My first contact with a computer was when I was around 10 years old. It was a summer "camp" and the computer in question was an Apple IIe. They taught us how to write small things in Logo. Since then, I’ve used many different computers, with many different operating systems, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I was able to return to my ‘roots’ and buy a Macbook Pro. I must admit, I was one of those that laughed at all those mac ‘zealots’ that thought macs were the next best thing after the wheel, but who secretly wanted to have one, if only to try to figure out what all the big deal was.
On my previous jobs I would usually get a Dell or similar laptop, with some flavor of Windows. I would almost always repartition it to install some flavor of Linux (Ubuntu being my latest and dearest choice). As a programmer who grew up with something other than a GUI (ms-dos, unix, vax, etc.), I’ve always liked to have a shell open where I could do stuff that a graphical interface could simply not do, or would take a lot of effort to do in a timely manner.
Being the "rogue" employee with Linux installed, I would still need to use Windows for one reason or another (connecting to an Exchange server, using some special in-house windows-only app, etc), so it was always dual booting for me and sometimes the end result was some time lost between all those reboots. Virtualization was a solution, but still wasn’t as perfect as I hoped. That, and I would usually spend days tweaking my Linux installation to try to have it run every piece of hardware, which wasn’t always possible depending on the brand of the machine and/or the different hardware components inside.
So now I’ve been using a Mac for almost a year, and I’m a very happy camper. Am I now one of those mac zealots? Maybe. I will not lie and say that my experience has been 100% without a hitch. I’ve had the dreaded "Gray screen of death" several times since I bought my laptop (oh yeah, OS X has those too, but aren’t they much nicer than a kernel text dump?), but somehow they’ve stopped. Maybe it was an Apple update to the OS, maybe it was the RAM that came with the machine which I replaced when I increased the memory.
So, what’s so special about having an Apple computer, anyway? Well, for me at least, having a very powerful operating system with BSD at its core, combined with a very well thought out User Interface is something that can be appreciated both by the hard-core people that want to get to the internals of an OS and by the people who just wants to get things done.
Another thing in my opinion going for Apple is that there is a very high integration between the hardware and the software. It is one hardware spec tied to one set of drivers, all of it managed and controlled by Apple. I still remember the last time I did an Ubuntu install. It took me several days just to have it at a point where I felt comfortable using it, and I never reached 100% functionality with the laptop’s hardware. In this aspect, Windows machines suffer similarly because there are many different vendors with many different hardware configurations that the Windows operating system needs to support, making it way more complex than it should be and more prone to incompatibility issues (although this variety is also probably why wintel machines occupy 90% of the market, so it’s a trade-off for Microsoft).
As an anecdote, when I bought my Macbook Pro in March, I was literally on my way to the airport, but still I was able to be up and running by the time I boarded the plane. Yeah, that’s right. I was able to download Eclipse, the vpn client software, connect to the intranet and do a checkout of the latest code before they announced the start of the boarding process. It was so simple because most of the tools I used in my day-to-day coding were already pre-installed (java 1.5 compiler, subversion client, heck, even Maven was there). The fact that all this was already there is where I think Apple has made a kick-ass job catering to both professionals and regulars, and this is one of the reasons I’m very happy with Apple products.
It’s like they say… The devil is in the details. But in a good way.