Why the Cloud Won’t Seduce Me From My Mac, At Least Not Yet

The rhetorical question du jour on the Mac Web seems to be whether the traditional Mac advantage is eroding due to increased reliance on “the Cloud,” or not. Are online applications and utilities, such as the impressive suite of free functionality marshaled by Google, making the rationale for owning a Mac instead of some bore bare-bones Web access device obsolete?

After all, that’s at least the theoretical argument (aside from low-ball pricing) for the PC mini-note or netbook phenomenon, and it’s certainly resonating with some. Recently, blogger and Mac veteran Mike Doyle announced that he is “dumping Apple” after 15 years as a Mac-user, saying he’s finally lost patience with what he calls Steve Jobs’ “you’ll use your computer the way we tell you to use your computer method of customer relations.”

A Thorough Purge

Mike is doing a thorough purge, switching to Gmail and Google Calendar in place of Apple’s Mail and iCal applications, allowing that Google’s Web apps are not only more robust than Apple’s desktop counterparts, but happily free.

Formerly an avowed staunch Apple evangelist, he’s now become an incisive critic of Apple under the regime of Mr. Jobs, particularly what he perceives as an overall marketing strategy concentrating primarily on attracting PC converts — ie. dumbed-down to accommodate a lower common denominator class of user, with a bundled suite of closely interlinked but relatively mediocre “iLife” programs that meet the basic needs and tastes of average, non power users, but not much more.

Mike is fed up with Apple routinely and superciliously releasing software and system updates that break popular third-party applications and add-ons, expecting Mac-users to just suck it up.

“As good as Mac OS X?”

Doyle’s frustration led him to do an audit of Apple software he actually uses anymore, and didn’t come up with much, noting that Google and other open source, third-party applications’ ease of use has drawn him more and more into the cloud. He’s dumped Safari for Firefox and NetNewsWire, replaced Apple Pages and MS Word with Google Docs for word processing, disabled the Dock in favor of DragThing, and migrated his library of 15,000 photos out of iPhoto and into Picasa.

He still uses iTunes, but that’s about it, so he no longer perceives a compelling argument for continuing to use a Mac, especially with the release of Windows 7, observing that when perennial Wall Street Journal Mac fanboy Walt Mossberg called Win7 “as good as Mac OS X” that pretty much sealed the deal for him. He’s commencing a gradual switch to Windows 7, first running it in a virtual machine on his MacBook, and says his next computer will be a PC.

Now, this all makes considerable rational sense, and a lot of it resonates with my own ruminations these days. One difference however, is that having been a consummate Mac (although not necessarily Apple) fanboy for 17 years now, I’ve never been really smitten by Apple-branded software, other than the sublime Mac OS itself, since very early on. The last non-system Apple application I was really a cheerleader for was HyperCard, and Mr. Jobs pulled the plug on that about a dozen years ago.

From the early days I used Word, then other third-party apps, for word processing and text-crunching. I bought, and tried to like MacWrite 2, but soon gave up on it, and I always found ClarisWorks/AppleWorks a disappointing jack of all trades and master of none. I’m not a fan of Pages either, and soon gave up on it after giving it a fair shake.

Ditto for iPhoto. I’m a fan of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, which since version 6 has come bundled with Adobe’s Bridge CS3 or 4 photo browsing, organization, and management application, which is a much more satisfactory solution than iPhoto (albeit more costly).

Chrome Already My Favorite Browser

I use Safari some, but it’s probably my fifth or sixth favorite OS X Web Browser. Google’s Chrome has already vaulted to the top of my browser hit parade.

I don’t use iCal or the Apple Address Book either. I’ve been more and more drawn to Gmail for most of my email — both web-based and using Thunderbird/Eudora 8 as POP 3 client software. I’ve tried using OS X Mail over the years, but it never clicked with me.

Obviously, what I find compelling about the Mac is not Apple’s iLife software suite, so what is it?

Short answer: the Mac OS and the hardware, plus addiction to certain Mac-only software applications.

Windows 7 a Game-Changer?

Windows 7 is consensually acclaimed as a major improvement over the benighted Vista, but with due respect to the esteemed Mr. Mossberg, I still prefer many aspects of the Mac OS — for example AppleScript, which makes my life easier and saves me a ton of time.

There are some enticing Windows PC boxes, but I haven’t encountered anything on the WinPC side hardware-wise that measures up to the sublime elegance of my aluminum unibody MacBook.

The combination of Mac-only Tex Edit Plus ($15) and its close integration with AppleScripting has allowed me to create a tool that is perfectly suited to my work needs, and I can’t imagine trying to get along without it — just one example of several I could cite.

Elegance Counts for a Lot

The key element for me is, I think, elegance, which the Mac has in many nuances, and the Windows PC orbit simply doesn’t. Steve Jobs once observed, “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And what that means is — I don’t mean it in a small way I mean it in a big way. In a sense that they, they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their products.” Jobs can be insufferable, but he’s often right, and on that point I think he nailed it.

The cloud? I’m partly in it, and maybe someday I’ll be fully in it, but I don’t perceive it as having what it takes to displace my Macs anytime soon. Elegance still counts.