I’m reading an article on Ars Technica about Star Trek:TNG’s PADD is a predecessor of sorts to the Apple iPad. Rather than comment on any of the controversy that could be ignited between Apple/Mac and PC/Whatever else/etc. fans, there is a line that caught my eye that holds true for many people:
Early personal computers weren’t known for ease of use. “I remember growing up with IBM PCs, using them, and being comfortable with the DOS operating system,” Okuda said. “But at the same time, I was frustrated with the fact that I had to think the same way the designers and programmers did.”
The Mac changed all that, Okuda told Ars. “The very first time I saw the Apple Macintosh, it was an astonishing quantum breakthrough. Here was someone beating their brains into guacamole in order to make this machine easy for me to use,” he said.
The second quote by Okuda struck me, the experience that it struck him in that way. Because it never, ever stuck me like that. And I’ve wondered for the past couple years if my affinity for Windows, the PC, has been because I grew up with one. Would I have been a Mac enthusiast if I had been given a Macintosh instead of that ol’ 186 (not sure if I started with a 1 or 286, though), loaded with Xtree and MS Amy? Moving up in like to Railroad Tycoon and Civilization eventually, but only after running the gamut of basic games, was there suffering involved with the DOS interface? Not in my recollection. I moved up to Xtree gold even! That’s more or less a graphical, but text-based, file system.
I could go on for hours, as could many old enthusiasts, about the things we did before the days of Windows 95. And yes, we did end up seeing Macs in grade school. With one button. By the time they had made it into schools, though, Win 98 was around, and it’s second revision was something to be heralded in middle school. There was some command to turn off the macs, one I’ve forgotten, and haven’t even bothered to relearn on my new mac, but Alt-Ctrl-Del has been timeless. I still remember the day in seventh grade computer class the teacher showed us ACD, and me and my friends wondering how we didn’t find it before.
But the command line was something I went back to often. My favorite games played in DOS, not windows. In fact, one game that was DOS only, has been ported to both iPhone and Android, I have it again. Its a classic, of course. Through the command line, I could access the dos shell and it’s built-in editor that functioned in both ASCII and Hex. Through DOS I could reprogram autoexec.bat to start up a certain way, especially if a certain game needed it. I didn’t worry about start up times, as dos was quick. Dos went where I directed it. I had complete and utter control at the most basic level: the command line. The direct line to the computer.
Graphical interfaces are nice. They really are. But their usage has created a trend: they represent your computer. They are not providing you with that direct line as a precaution, so you don’t touch something you’re not supposed to. Of course, they could, they are only a different representation. But the iPad doesn’t come with the ability for you to see it’s files. It doesn’t let you edit it, check it’s software and startup processes. It doesn’t let you see what’s behind the mask of the icon on it’s screen. I know rooting them provides you with this ability, but it feels lackluster.
I felt like there was a gross injustice done in the Ars article. In my view, and it’s a logic-based one, the iPad is only a larger iPhone, as they are both the same OS. So I feel a bit perturbed when the PADD is compared to the iPad instead of the iPhone. I want to say, “the only difference is the size, why compare them now?” But I know the answer already. Lets go back to the DOS example. DOS was decent. You tell it how to boot up and what to boot, and it does it. You can put it on various machines, and even emulate it nowadays. But no one marveled when you installed it on a newer, bigger machine (speaking in 1990’s terms). After all, that was done thousands of times all the time. But the iPhone OS only exists on custom hardware. Thus, as much as it would have been just fine to make a physically larger iPhone with no changes whatsoever, it wasn’t done because its controlled by a single entity without licensing agreements.
But I’m just one type of person. I prefer absolute, line-based, control. No, not coding level, but just commands that let me do what I want. I think on that level. I liked DOS over the original Macs. It just worked – for me.
844 words I could have used in a novel.