It’s Fun to Play With Stuff (or Why I’m Glad I Switched to the Mac)

On the day after Apple announced a record quarter, John Gruber runs down a list of possible reasons why people are switching to the Mac. I’m not going to argue with any of his statements — for the most part, I think he’s dead on. But I’d like to add one of my own, based on my personal experience of switching from the PC to the Mac.

I’ve always been a PC user, at least since our first 386SX-16 that my Dad bought for us when I was in high school. Before that, I used Apple IIs at school and spend many a day playing Pools of Radiance and coding text adventures on my Commodore 64. I had certainly played with Macs, but they always seemed foreign and inaccessible to me. I can vividly remember commenting to a friend (in the days of Windows 3.1) that using a Mac made me feel like I was trapped in Windows and couldn’t get out of it. Keep in mind, I also had about 4 different versions of my autoexec.bat and config.sys files that could be swapped in depending on the memory requirements of the program (or, more likely) game I wanted to run.

In any case, I pretty much lived and breathed PCs from DOS 4.2 through to Windows XP, and made my living developing web and Flash applications on a variety of PC hardware. In the meantime, I also ran Red Hat Linux on an old Pentium 100 (complete with F00F bug) that served as my router in the pre-LinkSys NAT box days, and even dabbled with a Debian (unstable) KDE desktop for about 9 months — although frequent reboots to Windows (or sluggish sessions in VMWare) to use Photoshop made it impossible to give up on Windows completely. All the while, I followed the progress of OS X from a distance, happily digesting Ars Technica’s in-depth reviews of the OS on every release from pre-beta through to Tiger. I’m a curious fellow that way.

For me, using a computer has only partially been about the tools that it provides. It’s also about playing. I love to install things, mess around with servers and settings, just to see if I can get it to work. It’s the same reason I bought a PSP — because it was hackable. I could make it do fun and interesting things. I could play with it, not just on it.

Right now, it’s the Mac that embodies this sense of play the best for me in the computer world. Linux was fun for a while, but it lacked the professional tools I needed to do my job. And it lacks the completeness that Apple provides, each service integrated with the other in a way that makes you want to connect the widgets to the doodads, and watch them play together.

This sense of play extends beyond the OS services and bundled applications. A system like Quicksilver could never exist on Windows or Linux, as much because of the APIs exposed through AppleScript as because of the giddy sense of discoverability built into the application by someone that clearly cares dearly for the Apple ecosystem. (It’s funny to write that about Quicksilver, an app I once described to a fellow Unix-head as “like a pipe for GUIs”).

The Mac opened up a whole new world for me to play in, and the rabbit hole runs pretty deep. For me, Vista was the final straw — not only did it not provide anything new and fun to play with, it made everything my PC used to do seems horrifically slow. It lasted a few months, and then I switched.

Because if it’s not play, it’s just work.