Thinking about Windows

Dave Winer is putting Frontier on Windows and taking it commercial. I'm glad for him, since it'll probably make him more money, but it got me thinking about why I don't use Windows, when he seems so happy about moving his software to it.

For me, Windows is right out. I think of computers as tools, and Windows is like the "bargain" tools that you find on clearance at the auto-parts store. Fine for a one-shot, but not something I want to use every day. When I drove school-bus earlier in my life, the mechanics who fixed the buses didn't use bargain tools. They bought Snap-On tools. Definite quality.

Quality is a Good Thing. Inferior products break. Inferior tools snap in your hand when you're trying to break loose that rusted-on nut and you mash your knuckles on the exhaust manifold and say things you wouldn't want your mother to hear. Good tools just let you do what you want and ignore them. That's why mechanics spend big money on their tools and take good care of them. They're not particularly interested in the tools themselves, but just want to do their jobs without having to worry about their tools.

Windows is like those "bargain" tools at the parts store. It's the cheapest commercial Operating System (I know about the free OSes, but it's tough to find a PhotoShop for 'em). It runs on the cheapest hardware. It looks like a bargain at first. On the other hand, I end up banging my knuckles a lot when I use Windows. MacOS, while it isn't perfect, is a lot better tool in my hands. I still bang my knuckles once in a while, but it doesn't happen as often, and usually it's because I'm trying to use a screwdriver when I should be using a chisel.

It's also a lot easier to customize the MacOS by patching out a bit. It's like having medium-grade tools, and a machine shop where you can make a new tool if you decide you need something special. Of course, without a good machine shop, making custom tools is harder than making do with shoddy ones. Dave has his machine shop in Frontier, and it's definitely industrial-grade. When something in the OS (either MacOS or Windows) doesn't do the right thing, Dave uses Frontier to build himself the tool he needs. I'm not too gung-ho about building my own tools, but I'll do it once in a while, and the result is useful freeware or shareware. I usually end up using CodeWarrior (to carry my running analogy even farther, using a compiler like CodeWarrior is probably more like having your own forge), but sometimes Frontier is my machine-shop.

I'm also not willing to put up with Windows long enough to learn to make my own tools in that world. It'd be like buying a lathe and a milling machine with the instructions written in Chinese and all the units in barleycorns and furlongs, and it's powered only by yak-dung. It's a big learning curve. I've made it over that learning curve on the Mac. The Mac isn't a Snap-On tool yet (although every time I hear Steve Jobs talk, he convinces me it's going to be, Real Soon Now), but it's pretty good.

And I think I just figured out the point of this whole rant. Computers are tools, and I'd sooner give up the jobs that require those tools than work with shoddy ones. The reason this is important is because of the other thought that's been rattling around in my head while I write this: I'm pretty sure without Apple and the MacOS, I'll be out of the computer business. It's not that I hate Windows, it's just that I don't have a machine shop in that world, and I don't want to build one. I'd sooner keep using the tools I'm comfortable with, and when they wear out, I'll quit doing the jobs that require them. Here's hoping they don't wear out anytime soon.

This was originally written in December of 1997
Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:08:48.