Confessions of a Platform Agnostic

After my recent switch to Back to Mac, I’ve received a variety of comments from my more vocal friends and associates. The Mac users in the crowd uniformly gave me a hearty “welcome back to the fold” slap on the back (the unspoken subtext: “we KNEW you’d be back.”). The Windows users seemed almost cavalier in their attitude towards losing yet another user to the Mac fold (the unspoken subtext: “You never really were one of us anyways.”). The Linuxtistas simply shrugged and said “Dude, why don’t you just switch to Linux, you’re already halfway there.” (the unspoken subtext: “It’s inevitable. Give in.”). The more objective in the crowd simply said “Oh you switched? So which one is better?”

I’ve a confession to make: I don’t care what my computer is running as long as it works. Call me shallow, call me socially irresponsible, call me a traitor to the Open Source creed, but whatever you call me, be prepared to be received with a shrug of the shoulders and a blithe reply: “Hey, if it works, then it works for me.” As I look around the studio, I see one server on Linux, one on Windows, a handful of desktop PCs running Windows, and one dual boot Windows / Linux desktop.

My notebook is a MacBookPro. I run proprietary software on Open Source platforms. I run Open Source software on proprietary platforms. I run Linux and Windows — sometimes on the same box. Heck, I am even looking forward to the release of BootCamp so I can run Windows on my Mac! Let’s face it: I’m a shameless hussy. My portable hard drive and I live by the mantra of plug and play. I sample all the tastes there are and take a little of each. And frankly, if you don’t too, you are probably missing out on some good experiences.

It didn’t use to be this way. For years I ran Mac and nothing but Mac. Then one shining day the dramatic drops in PC hardware prices proved too much temptation; I decided it was time to learn dos and Win3.1. In a complete 180 degree shift, I went from being a Mac fanatic to a dos freak. The cracks in my Microsoft resolve didn’t appear until nearly ten years later. The first indication that my days of serial monogamy might be over began to appear on my servers as I found Linux to be a painless and cost-effective option for scaling up boxes, particularly dedicated servers. Then, like an unfaithful spouse, I start trying out Linux desktops on the side — nothing serious, just a taste. But as happens, I kept trying them and trying them (and dumping them and dumping them) and then one day one stuck. A penguin now has a permanent place in my digital harem.

The arrival of the MacBookPro was the last straw. Although I was initially trepidatious about adding yet another OS to the collection, the initial adjustment period is behind me and I now love it. As a result, I am hereby formally abjuring all claims of faithfulness to any one platform. To heck with it — let people talk! I’m dating them all!! Let’s take one more step down this path. You know what software gets my vote? If you read my last column, this comes as no surprise: The stuff that is just as platform agnostic as I am. If it runs on my Mac, on my Windows box, and on my Linux box, you can bet it has my complete loyalty.

Of course, in this day and age I don’t expect to find many applications as indifferent to their partners as I am, but the list is growing. In addition to simple browser and email programs, I find gems like Apache and MySQL to be faithful companions. I run LAMP on my Linux boxes, WAMP on my Windows boxes and XAMP on my Mac and I am happy as the proverbial Larry. And now for the evangelical portion of today’s program: Friend and neighbors, you should become a platform agnostic, too. Why? Because it is not just simply convenient and useful, it is flat out inevitable. This trend is not just about operating systems and the related software applications (if this trend relied exclusively on software for traction it would be a long time coming!). What’s really pushing this trend is the Web.

A website doesn’t care what OS you’re running; if you have a browser you are good to go. As more applications are delivered via the Web, the only thing that will matter is a connection. The Web will convert one and all to its heretical humanistic approach to delivering what people want. Let’s look at this same idea in a different context: I’ve got a car, a motorcycle and a bicycle. Sometimes I take a taxi or even the bus. They are all ways of getting me from point A to point B and therefore competing technologies. Is there a conflict in owning and using multiple modes of transport? No way; the goal is the thing, not the tool. I use the tool which best suits my mood and needs at that particular time. It’s a natural as breathing. Why should my computing environment be any different?

So what’s the best platform to use? Why, the one that does what you want,. Any more questions?

This article originally appeared in ComputerWorld (HK) in the fall of 2006.

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