Politically incorrect observations about Mac OS X and Windows

A few minutes ago, I had to hard-reset the TiBook I'm typing on. This happens at least once every week or two. Some of these events have been seemingly random, others I can almost -- but not quite -- reliably reproduce. One happens (very rarely, just once or twice ever) when the machine fails to wake from sleep. The other happens (much more often, but by no means always) when, after switching Wi-Fi networks, I connect to my Windows network. Meanwhile, my workhorse desktop machine running Windows XP has yet to bluescreen.

Of course, this is hardly an apples-to-apples (!) comparison. The TiBook leads an entirely different life than the Windows desktop machine does. It has three personalities -- a Unix core, a Mac face, and a Windows alter ego (Samba, Remote Desktop Connection, VirtualPC). It's on the road a lot, never knowing what network it'll attach to, and is expected to sleep or wake at all hours. And it manages all this more gracefully than any PC notebook I've ever had my hands on.

The truth is the Mac is only having trouble meeting expectations that it itself has raised. I had learned not to expect that a PC notebook would connect to unknown networks, assimilate new devices, and manage battery power in a reliable, predictable, and graceful manner. That the Mac with OS X surprises me by occasionally failing to do these things, rather than by occasionally succeeding, is pretty remarkable.

Still, there's no excuse for instability. I consider myself a resolute non-partisan when it comes to computer platform choices, so I'm compelled to point out that the TiBook/Jaguar combination leaves room for improvement. I expect Panther to be, first and foremost, more stable than Jaguar has been.

I'm also compelled to point out that Windows doesn't suck. Windows 9x does, to be sure, but the NT codebase never did, and doesn't now. If you plunk down $600 for a new PC that comes with Windows XP (Home Edition, even), you are getting an OS that bears little relationship to Windows 9x and shares a huge amount of its DNA with Microsoft's latest and most mature enterprise-class offering, Windows Server 2003. Why don't more people seem to appreciate this fact? To achieve a transition from the 9x codebase to the NT codebase, Microsoft had to downplay the extent of the change, and the reasons for it. To do otherwise would have been to admit, "Well, yes, Windows used to suck, but now it doesn't."

That epochal transition is still underway. The center of gravity of an installed base moves slowly. But it does move, and the old criticisms based on 9x become less valid every day.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/09/03.html#a791