Last year I bit….

I got a Mac.

The iPod wasn’t the gateway drug for me. I was buying a new computer and wanted a high end laptop to run big nasty software I need for my research on the go. A friend suggested I get a 17″ MacBook Pro. I’d been rather hesitant about Apple for a while due to things they’d been doing back in the Steve Jobs interregnum, but my friend—who knows and cares a lot more about such things than I do—was persuasive, so I figured I’d spent grant money as he said. Costing it out it wasn’t a bad deal. Apples may be expensive, but feature for feature they are competitive on price. The difference is that Apple simply doesn’t sell the low end (under $1000), but I wasn’t looking for anything like that.

I’ve long disliked Windows and I’m sure I’m not alone. Does anyone really like Windows? There are some nice things about it, but its countless irritation factors rapidly overwhelm what good feelings one might have had. However, I am stuck needing Windows because there is a lot of software I need that exists only on Windows, kind of an inverse of what kept the Mac platform alive during the 1990s, when multimedia people needed to run things like Video Toaster and the only really good platform for it was Mac. In my case this is scientific and statistical analysis software. Numerical integration, nonlinear optimization, 3D graphics, big data files, etc., all really like a powerful machine, for exactly the same reasons multimedia machines do: Floating point calculation and big data files. Unlike multimedia, most of these programs are written for Windows. Now that the market is trending towards Apple having a much larger share than “pathetic,” particularly at the medium to high end where the miserable failure of Vista has left a gap, the software vendors are starting to trend back too, but it will be a while before I get to run everything I need.

I’m not a classic stereotypical Mac user. Profession aside (hardly diagnostic, believe me), I’m not a Whole Foods shopping, latte-sipping hipster. I listen to music that—while often off the beaten path—is generally twenty or thirty years old. I dislike nouveaux cuisine, have middlebrow taste in movies and TV (favorites: police procedurals, detective shows, historical dramas and nonfiction) and reading (mostly nonfiction or historical novels). In short, I’m pretty skeptical of things bobo. I am, sadly, spiteful enough to be able to understand anti-Obama votes that come from the same basic motive (as opposed to genuine motives, whatever those are), a defiant desire to crank some good old fashioned headbanger rock rather than hear the pathetic wailings of the new wretched indie rocker that none of your friends have heard of quite yet, or a desire to avoid Apple products because of the jackoff Apple-is-my-life advocates on the intarweb.

So what is that I like about the new Apples? The ideal OS to me is very much unlike the Mac-as-lifestyle marketing: In a nutshell, the less I have to acknowledge its existence the happier I am with it. OS/X comes as close as I’ve found in two decades of heavy computer use in which I spent a lot of time on DOS, Windows 3.X, OS/2, Windows NT/2000/XP, and Unix of various flavors, as well as Mac back in the old days, which was obnoxious. Linux isn’t really an option for me—I have to do too much sysadmining, which means I have to know stuff about the OS, ergo be aware of its existence; it also doesn’t easily run the apps I need. For me, Linux is only free if I don’t value my time.

OS/X is not perfect: It has a few annoying quirks and I don’t like Mac keyboard layouts, but otherwise it meets my ideal because, 99% of the time I do absolutely nothing with it but run the apps I want. I may be fighting with them (this means you, Office 2008), but that’s not Apple’s fault. Mostly I don’t think about the OS at all, with the occasional exception when Apple Software Update wants me to type in my admin password or I need to change some setting or another, a task which is similarly refreshingly easy. Unlike Windows Update, Apple Software Update is very much a piece of the rest. It does its thing—after asking permission—and goes away. It’s not an “adventure” and it doesn’t leave its crap on the hard drive like a bunch of sloppy workmen who abandon their take-out wrappers and track mud on your carpet after fixing the bathroom. The Intel Macs were a brilliant idea and are what pushed me over the edge. People like me who have a fair number of Windows-only applications to run can do that with minimal fuss with Parallels or VMWare—and, since Windows in that case is just another program, when virtual Windows blue screens, it just gets killed like any other hung application. Sweet.

The transformation from Disneyland (OS/9) to libertarian paternalism (OS/X) is an amazing shift of philosophy. XP was bad enough but Vista from what I hear has become downright Disneyland totalitarian. That was a bullet that Apple dodged ten years ago when the original design for OS/X, which sounds downright Vista-ish, died under its own weight and Steve Jobs returning as CEO brought OPENSTEP in as a replacement.

A few random points to conclude:

The Apple Stores look like absolute chaos inside, but I will give them this: They are efficient. They may hire body-pierced twentysomethings, but don’t seem to put up with much BS from them.

Oh, in case you’ve not seen it, here’s an updated version of the classic “if your OS was an airline.”

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ObFascismTag: With OS/X I am living in New Hampshire rather than Mussolini’s Italy. 😛