It Just Works, My New Mantra

Also, the image we use in our new Connect error page.

Also, the image we use in our new Connect error page.

Last week, I had one of those, “I’m so glad I have a Mac moments”.

Stick with me, this isn’t another my O/S can beat up your O/S posts (although those are fun). There’s a point at the end.

I don’t consider myself a fanboi, but I do like my Mac and will never willingly go back to a host (i.e. not a VM) Windows system. I run Linux on my work-issued Dell because it’s there, and otherwise, it would collect dust.

I like Linux a lot more than Windows, but not as much as my Mac.

That said, I have to have Windows for work because there are a few critical web apps that require IE. Don’t act all shocked. This isn’t a rare occurrence at a decent-sized company.

Anyway, Paul wanted me to grab some screen captures of a web conference he couldn’t attend. Don’t get me started on why we didn’t go the recording route. Anyway, a fairly simple and common request. I can’t imagine that it’s too far-fetched.

Here’s where it gets dicey.

I run an XP VM to attend web conferences because IE is a requirement for the app. The web conferencing app captures bitmaps (I know, fail), which I saved locally to my XP desktop.

I took a lot of captures, about 50. At 3 MB apiece, I was looking a lot of post-processing.So, the fairly easy ask became a possibly time-consuming one. Somehow get those 50 captures (150 MB) into a format that Paul could easily consume.

The latter part is key. A manifest of 50 image files uploaded to a server somewhere wouldn’t be very easy to consume.

In the past on Windows, this is the type of problem that really would have eaten up some time.

Not so on my Mac. I moved the files from the VirtualBox XP VM to my Mac desktop, via shared folders.

Then I opened one of the bitmaps in Preview, saved it as a pdf, opened all 49 of the other images in another Preview window, selected them all in the window’s sidebar and dragged them into the pdf window’s sidebar.

Save and voila, a 9 MB pdf file with 50 pages, easy for quick viewing on any platform and small enough to attach and send by email.

I suppose I could have used Dropbox to share it with Paul, but that’s just showing off at this point.

The whole process took about five minutes, whereas on a Windows machine, I can’t imagine it would be as fast. If anyone out there wants to run a test on Windows, let me know.

The kicker here is that I did all the post-processing in Preview, which comes with OS X. On Windows, you’d have to identify what software can solve your problem first because it’s not included. So, hello, Acrobat, which retails for $299.

You could use a freemium product like PrimoPDF or an open source one like PDFCreator, but either way you’d still need more software, and beyond the generic claims, I’ve no idea how well that would work in this scenario.

So, what’s the point? Well, this is a) an example where the Mac just works and b) where it comes with the software I need, no hidden TCO beyond the low price tag.

Mac critics, like friend of the ‘Lab Michael Krigsman, like to point out doodads and pleasing graphical effects as Mac’s calling cards. These are the words of someone who hasn’t had an “it just works” moment.

Now for the big finish. Problems like this one are the seemingly mundane hurdles facing information workers that become ratholes, consuming hours of wasted time.

That’s why, “it just works” should be the new mantra of the information worker, and why Macs are creeping into the work place.

This problem could easily have been Paul’s rathole, if I’d simply uploaded 50, 3 MB bitmaps to a web server and provided him a link. Imagine what fun that would have been surfing through 50 images.

The bottom line is that neither one of us gets paid to exchange this information. We get paid to analyze it. So, every minute spent on the exchange is a wasted one that either is lost productivity or more likely, is made up by working more.

This problem seems simple, but it’s made complex by the tools.

That’s why “it just works” is such a powerful phrase.

Add your thoughts in the comments.




  1. I'm 39MB of 74MB into a iTunes 8.0 to 8.2 minor release upgrade. Not particularly excited about Apple's “It Just Works” engineering right now. What, their engineers never heard of *patching*. Good grief. FAIL.

  2. Bummer, didn't have that issue myself, or rather the upgrade size didn't bother me. This would represent a fail on both platforms (OS X and Win), right?

    Actually, I think generally the update process is equal across all the O/S variants, annoying but necessary.

  3. There are two actions in Mac's Automator which might help you furthur:
    1. Combine PDF Pages
    This action will combine pages from the passed PDF files into a single PDF document.
    2. New PDF from Images
    Creates a single multi-page PDF document from a number of input images

  4. I have to concur completely with Jake's perspective. Not being physically the strongest or tallest guy growing up I used to show my Mojo by being the “IT guy” of my family and friends. I would build clones, fix files, fix OS issues, disassemble boot sectors and bios's, install disk and printer drivers, etc. I used to feel sooo cool doing that. It got old a long time ago… but I felt stuck. Then I bought a Mac (20″ aluminum iMac)… and it just worked. I didn't have to configure anything. It found my printer… wirelessly… and it's built-in scanner and fax. I didn't have to install anything else. Then, I bought a MacBook Pro… and it just worked. I plugged my new MBP into my iMac and it cloned my entire environment, including purchased and installed software, users, ACLs, everything… as part of it's initial boot-up. I am now a fanboi. Everytime I have to configure one of my kid's Vista-based Acers I cringe as I know it's going to be hours of BS and then my wife has to hear me whine about how I should buy them Macs too! And, like Jake, I have some older clones that I am in the process of turning into an Oracle VM cluster; as free as VirtualBox but better for running a VM farm. So, short of it is that Mac's do “just work” and give me back that precious time that I would have otherwise spent figuring out how to make something “just work one time… please” under Windows.

  5. It's the small things! I was uploading videos to YouTube the other day and, facing the “Select a file…” dialogue on Safari figured I'd just try drag-dropping the file from Finder where I had been previewing it, instead of navigating through the directory hierarchy. Well, you guessed it: it just worked and selected the dragged file for me for uploading. Yay!

  6. I think a lot of hardcore Windows people feel so invested in the effort they've spent over the years that they fail on Macs b/c they insist on doing things the Windows way. You seem to have made the jump with no problems.

  7. Those small things add up, which is something that's tough to quantify, but important to the TCO calculation. It's funny, we're conditioned to follow how Windows does things, which leads us to wonder what else is possible when we leave for another O/S.

  8. Jake, having used both platforms (Mac from '85 – '91, Windows from '94 – '09, _NIX at various times), and having just bought a MacBook for my daughter (and immediately exchanging it for a MacBook Pro one week later), I concur with what you've said. But a more interesting question, and possibly one you'd want to address in a future blog post, is WHY it just works.

    On the surface (and I haven't explored beyond the surface), it seems like a contradiction. Many of us in the technological community praise open source and standards and “plug & play,” but at the same time we adore a company that insists on complete control of the operating system software, some of the application software, and the critical hardware (well, except for a brief experiment that was soon ended).

    In essence, the reason that Windows sucks is because IBM built its original PC on an open, easy-to-duplicate architecture, using an operating system that they didn't exclusively control. The sin of open systems?

    Maybe I'm oversimplifying or skewing the issue, but it seems that there's a contradiction between our stated beliefs and our practices.

  9. A few things, I don't adore Apple. I like their products. I've also noted in an older post the odd juxtaposition of open source stickers on a MB/P. It's definitely a weird vibe.

    I'd have to say that it comes down to tools. Macs are the best tools for the job we have, IMO and a lot of people agree.

    This isn't a argument that has easy answers. There's a lot of emotion wrapped up in there. Maybe I will shake it out in a post.

  10. I've struggled with this dichotomy too. I like open-source, philosophically and financially. As someone who works primarily with software, however, I also place high value on my workstation as a platform to help me do that with a minimum of complication. The Mac provides just the right combination of “just works” and “do your own thing” for me.

    I think it's all about where one sets ones levels. I'm sure that kernel developers, hardware guys, and OSS driver developers find the Mac much more restrictive, but that's not my thing. Apple has tight control over hardware that interacts closely with the kernel? Awesome, especially if it means that, for example, I don't have to fiddle with menus (Windows), config files (Linux), and bazillions of versions of various drivers (both) just to get a VPN client to work over wireless. I know I'm not completely “free” on my chosen platform, but I'm free enough. I'd make a lousy zealot. 😉

    Apple seems to be really good at 80-20. Make 80% of the user experience an “it just works” proposition, and people are way less likely to get bent out of shape if parts of the 20% are suboptimal.

  11. 100 years ago: If you are rich and live in the right place a telephone might work. You can get power in urban areas, but it isn't real safe.

    50 years ago: The telephone just worked. Just don't touch it during a thunderstorm. But you can call the power company if the power goes out. Phones and power both won't work during an ice storm, which means you don't have heat, either.

    20 years ago: The telephone usually worked, if you didn't have old wiring that was backwards. PBX's were a bit less reliable than unmultiplexed phone service. You'd have to know what to ask for to avoid multiplexing. Power works most of the time, but is iffy during various seasons.

    Now: The telephone can work in many places, but might not. It can do many more things than talk, but might not. If the power goes out, the phones won't work. Only rich people dare use them to the fullest. The power company is less reliable. You need to condition power, otherwise appliances may break.

    “It just works” is temporary and an illusion.

  12. Nicely put, everyone needs the right tool. I guess Macs are the right tool for vocal group of us. The 80/20 rule is an interesting one that I think most PM doesn't follow anymore; I'm interested to see the evolution of OS X as it becomes increasingly popular.

  13. Did you wander off a bit on me?

    How about *everything* is temporary and an illusion 🙂

    I'd love for “it just works” to be erased completely and replaced by consistency of working, but for now, I'll settle for the occasional win. I never got that with Windows, or rather, I got so much fail, it's all I remember.

    We have a lot of easy problems that can be solved with “it just works”.

  14. I was going to say *exactly* what @jpiwowar said. Bollocks.

    I would agree that Windows has dumbed us down quite a bit. I've had that discussion before. How would we know any different? We'd try a Mac out and only then would we know.

    The dichotomy is amusing sometimes…OK, most of the time. Microsoft has been taken to task for lesser things (browser?). Apple gets away with so much and many of their fans fail to see or just ignore the simple truth, Apple is evil.

    Now, before anyone gets upset…I would love to get on a MBP. I yearn (especially after my new found Ubuntu experiences) for things to just work.

  15. Interesting, maybe Macs are dumbing us down a bit by just working too much 🙂 How's that for a curveball?

    My problem with Windows was how simple tasks became hard and expensive, which is part bad design and part open architecture (as John mentions). Linux is a great medium for hackers b/c it gives you a lot of the same good design, with maximum control.

  16. We've had our share of “it just works moments” at JPL. So much so that about half our workforce is now on Mac.

    Not an Apple fanboi by any means (don't get me ranting on iPhone 3.0). Also not a big fan of Apple's tight design coupling between the OS and the hardware. But, in the case of the Mac, it's hard to argue with the result – it just works.

  17. Want rant.

    You still on the OG? I've heard the battery drains way faster (to be fixed in 3.1), but I haven't used mine much. I figured it was FieldRunners 🙂

    I feel the same way about Mac, best tool for the job, not perfect.

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