Attack of the Macs

September 30, 2009 in #teen rants #university #apple #linux #mac #osx #blog

I’m sure you’ve seen the numerous blog-posts dotted around the net about the fact most university students these days seem to have a Macbook of some description (I can testify for instance that in my flat 3 out of the 7 students own one), and in that respect this is no different.

What this article is about however are my concerns about this situation. Macbooks are costly to upgrade  (meaning they’re not overly future-proof) and most of the people I’ve met with Macbooks haven’t the faintest idea how to use them. The usual situation is that they’ve been bought one by their parents and have no idea what to do with it (and were stunned to discover that OpenOffice.org is a cheaper alternative to Microsoft Office for Macs!).

Perhaps it’s just jealousy (or the fact I’m writing this at 5:30 in the morning because I can’t sleep!), but this is a prime example that Apple’s reputation for reliability, security and good-looks clearly over-ride the clear concept that OS X isn’t Windows (‘bootcamp’ and ‘Parallels Desktop’ mean nothing to these people!). I’m not saying the OS X interface is counter-intuitive (because it isn’t!), but this has already lead to a whole host of problems which the on hand IT technician (i.e. me!) has had to try to solve.

To give you an example, one of my flat mates had purchased a new Epson printer (the box and CD claimed compatibility with OS X, though she hadn’t asked Staples staff specifically whether it would work or not). After trying to install using the CD and downloading a driver off the net (it was a team effort as the machine was setup in Spanish so the flat mate in question needed to be on-hand as a translator!) the printer was still behaving oddly – it dragged paper down, reversed it back up, then printed the page in a very blotchy way (and yes, I’ve checked various forums and tried their solutions to no avail!).

In the end the simplest solution was to burn a copy of Ubuntu and leave it in the drive. All her files are online, so all she has to do is press and hold ‘C’ during boot to boot from CD, then just use the live Linux distro to download the relevant document and print a perfect page (the Linux driver is well supported for this particular model!). It would have been great to have had access to her native HFS+ partition, but the Linux kernel developers in their infinite wisdom have removed the driver from the mainline kernel (it is possible to recover, but it’s long-winded and involves recompiling the kernel/respinning the Ubuntu live CD which I have neither the time or patience to deal with!).

A further issue another flatmate had was trying to set up iMail and iCal to use his Google account. The instructions Google provided were for an earlier version, so after plenty of trial-and-error things did eventually work. Also, Aperture recognized his photos perfectly when shot and saved as a jpeg image on his card reader, but the moment he tried to view raw files the application crashed with no explanation at all (simply a cryptic message about being unable to view the file system on the SD Card).

But this article isn’t here to slag off macbooks in a fit of jealousy as there is a point to all this! In my opinion, if Apple is going to be affecting this much of a population and wants to gain market share with students (who, let’s face it, are going to be earning the kind of income to buy a mac once they graduate) they need to make life as easy as humanly possible to avoid alienating their market. I can already see the looks of frustration of my sample of 3 students and it reminds me a lot of the same look my parents give when they try to use my Ubuntu machine. It isn’t Windows, and they don’t like it because Microsoft has gained such dominance that it is seen as ‘the’ way to do everything, and it is this kind of thing that prevents further adoption of Linux and OS X.

But it shouldn’t have to be this way! With the printer problem, even Windows 7 will automatically locate the relevant driver for most printer models (Linux does this for most cases, unless you’re using a Lexmark!). This would be a major boost to an otherwise seamless experience with OS X. Aperture (or OS X itself) could give a much friendlier response to the fact it can’t cope with RAW files (Ubuntu has it’s ’100 papercuts’ project addressing similar usability issues). Simple little things could make the experience so much better!

Anyway, rant over. I’ll get back to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing as a student… coding a project in Visual Studio while supping on Ubuntu cola (Linux has to be in there somewhere!) joining my ‘unfortunate’  house mates  who are drowning their sorrows after tearing clumps of hair out getting OS X to do things their old Windows machine used to without so much fuss…

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