Monday, April 04, 2005

Hacking the Mac

Daring Fireball has a great post up about the increasing use of Macs by computing's elite, the mighty hackers. (Not to be confused with kiddies who try to break into computer systems, obviously.)

A couple of years ago I worked for a medium-sized Internet service provider. It was one of the first ISPs to get started in the UK, and the techies who worked there were true hackers, blue dreadlocks and all. They had built up the back-end infrastructure virtually from scratch, using open-source Unix tools and a lot of ingenuity. They all went around with PC laptops running some flavour of Linux or FreeBSD, the better to deal with the Beast they had created.

Now when we, the new management representatives of the new American investment bank owners, arrived, we of course (Of course!) forced them to communicate with our new office infrastructure, which was rapidly if inexpertly built on a Microsoft platform (if you can call anything as inherently unstable as that a "platform"). This caused some friction, and not a little igenuity on the part of the techies as they struggled with Ximian and OpenOffice and other Unixy attempts to communicate with the Borg without being assimilated. Ultimately unsuccessful, many were soon resigned to carry another, smaller and more regularly beaten-up, laptop, running Win2K.

Until a strange thing happened. More and more of the techies started showing up to meetings with only one laptop: a sleek, silvery one, with a glowing apple symbol in its lid. They had discovered that a titanium PowerBook, loaded with OS X, could, in the same machine at the same time, run any Unix tool of choice and also deal with Microsoft Office documents, Exchange email, and all the other features of the modern corporate computing wasteland. Even more astonishingly, I discovered that these guys were buying the PowerBooks out of their own pocket: company policy was "Macs for the Web designer only".

I have to say it piqued my curiosity: years after I had given up on Apple, I felt the faintest stirrings of what I couldn't even admit was hope. Could it be? Could they actually be making something cool again?

They could.


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