One of the common potential consequences people face whenever they post an opinion online is exposing themselves to a great deal of vitriolic feedback. This happens to us all quite a bit, but I am sometimes absolutely dumbfounded by how much someone can shout, holler, and scream about something that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Earlier this last week I received a lovely comment from someone who believes I'm stupidly giving money to Apple and saying everything they do is great, and yesterday I received a very, very, very long email telling me just how stupid I am for switching from Windows to OS X. Although these emails typically receive a one-way trip to the trash bin, I thought it would be interesting to answer this one here, as a fake reply address was provided through the contact form1.
So here's the gist of the message:
Two years ago you loved Windows and hated Mac. Now you love Mac and hate Windows. What the hell is wrong with you? How could you give in to the marking machine? You paid the Apple tax, and now Steve Jobs has even more money to lord over the people of China. If you loved HP so much, why didn't you buy another one? You used a netbook for years, so why not just upgrade to a newer model. I would have cost you a lot less, and you'd be able to do whatever you want with the hardware.
Ah, hate mail. So much to say, so little time.
The hater does make a point, though. Two years ago I did enjoy using Windows and despised anything with a fruity logo on it2. That changed after using an iPod Touch for a while, though. Things just worked, and I didn't need to reboot the device twice a day in order to be productive on it. That, and the keyboard actually worked better than any other on-screen keyboard I had seen or used up until that point. A few months later I gave OS X Snow Leopard a go in a Virtual Machine. I didn't like it at first but, after a few hours, I did see the allure of the system. Over the course of the next two years the idea that a Mac computer would be a better investment than a Windows-based machine solidified as I saw such a horrible amount of churn coming out of companies like Dell, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Samsung, and even my beloved HP that it became impossible to like anything these other companies were putting out. It was all the same cheap, ugly, plastic, WXGA crap that I had rejected in 2003 when I bought a really nice Hewlett Packard machine3
I'm assuming the hater who sent the message has either read some of my older posts or has been a semi-consistent reader over the last few years, so they've more than likely seen the string of posts that were made where I was actually talking about my desire to get a new machine. Getting a Mac was not an overnight decision. A year of research passed before the decision was made to abandon Windows-based computers. Both this blog and my Twitter history4 proves the point. But I would really like to take a closer examination of one particular point made by the hater: the Apple Tax statement.
It's true that we can buy a Windows-based PC for as little as 40,000円 here in Japan. As of this writing, an investment of 40,000円 will get you a notebook with a 15.6" screen at 1366x768, a 500GB hard disk, an Intel Core i3 processor, a BluRay Reader/DVD Burner combination drive, Windows 7, and a host of pre-installed crapware that would never survive more than 30 seconds in my house. For many people this would be good enough. A computer is a computer is a computer, after all. I would be able to copy my existing data over in the very same format, install the same applications I've been using for years, and get everything up and running in less than an hour. I should know … I've done this many, many times after reformatting a computer for whatever reason. Tack on another 8,000円, and I'll have an extended warranty that'll give me upwards of 5 years of protection with the very real possibility of receiving a new "equivalent" PC in a few years should anything really bad happen to the device.
It's function with a chance of win! What's not to like? As for the software I'd install, there's Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, Office 2010 Professional, phpDesigner, a bunch of O&O utilities5, and a handful of utilities that allow me to develop software for desktops or the web. Total cost of the software? 138,900円 as of this writing. It would be stupid to throw away this software investment!
Or would it?
My MacBook Air was bought used for 72,000円. From there I have spent a grand total of 11,450円 on development software and 8,350円 on other applications such as the Mountain Lion update, Koku6, and a few other little programs that make me a little more productive. Grand total of the transition from Windows to Mac? 91,800円. This is by no means a small amount of money for me, and it took years to save it. Would I have really been that much better off buying a Windows-based machine? In order to answer that, we need to look at the next item on the agenda: portability.
One of the biggest considerations I was making when researching which computer I should invest the money into was portability. As a person who earns a living doing what I do7, I need to carry around a lot of paper. Really … a lot of paper. Textbooks. Student worksheets. Handouts. You name it. When I go to client offices around this part of Japan, the amount of paperwork I lug around can weigh as much as 4kg. That might not sound like a lot but, when you're carrying it for upwards of five hours, it takes its toll on your back. I've had two hernias in the last five years and there is a constant reminder from the bottom two discs in my spine that I shouldn't be carrying too much. I've lost as much weight as I possibly can8, so the next bit of weight to be lost has to be from the stuff I carry. The Acer netbook that was forever by my side weighed 1.3kg, and that was a bit much some days. I needed something that was about the same, or lighter. Also, because I spend a great deal of time on the train, there needed to be some excellent battery life with the device. The netbook was good for 20 minutes on a good day, and less than 5 if there was anything plugged in to a USB port. It's not hard to see why Noteworthy took so darn long to come to market.
So I did some research. A lot of research. Which Windows-based notebooks would offer the portability that I wanted with a 12.1~13.3" screen that had a resolution higher than WXGA9, a Core i5 processor, and at least 5 hours of battery life. The keyboard is also quite important, but the number one issue for me was screen. I look at text all day long. I write software at every opportunity, and IDEs take up a lot of screen real estate. If I am constantly displaying and hiding side panels, then the screen is just too small. I don't want to have floating things slide into view with a mouse hover. I don't want to have my work environment crammed into a tiny space, either. So screen resolution is the only way to get around this problem.
Another important factor for the screen is colour calibration. For a long time my website had a bunch of mis-matched colour elements because I could not see the difference on my screens. A great example of this would be the profile image on my site, which I've included here. Can you see the difference between the left and right screen shots?
On my Acer, there was no difference at all. Even though I am colour blind, having accurate colour matching is important.
So what does this mean? Well, it means that I would have to get one of the better Windows-powered notebooks manufactured by Sony, Toshiba, or HP. None of the others come even close to offering a rich colour gamut on their machines.
Alright, now we're FINALLY getting somewhere. I've just listed three manufacturers. So let's take a look at the other elements.
An example of a thin, light, and long-lasting Sony notebook with a great screen that photo professionals online swear by would be the Z-Series VPCZ139FJ/S. Last September this model sold for 225,000円. That's quite a bit over my budget. How about a 2011 model? I can't seem to find them anywhere … nobody is selling last year's models, and eBay or Yahoo! Auctions is a little too shady for my tastes10.
How about a thin, light, long-lasting Toshiba notebook? The R-731 has everything I could ever ask for … except the screen resolutions. This is supposed to be the best machine out there, but it ships with a non-upgradable 1366x768 resolution. Have you seen or used Visual Studio on a system with a 1366x768 resolution? No? Then you would never understand why I can't use them without wanting to pull my hair out after 15 minutes. Regardless, what's the sticker price? 149,800円 to start? That's a bit over budget as well. I really want to keep the cost of a machine under 100,000円. How about last year's models? There were a few on Kakaku.com, a popular discount website here in Japan, but the starting price was 98,000円 for a basic machine. That's a bit pricey for a unit that ships with a screen I'd be pissed off about before even starting the thing up for the first time.
No … let's look at something from HP. Although I've been sadly disappointed by their advertising campaigns featuring the idiot idol group, AKB48, they have made some of my favourite computers to date. So, something thin, light, with great battery, and a wonderful screen, in a 13.3" form factor? The Envy lines have always caught my attention, but they start at 14.5", and the screens since 2010 have all been limited to 1366x768. These units, however, do ship for as little as 82,000円. Now we're getting somewhere! But WXGA resolutions on a 14.5" screen? That would piss me off even more than it would on a nice, slim Toshiba. I don't want to see pixels. Go ahead and laugh, but I want to see the difference between ば and ぱ without squinting at the screen or zooming in. English speakers may get slightly annoyed when they can't tell if a capital 'I' is an 'i' or an 'l', but it gets 100x worse when you're looking at Japanese words like 看護婦さん or 履歴書 and all you see are black splotches and unintelligible lines.
I can already hear so many haters telling me "don't read Japanese on it, stupid."
Alas the Envy lines were out of the question. How about one of the better business-class notebooks?
There wasn't a single business or professional-class notebook that offers what I was looking for with a sticker price less than 280,000円. The workstation-class machines do offer the resolutions I am looking for, but not in anything smaller than 15.4" and in a heavy, albeit attractive, magnesium-alloy-wrapped shell.
Of course then there's the problem of writing software for iOS, a mobile platform that has millions of people who will gladly drop 85円 on a disposable application, on a Windows machine. Virtual machines only go so far, and there is way too much hassle involved with OS updates.
So let's review. In order for me to have a computer with a decent battery, a decent screen resolution, and a decent weight, either I can spend over 225,000円 for a Sony Z-13, or I can get a decent battery and weight in a Toshiba R-731 for 149,800円 at the expense of the screen resolution, or I can get none of the above for 0円 because computer hardware manufacturers have been pushed to breaking point by the millions of consumers who scoff at spending more than 80,000円 for a quality computer because a computer is a computer is a computer, and that pink one over there is just 39,000円 brand new.
I'm quite happy with the fact that I could spend as little as 91,800円 for a previous-generation model computer and all the software required to turn it into my primary development machine. I'm so happy, in fact, that I would do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to turn back time and do it all again. So there we go. If spending less for something clearly good enough makes me an idiot fanboy, then so be it. One thing is clear, though; this decision was 100% mine and the people who don't agree with it should really find some other travesty of justice to rally against.