The Artist’s Machine (Goodbye, Steve)

by amy

Steve’s work has shaped the course of my entire professional life. I wrote this essay in March 1999. I was 14 years old.


There is a nearly global truth about Macs that says they are the preferred machine for the graphic arts. Today people will say “PCs are just as good,” but walk into most prepress and art departments across the country and you’ll see that it’s hardly true.

But there remains a single question: Why?

Consider a simple paintbrush.

Simplicity and good design are staple requirements for many things: paintings, drawings, and writing. The elements of each are not to draw attention to themselves as separate elements, but rather to lend to the impression of the whole, to act as one to convey an emotion or thought. The parts are not there to do anything but help you forget that they are there; you’re not supposed to be distracted from the overall impression because of a glaring misspelling, nor a single incongruous brushstroke. The most simple tools of all, perhaps, are those of the artist.

Why should it be any different for computers?

Apple’s answer is obvious: It shouldn’t.

This is the reason above all other reasons that causes people to love the Mac OS. Yes, Macs are very powerful. Yes, they are much easier to deal with. Yes, they are more human than Windows; they smile at you when they start up, they’re friendly. You’ll never have to fiddle with an autoexec.bat or BIOS. But there is one special reason that people love their Macs and it’s one they often can’t put their finger on. It’s something designers and people of other creative disciplines learn to appreciate: unity and composition. The look and feel.

This is what Windows tries to emulate, the look and feel. But they just don’t get it. Windows still feels like the empty cheeriness of hospital waiting rooms. Windows tries to be everything to everybody and ends up being nothing real to anyone; it’s the difference between a company that says the user experience is very important to them and a company for whom the user experience is everything.

Every promising new technology (and a lot that really aren’t) makes its way into Windows, but they lack direction.

Simplicity will never be found with Microsoft’s strategy. Simplicity requires a lot of judgement and leaving things out — yes, letting things get passed over and ignored. Microsoft could never bear to do that. Windows 2000 Consumer was supposed to be based on NT 5, a behemoth of an operating system. What did this spell out for the user? More bloat. More unused features. Far less usability. It would probably have eclipsed Windows98’s ten million lines of pre-existing code. Ten million!

Who needs ten million lines of code to do anything? The home user surely doesn’t need all that. The artist doesn’t need all that, not in an OS. The loyalty obviously isn’t about the hardware, it’s about the operating system. We lucky few are able to not only get our work done easily without the hinderances of having to play games with the OS to get it to do what we want, how we want it. We can enjoy what we do while we’re doing it. What PC users repeatedly fail to understand is that it’s not about whose computer is the biggest and baddest, it’s the user experience.

We love our Macs as much as we’d love a favorite car or book because we find pleasure in using them. We’re fans.

The Mac is a stereotype smasher. PCs in general have been epitomized as cold, lifeless, ramshackle wretches used only out of necessity, not desire — who loves a TV or a blender? Most people view their computers no differently than any other appliance. Mac users are perhaps the only ones that realize there’s so much more a computer should be and we know that even though the gameplan isn’t perfect yet, Apple is on a mission to change that preconception.

Is it any wonder that we love our Macs with a passion?