Uphill both ways with a Timex Sinclair

So, I have to admit it. I’m an Apple Fanboy.

I have been for just under 5 years (again). I say “again” because some history is order. I personally had one of the first PowerPC’s available – a 6100/60 AV – that I bought while attending NCSU after co-op’ing and working part-time at GTE Government Systems doing Mac support. I was an Apple fanboy then too, having taken the site through this wondrous transition into something called “System 7” not long prior. And Apple was innovating – at least a little. I remain awed and impressed to this day about how they pulled that 68K to Power transition off.

Somehow I missed the start of the Linux revolution – which had some incubation at NCSU right around the time I was graduating. Mainly, I guess because I was a Mac weenie – and had a Mac and not a x86. And my exposure to Unix-like operating systems at the time was limited to Ultrix and SunOS – and I liked the Mac better than those already. I was a hell of lot more productive using bbedit, metrowerks, and fetch, and the best version of Microsoft Word ever made on any platform (5.1a – not even PowerPC native) to write programs and documentation. It was a hell of a lot better than what the NCSU labs had at the time.

Then NT started to show up. I had used VMS from time to time, and here was a VMS inspired, true multitasking, 32-bit (mostly) clean OS. And despite the flaws, I became more productive using it than my aging System 7-based PowerPC.

So I went down the Windows path. From NT 3.51 to 4 to Windows 2000 to XP. Most of the Unix people I ran into (of the AIX and Solaris bent) seemed to have this view that all Windows was “Windows 95” – which then caused me to suspect anything they had to say. And the Linux on the Desktop crowd was… well, they spent of a lot of time bitching about X configurations and device support when they weren’t dissing everything I was working on. NT 4.0 jokes were overrated. I ran quality hardware, mass-market peripherals, and kept crappily written software of my machine. My NT (and 2000) systems stayed up. On the desktop. On the server end, screw it, I still would have rather had Solaris or NetWare.

Going from Dos to MacOS to NT with Ultrix, SunOS, VMS, NetWare, and even a little AIX in-between gave me a healthy perspective. 1) Operating System development is hard. OS Development and compiler design are what I consider the two most ninja-level programming efforts in the industry (and add to that virtualization, which is basically OS design too) Mortals don’t pull off 68K to PowerPC transitions. and 2) All Operating Systems Suck. Some less than others.

And for a while, the NT-based operating systems sucked less for me. I was a borderline Microsoft fanboy. They had fabulous developer support, their documentation kicked the ass of every man page I’ve ever read. I could run more than one program at a time without crashing the computer – without having to spend nights compiling kernels and doing idiotic things with X configuration files to get more than a command line running. Sure – the cracks started to show up, I was writing authentication software that wasn’t nearly as good as what Microsoft provided, and digging into the DLL’s showed me that Microsoft was using API’s that they didn’t document, wouldn’t admit to, and seemed to do things that I really needed access to. But my fanboydom ignored that and chalked it up to “it’s their product, they can do that. They can withhold things and keep it only for themselves” And I still defended them.

Then two things happened. One, IE 6. The most insecure, retched piece of trash software that has ever been written. I wasted way too many hours of my life (and later, the life of my colleagues dealing with windows) dealing with the failure to respect simple things in HTML/CSS standards for doing more than web pages with “under construction” graphics all over them – and dealing with security hole after security hole after security hole that the software’s integration with the OS exposed.

And I bought a Macintosh laptop at work. Finally, here was an intuitive base OS, with the power of a Unix-like operating system underneath. That I didn’t have to wrestle hours with dealing with hardware issues with. It just worked. Which is high praise indeed for software that’s hard as hell to create and that always sucks.

I was so enamored, that I evangelized the platform to everyone. I bought a Mac at home. At work, I bought an XServe and an XServe Raid. At home I bought a pre-iTMS iPod. I bought Apple’s iLife upgrades, their iWork software, I bought exorbitantly overpriced Apple Wireless hardware. I excused the crappy enterprise design of the Xserve (“You have to take the cover off to rack it? Oh well, but the OS is great”). My work servers were still Solaris and Linux, because that was still better – but on the Desktop, OS X was everything that Red Hat + Gnome was promised to be, but it actually worked. Sure, there was closed source software – but there was open source too, and Apple outright encouraged the porting of open source software to the Macintosh, using it themselves, and it some places giving back to the community.

And when the iTMS appeared – I bought songs. I cheered a finally legitimate means of getting access to music, cheaper than CD’s, and single tracks. I excused the DRM as something that had to be done to appease the morons in the music industry.

At home, I’ve spent thousands on Apple hardware and software. My parents have a Mac now. My wife has a Mac (she had one before me). Her family has Macs. I encourage her family to buy overpriced Apple Wireless hardware – because it just works.

At work, I’ve directly spent tens of thousands (probably well over $100K) in Apple Hardware in the last 4 years. My current job is an entire Mac desktop shop, and I have three XServes and two XRaids.

And in my previous job, the College of Engineering at NC State was pushing down the path of focusing far more on the students bringing laptops to the College vs. a focus on labs. I fought tooth and nail against the idea that we should strongly encourage or require a single Operating System. The biggest reason for that is that it’s a complete disservice to the future of Engineering to mandate a single operating environment for college students – they need to explore and have exposure to everything and understand the concepts not the menu commands, because what we’ll have 5-10 years from now is completely different on the surface than what we have today, but the concepts will be the same. But a small part of that too was that I believed in OS X as a set of tools that are perfect for Engineering students. So I pushed really hard against a Windows requirement and really hard for OS X, helping to create what would become the Virtual Computing Lab, a revamped intro course, and I vowed to help support OS X myself if I had to.

You know what? like John Gruber wrote/linked to about the rise in Macintosh market share at Cornell – the rise in market share for incoming students in Engineering at NCSU has gone from 1.64% in 2004 to 13.03% in 2007.

Most of that is obviously an iPod-driven mindshare. And of course, Apple making what are probably the best designed laptops in the industry. And a historical pro-Unix faculty at NCSU and in the College of Engineering. But another part of that is due in part to my evangelism efforts – fighting the myth that multiple operating systems mean more “support” and that it was possible, even necessary to change the meaning of “support” anyway for understaffed College IT groups.

So, because Apple has great products – because they have embraced open source – because they made it easy to get behind them, I have personally been responsible for Apple booking tens of thousands in revenue – and I have contributed personal influence in tens of thousands more.

I don’t own Apple stock. I’m pretty damn sure that what little index-fund retirement accounts I have don’t have Apple Stock (if they do, it’s buried). My state pension is spread out who knows where. I don’t benefit financially from influencing decisions toward Apple products (other than the fact that I have one and can help support it better in my job if colleagues buy them, but I don’t do desktop support anymore if I can help it).

That’s the copious, verbose, what-you-expect-from-rambleon background.

Here’s the point. I made a joke about Apple product groups getting themselves a Pilgrim Number a while back – he caught a lot of flack from us Apple Fanboys when he wrote about the bough breaking. But underneath, especially if we are free-as-in-freedom and opensource oriented, we knew he was right. But “it just works” is powerful. And Apple’s lock-out was limited to industries where it was still a breath of freedom from seemingly worse groups that wanted even more restriction. Apple was giving into a few battles, but still fighting the war for us right?

By now, you know where this is going. I hate bandwagons. I hate the appearance of bandwagons. I don’t want the appearance of saying something that lots of others are saying. But it’s starting to not work. And sometimes bandwagons actually carry a group of musicians that are the driving force behind community culture and success.

Chris Davis wrote about this a few days ago – in what I think is the post that gives the best voice to many of the rest of us right now. Mark even bookmarked it, using a phrase that my colleague Greg Parmer has used: “everyone comes around at their own pace”.

The ringtone thing is ludicrous. I get contracts with the thugs in the recording industry. And I could even buy into the hope that Apple did what they did to redirect more public ire at the recording companies about what I can and can’t do with copies of audio recordings that I’ve paid money for. But it’s not consistent with the thread of control. I’m a control freak too. (thankfully a usually self-aware control freak) – and it takes one to know one. And I’m seeing more of it right now, unchecked by the realities of “Think Different”.

What’s worse is the ongoing fight against third-party apps. I get the unlocking fight. But I don’t get the Apps fight. Joe User isn’t going to do this, no more than Joe User is going to write LaunchCtl scripts to send themselves Growl messages. But the people that ARE going to do this – like me – are your most passionate, influential customers in market segments that you still need. Because the mass culture crowd will dump you on your ass the more you screw with their ringtones.

On this iPhone thing, John Gruber seems to be holding out hope that this is a temporary condition. Charles Miller is writing about how APIs are hard

I sure hope they’re right – and Mark might be wrong. But underneath, I don’t think they are and I don’t think Mark is. Not at the top of Apple anyway. In the ranks, yes, I think “Think Different” is still there.

I doubt Apple cares about my opinion. Hell, I don’t know that I care about my opinion. But my opinion is going to affect their booked revenue. At least a little.

My computer is over 4.5 years old. When Leopard ships, I’m still buying a new Mac. I’m just not yet ready to trade “It just Works” to “It Just Works, now, finally, because the community has worked really hard, but some closed source apps aren’t there and won’t ever be and some of this hardware doesn’t work because these companies are jerks – and that’s just the way it is” I know Ubuntu is great, but I’m still going to be a hypocrite. And Apple hasn’t yet screwed up the MacOS on the Macs. And I really hope that’s not a “yet” But the iPhone is an indication that it is.

But there’ll be some repercussions. I could excuse Apple’s behavior when I thought their constant innovation and commitment to “it just works” was still a culture of Think Different. I could ignore the fact that their products weren’t enterprise friendly – but were designed really well – and because of their desktops and iPods and “it just works”, I’d buy XRaids. Fanboy that I am, was, maybe am.

I won’t be buying more XRaids when I look at SAN solutions for my VMWare servers in the next few months. And Apple, that’s 10-15K you won’t be booking in the fourth quarter.

Maybe that’s safe, because there are likely better disk units for SANs in the first place. And someone is going to link to this and go “who cares about you and your one or two XRaids” . Yep, you’re right.

But some of us are walking in and singing a bar or two about leaving Apple’s Restaurant (okay refusing some of the meals there). Maybe we’re all insane. Or maybe it’s a movement.

Time will tell on all this won’t it? Won’t that be fun to see?