21 June 2020

Hold Your Tongue While Saying Apple (an apology)

I haven’t owned an Apple-based desktop since at least 2005 when I abandoned the Bondi Blue iMac my parents bought in 1999 and went with me to college, shifting gears to a Compaq Presario as it was all I could afford. I knew of OSX and was thoroughly impressed by it, using it on occasion for some classes, but I felt that Windows XP had offered me the best of both worlds, a wider library of software (Windows) coupled with a streamlined and no-nonsense user interface (OSX). This was my standard for a few years until for reasons I don’t quite recall the full details of, I wanted to give Linux a try, namely Linux Mint. While impractical in practice and certainly a bad decision in the moment, the passage of time has healed those wounds and left me overall appreciative of the experience, scars and all. 

I briefly returned to Windows XP with a Toshiba laptop which got a fair bit of use out of before handing it off to a friend no stranger to computer troubles as a backup device. I didn’t miss it as Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra found its way into my heart as my daily driver. Its large, high resolution screen made for a thoroughly satisfying drawing experience, migrating me fully from traditional to digital art far more effectively than many previous gateways I gave a fair shot in the past. My favorite drawing app was Zenbrush, and when its major upgrade was going to become an iPad exclusive, I knew I was going to have to go back to Apple. While my impressions of the early iPads was far from positive, I’m happy to say I was proven wrong on most counts as it became a choice tool among a number of digital artists for its convenience and relatively affordable price point. As such, I’ve been drawing on iPads (a mini and a Pro) for some 4-5 years and I have practically no desire to draw on anything else. 

For the most part, this has worked out beautifully. Then, I tried my hand at vector artwork, and as I learned from Ash Vickers of Megacynics fame, vector art is done with a mouse. I also started doing more CAD and 3D work as part of my job and it began to creep over into my non-work workflow. This is another art form that benefits from a mouse rather than a stylus and touch gestures, though some prefer it to the bar of soap. 

A few of my art friends were in love with all things Microsoft Surface and I nearly joined in, seeing it as once again the best of both worlds, a touch screen drawing interface (iPad) with a full desktop environment to run a host of apps (Microsoft). In the end, I decided that it was the latter half of that equation I needed most of all, and therefore finally settled on a new Mac Mini. I’d wanted one for years and now presented itself as the best time to invest. 

It arrived within the week and within an hour, I was regretting my purchase, to the point of attempting to get a return going. Unfortunately, B&H’s normally very generous return policy stops at computers, which they only seem to sell through grit teeth and clenched fists given their primary business is photography, with all these “digital” stuff par for the course in keeping up with the almighty Amazon. The source of my frustration was with the performance of the two applications I’d intended to use most, Sketchup and Inkscape. The performance of Sketchup (particularly Sketchup Viewer) wasn’t that big of a deal as the CAD program proper worked just fine and as well as my desktop at work (which has largely similar specifications to my Mac Mini). It was still perfectly usable, simply not ideal. As for Inkscape, I was dumbfounded at how poorly it ran for such a lightweight drawing program. Whatever shape I wanted to draw was so far behind where my cursor was I could count a full Mississippi, and for something that’s not running “by wire” so to speak in a browser, that’s simply unacceptable. I was furious. I refused to believe this was as good as the machine worked given what I’d seen others use them for, including editing 4K video in Final Cut Pro

But that’s the rub. Final Cut Pro is made in-house by Apple. It’s developed from the ground up to work on their machines and their machines alone. For as demanding as it is in terms of hardware, it’s equally optimized to make the most of it. Inkscape is multi-platform and open source, giving its users the resources necessary to compile their own version for their particular favorite flavor of Linux. The team behind it is essentially working on the program out of the goodness of their hearts (and maybe to stick it to Adobe’s domination of the market with their Illustrator package). The point is just because a program is a lightweight in the system requirements market doesn’t mean it’s suited to the platform it’s ported to. I’d made an Instagram post showing Inkscape in relative inaction and intended to put this all in a blog entry to serve as an open letter to Apple in hopes they could give me some advice or offer some options to make the most out of my mistake. I slept on it and tried the next day to see if Inkscape was an inkling of what was in store for trying other apps. While I had no plans to use it, I downloaded Autodesk Sketchbook and performed the same basic test I did with Inkscape

The results were astonishing. 
Needless to say, I felt very silly. I had completely dismissed a perfectly capable of machine as near-useless on the power of testing two apps, one of which was simply not coded well in the first place. At the same time, I’m obviously relieved this computer is going to work out, albeit with a few different software options to make up for Inkscape running like molasses having an existential crisis in winter. Still, there was all the work I’d put into my write-up up until this point. I didn’t want that to simply end up in a bin, especially since most of what I had to say about the overall user experience is still valid. I definitely feel that OSX has fallen behind the times and is a branch of the Apple tree the kitchen of Cook would just as soon see wither away as their phone and tablet sales have been far more lucrative to them. For my money, there’s still plenty of gas in the tank until we swap out the old fossil fuel system for something more solar in nature. If you ask most Apple users their favorite part about being part of the full JobsWozniak, Ive, & Cook experience is the ecosystem, the synergy shared across the range of devices. Microsoft tried to have this with their own mobile phone system before letting that dream fly out the window, and Google has made a good effort of it between their Chromebooks, Pixels, and dealings with Samsung’s Galaxy lineup. While I don’t think Apple’s approach to all-inclusivity is a paragon of perfection, it’s still leagues above its kin. The Surface line is catching up with their upcoming offers of a dual-screen phone, but I’m happy in camp Cook for the time being. 

Until then, maybe there’s an off-chance someone at Apple can look upon this long-winded journal of a former Mac user who came back to the fold having only spent serious quality time with OS 9 some 15 years ago. It’s not a typical blog entry, but a dedicated page that can only be accessed with the following link. 

Make of its meanderings what you may.