I’m taking off my journalist’s hat and putting on my editorial hat for this one. Dvorak has me hot under the collar with his latest pearls of wisdom. John C. Dvorak says that computer sales are off because “computers are not fun anymore.” Along the way, Dvorak blames the Mac, its users, computer games, and companies who make Web site design tools. Bartender, I’ll have whatever it is Dvorak’s drinking. On second thought, maybe not.
Dvorak is every red-blooded Mac user’s favorite columnist to hate. The man has practically made a career out of criticizing Apple’s efforts, often in rude and abrasive ways. The curmudgeonly tech columnist has outdone himself with a new PC Magazine column this month called “Blame it on the Pros”, in which he blames “the Mac and the people who bought it” for the increased complexity of computers.
What a load of rubbish.
“The Macintosh was actually the first ‘un-fun’ computer,” said Dvorak. “There was nothing you could do to the computer itself; it was a sealed box, and even the operating system was buried deep.”
Apparently Dvorak divorced himself from reality sometime before the 1986 introduction of the Mac Plus, which featured upgradable RAM SIMM sockets, or the 1987 introduction of the SE and Mac II, both of which featured expansion slots. The SE may not have been the easiest computer to upgrade (and I’ve got the scars on my knuckles to prove it), but it could be done — and the Mac II’s ease of expansion was comparable to or even superior to PC clones at the time. Now that we know what decade Dvorak is in, let’s continue.
Dvorak pines for the good old days when you could still “‘burn a ROM’ and install a handmade BIOS into an IBM PC. Today, nobody knows what a ROM burner is, and few users know a programming language.”
Yeah, and I have a neighbor that waxes nostalgic for the good old days when you could pull your engine out of your car and rebuild it yourself without having an array of sophisticated computerized tuning equipment. Big, fat, hairy deal — like cars, computers run more efficiently, faster, and are infinitely more reliable and easy to use than they used to be.
Dvorak’s point is that innovation in the computer industry was once driven by hobbyists — engineers or tinkerers that liked to roll their sleeves up and get into the wires themselves, to see how home computers worked. Apparently they’re the only people capable of contributing real creativity to the mix, too. In Dvorak’s world, being a “professional” is a bad thing.
“Since the GUI has dominated the computing scene, all new ideas come not from the masses but from professionals,” posited Dvorak. “So what we see in today’s market are mere improvements on old ideas. This is the current computing scene: old wine in new bottles.”
“What new game genre has been invented since the standard GUI slammed the door on game companies that were developer their own user interfaces running under DOS?” wondered Dvorak.
A lot of them, apparently, that Dvorak isn’t aware of. Game developers are famous for inventing or reinventing user interface elements, system guidelines be damned. All you have to do is take a look at a top ten list of best-selling games for PC or Mac, and you’ll find a list of nine or ten games that pay little, if any, attention to user interface standards for either Windows or Mac, outside of the occasional applications of some buttons or menu items.
Dvorak said that the fun in computing was back in the early days of Web development, when users “could ‘code’ HTML and make their machines do what they commanded.”
“Along came the professionals once again,” said Dvorak, “people are no longer encouraged to create their own pages from scratch. Instead, they are told to use tools and templates dreamed up by professionals.”
These tools and templates made available by professional Web design software and authoring programs create a “painting by numbers” effect, says Dvorak.
So, Dvorak pithily explained that the computer industry started to tank in April of 2000 because “fun was waning.” Yeah, post Y2K expense cutting and weakness in other economic sectors had nothing to do with it. It’s because it just wasn’t fun anymore.
Hey, if the Mac isn’t fun to use, then I must have mistaken that emotion I felt when I first got my hands a PowerBook G4 at Macworld Expo last month. And that definitely can’t be “fun” I’m feeling when I’m making a collection of my favorite MP3 tunes with iTunes. And that can’t possibly be “fun” I’m experiencing when I’m editing movies of my kids with iMovie, and uploading them to my Web site for family members to watch.
My point is, not all of us need to roll up our sleeves and burn our own EPROMs to have a satisfying, creative experience with the computer, and it’s silly to think that we should have to. The GUI and the foundation it has laid for the last two decades has freed us in other ways.
It has made the computer — and more specifically the Macintosh — an extension of our creativity; a tool we can use to make the world a better and happier place, and an instrument through which we can express ourselves. In that respect, I’m not “blaming it on the pros” as Dvorak is. I’m giving credit where it’s deserved.