Apple to Lenovo: One Nerd’s Search for a Better Platform

I should probably start off this new blog with a recounting of one of the most important decisions I ever made in my life as a computer nerd – my decision to leave my Apple-centered life behind and open my eyes to the wider world of possibilities offered by the Thinkpad platform. When I speak of greater possibilities, I really mean it, because for whatever reason, I found that the number of interesting things I was able to do with my computer and the range of possibilities I was able to explore increased drastically when I made the switch.

As I said in my last blog post, I was raised entirely on Macs. In fact not only was I a Mac user for most of my life, but I was a die-hard Apple fanboy as well. In fact I was such a huge Apple fanboy that it hardly bothered me when Apple started their whole patent war against Linux, trying to get Android devices banned in various countries, even though I was harshly criticizing Microsoft for doing exactly the same thing. As far as I was concerned, Apple had embraced the Unix platform by basing their flagship OS on FreeBSD, so they were a good guy in my book.

Let me just say one thing from the get-go: I don’t think Apple is an inherently bad company. I think they’re a company that used to be pretty decent when they were more of an underdog, but they have since declined in quality. And I think this is a direct result of complacency in response to becoming a market leader. It’s the same thing that happened with Microsoft (I’ll focus on web browsers here for the purpose of illustration)… Back in the early days of the Browser War when Microsoft was competing on roughly equal footing with Netscape, both companies had to constantly innovate their flagship browser in order to stay afloat in the market. Netscape invented Javascript, and in response Microsoft invented Ajax and probably a bunch of other shit as well. But after Microsoft succeeded in killing its rival, and Internet Explorer had 95% market share, they simply stopped improving, and IE6, released at the height of Internet Explorer’s dominance, was one of the worst browsers ever made. Microsoft simply wasn’t innovating anymore. And why should they? They already had a monopoly, so they could continue to stay afloat through sheer market inertia. Well, it’s the same thing with Apple: Once Apple had its death grip on a huge market segment of loyal hipsters – people who would buy a literal dog turd if it had an Apple logo plastered on it – there was no need to keep making good products. So the quality of Apple tech has been in decline ever since.

Apple

I made this graphic for /g/ several months ago, and I think it sums up pretty perfectly why I love the old Apple and hate the new Apple. Apple used to be about making their products interesting and fun to use.  “Here’s to the crazy ones,” they would say. My first experience with computers – the one that caused me to fall in love with technology – was with an Apple IIc. Apple is the reason I’m a computer geek in the first place. For a long time the company knew what they were doing, and they followed the age-old wisdom of improving their devices by adding useful features. Now it seems they are taking the opposite approach: removing features that everyone uses and trying to convince people that this is some new chic form of minimalism. Meanwhile, all their software is bloated as fuck, which kinda defeats the purpose of being minimalist in the first place. Tim Cook seems to not understand that the primary benefit of minimalism comes from removing bloat, not from removing functionality.

I think I really started to make my transition from Apple fanboy to Apple hater in the second half of 2012, when the Macbook that had been serving me faithfully for four years finally died and I was forced to buy a new one. I had fallen in love with Leopard and all the Unix stuff that came with it, including the old Apple Downloads page (which has since been replaced with the (far inferior IMHO) Mac App Store). I made the switch to Mountain Lion expecting a plethora of exciting new features, and instead finding that a lot of the features I used to use had been stripped away and/or replaced with something else in an attempt to make the Macbook experience more like that offered by iOS. I did like the iOS-esque speed dialer, and the fact that I could now use the Terminal in full-screen mode, but pretty much everything else had gotten worse. gcc was no longer there, and I couldn’t find any simple way to install it (this was long before I discovered Homebrew). The App Store did not offer any of the Unix apps or games that I had been able to get from the Downloads page, so I had to go without Lynx and several of my other beloved programs for a while. It was overall a frustrating experience.

I stayed with Apple for several more years in spite of all this, even buying a third Macbook in 2016. I considered this stripping of features to be only a temporary setback, and kept telling myself it would get better. But things got even worse when my hard drive cable started melting. It was like a clockwork: every five months or so, my hard drive cable would melt and I would have to buy a new one. I even bought a cooling board for my computer, since I thought my body heat was the culprit, but the cable kept on melting. There were other problems as well – like the power adapters that were constantly breaking and cost nearly $100 to replace each time, the rubber feet on the bottom of the chassis that would pop off for no reason, and the optical drive that would stop working when you put a defective DVD in, and would continue not working even when you switched it out for a good disc. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I had three laptop failures in the span of less than two months, which I thought was ridiculous, especially since I paid so much money for those laptops.

Necessity is the mother of taking chances.
— Some fortune cookie I got once

I had been avoiding switching to something else because all my stuff was on the Mac, and a lot of it was in one of Apple’s proprietary file formats. But I was starting to see the hopelessness of my situation, and the fact that making the switch was at this point not just a potentially advantageous move, but an absolute necessity if I was to retain any semblance of sanity. I had heard about this interesting thing called the Thinkpad, and I was curious. Everyone was talking about it, and I wanted to see what the hype was about. So after my third Mac breakage in two months, I committed myself to changing brands. My decision was final: the next computer I bought would be from Lenovo and not Apple.

I am so glad I made the switch to the Thinkpad line, and I can definitely see what the hype is about. In addition to the obvious advantage that it’s not a Crapple product, the Thinkpad also has really good specs for a computer of its price (keep in mind there are many models of Thinkpads ranging from low-end refurbs that you can get for under $200 to high-end i7 systems that cost well over $1000), it has a ton of ports of all different form factors that enable it to interface with a wide array of other devices, and it comes apart without much difficulty, which means components are easily swappable/replacable (though I have yet to attempt this with anything other than the battery).

The OS I’m using is Windows 7, which is quite a bit more flexible than MacOS, despite not being Unix-based. Unlike MacOS, it provides easy access to a much wider range of settings via the Control Panel and Regedit, and the use of restore points means you can basically fix any software problem easily by just rolling back to the most recent good restore point from before you had the problem. I relish both of these features, because they have allowed me to take far more control of my Thinkpad than I ever could have with any of my Apple devices.  They are a great boon for digital control freaks like myself. And if I want to use the Unix terminal, well, that’s what Cygwin is for. Or I could just, you know, boot Arch Linux from a live CD, which is a lot easier now since there’s no longer that tight integration between the operating system and the hardware.

Since I got my Thinkpad, I’ve connected several other hardware components to its many ports and basically converted it into a desktop. I have two LCD monitors with 4:3 and 5:4 aspect ratios respectively that I got second-hand, as well as a mechanical keyboard, wireless mouse, and an external Hi-Fi speaker, and also a USB hub and Ethernet setup to connect in additional devices. I have a picture of my rig with Ubuntu Bionic Beaver running in one monitor and MS-DOS 6.22 running in the other monitor.  I could never accomplish this setup with my Macbook. In parting, I will give you a glimpse so you can feast your eyes on my glorious command center:

rig

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4 thoughts on “Apple to Lenovo: One Nerd’s Search for a Better Platform

  1. I was only born in ’97, so I didn’t really see this older Apple you liked in the fresh. I was introduced into computing and geekhood by a Dell Optiplex machine when I was about 5ish, and remained a loyal Wintel user until last year (I’ve now mostly migrated to Linux).

    Apart from owning an iPod Touch (4th gen), which was a fucking awful device and a waste of money in itself, I’ve pretty much always hated Apple. Even before the Tim Cook era, Apple products looked like glossy, simple, sci-fi wannabe machines for hipsters. Which contrasted with my love of THICC, beige or blackened (like my soul), functional PCs. For me, IBM 5150 > Apple II series (the only Apple computers I respect). These PCs were cheap and moldable, which ThinkPads epitomised (and continue to do so) for me in portable form. They came into my life in early high school in the form of a T21, which despite being 3/4 of a decade old at that point, was the love of my life until I finally wrecked it (one of the biggest mistakes of my life). I’ve never had a brand new one (or any machine), due to relative family poverty which forced me to accept older machines until I started studying university. But despite of that, I never look back and thought “I’d rather have a new Mac” at any point. Working on older Windows and keeping those crumbling operating systems running was a part of the fun, and TBH I believe it helped shape me into the programmer I am today since I had to always program more efficiently and compensate for lack of functionality.

    But anywho, here I am now as a committed Lenovo fan with a fleet of 19 ThinkPads (including 11 laptops, 3 keyboards, 3 spare bins, and a dock), a Moto G6 (Motorola Mobility has been owned by Lenovo since 2014), and plans to expand the fleet further and even invest in a new **90s series ThinkPad later in the year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, the Thinkpads are amazing, and I’m just starting to explore this incredible world as of last July when I bought my T410 (well, technically I had to get my mom to give me money to buy it because my bank balance was at absolute zero). I think having to live in poverty for several years was part of what drove me away from the Apple platform. My thought process was basically that I simply didn’t have the financial resources to keep bringing my Macbooks into the store to get fixed and/or shelling out $100 every time a power adapter broke. Given my financial situation, a luxury status signaling computer like the Mac just doesn’t make sense. It’s like a homeless person driving a Mercedes. But yeah, I’m really glad I made the switch, and I’m hoping to learn more about these awesome computers in the future. There’s just something about a boxy black laptop with a million and one ports, making clunky beep noises when I change the power mode, that excites me even after several months of being accustomed to it. I feel like I’m living in a 90s cyberpunk movie, rather than the Starbucks fantasy I was living with my Mac.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Fuck man, that is expensive! I currently live off government student grants and loans to survive, so £80ish for a new charger is something I could never afford. In fact, my R60e (the oldest ThinkPad I have that I consider usable by today’s standards) cost me about £50 + £20 on upgrades and I still have money to spare! The style thing I totally agree is one of the best parts. The ports, and beeps, the flickering lights, and the sheer size of them compared to even old contemporaries is imposing and exciting like a portable battlestation!

        If you’re wanting to learn more, stay tuned on the ThinkPad subreddit (r/ThinkPad)! I recently started frequent-ing there and it’s quite a vibrant and supportive community! http://www.thinkwiki.org is a great resource for model data and Linux hacks as well! Just be careful if you fall into a “Think Addiction”/obsession like me! 😂

        Liked by 2 people

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