Smug Ugly

Although I’ve been accused sometimes of reflexive contrariness, the truth is I’m just pretty consistent in my assessments of technology, with little regard for the perceptions of the companies or people who provide those technologies.

The best case in point I can use to illustrate this is an example of the worst thing about Apple. There is simply nothing less attractive than a person who is both flawed and smug, and apparently one of the few plausible justifications for treating corporations as legal persons is the fact that this holds true for companies as well. And Apple is a smug company.

The new version 10.5 of Mac OS X [1] rather famously features the following display when you’re browsing machines that appear to be running Microsoft Windows:


Now, I’m all for a little sense of humor in the world of technology. But the image here deliberately uses an aged-looking monitor and a crashed computer as the illustration of your other computers. The disdain here isn’t for the unfortunate unwashed who have to suffer through Windows because they’re so clueless — it’s a snide shot at the other computers you own, or of your family’s other machines around the house, or of the computers of the peers you work with. In short, the derision is likely aimed at people who care a hell of a lot more about you and your boundless Mac-enhanced creativity than, say, the OS X team does.

And all that is assuming the image is even accurate. Plenty of Linux and other Unix machines show up as Samba file shares, meaning they’ll be presented as unstable blue-screening machines, despite the fact that they’re likely more stable than OS X. That’s the heart of the issue — it’s not like the Mac is completely stable; It’s got its share of crashes just like every other operating system.

Arrogance is ugly. If you claim to care about aesthetics and design, it’s in your interest to keep from being completely tacky and lacking in taste.

To be honest, there’s really only room for mocking everybody else if you’re absolutely flawless. And even then, it’s pretty bad taste. I’ve seen exactly what it looks like firsthand to see people take cheap shots and make snide comments about their nominal competitors, and it invariably makes the complainer look worse than the ostensible target. When the company you’re taking a shot at is Microsoft, that’s saying a lot.

Perhaps most disturbingly, it’s not at all implausible that this little easter egg was, at least implicitly, approved by Steve Jobs himself. It’s a whole ‘nother post to explain why that level of meddling megalomania is kind of pathological for a multi-billion-dollar global corporation, but let’s not digress too much. Suffice to say, the presence of this image means that there’s permission to be this passive-aggressive and, well, lame at all levels of Apple’s organization.

So, to Apple: Your company’s value, as measured by market capitalization, is way up. You’re dominating the markets you care about. The quality of your products is generally very good — my main laptop runs OS X and we’ve got the requisite geek household pile of various-generation iPods around. Apple’s got my money, to the tune of thousands of dollars. But this level of sneering arrogance, at a time when a little humble appreciation of success is well in order, would go a long way. You’re succeeding. Act like it.

(Thanks to Joerg for the image.)

[1] Referring to versions of OS X by cat names, when those names appear nowhere in the operating system itself, seems astoundingly user-hostile. I have no idea what the cat name is for the operating system I’m running, and yet when I try to evaluate shareware, the authors are often asking me if I’m a panther or a tiger or something. Hasn’t anybody noticed how stupid that is over at Apple?