Gadgets – Nerds Vs. Everybody Else: Nerds Lose OR the OS war explained

“Here’s a nickel, kid, go out and buy a real computer.” — Linux user to Dilbert

Here’s something I wear proudly: I’m a PC user AND a Mac user.

I think this makes me something like an Islamic Jew or a Catholic Protestant, depending on where you go on the Internet. But my computer use explains what the real Mac vs. PC war was between, namely nerds and everybody else, and why the nerds ultimately lost.

Here’s the painful truth most people choosing an OS as a religion either don’t realize or are trying desperate not to admit: 99% of users don’t give a shit what OS their computer runs, because as far as they’re concerned, it doesn’t matter.

It’s worth saying that it used to matter. The fight between Apple and Microsoft wasn’t about which OS was better: it was about design philosophy. Apple has a closed architecture: there’s not a lot you can do to customize an Apple computer to this day. Hell, good luck opening the back of an iMac. Microsoft, of course, has open architecture: you can dump whatever useless crap you want onto a PC and provided your hardware can run it and you have the drivers, it’ll run the program. Microsoft won this war, though, by pushing cheap-ass computers to every corner of the freakin’ world. Microsoft itself might eventually lose market share, it may even die, but open architecture won the day. Why Linux nerds are still fighting for it is something best chalked up the nerd’s lack of awareness of his surroundings and decided lack of awareness over how non-nerds use computers.

This is why for day-to-day stuff I use an Asus Eee PC. I didn’t even bother checking what OS it ran (XP, of course) before I bought it, because the tasks I was going to use it for were so incredibly basic. Sure, I could upload Ubuntu onto my netbook…but why bother? Why does it matter? I have no emotional investment in the open source movement except an overwhelming desire to kick anybody who insists “information wants to be free” applies to artistic work in the nuts (why these people are ignorant assholes we’ll get into next week). As for my needs, I use the computer for tasks that literally any computer can do: word-processing, Peggle, porn-browsing, email, stuff like that. The OS I’m running on is fundamentally irrelevant to those tasks, so why not use the stock XP the thing came with?

Computer nerds care, and they care a lot. But the end user doesn’t. The end user NEVER WILL. This is why all that speculation that Microsoft and Apple will eventually fall victim to a world where people build their own computers and download free software programmed by magical unicorns and other fictional entities like the Swedish is hilarious: people don’t want to build their own computers, and they don’t want to download software. They want to buy the computer, plug it in, and have it work. I love books like “In The Beginning Was the Command Line”, but in the end, they assume most computer users give far more of a shit about computers and software than they do, and that what OS is dominant is really, really important, which to most end users it really, really isn’t.

Unless the computer and software has to absolutely work, and work well, the first time, in which case they care a lot. But the nerds lose here, too. Most industries that are computer-reliant have specifications. There’s a certain software you’re using. Sure, it could be cross-platform, but a company is going to go with whatever computer is most reliable and cheapest, which inevitably, and amusingly, turns out to be Windows.

Take the reason I run a Mac. I’m a filmmaker when I’m not working and/or amusing you at various comedy websites, and I need an editing machine that is reliable, stable, and will work consistently every time. This does not describe a PC, running any editing software worth a damn, that costs less than $2500. A friend of mine in grad school just bought a stock Sony computer and Adobe Premiere, and she can’t do a goddamn thing with it because of her video card; odds are pretty good she’ll have to get at the very least a driver upgrade or possibly have to go in, pull the damn video card, and swap in a new one.

Video editing actually has its own little Mac Vs. PC war: Final Cut Pro vs. Avid, with a few competitors like Premiere in the mix. Of course, since all of these do the exact same thing in more or less the exact same way, it really boils down to personal preference. Some people insist Avid is more “professional”, but this is entirely because a full-featured Avid workstation is more expensive. And I can’t afford it anyway, so I run Final Cut Pro. This means I buy and use a Mac. I can’t use anything else, not if I want to run FCS.

So, this is what the computer world has become: a vast sea of users treating most of their computers like a higher-functioning toy, and the rest using their computers for insanely specific uses, neither of which caring about the higher philosophy behind their choices.

Oh well. So, anyway, Kirk or Picard?


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