August 21, 2005

Three Reasons (At Least) Why Mac Users Need to Cool the Smugness and Condescension

Filed under: Business Moves,General,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:46 pm

Note: This post is also useful for Windows users who feel the need to keep overbearing Mac users in their place.
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As a 20-year Macintosh user going back to when the machines didn’t even have hard drives, I confess to being a big fan of Apple and the Mac OS.

I also confess to being a nearly-insufferable Mac evangelist (some would say “delete ‘nearly’”) until about seven years ago, when, as a result of Windows 98, the differences between Windows and the Mac as a platform for the average user became so small that they didn’t matter. Those differences remain small, despite the exceptionally cool advances in the Mac OS through Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger.

I still believe that advanced users can get a lot more work done on a Mac, and much more elegantly, but I’m not going to push the issue. The reality of Apple’s 3%-at-best market share and the need to stay on speaking terms with clients and business associates serve as useful reins on my enthusiasm.

Also cooling my ardor for the Mac is the remarkable air of condescension still present in “the Mac community,” which is pretty amazing considering Apple’s puny market share. I believe that the attitudes of too many current Mac users prevent a lot of those who might consider ditching Windows from doing so, simply because they don’t want to be seen as joining what has almost become a cult (some would say “delete ‘almost’”).

So, in the interest of knocking Mac users down a peg or two, I offer three reasons, based on news of the past week or so, that we in “the Mac community” should cool it on the arrogance. At the same time, I’ll knock down three myths about the Mac and its users (bolds are mine in all three reasons).

REASON 1–Exploding the myth that Mac users are so much more civilized than the rabble who use PCs:

Seventeen injured during used laptop sale

RICHMOND, Va. — A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede Tuesday, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.

“This is total, total chaos,” said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.

An estimated 5,500 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks, which retail for between $999 and $1,299. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents.

Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some already had been waiting since 1 a.m. When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene.

People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Don’t try to tell me these were all Windows users trying to reach Mac nirvana. As a side note, the school district has gotten some grief over the supposedly too-low $50 price tag (as if that excuses the behavior of the hooligans), but this quick look at Ebay indicates that the price was reasonable. CORRECTED — I was looking at memory prices; G3 iBooks are selling for $200 and up. I apologize for missing that. The district did underprice the machines, causing the district’s taxpayers to miss out on $15,000 of additional revenue, but of course that doesn’t excuse the disgraceful behavior.

REASON 2–Busting the legend that the Mac OS is soooooo secure:

Safari Flaws Fixed in Monster Mac OS X Update

August 16, 2005–Apple has shipped a monster security patch for Mac OS X to fix 34 flaws in the operating system and bundled third-party utilities.

The 17MB security update, available through Software Update and Apple Downloads, corrects a wide range of flaws in Mac OS X 10.3.9 (client and server).

Security alerts aggregator Secunia Inc. rated the update as “highly critical” and warned that Mac users are at risk of security bypass, cross-site scripting, data manipulation, data leakage, privilege escalation, denial-of-service and system access attacks.

The update includes two fixes for bugs in the default Safari Web browser that could allow phishing attacks.

The article’s full recitation of flaws is shocking. If this level of vulnerability had been exposed in Windows all at once, you’d hear about almost nothing else in the computer world for the next week. Mac users are fortunate that there aren’t enough of us (yet?) for the bad guys of the world to care about going after us. It’s the lack of market share that protects us; it certainly is NOT the Mac OS itself.

REASON 3–Exposing the misguided belief that OS 10.4 Tiger is as near-perfect as an OS can be, and the fantasy that Apple’s techie geniuses are really on top of things.

First, an embarrassing patch of a patch (bolds are mine):

Apple Computer Inc. had to hurriedly issue an update Wednesday to fix a Mac OS X 10.4.2 security patch that prevented the operating system from running 64-bit applications.

… Both versions of the update address multiple performance and security issues and roll in many previous system updates.

“We have issued a new version of the 2005-07 security update, which resolves an issue affecting 64 bit applications,” an Apple spokesperson said.

The problem occurred because the first version of the security update included only a 32-bit version of a crucial system component, LibSystem, according to an Apple technical note. The latest update includes both a 32- and 64-bit version.

The incompatibility was first reported by Wolfram Research Inc., the makers of Mathematica, a visual computational tool.

As a result of the flaw in the security update, the 64-bit Mathematica 5.2 software would not run on any hardware based on the G5 processor that has Version 1.0 of the update installed on it, according to Wolfram.

Oops.

Second, a badly needed patch that hasn’t come out yet, and won’t for at least a while:

Although two updates to Apple Computer Inc.’s Mac OS X Tiger have fixed many compatibility problems, enterprise networking problems persist. A new update, version 10.4.3, is expected this summer, and will address some of the remaining problems, according to sources. (Ed. note: “This summer” very likely means “September 21 at 11:59 p.m.”)

Sources say that the update will fix continuing problems with integration with Microsoft Corp. Activity Directory, SMB file sharing and lower-level networking issues.

…. VPN (virtual private network) connectivity, including connecting to Cisco Systems Inc.’s concentrators, is one of the more persistent problem areas. Most VPN clients that worked under previous versions of Mac OS X were incompatible with Tiger 10.4.0. Apple’s 10.4.1 update fixed a kernel bug, enabling some VPN client developers to release Tiger-compatible versions.

Cisco has released two post-Tiger versions of its Mac OS X VPN client, but some problems have persisted.

It’s not a good idea to tick off the corporate users who represent the best hope for greater market share, but that’s exactly what the tech wizards at Apple have done with their dithering.
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So, chill out, Mac fans, we’ve got a great machine and a great OS. But it’s not the crowning achievement of Western civilization (nor is the iPod–zheesh). Having a Mac is no reason to feel superior to those dumber than a box of rocks Windoze Windows users.
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See the next post below if you need reassurance that I’m not a total grouch about the Mac and its users.

An Interesting Experiment (Maybe): A High School without Textbooks

Filed under: Business Moves,General,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:40 pm

Now, lest Mac fans, based on this post, think that I’m not up on the good news in MacLand:

Ariz. high school trades books for laptops

VAIL, Ariz. — Students at Empire High School here started class this year with no textbooks — but it wasn’t because of a funding crisis. Instead, the school issued iBooks — laptop computers by Apple Computer Inc. — to each of its 340 students, becoming one of the first U.S. public schools to shun printed textbooks.

School officials believe the electronic materials will get students more engaged in learning. Empire High, which opened for the first time this year, was designed specifically to have a textbook-free environment.

“We’ve always been pretty aggressive in use of technology and we have a history of taking risks,” said Calvin Baker, superintendent of the Vail Unified School District, which has 7,000 students outside of Tucson.

Schools typically overlay computers onto their instruction “like frosting on the cake,” Baker said. “We decided that the real opportunity was to make the laptops the key ingredient of the cake. … to truly change the way that schools operated.”

Backpack makers are not pleased, unless they also happen to make laptop cases.

The idea sounds cool, but I’ll withdraw my support if I find out that the kids aren’t reading Dickens, Shakespeare, or the Greek classics on their computers.