First, let us have a digression to set the stage:

In my spare time [as a hobby] I write and record music. And I’ve been hemming and hawing about what my new setup should be like. Currently I use a laptop which although acceptable, has latency issues. My M-audio firewire interface is over a decade old and the quality just doesn’t pass muster. Since I first bought my interface, my recording has become more serious, so I want something serious which will last another ten years; something which will enable me to get a professional sound at less than a professional cost. Enter the Apogee Duet 2. Consistently and highly rated by writers, friends and other people I respect. It seems to be the right tool for the job. The conundrum: its Mac-only. Well since I want to get into iOS development, it seems that the cards have been set out. I’ll buy a Mac.

On the Philosophy of Choice
As I’ve spent a large part of my 10+ year career in higher education teaching staff, students and faculty about technology, I’ve adopted a philosophy of “fundamental equivalence.” The right tool is the the tool that you prefer to do the job. The quickest way to turn off someone is to talk only about Windows to a Mac-head; to talk about mac only software in a room full of Windows users; to say that Firefox is superior for to Safari. These divisive debates rage in almost all corners of the technology world [flavors of Linux even? the right CMS?] and they get us nowhere.

On Why Choice Supersedes.
There was once a time when Macs were more well-suited for work in the arts. There was also once a time when Windows was the only OS suitable for use in an managed business environment. That time is called by historians and nostalgic undergrads “the 1990s.” Its been a long time since any serious technical person should be able to say with a straight face “Windows does that way better than a Mac” or vice versa.

Of course this statement, rather than being judging, should be freeing.

So you’re saying I’m free to use whatever OS I prefer? 

On Why There’s Something Worth Blogging About
So about three years ago I changed my DAW music production program from Sequel [Windows Only] to Reaper [Open-source, Cross-platform]. Simply put: Reaper was a better combination of price and capabilities. Again, just choosing the right tool for the job.

So I use Reaper, want an Apogee Duet, and need a Mac for learning iOS development*so it seems the most well reasoned conclusion is that “a Mac is the right tool for the job.”

But this announcement and decision has been greeted with some rather interesting responses. “I thought you were a Windows person,” all the way to “I thought you hated Macs.”

I will admit readily that for most of my development and daily use I prefer Windows.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like the alternative as well. I nearly bought a Mac in college, but when it came down to stretching my grad school dollar, the right tool for the job was the one that I had already bought all of the required software for.

On Why Does this Continue to be Such a Divisive Issue?
So at what point does preferring one system cause one to be in opposition to the other? In the New Media Lab we maintain a cross-platform environment because we value choice [we even have Linux and we’ve had more than a few students schedule time on it]. But I am continually amazed at the number of people who seem shy to answer: Which do you prefer: Mac or Windows? Some have said that they were concerned that I might judge them adversely because they caught me using a Windows machine when they first met me. Or you have a shy Windows user who seems reluctant to admit they’d prefer not to use a Mac.

As a technologist, I think it might be perhaps a good thing to own one of each machine. In the lab I have one of each OS on my desk; in a previous job I had both as well. So just as one who asks a web developer “which browsers do you use?” [the correct answer is “all of them”] a technologist should be able to say- preference aside- I use all operating systems**.

On Concluding
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Its been incubating. But it felt vital and exigent given my recent experiences in pondering a new machine. I don’t think this post brings us to anywhere new in the eternal discussion of “which OS should I use,” but instead is another personal history in the long struggle against meaningless choices that divide us all. Next up, Pepsi or Coke: why RC Cola is the only morally responsible way out of the cave***.


*I have done some Android too, so this isn’t an all-or-one proposition. I don’t think one can be successful in what likely will be a permanently fragmented marketplace without knowing both.

**Do others find this true as well? Or am I out on a limb here?  And while I think familiarity with Unix/Linux is a plus, I’m not sure one needs to know BeOS to be successful

***I’m just kidding. Moxie.


2 Comments so far

  1. Round Up! : Footenotes on September 16, 2012 9:44 pm

    […] week.  Will Fenton spent some time reviewing GoodReader for the iPad while Aaron Knoll talks to us about choice and technology.  Both posts are great reads and point to a trend on the Commons of folks sharing […]

  2. Ty Martin on October 13, 2012 12:17 am

    Steve Jobs has marketed apple so well (too well!) that the curious habit of identifying oneself deeply with an OS still exists. To be a Mac/Windows user to some is almost at the level of religious affiliation!

    I much prefer your approach.

    I find it hilarious that you say some people have been worried you would judge them for their OS choice. Why can’t people just realize that life would be so much easier if everyone just used Linux? 😉

    PS: Kudos for using Reaper. Hands down one of the most unsung heroes in the DAW space. Love this program.

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  • A little about me

    My name is Aaron Knoll (as per the title and URL) and I work in the New Media Lab as an advisor of sorts. I assist students working on digital media projects by being available to discuss technology, options, best practices and modern approaches to digital scholarship, as well as the applications and alternatives that are available. I use my 10+ years of experience, having worked in nearly ever IT role that has ever been dreamed up, to offer expertise, advice, and support for the directions they choose to take in their projects.

    I have fulfilled this role in the New Media Lab for over three years and look forward to continue supporting students as they ambitiously look towards the future with their digital work.

  • Disclaimer

    The views expressed here are my own and they do not represent an official stance of the New Media Lab or any of my colleagues affiliated with the New Media Lab.

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