Please make sure you are sitting down – preferably with a drink in your hand. I am about to surprise you. After over a quarter of a century sharing with you the horrors and frustrations of dealing with personal computers, and the eccentricities of Bill Gates’ various attempts to produce a stable operating system, I am about to say something nice about computer software - Google's, as it happens - and to deliver a progress report on my journey towards being free of Microsoft’s corporate clutches.
I am in shock at my own temerity and am looking anxiously up at the heavens for fear I shall be hit by a lightning bolt for deviating from the norm (God alone knows how many innocents have been delivered to Hell because of Microsoft’s software screwing things up in Heaven; like most corporate entities, they use Windows). But I shall press on.
I first started investigating using a computer for writing back in the days of Wang and Olivetti word processors in the very early Eighties and actually used Xerox’s early graphically controlled personal computer, the Star (which they declined to market) and then Steve Job’s independent venture after Apple, a Next (which I couldn’t afford but which I thought represented the future of computing). I then followed up that pioneering by ordering IBM’s first PC (which was delivered without a BIOS so useless and returned) and then proceeded to order an early Mac Lisa but was actually delivered a PC clone because the Mac supplier had gone bust. Thus commenced a long journey on the wrong road – using a PC instead of a Mac - which I like to delude myself prevented me becoming as rich and famous as Tom Clancy or Shakespeare. Certainly, I have experienced an extraordinary amount of computer hassle over the years which has been exacerbated by my determination to have several programs up at once instead of accepting the limitations of the technology at the time. Meanwhile, my writing friends who used Macs led relatively trouble-free computing existences and their writing careers prospered.
Why didn’t I switch to a Mac? There were various reasons at various times. I couldn’t afford to. I was too heavily invested in PC software. My favorite free-text database program – which I have now used for approaching 25 years – askSam - didn’t have a Mac version. And, surprise, surprise, when I did borrow a Mac for a while (this was before Steve Jobs returned) I just couldn’t get comfortable with it; I had become conditioned to PCs with all their imperfections. Microsoft had put a spell in me.
In the beginning, I rarely knew whether a problem was caused by hardware or software – or both – but eventually I realized that the operating system was the critical element as far as I was concerned, and that, if I really needed to have multiple programs up at once, I should be using Unix. However, everything to do with Unix was expensive and all the computer gurus I knew warned me against it on the grounds that it would near impossible be for a computer illiterate person like myself to master, good technical support was hard to come by, and, of course, it wouldn’t run askSam or any of the popular PC programs. Nonetheless, I wish I hadn’t listened to all this well meaning advice. Unix was, and remains, inherently more stable than Windows, and is designed for multi-tasking. My decision to stick with Microsoft DOS and then migrate to Windows was a poor one; and Windows 7 hasn’t changed my mind even though it is the best Microsoft operating system I have encountered to date. Nonetheless, I still have to reboot more often than I would like, and there seems to be wide agreement that Macs are superior for audio visual work. Also, Macs, since they are now using Intel CPUs, can run Windows if so required, as well as the Mac OS whereas the converse is not true.
Back in May of this year I started moving away from Microsoft dependency by freeing myself of MS Outlook and switching to Gmail and Google Docs. I have been pleasantly surprised by the results to date.
Farewell. I miss your wit and your company.