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 …

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Yes, it depends

Someone with a penchant or motivation for learning things will deal with whatever computer they need to and a Mac is probably a sensible choice for most scientists.

For me the problem with Macs is actually Mac users. Many are no problem, but I don't believe that users who struggle to figure things out are helped by using a Mac. They still struggle. I'm always getting non-standard files from them (dot pages anyone?) and e-mail attachments which can't be opened on any other system.

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Re: Yes, it depends

"...I'm always getting non-standard files from them (dot pages anyone?)..."

And every graphic/web designer in the world will match your story with several about asking clients for a copy of a company logo or product images and being sent Word docs with said files pasted into them.

...or asking for copy text in plaintext format and being sent .docx files.

..or applying for a graphic design job at a company and being sent the application form by their HR department, in .docx format.

So what does either my or your point prove?

Merely that a lot of people don't know much about computing outside their own field –whatever the OS involved.

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News: "People buy computers that run the software they need"

I always thought that the sensible way of buying kit was a) work out what you want it to do b), find the software that does it, then c) get a computer that will run said software.

OSX is built on Unix, so seems logical to me if that's what their software is written for. Isn't that why coders buy Macs?

I have much less sympathy/more derision for those who buy a Mac, then try to find software that does what they want.

What? I have to buy Office again?

Yup.

But what about my old gribblewiggl software?

Not available, er why did you buy a Mac?

Because Apple says they're the best computers in the world and they're a really great company who would never lie to us or abuse our ignorance.

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Re: News: "People buy computers that run the software they need"

>Isn't that why coders buy Macs?

Linus Torvalds says he uses a MacBook Air because it is quiet and it is lightweight. He has some opinions about Mac software, but then he would, wouldn't he?

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The view from Silicon Valley

Pretty much everyone here uses Macs, largely for the same reasons scientists do - most of the internet & mobile is built on Linux backends, so having a (largely) Unix machine that's usable as an every day computer is important. It also helps that Apple pioneered the long-lasting lightweight relatively powerful laptop.

Also, most of consumer tech these days is driven by mobile and, at least in terms of 3rd party developer revenue, Apple dominates. If you want to develop for iOS, you pretty much need to use a Mac.

The side effect of all this adoption is that a lot of really, really good applications are only available on OSX. True, they tend to veer towards creatives (Sketch, FinalCut, etc), but it's also the case that most mobile consumer apps also start out iOS....

Finally, if you need to run several operating systems including OSX, you pretty much don't have another choice. And you do get the benefit of extremely high resale values.....

I'm not really sure what IT people have against Macs - it seems to be that they cause fewer user headaches, so less support burden. And, for whatever reason, they seem to get less infected by bad crap (again, lower support burden), the hardware is usually better quality and it retains it's value/usability for a longer period of time.

Me, I'm pretty agnostic - use an iMac every day, but I also have a Toshiba laptop running mostly Linux Mint but sometimes Win7 , several iDevices, several Android devices and at least 3 Linux machines running constantly in my house.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

Working in a large research environment, I can unequivocally say that the Mac users generate at least 3x the support calls per head that Windows users do. There is much less problem solving capability demonstrated when issues arise.

I also see a lot of younger scientists preferring Windows laptops so they can use OneNote.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

@ckm5

"I'm not really sure what IT people have against Macs - it seems to be that they cause fewer user headaches, so less support burden."

Well, you've kind of hit the nail on the head - people (not necessarily you) don't understand why system administrators prefer not to have Macs everywhere.

The simple truth is that most people who want to use Macs don't just want to use a Mac computer - they want to run the way they do at home, without the burden of IT policies and having to use this program or that program or accessing files in this way rather than that way.

They want to be able to install whatever programs they 'need' and use whatever websites they want without firewalls blocking them or security settings stopping scripts from running. They want to view Flash on news websites and to be able to access Facebook and Twitter without needing to get signed-off approval from their managers and they want to receive zip files in their e-mails and save all their documents on their desktop rather than using the document management system and so they are easy to work with at home without having to bother connecting to the VPN.

They don't want to have to use a complex password or have to change them every 60 days and they'd rather use their e-mail mailbox as a filing system along with a collection of spreadsheets they have cobbled together rather than the company database application.

That is what most people want - it's not just a matter of using a shiny laptop with a glowing bit of fruit on the back (though that's a lot of it for some people) but of being freed from the controls and restrictions that are necessary in most larger organisations.

In situations where people are working autonomously, perhaps uploading results or data to a central website share to collaborate with people around the world then Macs work beautifully. If you are a professional photographer designer or musician, working on your own projects and transferring files to clients via DVD or dropbox and saving things on stacks of USB hard drives then, again, fine. If you are a student using your laptop to take notes and plagarise articles from Wikipedia and keep in-touch with friends and access the university e-mail then a Macbook with a sticker or two is certainly a suitable way to express your individuality and creativity while you do so.

But, if you are working in a large organisation, where protecting against unauthorised access to or disclosure of sensitive data is a major concern, and where compliance is paramount and uniformity of the system and ease of deployment are dictated by development cycles and support budgets, then Macs aren't quite so suitable an option.

Not to say they can't work in businesses great and small, and there are many add-ons and programs that will help wrangle them into some kind of order but Windows boxes are designed to be used inside such networks from the get go, and Macs simply aren't.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

I'm not really sure what IT people have against Macs - it seems to be that they cause fewer user headaches, so less support burden. And, for whatever reason, they seem to get less infected by bad crap (again, lower support burden), the hardware is usually better quality and it retains it's value/usability for a longer period of time.

Try repairing them.

Hint they are not fun specially the new ones where every single damn thing is glued together.

Where I used to work we had Dells if one failed dell sent us a board to swap out so we could get it done fast. Actually they sent us a few extra boards as we had hundreds of laptops which when one died we sent the board back, and they sent us a replacement on the side. All in all if the MB failed on the laptop it took me maybe 15 minutes to replace it so the laptop was down for under a half hour(including diagnosis).

Try that with a new mac book as to dismantle them you need a heatgun, but good luck getting parts for repair you have to send it to apple which can take a week or so.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

I know that you are bullshitting because OneNote is available on Android, iOS and OS X.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The view from Silicon Valley

what he said!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The view from Silicon Valley

"I also see a lot of younger scientists preferring Windows laptops so they can use OneNote."

which would be weird, given that OneNote is available free in the Mac App Store...

Hmmm

AC

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Re: The view from High Wycombe

I contracted at a company in High Wycombe which sells technical musical equipment. Great place to work, lovely atmosphere, chef cooked free lunches, free Nespresso's all day etc.

The main IT guy was a nice bloke who was trying to run a Windows network - however!

He told me that over the course of a few months they'd expanded and taken on designers, musicians, coders, techies etc - all in all about 12-14 new staff.

He said that something like all but one had said they wanted to use a Mac - and - nearly all had actually turned up with their Mac's expecting to get on with their work on them.The main Windows users were admin staff using email and spreadsheets on their company issued Windows machines.

And - the article picture reminds me of Drupalcon Croydon 2011. Full of very techie people doing very techie things - and when I looked around the main hall with several hundred delegates in it all I could see were Apple logos - and that was four years ago. Me - on my old Elitebook with Ubuntu installed.

Things do seem to be changing.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

Thought the 'internet' was built on a certain CERN individual's Mac IIcx.

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Re: The view from High Wycombe

I've just show a musician friend who has a mac and the biggest fuckoff screen ever a load of stuff running on the RaspberryPi 2. He was gobsmacked.

The reason why a lot of musician use Macs is cos that's what they are shown and know. When you spend more on a single musical instrument than you do on a mac it doesnt seem a lot to ask. When you realise that a ten year old can have a full blown recording studio for less than £200 on a Pi the school budget looks VERY different.

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Re: The view from Onenote

Onenote has been available in the iStore for about 1 year. Onenote has been available on Windows for 10+ years, so your "insight" is overly simplistic.

I will aso mention that until very recently, the non-free versions were more funcitonal, and useable.

The original statement is a valid conclusion. mmm hmmm.

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Gimp

Re: The view from Silicon Valley

@macjules

I'm not sure if you are trolling or not. He used another Jobsian device a NeXT computer running a BSD derived OS. You could say that that was a progenitor of the later fruity stuff when Jobs came back to Apple.

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Re: The view from High Wycombe

a full blown recording studio for less than £200 on a Pi

LOL. What the fuck are you talking about?!

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

If you think these very very recent editions are as featured as the Windows version you are wildly mistaken.

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Re: The view from Silicon Valley

@dan1980 "The simple truth is that most people who want to use Macs don't just want to use a Mac computer - they want to run the way they do at home, without the burden of IT policies and having to use this program or that program or accessing files in this way rather than that way."

No one wants to use their computers with the restrictions they have at work. Being on a Mac has nothing to do with it.

I look at Macs as having a higher initial outlay cost, and then a higher support cost per head and per incident across the organisation.

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Anonymous Coward

Where I work, we used to be a mac shop.

All laptops were Macbook Pros. The main reason we were buying them were that (despite what most people seem to think) they were "fairly" cost effective, although perhaps a touch on the expensive side, if you take everything into account. Plus they were good quality and reliable.

Then we started getting the failures ... the motherboard issues, the graphics card glitches in whole batches of machines. Suddenly, when the machines start falling over left, right and centre, they don't seem that cost effective.

So now they're expensive and shit.

We get Lenovos now and we're pretty satisfied with them. Built like bricks and they feel like they would outlive the cockroaches come the nuclear holocaust.

I have run OSX, Linux and Windows on Macbook Pros in the past and they worked pretty much out of the box. I seem to remember the only slight headache was getting hold of firmware so that the camera could be made to work but that turned out to be fairly straight forward.

I wouldn't have another mac now.

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>the motherboard issues, the graphics card glitches in whole batches of machines.

As happened to MS's XBOX 360, as happened to Dells machines. As happened to loads of makers because they didn't at that time know how to use lead-free solder. Legislators enforce a new material that nobody has much experience of using.

That was then. Now is now.

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@Dave 126

While what you are saying about the regulations around lead may well be the cause of failures, these types of changes are usually flagged well in advance, with the express purpose of allowing affected parties the time to adjust.

For RoHS, it was sorted out in 2003 but companies had 3 years to get their acts together so if they point the finger at that regulation for failures then they are trying to shift the blame.

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Anonymous Coward

> As happened to loads of makers because they didn't at that time know how to use lead-free solder. Legislators enforce a new material that nobody has much experience of using.

I will bow to the weight of any evidence that you can provide, but I for one have a lot of trouble accepting that motherboard manufacturers don't know how to solder, even post RoHS.

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DN4

What about us?

Here it is like half Windows, half Linux.

The dividing line goes approximately between people just using commercial software and people creating their own tools (the latter would not be considered normal users in an office but in a physics department it is different). While Macs can do both and there is usually a way to get most Windows and Linux software working, the appeal to people either locked deeply in Windows software or accustomed to open source environments and tools is kind of limited...

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"Even a blind pig will truffle every now and again."

Well, considering truffle hogs locate the tasty morsels via smell, this would not be so surprising.

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And some people turn their car radios down so that they can find the street they're looking for better...

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CERN use Mac...

Let me think...

TBL@CERN invented www on NextStep

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Speaking as a Scientist...

We spend our days writing and running Fortran/C/C++ codes, and analyzing the results. Our "can't do without" software packages include gcc, python, perl, bash, netCDF, R --- plus the scientific codes we write and run. All of this stuff is written for Unix, and it's questionable how well it will run with Cygwin. Our lab doesn't even support our main software product on Windows. Not to mention that the command line windows on Mac/Linux are so much better than on Windows. That is why nobody uses a PC in this lab, the choices is Mac vs. Linux. The supercomputer runs Linux. Mac is a good choice for your personal computer (laptop) because:

1. Macs are better built than most laptops (maybe not Lenovo).

2. Government regulations prohibit buying computers from Chinese companies (such as Lenovo) because our gov is afraid of built-in spyware, such as the recent phony root certificate found on Lenovos.

3. A lot of ancillary things don't "just work" on Linux, and they do on Mac. Since it's not "job related," helping you get YouTube working on your Linux laptop won't be a big priority with IT.

4. The Linxues allowed by IT are hopelessly out of date --- meaning, you have to build your own GCC plus every library your software requires. Big PITA.

5. We generally don't have root privileges on our machines. With a Mac, you can build a Macports for all your needs in user-space, and upgrade it whenever you feel like it, no root privileges required. The same COULD exist for Linux, but it doesn't. Instead, you have to say "sudo yum ..." and you have to run down to IT every time you need to type "sudo."

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DN4

Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

> We generally don't have root privileges on our machines...

So Macs have better workarounds for restrictions that make computers not fit for the purpose?

You have a problem.

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Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

"So Macs have better workarounds for restrictions that make computers not fit for the purpose?"

No, Linux machines have build processes that require root elevation without justification.

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Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

@James Cane

"No, Linux machines have build processes that require root elevation without justification."

The justification seems to me pretty straightforward: to prevent users borking their system (been there, done that - on my own machines). With great power, etc.

As it happens, the IT people in my establishment (a university research lab) have a pretty reasonable attitude: you are free to opt out of running an IT-managed Linux and install your own - but then don't expect IT support.

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Facepalm

Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

Yes. Priviledges exist for a reason: people doing things they shouldn't.

If someone should have access, they'll have a password.

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Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

"No, Linux machines have build processes that require root elevation without justification."

Until you make a reasonable request to IT for permission to do what you need to do and then you will be given permission to do that (not as su) and accept the responsibility that goes with that.

The sensible thing is to stop anything happening until you are sure it should. MS could learn from that.

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Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

The above comment is pretty similar to our situation. I spend a lot of time developing analysis software (mostly in C) and running data analyses (genomics so typical projects involve TB of data). I can develop on the Mac and transfer the working code to the linux cluster for the heavy lifting. Yes, I could do this in Linux and I have had linux and *BSD laptops over the years, but at some point I got bored with the hassle each time i wanted to do 'odd' things like, for example, give a lecture/presentation. In fact in bioinformatics in general (which is a fairly computationally intensive field) you see a lot of mac laptops at meetings.

The other major reason that I have been using mac laptops now for the last 10 years or so is that I have been living in France and Spain and many companies apart from Apple make it really difficult to get a US keyboard on a laptop, and I hate programming on a French or Spanish keyboard!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Speaking as a Scientist... @Simon

"The other major reason that I have been using mac laptops now for the last 10 years or so is that I have been living in France and Spain and many companies apart from Apple make it really difficult to get a US keyboard on a laptop, and I hate programming on a French or Spanish keyboard!"

I work at a shop that also does HP integration and warranty work. Ordering laptop keyboards with any layout isn't a problem at all, and the replacement is usually a very simple less-than-5-minute work or so. I've ordered keyboards for Thinkpads and even Acer's too and the experience has been similar. Perhaps your French/Spanish computer shoppes just don't offer a good customer service, or your choice of Wintel laptop brand just doesn't have a good service channel.

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Re: Speaking as a Scientist...

> The justification seems to me pretty straightforward: to prevent users borking their system

Yes, but no. The problem today isn't just users who unwittingly type 'sudo rm -rf /'. Also is the prevalence of malware that is just waiting for you to run it with "sudo." There is less that can go wrong if you are able to install the software you need without root privileges.

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Unhappy

Re: Speaking as a Scientist... @Simon

"Perhaps your French/Spanish computer shoppes just don't offer a good customer service, or your choice of Wintel laptop brand just doesn't have a good service channel."

I'm in Switzerland and there is no problem getting what you want via a channel provider, but if you only have access to retail outlets you are well and truly stuck with Swiss keyboards.

Apple is the only major brand who offer an English keyboard at the retail level.

And programming with various European keyboards is a real pain, not to mention the occasional utility which demands a key combination which is not available (yes I know you can remap keys, but that's tiresome).

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Sheeple?

There are many arguments for/against buying a Mac but the 90% criticizing the 10% for following the herd is one I could never quite understand.

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Re: Sheeple?

Easy, One of the 90% called the 10% "sheeple", and the rest followed.

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Re: Sheeple?

@Michael M

" . . . he 90% criticizing the 10% for following the herd . . ".

Well, it's really about context. In a university situation, many of the students will be using Macbooks so they are the 90% there. Other scenarios and the situation is reversed.

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That Cisco policy

Was in effect when I was acqui-hired (Mid 2000s). They asked me to choose among several machines and I ticked the box for a MacBook Pro. My supervisor OK'd it. Then I.T. delivered my Thinkpad. Not to be too harsh. That T40 was pretty nice, once I got all the third-party software I needed installed and configured. Would have been really sweet if the Access Point nearest my cube had managed to stay lit.

As with many others, the combo of "This is Unix, I know it". and a working Office(tm) for all the dreck from management was the ticket. Of course, now that I'm buying my own machines and administering them myself, I'm getting pretty tired of each OS "upgrade" being less stable, and having to buy a new computer every 4 years to run the next OS (the only one with security fixes)

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Re: That Cisco policy

I have a late 2008 standard Macbook (not a pro, not an air). It's running Yosemite perfectly happily and seems stable, and it's coming up for seven years old now.

CPUs got powerful enough around 2007-2008 that the upgrade-to-cope argument has become less and less important.

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Re: That Cisco policy

I have a 2007 Macbook Pro that is presently running 10.10 Yosemite and which Apple have just announced will run 10.11 El Capitan. There are one or two machines that are a bit newer than that which are not supported, but every computer Apple has released since 2009 will support the latest OS for at least another year. This is the third new OS release from Apple that has not dropped support for any hardware at all compared to the previous release. Apple has not always been good in this department, but they have really raised their game in this respect recently.

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Re: That Cisco policy

I think it is more the GPU, in this case. Apple decided in 2008 that the Intel graphics on its lower-end machines were not good enough, and as a consequence they switched their entire product line to nVidia graphics in 2008-9. They didn't make any machines at all that used only Intel graphics until 2011, by which time Intel had rather upped their game. OS-X 10.11 (and 10.10, and 10.9) support any machine released after that switch to nVidia graphics, and any machine from about 2007 that had discrete graphics rather than integrated Intel graphics.

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Meh

Re: That Cisco policy

Not only Macbooks.

I have a 2008 Dell XPS M1330 that cost £500 when I bought it (reduced from £800). It came with Vista and has been upgraded to Windows 7 and then 8.1

Just installed Windows 10 Technical preview on it, and it is working very well.

You don't have to buy an apple machine to have a computer that still works with the latest operating system 7-8 years later.

People constantly compare a £1000 mac computer to a £300 cheap laptop. Try comparing them to a similar priced PC and there is a LOT less difference in quality.

Mind you - I do agree that an 7 year old windows laptop is normally worth a lot less in the resale market :-)

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The scientific community and the academic community are deeply interconnected. Given Apple's strength in the education market, it's not surprising they are better represented in the scientific community than in the general business arena.

At my startup here in San Francisco, the Mac is the company standard, and that's consistent with most tech startups in the Bay Area. We're not religious about this, and two of of our 30+ employees actually opted to use Windows, primarily because Excel for Mac is so far behind the Windows version (we buy the licenses, but they are on their own for installing it and supporting themselves). We don't have centralized account management or directory services, but our IT is either cloud-based, web-based internal apps coded to web standards (we don't test on IE, so if they run Windows they have to use Chrome/Firefox) or SSH to UNIX (Solaris) machines. In practice, it's BYOD except the company is paying for the devices. It all works far more smoothly than my previous startup where we ran Windows and had 2 full-time IT people supporting it.

There are places where regulatory requirements (e.g. HIPAA or banking regulations) require a locked-down environment with Active Directory and Policy Editor, but in this era of cloud services the client OS is much less relevant than it used to be. I thought it was a cliche, but I have been at a corporate IT shop where the admins didn't bother to conceal that job security was the main reason why they pushed Microsoft and Oracle technologies.

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LoL

You do know everyone uses apple

Products now right?

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Anonymous Coward

Forget scientists, what about computer scientists?

Good point that academics and scientists in general are not necessarily good with computers and want something that "just works" like any other consumer.

So, acknowledging that flaw with your analysis, why not look at what the smartest computer experts use?

I know developers at companies that are known to hire top talent (e.g., Google, Amazon, Facebook), plus some people in computer science academia, plus some developers at startups. With few exceptions, these computer experts and enthusiasts use Macs.

If you're talking about supercomputing, or cloud computing, or web services, for the most part you're talking about Linux. And OS X is more compatible with Linux than Windows is. Why would computer experts who interact with this stuff want to waste their time dealing with Windows's unfamiliar command line interface and software? Makes no sense.

OS X is sort of like Linux with a nicer interface and some mainstream software support, e.g., you can get Photoshop for the Mac, etc. No wonder computer experts like it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Forget scientists, what about computer scientists?

"Good point that academics and scientists in general are not necessarily good with computers and want something that "just works" like any other consumer"

Agree that most everyone wants something that works out of the box but the first part of that sentence seems strange to me.

Scientists are generally technical focussed types; they learn and apply the knowledge they have acquired carefully.

They wouldn't add chemical A to their experiment when they mean to use chemical B. Or use a rotary vane vacuum pump when a turbomolecular one is required. And a English lecturer wouldn't use "fewer" when the right word is "less". But they will still meet problems and invent workarounds for them in their own speciality. I can think of few reasons why they couldn't if so motivated learn the techniques of any operating system.

Perhaps it's that although they all have the potential to do well with computers they choose not to.

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Bronze badge

Re: Forget scientists, what about computer scientists?

"OS X is sort of like Linux with a nicer interface"

Funny, but one of the main reasons I run Linux rather than Mac is that I've never got on with the OS X user interface. It wants me to do things this way, I want to do things that way... Linux, by contrast, doesn't have an interface, it has a large choice of interfaces, many of which are insanely configurable. That may be a Bad Thing for some, but works out just fine for me: I have over the years evolved a software environment/UI that is beautifully tailored around the way I choose to work.

"and some mainstream software support, e.g., you can get Photoshop for the Mac, etc. No wonder computer experts like it."

Photoshop? We are talking about scientists, are we not? I haven't come across anyone in my lab (roughly split between Linux and Mac plus the odd PC for unusual peripheral hardware needs) who uses it. Yes, I do have to deal with the odd Microsoft document, which Libre Office usually almost more-or-less copes with.

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