Great platforms are made from lots of little tools
It’s difficult for me to recognize how much of a Mac user I’ve become. My wife like to say that I have the evangelical zeal of a repentant sinner or an ex-smoker. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, because I like to think of myself as a platform agnostic, rather than a zealot. That said, staring at the start of our all Mac 1-1 rollout, I would be absolutely petrified if we were doing this with any other platform.
I recently ran across a vicious Mac v Windows argument on a teacher’s Facebook page, and it felt like looking through the Guardian of Forever into the dark past. I put aside a decade of mac animosity with 10.2 shipped and it’s baffling to me that people still have arguments like “Macs are for people who don’t need real computers.” Which is eerily similar to the snotty “Macs don’t have a DOS prompt!” rhetoric I threw around when I was 15, except it’s patently untrue.
Edge21 linked out this neat bit of Mac freeware called Say it, Save It that gets to what I love about the Mac platform. There’s hundreds of these tiny, specific little utilities throughout the ecosystem, most of them very cheap or free. I love small specific chunks of code like this, as my ever expanding status bar will testify. But more than any specific utility, I love working on a platform where people create and distribute solutions for small problems.
One of the reasons this happens is the fact that OS X puts so many tools in the hands of it’s users, that developers can quickly focus those into little utilities like Say It, Save It.
I’ve only recently been working with Automator and it’s incredibly impressive. Unlike Applescript, for which Automator is essentially a fancy front end, it puts the potential of the computer in a very clear and inviting package.
I worked with a teacher who was losing an hour a week doing nothing more than changing dates and student names on a huge number of Word documents. If a nerd had designed that workflow, they would have kept everything in plain text and written up a batch of scripts to perform all the changes automatically. With Automator, it’s a nearly trivial process to do the same thing with the existing Word documents and trigger the whole process with a right-click.
Saving a busy teacher an hour of tedium is nothing to sneeze at, but the best part is that it raises her expectations for what the computer can do. This has been the historical strength of the Mac platform, and tools like Automator are a huge part of it.
I think some programing exposure is critical for our adolescents because I want them to reject drudgery like this out of hand. By looking more closely at how computers operate they’ll be inspired to use the computer properly – to save them from silly, repetitive drudgery.