Grown-up Computing

On July 6, 2004, I started working at my first "real job". A week later, I ordered a Powerbook, my first Mac. Now, a year later, I've come to know the pleasure of grown-up computing.

Grown-up computing is, put simply, the way I use computers and my attitude toward them now that I'm out of college and settling into the 9-to-5 world. It differs greatly from "young computing".

I was the stereotypical young-computing power user. I reinstalled Windows every 6 months, I had every new geek device (I've actually owned three PDAs), I was an early adopter, I played a lot of games, and I tweaked everything about Windows that was possible to tweak: custom startup screens, renaming the Start button, hidden registry settings... you name it. Through all of this, software and hardware would regularly break, and I'd put as much time, money, and effort into it as necessary to fix it until I broke it again with future tweaking.

That was fine in high school, when I had from 3:30 to 11 PM to do whatever I wanted (I never did my homework). It was even better in college, when I had to go to a few hour-long classes throughout the day, but could do whatever I wanted between and after them (I only did the necessary homework). I had all the time in the world to reinstall Windows and make custom startup screens, and it didn't really matter when Outlook forgot about a calendar alarm or decided not to apply mail filters.

Now I don't get home until 6 or 7 PM. I need to cook for myself, and it takes a surprising amount of time and labor to simply keep a 1-bedroom apartment clean. Before I know it, it's 8:30 and I realize that I have to go to bed in 4 hours (and every night, I think that I really should go to bed earlier).

In the precious few hours of truly "free" time every night, I often work on or side projects. But I'm not always productive - sometimes I just want to relax and watch cop shows, or go entertain myself on The Forums.

Regardless, the last thing I want to do is figure out why some program isn't working or reinstall my operating system. I see these as zero-gain activities: generally, I learn nothing new, I don't enjoy myself, I'm not being entertained or enriched, and my effort only results in maintaining the status quo. I can't avoid some zero-gain activities, such as dusting, but I'd gladly pay for a product that I could spray onto surfaces and make them dust-free forever. (Despite its claims, Endust does not do this.)

In the same way, I'd rather get a computer that didn't require any maintenance and simply allowed me to do productive work. I'd like to have something to show for all of my clicking and typing instead of simply making information balloons go away. I'd rather write an article for this site than type my serial number again. I'd rather search the internet for interesting or entertaining information to read instead of looking for the solution to an obscure problem for which I only have a useless generic error message. I just want things to work.

It's also important to have reasonable defaults. This is where Microsoft software fails miserably. I don't mind changing my mouse speed or screen resolution, but should I really have to tell you that I don't want to be interrupted or second-guessed whenever I do anything?

Therefore, the requirements for a grown-up computing system are:

  1. Must require little or no maintenance.
  2. Must not require excessive tweaking to be acceptable.
  3. Things must work.
  4. Work shouldn't be interrupted.

Given the nature of grown-up computing, I hardly ever play games anymore. This means that I don't need to upgrade constantly, and I don't need to be using Windows.

No wonder I love OS X so much.

It's perfect for grown-up computing. I hardly need to change any settings. Nothing gets in my way. Everything just works.

When I close my Powerbook's lid, it sleeps. When I open it, it resumes. When I want to use a peripheral, I plug it in. When I'm done, I unplug it. When my network connection changes, I don't need to know about it. I don't need an extensive suite of system maintenance utilities to protect me from the poor design of the operating system. When I want to read something, I read it. When I want to write something, I write it. The hardware and software work without intervention.

I don't need to worry about spyware, adware, viruses, worms, trojans, backdoors, firewalls, defragging, the Registry, or "hackers". I'm not paranoid that I might accidentally view the wrong email or website and it will exploit a bug and install malware without further action from me. I don't need to shut down every night or reboot regularly. I don't even need drivers for most of my hardware - even many devices that require drivers on Windows.

Where does this leave desktop Linux? Absolutely nowhere. But that's a long enough argument to be its own article.

Are you moving toward this grown-up computing? Consider a Mac. After a few months, you'll be amazed at how productive you've become and how little time you waste keeping your computer in an acceptable, reliable state.