The cruel irony at work in the apparent disintegration of Apple is that as Mac has won the war of ideas, it has simultaneously lost the contest for financial preeminence to its imitators. “When Windows 3.0 swept the world, so did Apple’s concept of beautiful software,” writes Yale computer scientist David Gelernter in his book Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Computing. “Pushing beauty instead of old-fashioned DOS ugliness, Microsoft emerged as the uncontested leader of the desktop computing world.” Windows now has a 70 percent market share-to Mac’s 7 percent-and is gaining.
In the face of that juggernaut, I told Josh, I felt it was important to keep an open mind. Mac users are frequently derided as zealots whose fiery devotion to the Mac defies all reason. I like to think of myself as fairly level-headed. I’d hate to look back on my life from that porch rocker and realize that I’d wasted fistfuls of money staying true to an increasingly inferior brand. I’d also be ashamed to discover that I had duped myself into ascribing more power to the Mac than it deserved. Maybe much of the magical feeling I have about the Mac is just wonder at the process of writing and the mysteries of creativity and intellectual growth-intangibles for which one is naturally tempted to find a physical totem.
For all these reasons, I resolved to consider Windows seriously. I called a few PC manufacturers and arranged to borrow some “Wintel” machines. I also called up Apple and told them that I was thinking about abandoning the Mac. Would they please cooperate by letting me borrow one of their hot new PowerBooks for a little while? They graciously agreed to assist me in my experiment.
For my preview of Windows 95, Toshiba sent me its Portg 300CT and Fujitsu sent its Lifebook 655T. Both are four-pound notebooks that conveniently dock into CD-ROM/floppy drive units. I also spent some time with Gateway’s P5-133 desktop. And what I found, much to my surprise, was this: Windows 95 is terrific.
Yes, I had my share of peripheral installation trouble and Internet connection trouble. I spent hours on the phone waiting for tech support and hours more actually talking to technicians as they helped me work out this or that kink. On the whole, getting going was somewhat more difficult than it’s ever been with a Mac. But since neither platform is guaranteed to be headache-free, these differences don’t mean much to me. If people want to live truly simple lives, they should avoid buying complex machinery.
Mac friends may toss virtual rotten eggs into my electronic mailbox for saying this, but I found Win95 to be wonderfully intuitive, even for someone who has spent many years getting used to another system. In fact, I was startled to discover that a few Win95 features were clearly superior to their counterparts on the Mac. Using the all-purpose “Start” button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, for instance, I could effortlessly choose almost any function offered by the computer. And all windows can collapse to the bottom of the screen in an orderly fashion, making it easier to juggle lots of documents and programs at once. Even the much-touted Mac OS8 doesn’t provide these seemingly obvious conveniences. (Mac’s answer to window clutter is collapsible windows that suspend the title bars wherever they happened to be in the screen, a laughably useless gimmick.)
And then there’s the guilty pleasure of being in Bill’s corner. The Justice Department may not be too happy about Microsoft’s market dominance, and as a consumer advocate, I’m not necessarily thrilled about it either. But as a plain old consumer, I like the fact that my operating system, word processor, Internet browser, e-mail program, and scheduler are all designed by the same company to work in seamless synchrony. I like my software shopping to be a no-brainer, consisting simply of scouting for the Microsoft logo. I like my software company to be a financial titan, guaranteed to deliver timely upgrades on all my programs as long as I live.
More than anything else, discovering Win95’s ease brings an enormous personal sense of relief. As many of us have entered our second decade of Mac use, we’ve carried with us the deep fear that we are headed for oblivion, like romantic adventurers who find themselves driving off a cliff. Having sampled Windows 95 for myself, I now realize that Apple could crumble tomorrow and I would come out all right. David Gelernter is correct: the essence of Mac has swept the world. The war of ideas is over, and we’re all winners.