Competition is good….makes choosing even more difficult

I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I am a Mac fanboy but since moving over to ’the dark side’  the circumstances led me to the Apple ecosystem has changed considerably. Lenovo now owns the former laptop, desktop, workstation and x86 servers of IBM that are targeting both the consumer and corporate space with Microsoft having Lenovo as its major partner when it comes to its entry into China. Sony has sold off its Vaio division after years of loses and the parent company after having a massive loss decided that fighting a losing battle wasn’t a good way to spend the limited funds they had. HP has split into two businesses which has made things interesting and Dell has gone private which has allowed them not to worry about the quarter to quarter reports and the result has been some pretty good products being launched, improvements to their website to make supporting ones own hardware that much easier and the quality of the before and after sales support has greatly improved once they no longer had to worry about the vultures of Wall Street.

Having sold off my iMac and MacBook Pro to upgrade my laptop to the mid-2014 MacBook Pro I’m in search of a desktop with the iMac 5K being an option once refreshed there is always the option of giving the Microsoft ecosystem a second chance. Windows 10 and the screenshots I’ve seen appears that Microsoft is finally putting the care attention required but even in that fit of optimism I see the same the same sloppiness that seems to come through in every Microsoft product. Just when you think that maybe Microsoft understands that ‘fit and finish’ need to be not just something that occurs to a product but actually part of the product’s development you see once again the half assed half baked Microsoft side come out during the beta development cycle.

Where does this cynicism come from? One example would be the misaligning of window controls that, you’d think, would be uniform across all applications given that such an aspect of an applications is provided by the window manager meaning that there should be uniformity across all applications rather than it being different on a per-application basis. I was excited with the new settings application would finally fully replace the Control Panel only to find that Microsoft still hasn’t fully retired and not mention that they have any intention other than maintaining the half assed straddling of both worlds. Then there is the issue of the icons and even at this stage the icons are coming off as half baked and disjointed without a consistent over riding theme that makes the icon set coherent and fit together as part of the over all interface design. To be honest I’m sceptical about whether Microsoft is going to take that extra step and finish off what they started.

Putting that aside it is also important to recognise that OS X has its own flaws – the programmers who developed iTunes seem to suffer from a ‘we’re the van guard’ mentality of being out of step with the rest of the operating system, the lack of refinement over the last several releases, the lack of drive to optimise the video card drivers beyond some basic OpenGL performance and able to display the desktop not to mention the laundry list of gripes that developers have regarding using Apple’s OpenGL library when it comes to performance and bugs that require extensive time spent on work arounds, the list of bugs within the various frameworks that get the Firefox developers pulling their head out when compared to how willing Microsoft are when it comes to developing Direct2D/DirectWrite and working with Firefox developers to fix up flaws in the framework to make the developers life easier. Then there is the lack of work on the low level parts of the operating system such as the venerable but long in the tooth HFS+, the seemingly lack of optimisation of low level parts, the throwing out of already mature code in favour of new code that put the user base through months of ‘pain’ but seemingly very little gain.

Windows has its issues and OS X has its own issues but the question is whether the benefit of the Wintel world with its weaknesses outweigh the benefits of OS X.  The benefits of OS X and purchasing a Mac is the idea that you get everything from the one company, the hardware and the software meaning the experience should be the most coherent – the buck stops with Apple and there should be fewer chances of things going pear shaped when it comes to incompatibilities. In the Wintel world the benefit you get is a single operating system but the flexibility of having different product offerings – from intensive gaming machines to ultra portables and everything in between – maximum choice and flexibility but for years the fragmentation made the experience less than desirable. Iffy reliability when it came to waking up/putting to sleep ones computer, questionable long terms support when it came to things like ACPI driver support long term, hardware vendors falling off the map such as when I purchased a Dell computer only to find that the sound card vendor went bankrupt 6 months after purchasing the computer leaving me high and dry with no stable drivers. Unfortunately even with all the consolidation the experience isn’t all that good – sure, the number of vendors have shrunk, the number of variations and permutations has reduced but there is still the issues.

Having sat back and looked at both sides of the picture I don’t see myself leaving the Mac platform but the gap between the two platforms is closing – competition is good and hopefully it’ll put a greater focus by Apple on tidying up OS X, refining the operating system and remembering that what enabled them to survive in the first place was the revival of the Mac which help fund the iPad, the iPhone and so on. The big question when it comes to the desktop is whether I go for an iMac, iMac 5K or a Mac Pro – each have their benefits but hopefully we’ll see a refresh soon for the iMac and when WWDC 2015 more exciting stuff will be revealed.

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