Withdrawal Syndrome

Ceremonial tea whiskAlthough I have my personal opinion, the effort of ranking things like Ubuntu Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X from ‘better to worse’ is clearly Lilliputian. Therefore I shall abstain.

But I’ll report that I was recently given a Windows 8 laptop, and an Android ‘Jelly Bean’ tablet. Much to my embarrassment, I am finding both barely operatable.

Whilst I’ve been under the pain and delight of OS X and iOS, Windows went through several transformations, and is now barely recognizable from the last time we’ve met (XP, if you believe). Meanwhile, Android is for me completely new (I went directly from Simbian to iOS) and equally alien.

As a wide-eyed Computer Science student, I was put off by the design philosophy of OS X and iOS : the ‘my way or the highway’ appearance, the monastic simplicity, the detachment between ends and means achieved through an extreme cloaking of the mechanisms. The system reeked of coercion and… insincerity.

Now, as an overworked Engineering professor, the same dreaded features became desirable. I no longer want to choose one from 50 color schemes for my window manager, or worse, design my own color scheme. I want, out of the box, one beautiful color scheme that works. I know : it is kinda sad, and totally against the hacker ethos. But nowadays, the investment of the scarce time I have for hacking is decided very judiciously.

Once upon a time, the Rube Goldberg design of Windows and Android would make my delight for weeks — no checkmark would go unexplored, no deep dialog box would remain unopened. It was a given that I would have to reinstall the system from scratch a few times, for I would “customize” (i.e., torture) it to the point of hopelessness.

I wouldn’t mind the updates. I wouldn’t mind the nagging confirmations. I wouldn’t mind having to reinstall the system from scratch to get rid of all ‘free !’ useless/noxious third-party bundled software. I wouldn’t mind the inconsistent GUI design. I wouldn’t mind that the system, fresh out of the box, would let a driver do a “fatal exception”, or an essential application “execute an illegal operation” — either demanding hours of troubleshooting.

All that mattered was that once everything was sorted out — days or weeks later — I would get a system customized and optimized to my exacting tastes. A system that kept no secrets from me. A system of my own.

Magic BulletNowadays, I want to easily unwrap a beautiful package — at each step feeling that my gestures follow a rhythm etched in the very fabric of the continuum — and have the hardware satisfyingly fall in the void of my hands, heavily filling the negative space between my fingers, caressing my skin with the touch of finely crafted rich materials. The software comes alive with a barely conscious command. A few discrete questions and the device and I are one, its assimilation into my collective accomplished, my diffusion into its anatomy complete and unnoticed.

For this privilege, I am willing to go as far (the horror !) as actually buying an Apple product.

There must be a 12-steps program for that.

EDIT 17/01 : I was complaining about my Windows 8 experience on twitter, and this dialog happened. I have to recognize they are charming.

2 thoughts on “Withdrawal Syndrome

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I have found myself exactly in your situation.

    At the end of the day I believe that there will never be exactly such a thing like the ideal device out of the box. After all, a system that is supposed to used from the Galapagos to the New Zealand, and from the North to the South Pole, can’t fit every bill, out of the box. And I learnt to get along with it, hence, forecast a “shape it my way” time for whatever device I use.

    Not to mention the fact that nearly any OS, if plugged right out of the box, in any corporate network will knock it down in minutes, and/or will start broadcasting UDP packages to the entire NSA World…

    Apple indeed, especially with the iOS, tried to rid of this “shaping” time, and that’s probably the reason why I get an allergic rash each time I need to deal with an iOS device, never the less, it does make business sense. Not only for Apple’s revenues – that’s obvious – but from the ICT provisioning of a corporation.

    What you describe is what most attracts top level executives in iOS devices. And that’s the main reason why Apple broke into the corporate market being distinctively a consumer brand. Initially also the looks helped, after all top level execs where quite happy to switch from anonymously looking matte plastic bricks, to shiny rounded apples on their hears.

    Pity that Apple didn’t fully grasp the chance… and instead of pushing its Office suite, or spending a few bucks of its over USD 100B cash onto integrating its subsidiary FileMaker Inc. seriously into the suite itself to create a serious alternative to the MS Office+Access due, decided to rewrite (not patch) the whole thing in order to fit Peppa Pig’s business needs, where, in the cartoons world, there’s no need for any serious reporting, charting or ERP/DBMS integration… after all Thomas the steam engine wouldn’t bother.

    Despite the fact that basically, there after, all that Apple did was alternating rounded to sharp edges every other year, ridding of that “overhead” does have business sense. No matter what.

    Ah given the occasion, Happy 2013s! Oops, 2014, I meant…

    • Thank you for this detailed commentary — for me the inner workings of the industry seem inscrutable : patent wars, planned obsolescence, vendor lock-in, surreptitious data collections, irresponsible security… if I were less charitable, I could suggest they are working against us, instead of with us.

      Happy 2014 !

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