Loving your Mac and losing it: Jonathon Delacour

In the four years I studied chemistry at Sydney University in the late sixties, nothing affected me as profoundly as working in a shipyard during two summer vacations. Employed as a boilermaker’s assistant, I carried the tradesman’s tools, set up the cutting and welding equipment, and did my best to keep out of his way and not make a fool of myself. Five or six days a week for one of those summers, Robert and I joined a team who took a ferry from Balmain to Garden Island and spent the day on the aircraft carrier Melbourne, in dry dock for repair after slicing the Voyager in half.

Overnight I forgot about quantum mechanics and organic reagents, worrying instead about measuring the length of a weld accurately and setting the correct mix of oxygen and acetylene. I’d had to join a union (the Federated Ironworkers of Australia) and was immediately inducted into the mysteries of demarcation disputes, getting into serious trouble for moving a ladder (“Painters and Dockers’ work, son,” explained Robert after defending me from the foreman’s wrath).

“Uni Jon” they called me, with a mixture of affection and derision, their respect for my intellectual achievements tempered with amazement at my ignorance of life’s realities. Robert and I spent one memorable morning chatting while we waited for a painter and docker to deliver a fresh acetylene cylinder. He told me about the great love of his life: a woman a few years older with whom he had been desperately in love. He’d wanted to marry her but she kept putting him off, breaking up with him then returning to resume the relationship, before leaving once more.

Eventually he cut his losses, transferring his attention to another woman, someone he’d known socially for some time. They married and, at the time Robert was telling me this story, had three children. “But what happened to the other woman,” I asked, “the one you really loved?”

“I realised I couldn’t rely on her,” he replied. “She was beautiful, smart, witty, great in bed. I’ve never met anyone like her. But she was always making promises she couldn’t keep. She drove me crazy. I simply wanted to love her and she broke my heart. So I married someone else.”

At 19 I believed absolutely in the grand passion, although I’d never experienced one. I thought that Robert—by following his head rather than his heart—had been unfair: to his capricious lover, to his wife, and to himself. I resolved that I would behave differently if faced with a similar choice.

Needless to say, I was wrong. The choice, as is turned out, was not between two women but it involved a grand passion nonetheless—my more than 10 year love affair with the Macintosh. The relationship began to sour two years ago, when my employer at that time supplied me with a PowerBook 5300. I’d been using my own PowerBooks happily for years but this turned out to be the computer from hell. Over a six month period, the keyboard, LCD screen, modem port, and finally the motherboard were all replaced. My experience was not unique, the 5300 series was the subject of a humiliating recall that cost Apple over 60 million dollars.

About the time I left the company to freelance, I received some money from the AFC to create a web-based hypertext narrative. Included in the budget was an amount for a notebook computer (to be sold at the end of the project with the proceeds returned to the AFC). Instead of a PowerBook, I bought a Toshiba notebook running Windows 95. This meant I could create the text and graphics for the web pages on my Macintosh 8500 desktop machine while checking how the site looked under Windows. I could use the Macintosh as a content creation platform and the Windows machine to check how the project would look to 90 percent of personal computer users. My compact with the devil had begun.

From there it was a gradual slide into hell. I transferred my calendar and contacts database to the PC so that it would always be available. Since I work as a freelance writer and charge for my time, I needed an accounting program that tracked and invoiced by time. QuickBooks Pro was perfect but Intuit, the developers, had just announced that they’d no longer be developing a Macintosh version.

Michael Hill and I had developed a concept for an online chat game and were seeking out potential partners. All the 3D chat spaces had Windows-only client software. My friends, who’d been using Macs for years too, began to switch to Windows. Every application I used on the Macintosh was available for Windows too: Photoshop, Director, Inspiration, Storyspace, DeBabelizer, FileMaker Pro. In every case the Windows version turned out to be as good as or better than the Macintosh original. Worse still, many fine software applications were only available for Windows.

I’d been using Nisus Writer as my word processor for nearly ten years. Nisus Software bet the farm on a new Apple technology called OpenDoc by releasing an OpenDoc compliant version of Nisus Writer. It was disastrously buggy. Not long afterwards, Apple abandoned OpenDoc (and the developers who’d spent millions of dollars building OpenDoc software). I needed a replacement word processor. Microsoft Word on the Macintosh was awful but the PC version turned out to be surprisingly good.

That left the internet, which I was still accessing from the Macintosh. A few months ago I bought the Windows version of Eudora, switched my e-mail to the PC, and the migration was complete.

Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been thinking about writing this piece, an e-mail list (Windows-Newbies) and a web site (MacWindows) have sprung up: the former for Macintosh users making the switch to Windows, the latter for Mac users who want to (or must) use PCs too. Windows-Newbies is fascinating: the people on the list are technically sophisticated Macintosh users struggling to come to terms with how Windows is better, or worse, or simply different. Their humility and openness to new experience is refreshingly different to the Macintosh or Windows fanatics who scream abuse at each other across a gulf of ignorance, incomprehension, and intolerance.

What’s Windows like? It’s OK. Usable. Once you’re inside Photoshop or Director, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Windows is ugly to look at (but you get used to it), its memory management is appalling (I regularly run out of memory although I have 48Mb of physical RAM), it lacks the seamless elegance of the Macintosh OS. I like Windows well enough, it does the job. But I don’t love using it as I loved the Mac.

In years to come, the Macintosh saga will be studied—as one of the great marketing failures of the 20th century—in business schools all over the world. Anyone who has used both knows that a Macintosh is superior to a Windows PC but Apple has never been able to persuasively communicate that difference. As Macintosh hardware sales began to decline, software developers scaled down or abandoned their commitment to the platform, sending hardware sales into an even deeper downward spiral.

I still use my Macintosh 8500, for video capture and to work in Japanese (Apple’s Asian language support remains unsurpassed). I’m sentimental about the Mac: every morning when I log on to the net via the PC, I read my e-mail then immediately check out the Macintouch and MacWEEK web sites to see what’s happening in the Macintosh world. I’m hoping against hope that Steve Jobs will turn Apple around, that Rhapsody will ship, and that—like the prodigal son—I can return to the Macintosh fold. But I’m not holding my breath.

So, you might ask, if the Mac is so much better and I loved it so much, why did I switch to Windows? Well, Robert was right, all those years ago. “Sometimes,” he told me, as we stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the brilliant summer sun, “you have to settle for second best”.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 23

© Jonathon Delacour; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1997