back to article Scientists love MacBooks (true) – but what about you?

I've done a few Apple in the enterprise articles recently, and it has set me thinking. Despite Apple's obvious success in a number of areas, a fair amount of nerdly vitriol is spewed at Macs. I have had a few unkind words to say about them*, but the arguments can get quite heated. Some of the particular debate points used by …

Not my experience

Macs and Apples were eschewed largely because we wanted hardware level access to busses and so on for digital I/O and ADC. Ironically the Apple IIe was extremely popular in labs because of its open architecture. When that stopped, IBM compatibles became the de facto standard. Macs may be used on the computing side of science, but generally when it meets hardware especially custom hardware it is PCs.

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Re: Not my experience

So for practical reasons, simple, no more explanation required. That is why for you the tech made sense at the time you used it. When you actually stand back from it, Trevor has spent two pages wondering how it is there are people out there who don't think like him. There are two groups, zealots and these scientist people, and he can't help but admit this second group tend to be rather clever, and he goes through all sorts of mental contortions trying to reconcile his world view in which these two groups exist and buy Macs. Of course if he just threw out the prejudice inherent to a reductionist world view that tries to discriminate people into Trevor Pott labelled buckets "zealot Mac user", "scientist Mac user" then he would be more able to see the difficulty he is having and his reasoning on the subject establishes nothing because it is no more than a struggle with his own prejudices.

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Re: Not my experience

There are plenty of Mac users who aren't scientists or zealots. Zealots are a small (but disproportionately noisy, arrogant and irritating) segment of any user population.

There was a period, however, where "zealots" were all Apple had left. It lasted over a decade. And their increasingly inane (and insane) drivel altered the public perception of the mac user for generations to come.

You seem to think (wrongly) that I have something against Macs. I don't. But I do have rather a big chip on my shoulder against zealots, of any religious or brand tribalist persuasion.

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Re: Not my experience

"There are plenty of Mac users who aren't scientists or zealots..."

I'd count myself in that group. I have a late 2011 MBP but it spends 99% of its time booted into Windows.

From a hardware-perspective it was equal cost for similar spec compared to say the equivalent Alienware laptops available at the time and has been far and away the most physically reliable laptop I've recently owned.

But since they (Apple) have decided that the newer variants can't be upgraded, my next choice won't be another one, but back to a traditional Windows based laptop.

At the end of the day I will choose whatever makes more sense at the time I need to replace it.

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Re: Not my experience

Zealots are the ones who could just as easily use any tool for their work, yet insist that only a Mac is suitable, and insist that everyone else's valid choice is wrong because it's not a Mac. That, as you point out, doesn't apply to scientists - here, OSX has some considerable advantages over Windows, but ironically, the biggest advantage is supplied by Microsoft.

The ideal scientific researcher's system is a "Unix that runs Microsoft Office". The first bit seems obvious, but the second will be a surprise if you've never worked in academic research. There's no point in finding stuff out if you don't share that information with other researchers, so that means lots of paper writing, conferences and presentations. Hence, MS Office, particularly Word and PowerPoint. (Personally, I've always preferred TeX for paper submissions, but a surprising amount of journals now either accept or actually prefer .doc files).

But brand-loyalty has always struck me as one of the more depressing aspects of human psychology. I'd always describe my computer use as being "someone who owns a Mac" rather than "a Mac user" - the former term doesn't try to define me as a person.

I sometimes have great difficulty in understanding how someone can become so invested in what is only an inanimate possession that they'll waste their life in unpaid defence of the honour of whatever multi-billion-dollar corporation makes it. Camaraderie with other users or lovers of the same products is fine, but unless you're actually paid by Apple/Google/Microsoft, quit working for them for free: they sure won't be sending any flowers to your funeral.

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Re: Not my experience

Couldn't agree more. OSX 1 worked really nicely out of the box partly because they removed the Apple menu (there was a token 'apple' in the centre of the menu bar which didn't really do anything). They apparently even wanted to discard the concept of the 'desktop' as well.

Unfortunately the screaming of fanbois, coupled with the sound of heels being stamped in mass tantrum unison, resulted in the Apple menu being restored to its pointless glory and the desktop remaining.

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Joke

Re: Not my experience

You seem zealously anti-zealot...

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Pint

Re: Not my experience

I'm also highly intolerant of intolerance. Humans are lovely bundles of contradiction, eh?

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Anonymous Coward

Can't agree more

One of the reasons I run a Linux machine is because:

- I spend my entire day writing software for Linux machines or administering Linux-based computers

- The software I use best runs under a Unix-like environment

MacOS X isn't bad for my needs, it isn't my taste but I can get by and use it. My gripes there are less about the OS and more about the physical computers. My last workhorse was a late 2008-model Apple MacBook (one of the original MacBooks, not one of the modern crippled ones), and aside from the Core2 Duo CPU becoming a little weak, the biggest push for the move was a lack of ports. The machine had two USB ports: I either used a USB hub to plug everything in, or did without.

My laptop bag (I weighed it the other day) came out at 6kg when the weight of all the dongles was factored in. I now carry around a Panasonic ToughBook, which, whilst heavier than the MacBook by ~500g, I have RS-232, VGA and full-size HDMI ports, two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports built-in, it becomes a more practical machine to lug around. The machine itself runs Linux beautiful, unlike the MacBook which was plagued by idiosyncrasies around the NVidia GPU/system chipset and Broadcom WIFI.

The MacBook spent most of its day running under Linux because I found the environment worked better for me and most of the software I used worked better in that environment. Before I bought the replacement machine, I did look at the Apple line up (Retina Display was just in), and a pre-retina MacBook pro looked tempting, but then I saw they were becoming even more proprietary, and decided having MacOS X as an option wasn't worth it. So I paid the Microsoft tax and went to a traditional IBM-compatible clone.

Today, we have 3 people who now run Linux machines as workstations on a regular basis. One of our old Windows-XP era laptops got loaded with Linux and is used for scanning of packages in receive/dispatch. (When all you need is a web browser, why fuss around with Windows?)

Some have expressed the desire to run MacOS X, and there I (as one of the system administrators) have no problem with this. Our log-in scripts even support MacOS X and there's a guide for setting this up on both Linux and MacOS X. (In theory, even *BSD is usable, but untested.)

It's easier to let the person choose the tools (with appropriate oversight) needed to get the job done rather than dictate tools from above and face a rebellion.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can't agree more

I used to work in academia on a Dell, dual-booting to Linux whenever I wanted to code. Academic software is generally compiled with GCC, probably because UNIX has ruled in universities for so long.

When I got a mac, and I realised I could have both the UNIX environment and functioning drivers! I'm aware Linux has gone a long way since, but I still had driver problems on my Linux desktop less than three years ago.

I did receive emails from students asking how my academic code can be run on Windows machine, and in general I answer to try Cygwin, but other than that they're on their own. I have no idea why a university would only offer Windows computers to their CS students, but I'm not going to spend my time supporting that decision.

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Re: Can't agree more

To answer your students, if it's C code, mingw should be enough, rather than cygwin. I'm not 100% sure if cygwin is still supported.

Or alternatively, give them a small Linux VM image, and let them run that and ssh into it from Windows.

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Re: Can't agree more

Been an Apple fan since 1979. Not a diehard, evangelical, "Winblows is evil" fanatic but someone who has always used Apple/Mac to code with because I am used to using it.There were some highpoints I can recall, such 7.1.1, 7.61 and 8.6 while 7.5.3 and 9 were definitely not.

Unfortunately Docker then came along and (kitematic notwithstanding) now I do just about everything on Ubuntu.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can't agree more

When I was at University they removed all their sun rays and replaced them with shiny new dells running XP.

Which, because we were studying courses in c, and operating systems we used to run putty and xming into the the sparc-servers the sun rays used to back onto.

I can only assume there was a budget that needed spending.

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Holmes

@ AC re: windows

>how my academic code can be run on Windows machine

VirtualBox with a stripped down debian 7.8 or such (because it was the first reasonable .iso I could get straight from the source without scouring the net). If they cannot figure out the command line, well then, they can always get a desktop bundled version.

This runs on obscenely old hardware on XP (and pretty much everything else). Allows for experimenting with VMs and also virtual networking. Can practice scripting in both environments and pass data between while simply toggling through windows.

Bonus: use plug-and-play linux install to make minimal CLFS scientific/academic UNIX install

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Re: Can't agree more

"The software I use best runs under a Unix-like environment" this is ironic since OS X is actually certified as Unix whereas Linux is not LOL

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can't agree more

"The software I use best runs under a Unix-like environment" this is ironic since OS X is actually certified as Unix whereas Linux is not LOL

I wasn't saying OS X was not Unix. It is, but with Apple's spin on it. Yes my software runs there, and it generally runs well. There are some slight differences to Linux and traditional Unix, which is where most of the software I run is developed.

It was more a reason why I don't run Windows, which is NOT a Unix-like OS. My primary reasoning for not liking OS X was down to the hardware it runs on. The OS is also a little inflexible with regards to key bindings and workflow (although not as bad as Windows).

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FAIL

"So, why are the smartest people in the world using MacBooks?"

Because Macs generally (for most values of generally) just work; a feat that Windows hasn't been capable of since Windows 2000.

Where I work, if our Windows laptops show any sign of weirdness that can't be solved with a reboot or some simple flowchart-based support, our IT support simply swap them for another machine and hope for the best. No attempt at a diagnosis is made. This sort of madness doesn't need to happen with Macs or any other Unix-based machines.

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-NT4: Great, snappy, fast, reliable. No USB, no drives over 8GB, no DirectX

-98: Crashed a lot.

-2000: Stable enough, but did some weird shit with Zip drives.

- XP: Had ShadowCopy, but no built in application for actually making system images.

-Vista: Would restart itself whether the user wanted it to or not, in order to install updates. No good then for any long render, calculation or simulation.

- 7: I'm liking 7. A few niggles.

I use Windows because I use CAD software - and the reason engineers don't historically use Macs was covered by the first poster on this thread. When I have played with Linux distros, I did notice how much scientific software was available.

Really, if you need a program, then the OS is merely to launch that program. If I was a musician or a graphic designer, I would use OSX.

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"NT4: Great, snappy, fast, reliable. No USB, no drives over 8GB, no DirectX"

NT4 - released two years before USB devices were generally available with USB 1.1

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Time machine?

I figure one of the most important things aspiring boffins do is write reports.

We all read, and laugh at, stories about PhD students losing their life's work due to a disk failure etc. Some have even lost stuff because they overwrote a good version of a thesis/report with a crap version.

Apple's Time Machine backup system is easy enough to use (even for social scientists) and does the backups even if you forget. That has got to be a winner.

Many of them are on grants, so they're spending other people's money.

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Yea my web server/file server (it does dual roles) which runs XP is so unusable that the last time it went down was when there was a power outage, and the time before was another power outage (something like 1 year prior).

My current PC with windows 7 I think has crashed 1-2 times in the past 3 years, and that was strictly due to the software having issues that I was using at the time.

Windows 8 I'll give you that sorta works as it's a royal PITA to get to do anything.

Your IT support sounds mediocre, and needs replacing.

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Haha

Macs "just work"? Clearly you haven't ever had to support Apple devices. True, they may have SLIGHTLY less issues than Windows devices, but they are a LOT worse to deal with when they do fail.

If you want to use Linux, just install (totally free!) Linux on whatever remotely compatible device you want to! I am into Mint these days as distros go, but pick your poison and save a few bucks on hardware. (Apple does build beautiful hardware, but after 10+ years of trying to coax machines to behave, there is no mystique for me.)

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What CAD software do you use?

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Anonymous Coward

I grew up using both Macs and PCs in my late teens. In those days, the Windows "blue screen of death" was a common occurrence. Not only did the Mac "just work", but it had a beautifully-designed UI with literally a whole book of user interface guidelines for developers to follow, to ensure applications work consistently. You spend less time swearing at the machine because it just does what you expect.

That was in the days of System 6. At System 7, the Mac became just as unreliable as the PC, and I abandoned it.

Meanwhile Windows was getting better but still rubbish. I remember one of my expert sysadmin colleagues being pleased that the company had upgraded the RAM in his Windows NT workstation, as it meant he only had to reboot it once a week instead of once every 2-3 days.

Once I discovered Linux which "just worked", I jumped in. When OSX came along, I knew I would eventually be tempted back to Mac. I made the shift when I was in an environment which required me to share Powerpoint and Word documents. (Libreoffice was, and still is, useless for editing Powerpoint without corrupting it)

The fact that Macbooks have good hardware design is a minor issue for me. It's entirely about the OS. If I could run OSX on a normal PC, I would. (I know it's possible, but I can't be bothered with "Hackintosh" and mucking around with compiling kernels and the like).

Given the way OSX is going with forcing your data into the cloud without your permission, I can see myself swinging back to Linux at some point.

But one thing is for sure: I'm not tolerating Windows ever again. Occasionally I'm forced to touch it and if it weren't for Google it would be completely unusable. Example: tried resizing a PowerShell window? Thought you could just drag the corner of the window? Think again. Oh yes, you have to right-click on the icon in top left hand corner, then select "Properties", then select the "Layout" tab, and under the "Window size" heading edit a text box which gives the width, then click "OK". Obvious. These people have no CLUE about user interface design.

Finally, I thought this comment from the article was illuminating:

"scientists tend to operate in environments where they have a freer choice regarding the selection of their computers, and the result is Mac usage that is disproportionately high when compared to your average enterprise"

Put it another way: many/most people would prefer a Mac if they had the choice. More simply again: many/most people hate Windows.

Could this also explain why Windows phones and tablets have such a tiny market share? The name "Windows" chimes with everyone as meaning "horrible user experience"

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NT4 wasn't really fit for purpose until SP6 - which was so large it was more like a new OS - and SP6 was released over a year after USB 1.1.

Some of us were trying to use NT4 on our workstations as it was more stable than win98 so USB would have been nice. Acutally, it was because NT4 couldn't run a dial-up modem that I switched to Linux. If I've needed to use an MS only tool (VB6, XML Spy) I've run Windows in an VM - and actually Win2000 worked well in a VM - the bloated XP, not so good.

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Am I going crazy, or wasn't there a third party USB driver for NT? I thought I remembered USB devices on an NT workstation once...but it was so long ago it's all hazy.

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Anonymous Coward

didn't USB support and a few other nice features come with NT4 SP3?

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Anonymous Coward

I grew up using both Macs and PCs in my late teens. In those days, the Windows "blue screen of death" was a common occurrence. Not only did the Mac "just work", but it had a beautifully-designed UI with literally a whole book of user interface guidelines for developers to follow, to ensure applications work consistently. You spend less time swearing at the machine because it just does what you expect.

That last line pretty much summarises my own reasons for using a Mac.

I didn't plan to use a Mac. My last experience with Macs was having to use OS 9 at Cable & Wireless in London and I hated it with a passion. My own personal platform at the time was Linux on the server and Windows on the desktop.

To cut a far too long story short, my last impression of Macs was thus far from positive, so when I had to research a book I only bought a MacBook as a research tool, fully planning to have it just as a backup laptop after getting used to the OS for a month.

That was not what happened.

Instead, I threw out everything Windows, and it's a decision I have not regretted since. Now it's (still) Linux on the server, and OSX on the desktop, and it indeed just works. I don't think there is such a thing as the perfect computing platform, but for my needs, OSX pretty much hits it dead centre.

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"Because Macs generally (for most values of generally) just work; a feat that Windows hasn't been capable of since Windows 2000.

What an absolute crock! I don't know anyone who would complain that Windows doesn't 'just work'.

It may not look or behave quite the way they are used to or like, but to say that it's not functional really goes too far.

That you prefer to replace a machine and hope for the best speaks more about your lack of knowledge and ability and points to abject laziness and apathy than it does about the operating system and the chances are, it's down to some third party weirdness anyway, not the OS.

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So you have such a low level of knowledge about an OS that you require the assistance of Google to use it? And that, somehow is a failing of the OS?

And yet, despite some admittedly dubious decisions about the GUI choice of Windows 8.1, my 7 year old son can happily pick up a Windows laptop and find his way around it?

I reboot my laptop roughly monthly after applying patches, whether said patches require it or not. Otherwise it gets hibernated every day.

"many/most people hate Windows.". Whilst I agree that many on here may hate it, given there seems to be a larger than average Linux contingency than elsewhere for general forums, give me some sources that back up your spurious claim that MOST people hate it.

Nice rant, otherwise.

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Don't confuse reluctantly using Windows with "not hating Windows". In my experience, most people who use Windows loathe it, but feel they have no other choice. That's sort of why "Windows" was a really bad way to sell phones. The brand name is a net negative.

Though, oddly, the UK has a much higher % of Windows phone users than elsewhere. Blackberry users too. Quite odd.

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I would beg to differ - I use both a macbook and pc at work for different tasks and I have the same amount of issues with both. With windows I have to go through some arcane paths to get software to work that on the mac does just work. But the mac sometimes does things for no apparent reasons that can take days to fix. My recent one was the network printer disappearing and being impossible to get back - a week later it magically reappeared (no system or printer updates in that time).

Funny you mention IT simply swapping windows laptops if things don't work - my colleague has just had their macbook replaced twice because it had weirdness that couldn't be solved by a reboot or simple flowchart-based support. The latest one seems to be behaving so far - no idea why the others weren't.

TLDR; all systems have quirks and don't "just work" for all situations so use what's appropriate and don't judge people for using something you don't agree with if they have valid reasons.

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> Given the way OSX is going with forcing your data into the cloud without your permission, I can see myself swinging back to Linux at some point.

When did that forcing happen? Sure, Apple wants everyone to go cloudy, but I choose what to keep local and what in which cloud.

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"Don't confuse reluctantly using Windows with "not hating Windows". In my experience, most people who use Windows loathe it, but feel they have no other choice.

Really? Because my experience is that most normal users - i.e. non technical personnel are absolutely and utterly ambivalent towards it - it's just something that is there and that they've got used to using on a day-to-day basis and really don't care one way or the other. The general moans have always been towards the particular application(s) they're forced to use, rather than the OS.

And therein might be the problem. Because they're not technical they moan about Windows as opposed to "Application X, Y or Z".

I've spent most of the last 20 years specialising in Citrix technologies and I still see and hear complaints about Citrix that are utterly unrelated to it - but it's a word they know, and is the most visible thing to fail.

I would also suggest that this is another case of the echo chamber as reported recently on here - if you mostly mix with non-Windows users, you will only get a positive reinforcement of their opinions. And when that comes to Linux/*nix/OSX they tend to be a very vocal group too.

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NT4 certainly had no native USB support, but you could use a third party driver. Saved my bacon when trying to support some old hardware(/software) in the past. Sadly, not that far in the past, this was probably about 2011, and the PC's probably still attached to the lab equipment it runs.

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Anonymous Coward

Horses for courses

I use a Windows 8.1 desktop at home for working on my photos and coding C# and Android. I use Windows & Linux at work to admin Windows and Solaris boxes, and I own a Macbook with OSX when I'm away from home shooting and editing photos. I have an Android phone and an Apple iPod for music. My wife has two Macs and a Macbook, my daughter doesn't care what she uses provided it has an Office suite and can play Sims and Minecraft ( which both Windows and OSX can ). I also have a Honda car, an Epson printer and own Canon, SONY and Fuji cameras.

"Horses for courses." - I use what I need to use to get the stuff in my life done. Brand loyalty is absolute bollocks put about by marketing drones to ensure people buy the latest Supersonic Hydromatic Gadget from company X. Always choose your gadgets based on what they offer you in order to your s**t done!

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Then your IT department .....

is just crap and lazy to boot. They don't know anything about Windows.

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Don't remember which SP it came with but USB support did come to NT4, but it didn't support hot plugging as I recall. I (hazily) remember some specific devices with custom drivers you could plug in with the machine running and it'd work but most needed a reboot.

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Anonymous Coward

My recent one was the network printer disappearing and being impossible to get back - a week later it magically reappeared (no system or printer updates in that time).

Yes, Bonjour and me don't always get on either.

However, if you have that problem it may be worth checking for the presence of a nearby WiFi repeater. I recently installed an Epson WF 7610 (A3 inkjet multi function device) and it is a brilliant machine, unless there is a WiFi repeater about. At that point you will find that the OSX print queue gets messed up something weird, to the point of needing to re-install the print queue. Not sure if that was OSX or Epson, but relocating the repeater helped.

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Bronze badge

You could argue that it isn't Windows that is hated (though you would frequently be wrong) so much as software like Microsoft Office, which is an ungodly nightmare (but so is Open Office on Linux). My experience is that Windows simply has problems weekly while Linux has problems - yearly at best. That latter seems to be changing as we see programmers appearing in Linux bailiwick who "need" to restart Linux following an update. Apparently not experience Linux/Unix programmers.

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Cost - cost -cost

Linux software is extraordinarily inexpensive compared to Windows or Mac. Some of us send along the occasional donation, but world-class software like R or GRASS is otherwise free. The comparable commercial software is brutally expensive and your typical grad student or even undergrad can afford it more than even a seat license or a "student" version of SPSS or Stata and don't even think about ArcGIS . They are fine programs but the cost leaves you without ramen and beer for a week or a month or even the rest of the semester.

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In my experience, most normal users don't ahve issues with any given application nearly so much as they have issues with Windows Explorer. To the end user, Windows Explorer is Windows. And they are frustrated as all hell by it.

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> When did that forcing happen? Sure, Apple wants everyone to go cloudy, but I choose what to keep local and what in which cloud.

OK, I'll bite.

It started in earnest with version 10.9

Before then, you could sync an iWhatsit or an Android device locally. Doing this (for contacts and calendars) requires Sync Services which was a standard service for "a long time". In 10.9 Sync Services were quietly dropped on the basis that "everyone syncs their iWhatsits via iCloud" (and an inference that users of other mobile devices don't exist and/or don't matter.)

There was a big backlash against it, so Apple actually had to backtrack - so being able to connect your iWhatsit via USB cable and sync was restored. Sync Services as a whole wasn't, so "Missing Sync for [ Android | iPhone | Blackberry ]" became useless and has been dropped as a product for new purchases.

It's what's keeping me on version 10.8.

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Silver badge

Well we need to agree to disagree. I've just recently completed a multi-thousand user refresh for a council in England.

As part of the requirements gathering, I spoke to a large cross section of users across multiple departments and I am struggling to recall any issues with Windows and/or Explorer. RSA/Web access/Application Issues etc etc but nothing I can remember as being the OS.

But I guess if you see the glass as half empty, then you will just reinforce your own negative perceptions.

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Anonymous Coward

But I guess if you see the glass as half empty, then you will just reinforce your own negative perceptions.

It's known as confirmation bias. This is also why it is fairly pointless to have this discussion with someone who has not used any of the platforms under discussion for at least two months because they have no factual basis for their opinion (not that it stops them HAVING an opinion, mind :) ).

This is also why I hate statements like "this product/service/feature" is going to be better/best - only experience will tell, and that takes time.

There is also the matter of volume. We switched to OSX after a few months of evaluation, but we're a small shop so keeping them in good shape is not automated. I would have no idea what it would be like to manage the sort of volume you're dealing with, because that requires management tools. Other than centralised password management and security surveillance we don't have any central management, so your context is already sufficiently different to ours to possibly change choices and approach.

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Thumb Up

@TonyJ

Spot on, you are now officially The Voice of Reason, use your powers wisely..

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"Acutally, it was because NT4 couldn't run a dial-up modem that I switched to Linux."

Eh? I ran a couple of NT4 boxes with dial-up modems without any hassle.

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"the bloated XP" - which is smaller than a phone OS these days.

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Mushroom

Facing the Inquisition

Having supported them at a major phrama house for years my observation has been all the negative reactions from others if someone has the temerity to use a Windows machine. The grunts, moans and demeaning comments really should be compiled into a video for CS majors.

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"I really cut my teeth on computer networks in the early 90s. Right around the time Apple went mad ... [a]s such, I've typically dismissed anything an Apple fanperson has to say about computers"

I think this is 90% of the problem when it comes to discussing Apple rationally; the desire to partition certain people into groups and assign to all of them the same credibility as a tiny group had over twenty years ago. As often indulged by everybody, with every point of view.

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