January 06, 2013

Virtual Lazarus

As I told Bill in a recent email, my absence for the last couple of months probably had him believing I'd finally bought the farm. But my death - and with this post - my resurrection has taken place only in this weird virtual world we all increasingly inhabit. In what we call the "real world" (by many seemingly disdainfully) I'm still plugging along with age and disease my constant companions. (My brother says I'm too ornery to die any time soon.) Naw, what actually happened was that, along about Thanksgiving, my beloved 9-year-old Mirrored Drive Door Mac, which was the vehicle that permitted my existence in this virtual world, finally began succumbing to the constant heat it generated and refused to reliably do my bidding any longer.

You must understand that I've been a committed, exclusive Macintosh user since 1990. At the time, I was a DOS-head, just like nearly all PC users, struggling along with the command line. But I took a job as a church secretary, and the pastor had just installed a little 2-machine Mac Classic network for the church - one for him and one for the office, each with its little 9-inch screen, 2 MB RAM, and 40 MB hard drive - so I had little choice but to learn how to use a Mac. Realize that Windows 3.1, the first even remotely usable version of a Graphical User Interface for the PC (as opposed to the Mac, which has always had a GUI, and from whom Bill Gates  shamelessly copied the idea), had just then been released and had not yet taken the PC world by storm. I'd never used it myself, so a GUI was a whole new beast for me. It took about a month to really learn the operating system, but I've never looked back from then until now.

You most likely already know that Apple computers have always been more expensive, often much more so, than PCs. I've owned a number of Macs over the years, but, being a poor person, I've always bought them used - even my latest, the MDD. For a long time, that higher cost was more or less justifiable, because the hardware was indeed better than PC hardware. But somewhere in the late '90s, along about the time that Apple was licensing its operating system, that began to change. (In fact, that's why, when Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he pulled the plug on OS licensing: People like Power Computing, and others, were eating Apple's hardware lunch.) And that's especially been the case since Apple switched from PowerPC CPUs to Intel CPUs. Since that happened, there has arisen a dedicated bunch of hackers who've found ways to run the OSX operating system on off-the-shelf PC hardware, which is cheaper (for equivalent capabilities) than Apple hardware by a factor of 3.

Now I'd known for about a year that I was going to have to replace my MDD with something newer. I considered my options: I could buy a stripped-down, used Mac Pro, the original Intel model released in 2006, for about $700, or I could invest another $100 and buy all-new, latest-generation PC hardware - case, power supply, and all - which would have about 3 times the capability as the Mac Pro. For me, it was no contest. Only problem: $800 is more than I get a month from Social Security, so the only way I could do it was like Johnny Cash did, "one piece at a time." I was about halfway there when the MDD went south on me, and it sent me into a depression, looking at 3-4 months of living without a functional computer. But a dear friend, seeing the funk I was in, kindly and generously offered to front me the money to complete my project, which I immediately and shamelessly accepted.

Be advised, those of you who might be considering something similar (yeah, I know, there might be one or two), it's not like inserting the Install Disc and be up and running in half an hour. There's a lot of hoops you gotta jump through, and in precisely the right order, to get it to work. I'm not a hard-core geek, though I've done some hacking and I can get around hardware and software pretty well (though not so much the software any more). Still, it took me about 10 days of installing and reinstalling to finally get it right. Extreme patience and attention to detail are what's absolutely required. Anyhow, my new Hackintosh has been running stably and reliably for over a week now, so I think (knock on wood) that I'm over the hump now.

A final note: For me, this whole thing has been about the operating system, not so much the hardware. I've used, out of necessity and on other people's computers, Windows 95, 98, and XP Pro, and I'm utterly convinced that even earlier versions of the Mac OS, never mind OSX, are way ahead of anything Microsoft has on offer. I've never understood, despite much pondering, why Apple has never sold a version of its operating system that would run on stock PC hardware. Especially today, when Apple hardware that runs on the MacOS (not iOS, which runs on all its mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad) represents only 3% of its total revenue. They're trying to protect that? What the hell for? If they sold the MacOS for, like, $119, in about 6 months Microsoft would be history, a minor player, and Apple would own the OS market in the same way Windows does now. And they could have done it at any time in the last 25 years. One of the stupidest decisions in the world of profit-making that I've ever seen.

The upshot is that I'll always be a Mac operating system user, come what may. Winders, as I call it, is about 15 years behind, and will never catch up. But I've totally given up on Apple hardware, with its absurd pricing, and, frankly, inferior technical capabilities. Even at that, I'm only running the last version of OSX 10.6, Snow Leopard, which is now two generations behind 10.7, Lion, and 10.8, Mountain Lion, though I could install either. Neither offer me anything, and in fact, break most of my application software, which I have no intention of replacing for the sake of being "up to date." Apple Inc. (notably not Apple Computers Inc. any more), with their iDoodad product line, can rot inside their walled garden.

Sorry to ramble on and on so long with this post, but it's been my world for the last 2 months, and I needed to get it off my chest as a sort of catharsis or epitaph or whatever. I've got a mountain of backlogged work in front of me, which is going to consume most of my time, but I'm going to try to put in a screed here every now and then, just to keep my hand in. Thanks for your indulgence.

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