Saturday, February 17, 2018 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Nowhere Else to Go

The Menu Bar (tweet):

Marco Arment joins Zac and Andrew at the bar to talk about Ads vs Patreon, the end game for social networks, the trouble you get into for criticizing Apple, iPod as the new Vinyl, and the very sad state of affairs with newer MacBook keyboards.

This is another solid episode. (The previous episode with Dan Masters about Twitter and privacy was also good.) The key point for me is that the Mac and iOS platforms are one-of-a-kind resources that Apple controls. They are it for the foreseeable future unless you want to use Windows or Android, which have their own share of problems. It’s like the dark ages that Steve Jobs spoke of in the mid-90s. The barriers to entry are so high now that there is unlikely to be a Be or NeXT or Palm that seems to come out of nowhere.

Apple clearly feels a great responsibility as a steward of our planet. However, there are many governments, companies, and individuals who can also contribute to environmental causes. But in the case of these computing platforms, Apple is the lone steward. Making sure they are good—not just good enough—is something only Apple can do.

Previously: The Best Laptop Ever Made, Unreliable MacBook Pro Keyboards, New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac, The 12-inch MacBook, Finding an Alternative to Mac OS X.

15 Comments

"The key point for me is that the Mac and iOS platforms are one-of-a-kind resources that Apple controls. They are it for the foreseeable future unless you want to use Windows or Android, which have their own share of problems. It’s like the dark ages that Steve Jobs spoke of in the mid-90s. The barriers to entry are so high now that there is unlikely to be a Be or NeXT or Palm that seems to come out of nowhere."

Yup.

The lack of alternatives is the thing that makes a favorite product's slow degradation so goddamn frustrating. I can be unhappy with Apple as much as I want, and my only real viable actions are to lag behind on software updates and avoid buying new hardware to whatever degree is possible.

(When Lion was announced, I could see the future would not be to my liking, and I spent a fair bit of time researching Windows. Discovering I didn't have a viable alternative was, in a weird sense, far more dispiriting than realizing my beloved platform was headed in a very bad direction.)

A similar, much less important example is that TiVo basically destroyed their wonderful 15 years old UX a few months ago. Like Apple, there is no alternative. So, all I can do is retain the old interface until it breaks or the company decides to force upgrade me, and to avoid buying any new TiVo hardware.

"But in the case of these computing platforms, Apple is the lone steward. Making sure they are good—not just good enough—is something only Apple can do."

This is worst fallout of Steve-o's illness, death, and poorly thought though shareholder-only-focus succession plan. For all of his faults, Steve-o actually cared enough about product quality that he'd never have let things head in this direction. It was genuinely one of his passions. Current management isn't interested in product quality in the least, unless they think it'll directly connect to the bottom line in the near future, which creates a very different focus.

I sometimes wonder if...

Steve Jobs projected his RDF onto others.

It seems like modern Apple is projecting an RDF on to itself.

> When Lion was announced, (...) I spent a fair bit of time researching Windows.
> Discovering I didn't have a viable alternative...

Things have changed a lot since Windows 7.

@Lukas Yeah, I’m tinkering with a Windows 10 installation on my Mac, and now that I’m looking in earnest, I’m finding possible alternatives for Mac apps that I previously thought had no Windows equivalent.

My plan is to try and use win10 full-time for a week or so and see how it goes. For things like my calendar and OmniFocus (which would take a long time to migrate), I’m just going to have a VNC window open to an old Mac mini in the closet. I’m going to try and document this test as much as I can to make a fair assessment of whether it’s feasible or not.

@remmah Nice! I'm interested in learning how it works out for you.

Also, along those lines: something like a "You're using this Mac app? Here's a Windows alternative that's reasonably competent" thing would be incredibly valuable.

"Things have changed a lot since Windows 7."

Yah. I did follow along with the Windows 10 introduction a bit. And sure, it seemed to me to be "good enough". But it didn't seem actually "good".

The non-serious question: Given your objectively insane preference for web pages over native apps, why aren't you rocking a Chromebook as your primary machine, Lukas?

The serious question: Other than having a wider, cheaper, and more flexible selection of hardware to choose from, what advantages would you say Windows has over macOS?

@Lukas there is https://alternativeto.net/ which is more or less useful. IA Writer is working on a Windows version, the Tower git client has a windows version, etc.

Chucky,
Windows has more consistent support windows, no pun intended, than Mac OS. It tends to be a good choice for certain users too, as in the software selection is far superior to Mac OS. The obvious choice is games. That might not matter to you or I....(I will say getting 32 bit apps running on Windows is smoother than 64bit Arch Linux as one example and a lot of games are 32bit apps....see Mac OS deprecation of 32bit here as well....).

I'm sure there's other categories of software too, just the most obvious is gaming.

> But it didn't seem actually "good".

I guess that's subjective. To me, Windows 8 is good in the same way that macOS is good. Both are carrying 30 years of legacy cruft, but managed to somehow cobble together something that works reasonably well. Overall, in recent years, I think Windows is doing a better job of getting rid of some of its long-time issues than the Mac.

>The non-serious question: Given your objectively insane preference for web pages over native
>apps, why aren't you rocking a Chromebook as your primary machine, Lukas?

I'm still using a Mac for some things because it runs apps that don't have good alternatives anywhere else.

I probably wouldn't use a Chromebook as my primary machine even if all of the apps I use were web apps, simply because I like to have access to a local file system, I like to have local backups, I like to have a unix shell, all of which are things that (I think - I haven't looked at Chromebooks in a while) are difficult to easily do on a Chromebook.

>Other than having a wider, cheaper, and more flexible selection of hardware to choose from,
>what advantages would you say Windows has over macOS?

Better window management (which is kind of the only really visible thing operating systems do anymore anyways).

A better application launcher (I guess the other visible thing that operating systems still do).

Better stability and fewer bugs (in my experience; your mileage may vary wildly).

Much faster than Macs (even on similar hardware).

Touchscreen and pen support (yeah, despite what some Mac users are saying, I'm somehow managing to use a touchscreen on a notebook without my arms falling off, and it rules so much that I really miss it on my MacBooks; stupid touch bar only makes this worse).

Much better games support (if you care about that kind of thing, which I do).

Notebooks that have actual working keyboards (unlike the new MacBooks).

"Better stability and fewer bugs (in my experience; your mileage may vary wildly)."

Huh. I did not realize that was the case. That does seem like something I would find important.

As far as the rest:

- I've rolled my own very happy solutions through 3rd party software and/or scripting: Window management and application launching.

- I don't care: Gaming ain't my bag. Touchscreen and pen doesn't appeal to me on the desktop. Perhaps bizarrely, reasonably minor differences in speed stopped being important to me once the SSD revolution happened.

As to laptops with usable keyboards, yeah. The wider and more flexible selection of hardware is, and has always been appealing. Similarly, even though I'm not interested in touch & pen, it's always nice to have options.

"To me, Windows 8 is good in the same way that macOS is good."

This gets to the distinction Michael was making between "good" and "good enough". My impression is that Windows is "good enough", which I didn't think a decade ago. If I were forced to shift off the Mac, I wouldn't regard moving to Windows as an unspeakable tragedy in a way I would have years ago. But while part of that is Windows getting better, a lot of it is macOS slowly sliding down the road from "good" to "good enough".

So there literally is an alternative for me. But given that for my tastes and purposes I see Windows as a sidegrade at very best, (whether I'm correct or not), it's an alternative that seems mighty unpalatable, given the lack of upside to compensate for the massive disruption of a full platform shift. I'd have to regard Windows as "better" in order to see it as a viable alternative, and I'm not there yet. But given current trajectories of the two platforms, things may be different in a couple of years...

(And thanks for the detailed answer, Lukas.)

It's surprising how easy it is to get used to touch input on a laptop. It's not like I'm doing everything with touch, but just to be able to scroll a webpage by dragging with my finger, keeping my focus on the page, instead of moving the cursor over the window and scrolling using the trackpad, is already a huge convenience. Similarly, zooming in on a specific part of a picture is just more convenient on a touchscreen. And, of course, I can just remove the screen from my notebook, and it's a tablet that contains all of my applications, all of my data, has a real file system...

I do think that Windows will always be a bit of a sidegrade to long-term Mac users, at least initially, if only because it means re-learning a some very basic things. The subtle difference in how the mouse cursor moves, for example, is just very difficult to get used to. It's a tiny detail, but it's something that feels so natural on the Mac that you don't even think about it, until you use Windows, and it just doesn't quite move the way you expect. It doesn't help that lots of Windows notebooks have really atrocious trackpads.

Windows 10 is okay. I don't love it. But even though I like to pretend I hate it....I really don't. It kind of just works, mostly. The usual Windows inconsistencies remain of course, but it's solid. The first time I felt that about Windows. I never really liked XP or Vista or even Windows 7 really. 2000 was decent.

I didn't care much for Windows prior to 2000. Then again, I mostly used the Mac, so I don't have a solid footing here. Perhaps my preferences were largely related to comfort level. Then again, Mac OS was a bit of a crashy mess, and I still found things I liked about it over Windows, even XP which ran concurrently with the last days of the classic Mac OS....

Linux is still Linux. Sometimes it's smooth enough to make me not miss Mac OS, then sometimes it's regression bug here, package mishap there, etc. Then again, when you have basic needs, it actually works really well. My mom hasn't had any complaints really, especially since we ditched her old Core 2 Duo MacBook (running Linux mind you) for something a bit newer. Web, email, photos, some basic document use.

Easiest way to figure out if you can migrate platforms, make a list of all the apps you need. Maybe a list of hardware too (but Windows and Linux tends to support more hardware than Mac OS, so....). See if versions exist for other platforms. If not, use one of the sites as suggested earlier to find alternatives.

If you find what you need, great! If not, that's okay too. It's all just managing compromises really.

For all the talk about Mac problems and alternatives, I want to shout out the Mac developer community because it still produces software that's significantly better than what's available on other platforms. Yes, most major apps are web or cross-platform. But outside of that there's typically a different quality bar.

I can get a lot of my work done on Windows, but the level of friction is much higher. Best-in-class Mac apps pay attention to workflows within the app, keyboard shortcuts, interoperability with other popular apps, conformance to platform standards, and visual polish, to a degree I don't see elsewhere. And that makes my use of the whole system fluid and more efficient.

Just calling this out because sometimes talk of potential replacement apps looks only at checking functionality boxes but ignores user experience.

>Just calling this out because sometimes talk of potential replacement apps looks
> only at checking functionality boxes but ignores user experience.

Yes! That's the biggest obstacle to just leaving the Mac behind.

Obviously, there are apps like Coda on Windows. But really, just aren't any apps that are anywhere near as nice as Coda on Windows.

I cannot say there is a lack of good apps on Windows and Linux. Far from it, there are great apps on all platforms in fact, but my background with the Mac OS gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I'm around a really good Mac app. Tsai, Bombich, Nanian, Shipley, Siegel etc. Lot of great developers and apps out there for the Mac.

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