Chronicles of a Mac User in a PC Major: Chapter One §

I am a Computer Information Systems (CIS) major here at HSU. I also use a Macintosh. I think that everyone else in my chosen major uses Windows or, for the truly die hard geeks among us, a “Linux box.” It’s interesting to me to see the way this is playing out, and so as the whole things plays out, I would like to offer you the Chronicles of a Mac User in a PC Major, and this is Chapter One…

I will set the tone of these chronicles in single word, that is “frustration.” I am taking two CIS major courses this semester, Intermediate C++ and Intro. to Operating Systems. The C++ class is plain Jane, nothing new or exciting there, one of those show up and do the work classes. The OS class though is actually interesting, not to mention complicated.

This is the first of the “real” undergrad courses for this major - in that it is a pre-req for every other undergrad class, but not a pre-req for the major - if that makes sense. The people in this class aren’t people “investigating” CIS as a major for them, they’re people who know this is where they belong and are going for the degree. It is also strictly a major class, no GE or elective requirements are fulfilled by taking it.

I mention these facts simply to attempt a vague illustration of the people in this class, they are the geeks who are into their major. Which is respectable. Hell, I’m in the class so I must be one of them. Except for one important difference: I use a Macintosh as my main computer, and see no need to bring a Wintel or Linux box back into my life. I have no need to. Indeed some of these people would be astonished to discover that I can use my Mac - running OS X - to do my C++ programming assignments, in a world class development environment that was purchased by me for exactly nothing. It was included with the OS.

But here’s the anecdote that got me onto this as a rant. We were discussing memory management techniques in class on Monday (yes I delayed the posting of this entry a bit), and naturally this lecture lead to the exploration of memory fragmentation. We were talking about physical memory here, RAM, but to illustrate the point he parlayed the information into a discussion of hard drive fragmentation. The conversation inevitably switched to the pivotal question for all users of Windows: “How many of you defragment your hard drive?”

Everyone raised their hands, of course… except for me. You see with Mac OS X there is no need to do such a thing. The partition format that the OS creates (HFS Extended) allows for some very cool things to go on to prevent major fragmentation of the kind that would require a handy double click on the Microsoft Disk Defragmenter icon. If you care to read more about those, here is an article from Apple’s Support Site.

Reason B involves the fact that most newer machines - and this can apply to all operating systems - ship with Hard Drives that are large enough that you don’t really need to participate in this archaic activity. And, finally, reason number 3 brings me back to Mac OS X and the fact that, and Apple’s Support Article verifies this, defragmenting your disk on a Mac could cause a loss in performance because of the way that the OS organizes essential system files for start up, etc. (Note: this is not a substantial difference, but nonetheless it’s counter productive.)

Okay, so there’s why I didn’t raise my hand. I think it’s safe to say that I know what defragmentation means, why one should do it (that is if one is using Windows), and the reasons that I do not do it on my Mac - basically I just don’t have to think about it. Instead of posing the question of why I do not do this, or perhaps noting that there might be reasons one does not need to go about doing this thing, the instructor chose to carry the class, no not the class - me - on a drawn out explanation about the merits of defragging Windows. “It can substantially improve performance.” “It optimizes the programs you use most to start faster.” Etc, etc.

I was annoyed, pissed, frustrated. I didn’t say anything about it during this particular class session, but I have indeed been warned by other Mac using students who attempted the CIS major that this is the norm, and even if I had spoken out and ventured into a pissing match with the Professor, I would have been unsuccessful.

So with that warning, I am more prepared. In the future articles written to the chronicles I can guarantee there might be more quotations of interest. I use a Macintosh. Judging from the news headlines from day to day and the flood of system updates and security patches a Windows user must spend hours installing and tweaking; judging by the amount of time that the typical Windows user (and I know, I did use to be one) spends finessing the OS into operation, treating it as a child with ADHD so that you can potentially earn a few good hours of productive work time… One might argue, and quite successfully, that I am the smarter one in this scenerio.

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