Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When being "objective" is being "biased"

I did the most unconscionable thing a few weeks ago. Something I've resisted for a very long time. I bought a Mac. For the first time. Ever. I'm not against Macs or Apple in general (I own an iPod and a Zune), in fact I find them very quaint and highly capable. Ever since they succumbed to the Intel juggernaut, my interest was piqued. They are no longer tied to what had become a "boutique" CPU, the PowerPC, but rather to a tried-and-true, mainstream, continuously developed and advancing architecture.  Say what you will about all the flaws (and there are many) with whole x86 architecture, it is here to stay, is getting some serious industry investment from both Intel, AMD, and even VIA.  Remember the whole IA64 (Itanium) phase?  This just proves the point that even Intel cannot stop the force they created.  AMD, recognized this early on and created the AMD64 extensions to the existing x86 architecture.  Eventually, Intel realized that they're only reasonable course of action was to jump onto that bandwagon.  It is the biggest example of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."  Apple finally realized this when the powerPC just wasn't able to keep up in terms of raw CPU power and the onslaught of the multi-core CPU. Apple had to cut costs, and the easiest way to do it was to join the commoditized-to-the-hilt x86 industry.  Yes, this is old news.

I'll get to the real motivation for swallowing my pride and buying the Mac in a moment. This article popped up on my RSS feed and it really resonated with me.  Regardless of the comments, which all too painfully only served to prove the author's point (and which I'm sure there will be comments to this post which will do the same thing), it was interesting to see something I've long suspected, actually put into words.  It was also so apropos since I've, sort of, joined the ranks of Mac owners. The gist of this article and the book from which it is excerpted (from what I can gather), is that we're all very passionate, like to "belong," and want to feel validated and sometimes even lauded for our choice in car, home, clothes, spouse, occupation, religion, computer, etc... Yes, I admit that I sometimes feel much the same way as the stereotypical Apple-fanboy when confronted with valid, well-reasoned, unbiased analysis.

This hit home all too well lately because, well, this new Mac is not really mine.  Yes, I was involved with its purchase, but I don't actually use it.  See, my wife has decided to return to school and formally pursue something she's come to really enjoy over the past few years, graphic design and layout.  It started with doing monthly newsletters for the local Mothers of Twins club (my daughters are twins), then on to doing other various projects, and finally culminated in doing the entire Scotts Valley High School annual Football program.  She's already committed to do it again for the Fall-2008 season. She has used PCs (natch) for many years and has a very nice 17" notebook. Now that she's back in school, which is where she's at while I write this post, it became painfully obvious that there is a very clear bias in this particular field toward the mac.  Sure, the same applications are available for the PC, but to be truly "accepted" shouldering a mac really helps. Most printers happily work with raw files from these specific applications and will actually charge hefty fee if you submit work using certain PC-only applications. It also makes the professor actually want to talk with you.

Here is where this whole Mac-fanboy, "Apple can do no harm," attitude really hit me.  As relayed by my wife, this professor unequivocally stated on the first day of class that you must use the Mac version of the applications.  The pure shock and horror on the professor's face when asked if one could use the PC versions had to be priceless. A similar attitude was expressed when my wife submitted some homework which had a few things marked off.  The professor actually told her that she must not have used a laser printer because a laser printer would have printed correctly.  Well, that chapped my hide to no end... I wanted to load up my nice COLOR laser printer into the truck, drag it up to her class and plop it into the middle of the professor's classroom and insist that they prove to me that this is not a stinkin' laser printer! (no, it is not one of those dye-sublimation or "melted crayon" printers) That lasted for only a few moments as I stood there speechless and dumbfounded.  Upon further examination and obtaining more information, it turns out that it wasn't printed on the same brand and model laser printer that the professor used.  See this is a design and layout class for printed medium, and to grade the work, it is not about the content (which is usually that funky fake Latin text), but about its layout and presentation on the page.  So where things are is more important that whether or not you spelled some word correctly.  Ok, that makes sense, she'll have to use the school's laser printers instead of ours.

The whole purchasing experience was just too surreal.  You walk into an Apple store, and it is literally like being a voyeur to this whole cult-like Apple... thing...  I just cannot explain it.  We'd already researched exactly which Mac we're going to get and we'll use my wife's student ID for a discount.  It was simply a matter of walking up to the machine we wanted, point to it and grunt a few syllables about how we're going to pay for it and instruct the resident drone to walk back through the stainless steel door at the back of the store to obtain said box of Jobs' magic.  The top-of-the-line 17" MacBook Pro is certainly a sexy bit of hardware. You just cannot deny that. That was nearly four weeks ago. At about two weeks into this, things started going a little south on us.

Once some of the applications needed for the class arrived (after getting some nice deep student discounts), it was time to install them.  I get this frantic message from my wife saying that the machine won't recognize the disk, and now it won't even boot!  Hmmm, ok...  not. good.  Oh, yeah, the whole "see I knew it!" flags started popping up in my head all over the place.  They do have flaws!  Eventually, she was able to eject the disk, after making some really horrendous noises and still never recognizing the disk.  Less than two weeks old, and the Super-drive is dead.

You gotta love this, you can make an appointment at the "Genius bar" online.  So we did.  Drove back to the store and met with the "Genius" (yes, I'm snickering here...).  We explained that we've had the machine for barely two weeks and only now had an occasion to use the drive and this is what happened.   They tested it and, sure enough, no workee.  Just nasty noises.  I was ready for what happened next.  I asked if they're going to "send it in" for repair.  I was all ready to explain that if they went down that road, I'd be a little irritated because, to me this was a failure that left the factory in that condition and why should we be without the machine for however long it takes to fix it.  Also, I'd just be inclined to return it for a refund.  Luckily, they saw the logic agreed to simply replace the machine.

Yeah!  They're going to replace it... not so fast, there buckaroo. It turns out that we'd bought the machine only a few days before Apple decided to announce some minor changes to the whole MacBook line.  New things like LED backlit LCD, multi-touch track pad, newer Penryn-based CPU.  That all meant they were out of stock.  Rats.  They said they'd call once the new machines were in.  (I've heard that song and dance all too often) For the next week, we called the store several times and still no shipments. We contemplated simply getting a refund and ordering online, but that would mean not having the machine for school.  Finally, yesterday, they actually called. A new machine had been set aside and to come in anytime.  After arriving, we explained why we're there and they walked back through those sterile stainless steel doors, and returned with a box to which was affixed a post-it note with my wife's name on it.  Nice.

After about another hour as they transferred the documents, settings and applications, we were on our way.  And, yes, I did have them test the drive to make sure it worked :-).  All-in-all, Apple's service was pleasant and understanding.  I'd have to say that the hardware is no higher or lower quality than a solid ThinkPad or some of the newer Dells (older Dell notebooks had, ahem, some real issues).  They're certainly more "artsy" looking than a pure utilitarian PC notebook. And OS X? It's just different. Some things I like about it, and others just make me want to scream. I can say the same things about XP or Vista.

I'm sure many will see through my "unbiased" view straight to the obvious bias in this post.  And for those Apple-haters, I hope this redeems me; sitting next to me here in my home office, is a new, home-built, overclocked quad-core, 4GB, Vista x64, 512MB nVidia 8800, 1TB raid, PC rig that I had to build to seek forgiveness and cleansing from committing  Apple-adultery ;-).

24 comments:

  1. who would have thought...

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  2. Hi Allen,

    I had a chance to try a MacBook for a while because my HP was at repairs for 40 days every 6 months. That experience ended up me buying a MacBook Pro. My though was, OK I will use XP on it and have fun with OSX. Here is the deal now. I run a blog on Macs, and use OSX all the time. Windows is kept in VMs.

    Just go and try, once you go Mac, you can't turn back :P

    Cheers,
    Alpay
    http://www.unofficialmac.com
    http://www.pspport.com

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  3. So, when to we get a Delphi for Mac ?

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  4. I desperately want Delphi for OS X. Mac's are an upcoming market. Latest figures are that they take 14% of retail sales in the US. Its only the perceived lack of apps that are holding them back, and what better way to write those apps than Delphi.

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  5. Marco van de VoortMarch 18, 2008 at 6:41 PM

    I agree fully.

    Note that when you get into developer land at the Mac, there are some other horrors that await you.

    Anything seems to subject to change in the next version. The XP to Vista breakages pales compared to it. Forward compability is only half existant (specially with 10.5)

    There _is_ a official Party line (and it says Objective C), but also the possibilities there constantly changes in details for every revision.

    And the developers there step over the problems with the same ease Linux fanboys wonder why you would want to run a 2 year old binary on your new distro in the first place.

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  6. I've been working on both platforms since the start of PCs. Although I love the Macs, the one thing that holds me back in programming for the Mac is - please don't laugh - the absolute *need* to use a mouse. It is so much faster working with a keyboard.
    So, if there ever would be a Delphi for the mac, *please* make sure you can do a lot, if not everything, with the keyboard :-). I would love to be able to start programming in Delphi for the Mac.

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  7. I have a collection of Windows & Mac computers here (my clients do too, so I'm stuck in that hybrid world). The programming language options are limited on the Mac, particularly for RAD development, and either you become a Linux developer (using Java, etc.) or you succumb to paying extortionist licensing fees for something like 4th Dimension or you use RealBasic hoping that it will give you 75% of what Visual Basic will. Unless you are willing to delve into lower level coding (ie. C++) the Mac development options are limited. I've been playing with the Free Pascal compiler to see if that will help, but the true answer would be to take Delphi and port it. I mean there is a crying need for something as powerful as Delphi to take advantage of the power of a Mac. Anyway I entertained using Bootstrap to dual boot Macs for both Windows & OSX and that looks like a do-able solution. I might not be able to play all the PC games that I want on it (although I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dungeons & Dragons Online will play just fine on a bootstrapped Mac), but if its a development machine it would surely beat lugging two laptops to client sites....

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  8. If Delphi was available for Mac, I'd buy one of each (Delphi and Mac).

    Do you realize how totally Delphi could corner the development market on Macs?

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  9. Agreed! CodeGear should talk to Apple about collaboration.

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  10. I too moved to Macs and would dearly love to see Delphi for Mac OS X! I'm amazed how many other delphi developers have moved to macs too.

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  11. I recently did *almost* the same. After the usual disappointment called Vista I tried Ubuntu on my notebook, put Windows XP on a virtual machine and removed the Vista partition.

    I have used Delphi for 10 years. Even though it works perfectly fine in VirtualBox I wouldn't start a new project in Delphi any more. Not because I want to sell non-Windows-Applications now (all my customers are one Windows) but because it forces a platform decision on me which I might regret in a few years.

    It's sad somehow. One of the things that made Delphi so powerful was the tight integration of the Windows API. No need to manually DLLIMPORT functions like in VB or .Net. They were just there available, ready to use. But now this features really shows its downsides in terms of portability as the abstraction provided by Delphi is quite poor (There are hundreds of cases where you HAVE to use the native API because the VCL/RTL can't do it. In .Net however, pretty much everything is covered and there are only few cases left).

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  12. I have witnessed this argument for 20 years and nothing has changed! I am not against Macs, but I can never see using it as my primary machine because I need to write code for a living. I do not see that changing anytime soon. The Mac zealots need to be honest with themselves. The Mac is a closed platform. Apple completly ignored devlopers for more than a decade and is now playing catchup. As I see it any developer for the Mac platform has to compete directly against Apple. The truth is that they are a consumer electronics company, and do not have any infrastructure capabilites. That will have to change before their market share ever grows! I think the other comments here are correct about Delphi for the Mac. Having a vibrant and independent developer community for that latform would change everything. I am tired of not being able to provide solutions for that platform. PLEASE GIVE US A REAL DEVELOPMENT TOOL FOR THAT PLATFORM!

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  13. It's pretty much come to the point where Delphi is the only thing that keeps me working with PC's.

    Everything else I do (php mostly) I can do with Linux or Mac. But I just can't bring myself to let go of Delphi.

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  14. From a Borland ad (1987):
    TURBO PASCAL / MACINTOSH
    Borland's Macintosh version of Turbo Pascal is so incredibly fast that it can compile 1,420 lines of source code in the 7.1 seconds it took you to read this!

    [...]

    Suggested Retail Price: $99.95
    (not copy protected)

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  15. Another vote from me, please give us Delphi for OSX

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  16. +1 for Delphi for OS X

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  17. Delphi on Mac would be cool, but in all honesty I've started no new application in Delphi for over 4 years - and I've been a fanboy since Delphi 1 replace TurboPascal 7. I've several legasy application in Delphi 6, one of which will be ported to Delphi 2008 or whatever later this year (purchased Delphi 2005 but never used it in anger).
    Instead *everything* new I do these days is a web app - which automatically gives me total cross-platform compatibility. Increasingly for most people the platform doesn't matter.

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  18. That's great that you got a Mac!

    Your wife will be using software that I've written. Specific Leopard things that I wrote: icon view in the open/save panels, table view stuff, and other things behind the scenes. If you have any questions about the OS, email me! I can answer them, and i know what it is like to switch.

    Let me know when you pick up an iPhone; I wrote some stuff there too.

    corbin

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  19. To correct other people's misconceptions:

    Bart Roozendaal -- the use of a mouse has nearly been eliminated with full keyboard access. You can do everything with the keyboard that you could do with the mouse, and more. You need Tiger or Leopard (Panther wasn't so great, and maybe that is what you are basing your opinion on).

    Daniel Fields - Um, there is a huge and vibrant independent development community for the mac. It is big business, even for small indy shops. Take delicious monster for example. Create a good product, and you can make good money.

    RE: Delphi for the Mac. If you want to program on the Mac the way to do it is obj-c and Interface Builder. It isn't quite Delphi like, but hopefully that will be solved at some point. I miss a lot of delphi features, but as an insider, I can push for things. Delphi for the Mac would only be successful if it used AppKit. obj-c is a fairly loose language, and it would be possible to bridge Objective Pascal to it. It has already been done for other languages (java, ruby, python, etc).

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  20. Laught my ass of your article! :) Can wait for you to test delphi ported applications on OSX and write an article about it.

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  21. I had similar experience. I feel very good working with Leopard, although there are definitely some things I find more comfortable when using Vista. If you take down all the hype, the Mac has the pros and cons of any product.

    The most important issue in all of this is that the developing tools are a nightmare, and this leads to the following specific need:
    *Delphi for Mac – you can do it! It is profitable!

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  22. I haven't heard anything good about Vista yet from end users. Developers may hate them, but users love Macs. I don't really care either way. I use PC but only out of necessity, and because MS's monkey see monkey do, monkey has a lot more disposable cash, has bought the market. You marry PC, you have a wild passionate affair with Mac. A plague on both their houses. Whatever.

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  23. Fabio NascimentoJuly 24, 2008 at 3:56 AM

    Passion. This is what come to my mind when I think in this years that I have been using the Borland/Inprise/Borland/Code Gear solutions. This is what come to my mind when i think in my (recent acquisition) Macbook. Every detail is there for a reason, simple, functional. This sentence is valid for both (Code Gear & Apple) products. They need coexist in the same universe.

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