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Speaking Chinese

or... Why I use Windows

In my heart, I'm a Mac person.

But I'm typing this on a laptop running Windows XP. Soon I'll be uploading it to a server running Windows 2000 Server.

Why? I hate to say it, but I do it because it's easier. I get more done on Windows. Period.

My first computer was a Mac: an old, grungy Mac Plus, about seven years old by the time I came to own it. I knew nothing, NOTHING about computers. But I learned. And I learned to like the machine itself. At first I used the computer because doing something with it required less effort than doing something without it. It was far easier to type articles with my kind, forgiving-of-typos Mac Plus instead of my once-beloved IBM Selectric.

Later I got a Color Classic. When I did, something changed. I realized that I didn't just like that computer. I loved it. It was fun. Using the computer became the end instead of the means.

Somewhere in the following years, however, I drifted into the computer industry. I was an "accidental admin," one of those people who winds up a network administrator just because he or she happened to be standing near the server when someone asked to reboot it.

Because most of those machines ran Windows, I had to learn Windows. This was back in the era of Windows for Workgroups 3.11, a crappy, buggy interface, slapped on top of an even crappier, buggier piece of garbage called MS-DOS. It was confusing, unstable, and a pain in the ass to learn... but I did learn it. I came away from that experience convinced of the superiority of the ease of use of the Macintosh.

Then came Windows 95. It was far, far better than Windows 3.1, but still mostly inferior to the Mac. But I had to admit... in a few ways, it was actually better than the Mac.

After that, there was NT 4.0. I built an NT 4 server for our LAN, and it was a different animal altogether. It was poorly designed in many respects, but it had potential. You could DO cool stuff with it... it made a pretty good file server, even for Macs, and later it became a decent web server as well. Microsoft kept releasing new OSes: Windows 95b, Windows 98, Windows ME (although THAT one was the worst piece of shit since DOS... pardon my expletive), Windows 2000, Windows XP...

And I had to learn all of these. I worked with them daily, year after year.

And one night, at home, I needed to do something, and although I usually used my faithful Macintosh Quadra for almost everything I did... it hit me: I couldn't think of a good, fast, easy way to do it on the Mac. But I did know a fast way to do it on the PC.

I should never have had to learn to use Windows. I should never have had to understand IRQs and the registry and the differences between invoking "command.com" versus "cmd.exe," but I had. I had come to a point where I knew Microsoft technologies better than I knew the Macintosh.

I make this analogy: suppose you are born in America. You grow up speaking English. Then, one day, you are sent to live in China. You have to learn Chinese. You struggle with the language, you fight with the ideograms, but eventually, you learn it. You speak Chinese every day. You still feel, in your heart, that the language of your country of birth is more beautiful, easier, more precise. But you have to speak Chinese, day after day, year after year. You rarely speak English. You rarely hear it.

At some point, you will become better at expressing yourself in Chinese than in English. One day, a bilingual professor asks you a hard philosophical question. You will have to choose: do I answer in English, or do I answer in Chinese?

So here I am, figuratively speaking Chinese. In my heart I still prefer the Mac. But I rarely use it for anything other than Photoshop. And in my heart I think Apache is a better web server than IIS; but I know IIS much better than I know Apache, and I know NT better than Linux, so I use what will make me most productive.

Maybe that makes sense. After all, is Apple really less arrogant than Microsoft? Is Steve Jobs really nicer than Bill Gates? Does it even matter? Many years ago, I got my first computer not because of what it was, but because of what I could do with it. Now maybe I've come full circle. The point isn't what platform my web server runs. The point is the content. The medium is not the message. The message is the message. Call me platform agnostic: it's not whose software I use. The point is what I do with it. What do you do with yours?