One night recently, as I sat motionless and glassy-eyed on my couch, I came across one of the older episodes of Friends. It was the one where Ross was trying to decide which girl would be better suited for him: his current girlfriend, Julie, or his dream woman, Rachel. So he made a list of what was wrong with each woman in an effort to help him choose. Long story short, he picked Rachel, she found the list, read it, got mad at what he thought was wrong with her, hijinks ensued, roll credits. As I watched this episode for what seemed like the ten gazillionth time, it dawned on me that I, too, was approaching a crisis not unlike that of my television friend Ross.
I have to decide if Julie or Rachel is really right for me. Of course, by Julie, I mean Windows, and by Rachel, I mean the Mac OS.
For the first four years of my professional life I was a die-hard, incorrigible Mac fanatic. In the early to mid 90's, during the midst of what the hype of the day termed the new media revolution, the Mac was the only choice for multimedia production. I would have rather (insert the most miserable experience you can think of here) than give up my Mac. But that was when life was good. Before the Dark Times. Before the Empire.
And, oh, how quickly things went sour. Faster than you could say "Copland," Apple seemed to become a shadow of its former self. The hardware became uninspired and ridiculously expensive. The beloved Mac OS was looking its age. Apple was constantly touting the "next big thing," and then nixing it in what seemed like mere weeks (Remember CyberDog, OpenDoc and CHRP?). And every important software title began showing up on Windows, often times well before a Mac version. It was during these dark days that I realized I wasn't getting enough multimedia and 3D juice from the platform that blazed the trail in those areas. I needed real time OpenGL previews from my 3D program. Hell, I needed a more powerful 3D program, period (and I didn't have $7500 to blow on Electric Image, which didn't even have a modeler in those days). I needed some real professional graphics card choices. I needed an OS that would play nice with Windows, since it seemed that all of my multimedia projects had to run the majority of time over there anyway. And what OS would play nicer with Windows than Windows itself? Most importantly, I needed an OS that not only didn't take my entire system down once a month, but could just get through a single day without a data-busting, time-wasting, hold-your-head-in-your-hands-and-just-sob crash.
It took me a couple of months to admit it to myself, but the writing was on the wall. Suddenly, a low-cost PC with a decent video card running Windows NT was a more viable, if not attractive, option. So, in the early months of 1998, I ditched my Mac and went Windows. While the Mac was weathering the storm when it came to print design, Windows NT was evolving into a serious digital creation platform, as it seemed that I wasn't the only one to break ranks and huddle under the Redmond tent.
Since then, I had been faithfully following the goings-on in Macland as if I had never left, but it was with the detached interest I usually reserved for my high school football team: nice to see when things are going well, but ultimately it didn't matter much to what I was doing. I always had a Mac at my side, but never more than a retrofitted Power Computing clone or low-end iMac, only called into duty when it came time to test whatever I was working on or to burn the occasional hybrid CD. Life was OK; I was content in the fact that I had access to all the software I needed and a plethora of cheap hardware options, but miserable with the OS I had to endure. And for three years, this was the status quo. The whole time, though, there was a little rat gnawing away at the back of the gray piece of cheese that passes for my brain. I didn't know what it was or what to call it until earlier this year, but I know now:
I finally knew that what was bugging me the whole time was Mac Envy during the momentous Steve Jobs-led dog and pony show that took place at Macworld San Francisco last January. For my money, this was the most profound product introduction since the original PowerMacs in 1994. For the first time in a long time, it seemed that Apple was finally embracing their core audience of creative professionals instead of ramming the consumer focus down everyone's throat. In typical Steve fashion, you had the "one more thing:" The drop-dead gorgeous Titanium PowerBook. You had affordable DVD production in the 733 mHz PowerMac G4 with built-in SuperDrive. You had sub-$1000 professional DVD authoring software, just in case the free iDVD software wasn't enough. You had an actual ship date for Mac OS X, and by the way, high-end 3D software like Maya, Filmbox and Lightwave was being ported over. And you had a little-known graphics card maker called Nvidia who dropped the bomb that they were finally making their GeForce series of cards available for the Mac. These were all serious creative tools with an eye towards the future instead of racing to catch up with the past. That little rat in my head had grown to look like one of the Rodents of Unusual Size. And the Mac envy, which had apparently been there all along, was too large and ugly to ignore.
Flash forward to today. From the "Irony can be pretty ironic" department, I stand at the threshold of a decision I thought I had made in 1998: Moving forward, which OS is right for a digital designer with a varied skill set? Do I stick with Windows, which offers cheap and abundant hardware choices and a relatively stable OS, knowing that I have to put up with whatever monopolistic whim Microsoft decides to impose upon me? Or do I move into the world of Mac OS X, knowing now that Apple finally has some real professional hardware and software offerings running under a powerful, elegant and modern OS, but doesn't yet have the Macromedias and Adobes of the world fully on board and comes in a relatively non-upgradeable package that is still just a tad too expensive?
If you'll indulge me by buying into the metaphor I introduced earlier, I decided to work through my dilemma the same way Ross decided who would make a better girlfriend: by making a list. My list of pros and cons for Rachel (AKA the Mac OS) read very much like Ross' list: the digital equivalents of She Loves Her Friends and The Way She Smells (pros) versus Too Into Her Looks, Spoiled, and Chubby Ankles (cons). As for Julie (AKA Windows), I could only think of one thing to put in the con column:
She's not Rachel.
Which one is going to win out? Well, that would ruin the cliffhanger. Besides, I've got to get a move on. The Apple Store down at the mall closes at nine.
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Kevin Schmitt has been a working with just about every aspect of digital design since before it was called digital design. An award-winning multimedia producer, artist, and animator, he is currently the Digital Design Director for StudioAPCO, a creative shop housed at a communications firm in Washington, D.C. By all means, drop him a line at [email protected].
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