Essays on Technology and Culture

Fiddling on the Inside

Part of the reason I switched to the Mac in the first place was that I was tired of endlessly fiddling with my computing setup. On Linux, I was constantly switching between an endless succession of window managers, desktop managers, themes, plugins, and tweaks. Eventually, I settled on XFCE, a rather Mac-like X Windows desktop manager, but that was only a foundation on which I constantly switched themes and plugins in search of the perfect setup. On the Mac, you don’t have nearly that level of customizability. Good.

The other reason I switched to the Mac was that I got tired of mucking around inside my machines as well. Maintaining a typical PC is not just software based. Throughout my life as a PC user, I was often opening up the case to change this, upgrade that, swap this, and install that. When I got my first Mac, a Mac mini, I opened it up once to upgrade the RAM, and then never again. [1] I never opened up my iBook, but I did upgrade my original MacBook to 4GB of RAM, and just before writing this, I upgraded my MacBook Pro to 16GB. [2]

The trend in Apple hardware of late has been towards increasingly closed designs. Removable batteries were the first to go. The latest MacBook Airs solder the RAM and SSD to the logic board. The Retina MacBook Pros have soldered RAM, but a replaceable SSD, if you can find a bare, case-free SSD. Power users bemoan the lack of access to their machine’s internals, and I can’t blame them, but for me, it’s one less thing to worry about.

There’s plenty of ways I can tweak my Mac, but I’ve stopped reading a lot of “workflow porn” because it’s not actually helping me with my workflow. The less I have to think about the machine that lets me do what I do, the more I can think about doing what I have to do. It’s as simple as that. The less I have to go inside, the less fiddling I have to do, the better. It’s a peace of mind thing. Merlin Mann calls it the “Catholic experience” that Apple provides. When some of the “easy” choices have been made for you, you’re freer to focus on the harder choices. Ask Barack Obama, the man who only has two colors of suit, so he doesn’t have to think about which to wear. He has more important things to worry about.

  1. The original Mac minis were a pain in the ass to open, requiring a dulled putty knife and a lot of prying. The most recent models are much easier to access, at least for RAM upgrades. If Apple didn’t criminially overcharge for RAM, I wouldn’t be going inside my machines at all.  ↩

  2. I plan to also swap out the stock drive with an SSD in time.  ↩