On misunderstandings of Apple and 1984

People LOVE to notice new behavior in Apple hardware and software and liken it to an Orwellian future in which Apple is harshly dictating what you may and may not do with your computer. Maybe you have looked at a new Mac machine with less IO than before and cringed, or you saw that documents are auto saved in Lion and you worry that the experience is being dumbed down for you. If so, you failed to grasp just what the Orwellian future of PCs looked like sans Mac.

Apple was referring not only to IBM, but also the notion that the computer was a complex device that used arcane keyboard commands to accomplish things. These early computers required that you have more knowledge about the inner workings of it than you may really perhaps need. To save a file back then, for instance, you needed to know the full name of a file path, and possibly also the names of some commands. But with the GUI, this was no longer needed. You could traverse something that you could recognize as a human and put your file in this sort of metaphysical location. You didn’t need to know the name of a file path.

The concept of auto save is similar here. Truthfully, the computer is very much capable of tracking your changes and saving them off. In fact, it’s less likely to forget about doing it than you are, you easily distracted buffoon! By handling the saving of files for you, you are freed from the burden of thinking about managing your own file and now you can focus more on the task at hand. You are no longer enslaved by the dogma of having to save frequently that you once had. Is some flexibility lost here? Yes, but it’s useless flexibility.

2 responses to “On misunderstandings of Apple and 1984”

  1. Matt says:

    “Yes, but itโ€™s useless flexibility.” That attitude is what prompts the Orwellian comparisons. I’d say you’re probably right in this particular case, but apple’s general attitude of “we know what’s best for you; keep your hands off” is what makes certain people (like me) leery of apple products. Using apple products is living in a walled garden. It’s a very lush and vibrant walled garden, but still a walled garden.

    All that said, I still very much enjoy my iphone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Aaron says:

    People may liken my assertion that the “useless flexibilities” Apple eliminates is good to Stockholm Syndrome, but that doesn’t make these flexibilities any less useless.

    Geeks are quick to panic when Apple simplifies some aspect of OS X. I have witnessed many such panics happening when Apple does it, and have probably done it several times myself over the years, and these simplifications have yet to materialize into any degradation of my experience using OS X. In fact, I still have yet to find an OS that satisfies my geekiness better than OS X. Some may find Apple’s aggressive deprecation of technologies annoying (I used to) but I learned quickly to start only using software made by developers who were invested in the OS X platform and actively maintained their products using the latest technologies (with a big glaring TextMate-shaped hole in that regimen). By pushing developers strongly into a strategy of using only Apple’s latest development frameworks, Apple can add impressive new features to the OS and developers get that new functionality essentially for free. It’s rare to see a feature like fullscreen apps get added seamlessly to Windows in such a way that many existing Windows apps gain the functionality.

    And Apple is smart. They know when they do something strategically wrong and they aren’t afraid to change course. Though I’d like to think they always planned to have native iOS apps, it’s not at all unlikely they were convinced that web apps were the way to go. Today, you can’t imagine iPhone without the ecosystem of apps.

    In any case, the experience isn’t Orwellian. OS X is not some dumbed down OS. Apple has added simplifications that clear up longstanding struggles beginners have had with the OS. The struggle of downloading and installing software is addressed with Mac App Store, actually finding your app to run it is addressed by Launchpad, setting up email accounts is addressed by a popup when you go to Gmail that asks you if you’d like to set up a Mail account. The Library folder is hidden so beginners don’t mess with it but if you know what you’re doing you can make it visible again to use it.

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