Under the Desktop: The Great Platform Debate Continues
Mac vs. Windows. You gotta love it. The inveterate story always provides a dash of religion, market forces, and Lucha Libre.
Given the potential for a no-holds-barred flame war, my recent two-part series on the relative merits of Macs and PCs for content creation drew a lively, well-thought-out response from the creativepro readership. While likely due to the high caliber of readers, my rosy impression could also be the result of the array of email filters I set up on my account. I'm a firm believer in "what you don't know won't hurt you." Whatever. Kudos all around.
So, disregarding the occasional messages that slipped through my guards offering a single-digit salute (thank you very much) and one-liners, I received many interesting observations. Here are just a few of your excellent thoughts on the platform debate along with a dose of my usual blather.
Tell All the People
My creativepro colleague, contributing editor Sandee Cohen, weighed in on several matters, including the transition to Mac OS X.
After reminding me of the OpenType initiative from Adobe and Microsoft that should improve cross-platform file exchange, she asked:
"Given Adobe's own ACE (Adobe Color Engine), it seems that if a company were to go 'all Adobe' that there is little need for ColorSync," she observed. "This seems to me to dilute one of the reasons to choose Mac over Windows. If I'm wrong, please educate me."
Sandee is right on the mark about an all-Adobe workflow on Windows lessening the need for the Mac's ColorSync's system wide color management.
As I mentioned in my previous column, Windows applications handle color management and content creators must rely on Adobe (or another vendor) to do the right thing with their colors when connecting to scanners and printers. Of course, there's the rub -- you have to rely on your vendor for everything.
The Mac's ColorSync architecture lets creators use applications from just a single vendor, or pick and choose tools from different manufacturers. As Mr. Natural says: "Get the right tool for the job." On the Mac some folks may find everything they need from a single vendor -- such as Adobe -- while others may to try something new from someone else. ColorSync lets everything work together.
Sandee then expressed concerns about the transition of the Mac platform to the Unix-based Mac OS X. "Some reservations: While I agree that the inclusion of PDF within Mac OS X, makes for some nice workflows, it has completely destroyed the 'user friendly' feeling of the Mac," she wrote.
"It used to be that you could reinstall a system by simply dragging a clean backup copy of the System Folder onto a hard drive. Not with OS X. ... What I fear is that the Mac OS 9 system will be recognized as a great one for creative professionals, but the Mac OS X system will not."
dwillson agreed: "I was really non-plussed to see Macworld magazine begin a series on learning to write command line Unix using OS X's capabilities," he wrote. "PLEASE, that's not where I want my Mac OS to go!"
These are concerns that I'm sure must have entered the mind of every Mac user over the past few years, especially creative professionals. (You can read more comments by Sandee and others here.)
I can report that I've been using Mac OS X as my everyday operating system for months now, since the release of Version 10.1. Each day, I gain confidence in its future value for content creation. And the more I learn of its technological underpinnings, the possibilities look bright, indeed.
Yet at the same time, our individual transitions will not necessarily be a walk in the park.
Mac OS X is different. At times, very, very different. Yes, there will be some significant growing pains, in particular, learning the new right things to do and unlearning the hard-won past knowledge. While this step will be a big one, we've all survived the previous OS changes.
Here's a brief OS X anecdote: For more than a month and a half, I didn't need to restart my Mac. I put it to sleep at night and then started working again in the morning. As you can imagine, at times programs crashed and burned, but the other running applications were untouched. That's a good thing.
I still believe as I did long months ago: Mac OS X is not yet ready to replace Mac OS 9 in professional content creation workflows. Can you say: "Photoshop?" Or instead, pick any other X-less application that's essential to your business.
Your time to move to OS X will come when you can do everything your business requires under the new OS.
Some of you pointed to differences between Macs and Windows when dealing with service bureaus for printing. As you might guess, Mac users were the happier campers.
"The one point I think you missed in this one, is if the content creator is going to print, most commercial printers still use Macs, and many times, Macs only!" David Schwab wrote. "I work for a busy commercial printer in NYC. We do have both Macs and a lone PC running Windows NT 4, but we have so many problems trying to get PC jobs to print right, that now we always just open the files on the Mac! ...
"... The other thing I notice, and it seems to be a common trend, is when I do get jobs that were done on a PC -- either in Quark, or PageMaker (PageMaker being more common from PC users) -- there are always major problems with the way the file was created. Most of the time all the scans are RGB, the resolution is wrong, there are fonts missing, especially from EPS files, the users don't know what a spot color is! I can go on.
"Another annoying trend among PC users is thinking that if they send a PDF file, that fixes everything. Once again, even though the job is supposed to print PMS 196 and Black, the PDF file is either RGB or CMYK! Or God forbid, they want film output from MS Word files. PCs were made to print to office laser printers!"
In spite of that, some of you using Windows are thankfully finding the support situation improving at service bureaus.
Michael G. chimed in. "As it stands, I feel less of a rebel these days using Windows machines for print and web design," he wrote. "It's easier than ever to pass off Windows files to the service bureau and (as long as it doesn't crash) it's simpler to be in the mainstream of everything else."
Certainly, given the divergent histories of Mac and Windows with printing, users of each platform have different levels of prepress education. So there's no surprise that Windows users might have misguided expectations when heading from the screen to hardcopy and face a communications gap at the service bureau.
And it would seem to be an excellent opportunity for printers and service bureaus to educate their Windows customers and provide the support they need to get the job done.
(Editor's note: creativepro.com's parent company PrintingForLess.com accepts all manner of PC as well as Mac files for printing through the online Printing Center and will review your files to for technical accuracy without charge. Find out more here.)
Many of you, including Sandee Cohen in her message above, mentioned the relative reliability of the Mac platform over Windows -- but remember that's Mac OS 9 of which they speak.
"Not enough attention was given to how unstable and insecure Windows machines are," Michael G. added. "If I could afford to buy all new software, I would choose a Mac for this reason alone. But it sounds like the two are converging on this front: Windows is getting more stable, and OS X sounds like it's getting to be more of a pain."
Another reader concurred. "One thing that is essential to well-greased workflow, and yet went unmentioned, is the absolutely wonderful environment the Mac provides for easy troubleshooting" dwillson offered. "With a copy of Disk Doctor, non-geek designers like myself can fix 90 percent of any problems that crop up with in 20 minutes.
"Even on an NT network, my department's Macs always ran efficiently, when the Wintel boxes were crashing like bumper cars ... in spite of the fact that the IS manager and I were barely on speaking terms."
To be fair, comparing the reliability records of Macs and Windows is a difficult proposition. At times, I've sworn a blue streak over each platform. My Windows 98 notebook has given me occasional trouble, as have my Mac OS 9 machines. In the statistical long haul, all computers have problems with hardware, software, device drivers, and the list goes on.
Both platforms have similar, easy-to-use diagnostic and repair utility programs that are simple enough, even for designers on Windows machines.
At the same time, I've talked to many managers of sites with both Macs and Windows machines. They swear that Macs are easier to support and cost less to support. And I believe them.
In my own experience, I've found Macs easier to support than Windows machines. But that could be due to that fact that I've spent more time with Macs than I have with PCs. I must question my own judgment on the support matter given a purely subjective assessment. I haven't filled out a time-task analysis for each hour of the day for the years gone by.
On the virus front, however, there's no doubt that Windows machines are less secure than Macs running OS 9. (I'm still evaluating Mac OS X.) I felt so strongly about the crisis level of Windows and Internet viruses that I made it my story of the year in our recent collective review of 2001.
Meanwhile, Bill Gates last week addressed the problem of security and reliability in a memo sent to Microsoft employees. He wrote that Microsoft must make Windows a "Trustworthy Computing" platform.
"With telephony, we rely both on its availability and its security for conducting highly confidential business transactions without worrying that information about who we call or what we say will be compromised," Gates wrote. "Computing falls well short of this, ranging from the individual user who isn't willing to add a new application because it might destabilize their system, to a corporation that moves slowly to embrace e-business because today's platforms don't make the grade."
Such a goal will be critical for all computing platforms, whether Windows, Mac or Linux. They all need to improve their reliability and security, whether for consumers or professionals.
In Microsoft's case, I can only add: It's about time. "You can forget a blow, but not a word," warns the rabbinical adage. We all will wait for the hopefully effective result of Mr. Gates' call for Trustworthy Computing.
Read more by David Morgenstern.