I had an interesting thought experiment a week or two ago when I considered the effect of the recent MacBook range price hike combined with prolonged service and maintenance cycles on individuals and businesses that may be considering or are running on Macs. The new MacBook is gorgeous. It seems to be everything it is advertised to be (although there are already reports about faults but I am sure those will be resolved soon enough). The problem is that Mac prices are becoming prohibitive and the hassle involved in rectifying faults could make Macs too costly to use in a business environment or even in a personal context where you can’t be without a computer for days on end.
When it comes to price the cost of a MacBook has jumped quite a bit. The top of the line black MacBook used to cost around R15 000 (at least that is what I paid for my MacBook a few months ago). The price for the top of the line MacBook is now closer to R20 000. Bear in mind that Apple typically keeps the prices for new models pretty much the same as the models they replace so a price jump of around R5 000 is pretty significant.
I had to take my wife’s MacBook in to have its hard drive replaced (again). I took it to C3 (I won’t take it anywhere else) who frequently find themselves facing long lead times from their suppliers (if there is a drive in stock it will take 3 to 4 days, if not you could be looking at a week or two). This time around they processed warranty claims (my MacBook’s drive was also failing so we ordered a replacement for that too although I could continue working with it) and hit a snag when Apple’s warranty claim processing system crashed and this necessitated a further delay. If this has been my MacBook and I didn’t have an alternative I would have been about a week and a half to 2 weeks without a computer and the ability to do the bulk of my work. That is a serious setback for a small practice like mine.
This whole thing got me thinking about what I would do if I couldn’t have a Mac. If my MacBook explodes in a puff of coloured smoke, my insurers will pay out its value when I bought it and that would put a true replacement out of reach (unless I shell out the extra few grand). Would it be worth my while to source even more cash to cover that extra cost? What else could I rely on?
I suppose one option is to go back to a Windows machine but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The last time I tried to work with a Windows machine it didn’t go well and I wound up reformatting the machine and loading Ubuntu. From that point the machine served me pretty well. I didn’t have all the software I had become accustomed to on my Mac (and there weren’t many comparable apps available for Ubuntu either) but the laptop I was using worked well for me. Although I was grateful to return to a Mac (in the form of my current MacBook), I left the Ubuntu laptop with a distinct sense that in a world without Mac, I would be an Ubuntu user.
I recently updated to the latest Ubuntu release on my home PC (which presently exists to run my Windows based accounting software). I have partitioned the hard drive and dual boot into Windows and Ubuntu. The latest release seems to be even better than the last and although there are still usability issues (for me at least) compared to my Mac, I can’t think of a better platform for people who don’t have particularly intricate requirements of their PC, certainly not home users and most business users. Big advantages for Ubuntu users include a free and robust operating system and the capability to support older hardware with seemingly better performance than modern hardware running the latest operating systems. In addition, most of the software you would need comes with the install and there are truckloads of more free software available through a greatly simplified software installation system that is part of the OS.
That being said there are a couple reasons I am not exactly rushing to install Ubuntu on my Mac and turn my back on Apple. The big barrier to entry for me is the paucity of Mac class (or available for Linux) software like the OmniGroup’s products, Circus Ponies’ Notebook (which I have returned to in a big way), Adobe Acrobat (the full version), Transmit and so on. The cost, in terms of money and time, of developing an alternate set of workflows could be just as high as coughing up the extra few grand to buy a new and more expensive Mac so at this point it is not an easy thought experiment to process and resolve.
Although derivatives like Ubuntu do make it a lot easier for an average user to use a Linux system, the Linux development community may want to put more effort into dropping the barrier to entry by focussing on things like UI, ease of use and developing a comparable range of software to that found on current Windows and Mac systems. My (limited) sense of the Linux development community is that it has probably spent a little too much time on the fringes and not enough time developing for the mainstream. If that is the case then it is pretty short sighted. Just looking at what Canonical is doing with Ubuntu and specific projects like the Mobile Internet Device edition I can see a time when the Linux platform is in widespread use simply because of its widespread applicability and how it can manifest on a variety of devices while maintaining a high level of interactivity and functionality. Think an Ubuntu laptop working in tandem with an Ubuntu MID rather than the far more limited MacBook/iPod Touch/iPhone pairing. Linux implementations can (and are) bringing powerful functionality to modest hardware today and the potential for more is tremendous but it needs to be a no brainer for us simple people trained on Windows and Mac OS.