simple nature, simple beauty of Apple.

This is the same simplicity, same elegance that Apple incorporated into the iPod and iTunes when it entered the Music business in 2001:

Apple's 1st Music Event, 2001, The First iPod

Beyond the Macs, and the iPod, what makes Apple different is its cult-like following. It is arguably the largest subculture in computing, perhaps even more so than Linux and Open Source. Leander Kahney author of (and who writes a blog of similar name), The Cult of Mac (legally free download via Bittorrent) wrote:

Mac users can be extremely cool. It's a lifestyle thing. Mac users tend to be liberal, free-thinking, counterculture. They dress well, look good, have discerning taste (in New York, anyway). Take a Mac out in public and people want to look at it. Mac users have a sense of humor. They also help eath other. Myriad Web sites help you find solutions to problems, pointers to the best deals, and great freeware or shareware.

Mac users are creative. What else would you expect from all the musicians, artists, designers, and filmmakers who make up Apple's core constituency? It's not unreasonable to say that a lot of the world's mass media--- books, magazines, movies, music, Web sites--- is made on Macs. A lot of highly creative people fire up their Macs every day to shape our culture.
This difference in culture is the predominant distinction between the design philosophy of PCs whether it is Windows-based or Linux-based.