I stopped by the house of a Mac user yesterday, and pressed a couple of buttons on a laptop. Now I’ll probably be crucified for saying it, but I think Linux might need those Mac guys. Not because Apples are (if I understand correctly) Unix-based, or because they make computers that some people think are art (I’m not really one of them), but because by almost all accounts Apple is very innovative.
Windows is not innovative. Vista, even on its best day, is a long way behind anything Apple machines can do — and that, admittedly, is coming from someone who has only had passing glances at both systems. You won’t catch me running either OS anytime soon, but what I’ve seen of both is that one is far beyond the other … and you can guess which is which.
But if I can tell that Vista is really suffering behind what Macs can do, then it must be glaringly obvious to anyone who uses either machine regularly. It’s hard to fault Mac users for being insufferable snots when their systems are leaps and bounds ahead of anything their competition has shown yet. It’s the difference between a ballet dancer and a pro wrestler in a tutu. Wearing a tutu does not make you a graceful or beautiful.
Microsoft doesn’t innovate, and doesn’t even mimic very well. Microsoft’s forte is business-savvy and marketing dominance. Even if Ballmer didn’t have a product to sell (and according to some, he doesn’t), Microsoft wouldn’t go away because it would simply bully it’s way into the future. Create something new? No. Browbeat you and steal your idea while you’re trying to scrape together enough money for a lawyer? In an instant. I give them credit for reinventing aggressive business tactics, but not for inventing a new or useful operating system.
And Linux, although I love it dearly, has never — even the first time I installed it — struck as me as terrifyingly innovative. Yes, it does everything Vista or OSX can do, but I have yet to find some application or aspect of Linux that either Gates or Jobs is whipping his employees to duplicate (unless you count stability, which is something I doubt Windows will ever achieve, and Mac doesn’t seem to worry about). Maybe there is something, and I just don’t know about it yet.
To me the driving force behind Linux is the supersmart pseudogenius egghead. Linux by its nature is assimilative — the eggheads see what Apple or Microsoft does, then do it better, and for free. This isn’t to say that the eggheads aren’t creative or artsy or ultracool style mavens. It just means that their best work is usually an assault on some feature or application that they know they can do better and cheaper.
You want bouncing icon triggers that run down the side of the screen and throb when you click on them? Linux does that. You want to click a file in a browser and automatically add it to your music database and simultaneously start playing it in an audio player? Linux does that too. You want super-stable rock-solid foundations for a server or a desktop, with no limitations imposed by proprietary software and licensing agreements? Linux does that, and you get it gratis.
But Linux is still a follower. Leopard might be the new black, but I wouldn’t know it because I won’t buy a Apple. They’re deliberately overpriced and don’t really appeal to me. But I’ll bet any amount of money that Linux can do anything Leopard does in six months, and probably better than the Apple guys thought of it. (It already does everything Vista does, and that was on the day Vista was released.)
So we need those guys. It’s sad but true. Somebody has to give the eggheads something to shoot for. And so long as the Apple conglomerate is paying the ultracool style mavens to invent something idiot-proof for the technophobes to buy, I’m content to stay one step behind the wave and watch the Linux renditions mature into cooler, faster, stabler and better applications. You can have your Mac, or your dual-core Vista machine. Six months from now I’ll be doing the same things on a battered K6-2 450Mhz … and for free.