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The Cognoscenti Attack

10/17/06 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

Link: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2006/october#sun-15-bodine

Having recently moved to the Macintosh from a long sojurn on Windows after the Amiga imploded, I've been following Mac-related weblogs. Generally I find personal computer blogs a good way of tracking down tip and tricks to make the systems more comfortable to use. Daring Fireball is one of the more interesting and informative Macintosh sites.

Alas, this is where something that I've seen pop up in other fanboi discussion areas crops up. There's an assumption that since you know something, everyone else should, and any implication or demonstration to the contrary is evidence that he's just "A Lousy Person" (TM). I saw it on the Amiga on BBSes and IRC, I saw in on the PC, I see it on Linux support forums, and yup, here it is present in the Mac world too.

The point of ire this time around is a lawyer who, having joined the Mac world with great fanfare a year earlier, is pulling up stakes and writing about his reasons for doing so. Read it here. The original switching piece is here.

In it, the lawyer flames the Macintosh for being unable to perform various functions he needs. It's not written by a technology professional, nor is it in a particularly important publication. It's a person spouting off about a piece of equipment that apparently didn't meet his needs. Looking over the piece, it's evident that what he needed was someone to help him out rather than to get frustrated. Talk to me about trying to maintain and update a Linux system one of these days and you'll get a similar earful. The problem is not that the computer cannot do what's needed, it's just that you don't know how to get it to do it. While discussion and support forums may well have good information, you need to trawl for it. Don't know what it is you're looking for or that you even don't know you don't know it? Good luck. Ask a question that's obvious to other people? Get ready for extremely unfriendly flames. I know this; back in the OS9 days I was trying to get a Mac executable file downloaded on a PC, put onto a floppy and then copied over to a Mac to work. Could I get anyone in the #mac IRC channel to give me a useful answer? Nah, this n00b was out of luck. Now imagine someone who has a weakish computer background attempting something similar and consider the reaction.

So back to the reaction of the Mac community in this case. After referring to the lawyer as "Jackass of the Week", Daring Fireball links to several other sites, each of which has a further takedown of the article. What amazed me was how petty the comments (and indeed the commenters) tended to be.

Certain things were focused on; for example, the lawyer complained about how hard it was to take screenshots and that the "print screen" key didn't work; the commenters made obnoxious comments about how control-shift-3 (or 4) was easy to remember. Both points are (vaguely) true, but seriously, if there's a button on the keyboard labelled "Print Screen", shouldn't it actually do so? I have one here on my Logitech keyboard and it does nothing. Is this Apple's fault? Nope, but it's not mine either; it's Logitech's for not bothering to support it in their Control Center App which is supposed to localize generic hardware to the Mac. It doesn't seem to happen any more under OSX, but for a while the Mac treated both the backspace and delete key as a backspace; rather annoying when you hammer away and watch content to the left (rather than the right) disappear. Ok, not an issue raised by the lawyer...

Another example was a huge amount of verbiage spent on a pretty clear typo by the lawyer where he claimed to have bought it in 2006 rather than the actual 2005.

Some issues are due to the UI -- the complaint about AppleMail supporting only .mac is easy to understand. When setting up the application, it's the default choice. While there's a drop down gadget to select other connection types like POP, SMTP or Exchange there, if you're not familiar with Apple's gadgets, it might not occur to you to look.

When you come from XP, there are many things you expect. Keyboard shortcuts are inconsistent. If you're a switcher, you're probably using a USB keyboard brought over from your old PC as you like it. I mentioned the print screen issue above, but there's also the issue of HOME and END going to the top or bottom of the edit window rather than the end of the line (command-left arrow and command-right arrow by the way), or the insert point not moving with the screen (even within Firefox, it behaves differently between operating systems -- it moves with the visible area under XP and stays put under OSX.) These are not flaws with either operating system, but the inconsistency does not make for a comfortable time.

The lawyer raises some serious issues such as the problems with cross-compatibility of Microsoft Office documents between XP and OSX. This isn't new and they're very much there. Until Microsoft, after all responsible for both suites, resolves them, the sheer gravity of the WinTel world will shift compatibility responsibility to the smaller parties. In this case, that would be the Macintosh. The good news here is that the MacBU at Microsoft actually look like they want to make things work. Too late for the lawyer though.

Some of his complaints do leave me flummoxed. The lawyer complained about Flash being unsupported and Safari being substandard with Firefox being no better. I'm using an Intel Mac and when I bought it, there was definitely an issue with the PPC version of Flash not working correctly through Rosetta, in addition to being awkward to install. I can only imagine that he didn't get over the first hurdle. However, since the Windows version of Flash behaves similarly under Firefox I'm uncertain as to what the problem was here. Firefox on both platforms works extremely similarly (and competently) while Safari has never given me much trouble the few times I've used it. I have seen issues with webpages being so IE focused that nothing else displays them as intended; perhaps that was the problem. Worth flaming though? Not really.

The only item that left me quite unsympathetic was the overreaction to the harddrive failing. It's a computer. They fail. How the Mac reports that is perhaps an issue; I'm familiar with the traditional PC BIOS approach(es) which can be quite mystifying. I don't know what the Mac approach is, but I suspect it involves an unhappy face at some point.

The article is indeed filled with errors and, given the rationale, it does have a strong anti-Macintosh tilt but surely this kind of return attack is utterly pointless. Unlike previous DB-led crusades, such as the one against the two security analysts who claimed to be able to hack any Macintosh remotely over a wireless connection and then didn't support it, this one has no lasting value to the Mac world. I just don't understand the utter fixation and umbrage one obscure article appears to have generated. Instead of using this as an opportunity to analyse why the writer reacted so strongly -- and he's provided a lot of data points -- the reaction was to savage him.

Seriously, this reminds me so much of the Comic Book Store Guy in the Simpsons, it's not actually funny. Worse still, it reminds me of comp.sys.amiga.advocacy.


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