Tuesday, January 02, 2007

System Error: Charles Petzold

Charles Petzold is one of the personalities in the Windows developer community, along with people like Mark Russinovich and Jeffrey Richter, that have helped countless Windows developers through their books, articles, and blogs.

I mention Mr. Petzold and he gets my new award, the System Error. I named the award after the PC character in this funny Get A Mac ad called Goodwill, in which the Mac and PC are supposed to play nice for the holidays, no comparisons or jabs, but the PC let's one slip and blames it on a system error, brilliant.

The Mac guys consternation at the system error was exactly how I felt when Mr. Petzold's Christmas post It Just Works. In this post, Mr. Petzold rants and raves about how his mother's iMac doesn't "just work" and how hard and dreadful it is to do anything on his mother's iMac. It gives me no pleasure, but I feel it my duty to dissect this post.

The part about the name "Finder"
Mr. Petzold bought his first iMac on August 15, 1998. How do I know this? It was the first iMac model ever made. He used this for research into user interfaces for his purportedly excellent book Code. I personally haven't read it, it was always on the list of stuff I wanted to read just never got to. I guess I will had to move it higher in the queue because I am fascinated to read what he writes about user interfaces since the Mac's "intuitive" user interface apparently "baffled" him. So what version of Mac OS was so confusing? That would be Mac OS 8.1. What "feature" was so bewildering? The name, the name, of the application that you use to manage files, the Finder. When I read this, I said to myself you have to be kidding. Microsoft obviously used a word that was close in meaning to Finder, a person who finds someone or something, and choose Explorer, which has as synonyms: traveler, discoverer, voyager, adventurer; surveyor, scout, prospector. Here's Mr. Petzold's parting shot about how he felt about his Mac experience:
Why, for example, would the primary Mac app be called the Finder? Does stuff on the Mac get lost really easily?
This is so silly, and I think it's meant as a nail in the Mac OS coffin, that you almost just have to laugh, like the crazy uncle that says something kooky at Christmas dinner. So for Mr. Petzold, why would the primary app on Windows be called Explorer, do I need to be a traveler, discoverer, voyager, adventerur, surveyor, scout, and this one really tickles me, a prospector, to get my stuff out of Windows? Oh wait, on second though, maybe this was an MS Freudian slip back in the Windows 95 days.

I was never a fan of the pre-OS X version of Mac OS, I liked the Windows 95 Taskbar to see running applications vs. the pre-OS X application pull-down menu, and Windows 95+98 was a better multitasker than Mac OS 9.x and below in my experience. But to call out as the best example of UI you didn't like in the old Mac OS the naming of the file manager is just kinda crazy.

The part about giving away the original iMac to mom, then buying her another one
Mrs. Petzold goes from this:

To this
It's not clear how long mom had the Bondi blue iMac before the power supply died, but up until that point she must have been using it for email quite well because then Mr. Petzold goes out and buys her another one. The first domed iMac goes on sale on January 7, 2002, with the final revision being released on November 18, 2003, putting the original iMac between 3.4 and 5.3 years old. Since there are no clues, I'll average them and say the original iMac was 4.3 years old. That doesn't seem unreasonably old for a dead power supply, even on the low end of 3.4 years old, not bad at all, especially with power supplies easily fried with electrical events if not properly protected. But somehow it is suggested that the life of the power supply has any bearing on if Macs "just work", like somehow Mac hardware is magically immune to failure. From my experience with the original iMac, my last company had a slot-loading iMac for browser compatibility testing, and that was either purchased in 1999 or mid 2000. When I left the company in early 2005, it was still going strong because it was running on my desk until a couple weeks before I left, so that puts it at 5-6 years old. My data point is only one of many, as is Mr. Petzold's, but this anecdote on power supply failure only makes me ask another question. If the original iMac was so hated, why would you buy mom another newer one? Was a Windows XP box so bad?

The part where Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar should have no bugs, and won't be updated
This is the part where I start to get angry, let me quote some:
For awhile she had a problem where certain spam emails would hang the email program upon viewing, but they couldn't be deleted without first being viewed. (Gosh, that was fun.) Presumably some patch to fix this little problem is among the 100 megabytes of updates waiting to be downloaded and installed, but my mother has a dial-up and we're forced to forego this 100 meg download. And besides, the slogan isn't "It just works with 100 megabytes of updates."
Would Mr. Petzold let his mom run Windows (already a no, but bear with me) and not install Service Packs? Of course not, he would find a way, including over dial-up, to install updates. No one has ever said Mac OS doesn't have bugs, and if they have that is insane, but refusing to install, or even think of a way to deploy updates in a dial-up scenario is the kind of laziness that I have no patience for. So how the iMac get updated? Just dial-in and let it download the bits. I used this File Download Calculator. If the iMac really has 100 MB of updates to download, that would take 4 hours and 9 minutes with a 56k connection. Sounds like enough time for a Christmas dinner or so.

But forget about that for a minute, even if you didn't want to wait it out, the minimum you could do would be to update to the last software update for 10.2, 10.2.8. That is only 40 MB and would take 1 hour 39 minutes to download over 56K dial-up. That is practically a lunch. But even if you didn't want to wait that out, you could download 10.2.8 from Apple on a PC and burn it to a CD and then just run it on the iMac. This really isn't a tough "problem" to solve.

Mom gets a new printer for Christmas, it doesn't work with Mac OS X 10.2
This is part is really silly:
We were very careful to buy an HP inkjet that was purportedly Mac-compatible and said so right on the box. Regardless, for weeks I've been dreading Christmas morning when I'd have to actually hook it up to the iMac and persuade it to just work. This morning, before even opening the printer box, I carefully read the system requirements and discovered the printer required OS X version 10.3 or 10.4. Alas, my mother's machine is running version 10.2.
I can't imagine how anyone could say they were careful when buying something when they didn't even check the most important dependency of a computing peripheral, operating system version compatibility, you need to do this for any OS dependent addition. Nearly ALL HP printers are listed as Mac compatible, they have been in the business for years, just as Epson and others are as well. I even accidentally have an OS X compatible printer, the HP PSC 2110, which I bought when I was Windows only, has OS X drivers going back to 10.1! You know what, I wouldn't mind a printer upgrade, I would be willing to sell at a nice price for anyone looking for a 10.2 compatible printer.

The part complaining about broadband web sites, Get A Mac ads, and OS X upgrades
Mrs. Petzold lives in Jersey, I live in Jersey. Mr. Petzold was born in New Brunswick, I live in Somerset, just about 3 miles from New Brunswick, I ride the train into New York most days through New Brunswick. It might be that Mrs. Petzold and I are even neighbors. I wish I could make this stuff up, but New Jersey apparently Leads Nation in Broadband Penetration, with 48.6% of residents enjoying broadband access. Not sure if Mrs. Petzold can use my 1 and only possible broadband provider, Patriot Media, but they have been doing a bang up job with cable modem access so far. Sorry, but it is a broadband world.

Mr. Petzold really hates those Get A Mac ads:
On Apple's home page, the most important information they deemed necessary to convey to me was that I needed QuickTime 7 to view even more of those insufferable TV ads where that smug goateed glazy-eyed dork tries to make closed architecture and a complete disregard for backward compatibility seem cool.
The ad on the home page is the Goodwill one I referenced early in this post. Yes it requires Quicktime 7, which requires OS X 10.3.9 "Panther" or later. Is that a "complete disregard for backward compatibility"? I don't think so. OS X 10.3 was released on October 24, 2003. That would have been 10.3.0, all 10.3.x releases were free. OS X 10.4 "Tiger" was released on April 29, 2005. Same versioning scheme applies. In some ways, Apple has been better at backward compatibility through virtulization (OS 9 running entirely on top of OS X) or emulation (Rosetta, emulating PowerPC CPU on Intel Macs to run non-native applications). Apple can run applications developed for an entirely different CPU architecture seamlessly on Intel Macs, but Microsoft continues to have problems getting 32-bit Windows apps to run on 64-bit Windows. It gets increasingly hard to listen to the myth perpetuated by Windows only computer people about OS X that because Apple has decided to eschew the major.minor.revion numbering scheme so they could continue to market OS X that each release is only minor and not worth paying for. Get over it already, can it really be so hard to adapt? And you can of course get OS X 10.4 "Tiger" from a retail store, Apple has nine in Jersey, including one in Bridgewater Commons. I am sure if you brought the iMac in to the Apple Store, they would update it with all the latest patches and configure it to work with a new printer if you bought the printer there. Then the old saw about Macs being a "closed system".
There really isn't enough to go on with the browser hanging issue. Which browser? What version? If it is IE, please stop. Use Safari or Firefox, minimum requirements for Firefox for Mac are 10.2.x. Safari gets updated when you update OS X.

Maybe this article for a "safe" Windows developer audience that would just nod through all the anti-Mac rhetoric and then go back to trying to figure out why they should care about XAML. I really don't care if Mr. Petzold likes the Mac or not, its the hypocrisy (Macs shouldn't need software updates) and inflexible thinking (Finder, NO, Explorer is the one for me) that are so frustrating. I guess I expected more.