My current laptop, a Sony, cost me $2,900 in 2007; it was a conscious and heavily-researched investment1. It’s been a great little machine and I’m glad I bought it; but almost from the start, there were glitches. I don’t just mean there were software bugs; I mean the whole experience was marred by the shabby way the PC development chain has evolved.

When Windows 7 came out, it was up to me to hunt down new drivers and workarounds for several of the components. I thought, for what I paid for this thing, I ought to be able to click a button and have current drivers download and install automatically. It was a bleeding-edge, luxury-class machine, but Sony had no interest in providing luxury-class support because it was already yesterday’s model. I was able to make it work because I know how to do stuff. I wrote a batch file — a DOS batch file, for crying out loud — to quickly disable and re-enable the wifi card on the common occasions when I would wake up the laptop and find that wifi was disabled. Others — many of whom presumably were not nerds like myself — bought this laptop, too; I have no idea how they coped.

Today, the latest version of OS X became available as a free downloadable update to all Mac computers going as far back as six years. This would be unthinkable in the PC world: not just the “free” part, but the “downloadable, for your six-year-old computer” part.

I hate buying computers. They depreciate and become useless over time, like cars but much faster. So for my money, the idea is to get one that you won’t hate using for a long time. In that respect, it looks like Apple is the only game in town.

  1. The Sony Vaio TZ190 had a bright, crisp 11" (142dpi) screen, a fast (and tiny) SSD hard drive, a DVD burner, and it still got eight hours of battery life and weighed under 3 pounds. Spec-wise, it was the only laptop of its kind until the Macbook Air started to catch up in 2011, four years later. Its only real flaw was its manufacturer’s lack of any kind of product focus or customer service. 

The author says, “Today, the latest version of OS X became available as a free downloadable update to all Mac computers going as far back as six years. This would be unthinkable in the PC world: not just the ‘free’ part, but the ‘downloadable, for your six-year-old computer’ part.”

Is this where I drop a comment about how for the last 7+ years I have used Ubuntu which has constantly been a freely and regularly updated operating system?

I use it [on a] desktop, but this summer a relative dropped off a “broken” laptop which I determined had a dying internal hard drive. So I installed the latest Ubuntu on a mini flash drive and resurrected the old HP Pavilion Pentium 4 designed for Win XP.

I understand your woe over the rapid devaluation of purchased computers, but as of yet haven’t had to wrestle with it myself. Up to this point in my life my personal computer has always been some old junk that someone else was discarding and I repurposed. An advantage of primarily using a computer for writing is that a very old computer will suffice. And Ubuntu has made it more agreeable with its easily installed and regularly updated operating system.

Rundy ·

I thought someone would mention Linux. My point was more about the superiority of a platform where the software and hardware are supported in tandem and as a whole (i.e., “vertically integrated”). So it’s not just about downloadable updates; it’s about hardware that will enjoy long-term support by the original manufacturer. The fact that Apple controls their own extremely capable OS, and treats it as an integral part of the hardware platform rather than a profit center of its own, is just a major example of that support.

I have a long history of intermittent Linux use, including a few installs of Linux (Ubuntu/Xubuntu) on my laptop, but ultimately the end result was just to replace one familiar but unsupported third-party OS (Windows 7) with an unfamiliar unsupported third-party OS (Ubuntu). At best, being third-party, Ubuntu can only match the hardware integration of Windows; I don’t think it could ever match the hardware integration of OS X.

Also — perhaps the fault is mine, but I was never comfortable actually migrating all my personal data and workflows into a platform where “consumer” development is so fragmented. It’s more a vague feeling informed by experience than anything definite.

For example: even though it’s true that, as you say, the bare activity of writing imposes few requirements on a computer’s capabilities, there are opportunities to vastly augment the writer’s capabilities that go far beyond facilitating the simple task of typing text — and right now most of the software development and brainstorming in that area is focused on OS X. Put it short, even though I can run a text editor on any OS, I feel better being on a platform where programs like Scrivener and iaWriter are being released and developed first. I don’t use those programs (yet); I’m just saying it’s better, long term, to be where the programmers are 1) congregating, 2) able to work without wasting effort developing or supporting duplicate libraries, and 3) best able to turn their efforts to reasonable economic advantage (sustainable development).

(Of course, Ubuntu makes a decent server OS; I tend to default to it on VPSs.)

Joel Dueck (Author) ·

I would not universally recommend Ubuntu to the general public, nor was it exactly a recommendation to you since I don’t know your particular needs. But in my head I could hear all sorts of OpenSource people screaming indignantly at your turn of phrase that I quoted in the previous comment, so I had to offer the riposte. If a person wishes to go beyond simply writing to the field of layout and design then Linux is currently quite wanting. (Maybe some day Scribus will be there, but not yet.)

If a person is interested or invovled in design I can see the appeal of the Apple computer with its strong base of software. If one has the funds to purchase such, all the better. However, I do wonder how much longer there will exists the backward support you value. The question remains, “How much of Apple was Steve Jobs?” I don’t have an answer. If I were buying Apple products, I would buy them based on what they are today, not what I might get from the company in six more years. Not too many years ago Blackberry was king….

Rundy ·

I’m not taking away from your main point, but it’s odd that you say that the “downloadable for a six year old computer” part is unthinkable in the Windows world. Windows 8 is not free, and may not be a product you want, but it can certainly be downloaded from Microsoft, and certainly works on 6+ year old computers. I doubt the process is as smooth, but it’s certainly an exaggeration to call it unthinkable.


Lachlan ·

Interesting that Rundy should bring up Blackberry. I came very close to including my experience with Blackberry in the post as an illustration of the same problem. Blackberry ceded distribution of their OS releases to the carriers, who were, like Sony, more interested in sales of new phones than in supporting older phones. It was extremely frustrating when a new OS would come out with important fixes and I had to wait another several months before Verizon would finish their changes and release the update. It was the single biggest reason I switched to the iPhone.

A more accurate analogy would be Mac : PC :: iPhone : Blackberry. The former platform in each pair is the vertically integrated newly-risen leader, the latter is the former leader whose horizontal supply chain has been displaced.

It’s true of Apple that past performance is no guarantee of future results, and should they degrade seriously I won’t hesitate to switch to the new best option; but they have a much better track record then any other manufacturer and show no indication of changing their philosophy.

Joel Dueck (Author) ·