Apple Won The First Time, And It's Already Over For X Versus XP

We are witnessing a new skirmish, Mac OS X versus Microsoft XP. I haven't used either; I couldn't tell OS X from XP on a bet. Still, it is seemingly reminiscent of the Mac OS versus DOS battle that happened a few years back. You remember: computers were just computers, and about 25 people actually had one. Then IBM got into the fray and Apple introduced the Mac. The stock price doesn't reflect it, most people won't admit it, but if you slow down for a moment you'll realize Apple beat the crap out of everyone else. Some might call a statement like that sacrilege; others might call it crazy talk. Still the point remains that nearly everyone uses a GUI interface. While Apple didn't win the war for dollars, it won the war for users. The point being that everyone out there is using some, at least superficial, version of Mac OS.

I can remember the early days of the tete a tete. DOS users would spout off endlessly about how much control they had over their systems. The computer did whatever some cryptic commanded, and it did it without warning. Del *.* was just as innocuous as c/:setup.exe as far as DOS was concerned. DOS users would make fun of Mac folks, telling us how we didn't really "know" about computers. They'd giggle and laugh at the Mac brethren, seeing the Mac user as some computing toddler. Then, predictably, they all lined up around the block for Windows 3.1. So, while they were making fun of us they were really saying "I'm too cheap to buy a Mac; I'd rather pony up 150 beans for a crappy Mac wannabe." And it was thusly that the operating system pioneered by Xerox and made usable by Apple became the defacto standard for computer users everywhere.

Once DOS died (or, more accurately, was successfully hidden from view) the argument about computing superiority went from the level of knowledge needed to run the computer to the number of completely worthless programs you could waste $9.99 on and the MHz rating of the chip inside. I guess Apple lost both of those battles. On the other hand, in the far less chatted up stability battle, I think Macs faired a bit better. I can remember the joy of my office mate when he installed Windows 98, and his Hewlett Packard would only crash three or four times a day. The new-found faith in Windows had an immediate impact on my two-button mouse-using friend. No, his productivity didn't soar, but he was able to change the auto backup feature on his main programs from every five minutes to every ten minutes. Holy cats, what a horrible tangent. Allow me to sum up: Windows sucks.

Back to the point: The way of navigating around a computer (or "interfacing", as we ever-so-cool folks like to say) was won by Apple. Everyone moves a mouse around and clicks on pictures to get stuff done. The keyboard is reserved for more elaborate input, and that kind of input is relegated to programs. So congrats to Apple, but who is going to win the X versus XP battle? It's a no brainer; Microsoft will make the big bucks. But Apple still wins. Because whether you use X or XP you're still hauling a mouse around and clicking on pretty pictures (I understand the new OSes have much prettier pictures) to get the machine to do what you want it to. I am certain there is a better way to interact with a computer, possibly by pitching it off a roof, but the new systems don't really offer much in the way of radical interface options (a dock! wheee!). Some clever computer geek probably has it figured out, sometime soon he, she, or it will put down that jar of paste they've been munching on and it will gain a super small cult following. Then Apple will discover and perfect it. Immediately following some small success by Apple, Microsoft will come along and feed it to the masses. Until then, I declare the king of the OSes to be Apple Computer circa 1990.

Okay, it's been awhile, but let me make the following correction. In a previous column I wrote Photoshop as PhotoShop. Somebody actually read the column and sent me a note pointing out my error. I had originally typed it Photoshop but the spell checker in Micro Soft Word prompted the spelling I used.