Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm on the verge of recommending that people by Mac laptops

.... solely because the amount of work required for Joe Average to take your average Windows laptop and strip the crapware out is too high.

I use Windows machines reasonably happily some of the time, and generally prefer them to Mac OS X for my own personal use (though I'll be on Linux whenever possible). However, to take your average machine from the state it arrives in to an acceptable state of usable, reliable service often requires:

  • A clean-install of the OS. This increasingly requires finding installation media, because OEMs don't ship Windows install DVDs anymore. Grr. If you can't do this, it's much harder to get rid of the mangled drivers and crapware apps from the machine.
  • Finding and installing *clean* drivers, not the butchered crap many OEMs ship. Frequently one can identify the chipset a part is based on and install the appropriate unmodified driver from Intel, RealTek, nVidia, etc, but sometimes this takes some wrangling. Video card and wireless drivers are notable offenders in this area.
  • Figuring out if any of the garbage the OEM shipped on the machine does anything useful, and installing it from the OEM's updates site (if you can find it). Vendors love to ignore standards on things like power management, building their own wacky interfaces that require their own weird drivers or control apps instead of using the standard platform interfaces like ACPI. Even if they do use the platform interfaces they often mis-implement them, then hack around the damage using replacement drivers in Windows. Grr.
  • Deciding on and installing antivirus software. Most users need it, despite the many downsides. One has to find an antivirus package that doesn't try to replace the perfectly good, reliable Windows firewall with its own crap, doesn't install buggy plugins into the browser, etc and just sticks to plain OS-level AV. Add the requirement that it not slow the machine to a glacial crawl and this can be challenging. I hate AV.
  • Educating the user. No, don't install multiple AV packages at once. Which updates are safe to install when prompted (and in fact vital) and some clues about how to tell the difference between them and scam popups from websites. Not that it'll do any good. Etc.

Windows, and the PC platform, is ugly. But so is Mac OS X and Apple's hardware, honestly. Microsoft's stuff is more backward compatible, has much safer and more reliable updates, and in my experience more stable on good hardware. Apple's stuff is shinier and can be nicer to use, has fewer (but far from no) UI warts, and currently has a lower (but non-zero) rate of malware, malicious apps, etc. OTOH, Apple's stuff is buggy, and much more likely to break with a system update. But Microsoft systems can't be used safely by a normal user without AV software, which is a nightmare.

They both suck. All computers suck. Argh!

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