Ramblings & ephemera

Differences between Macintosh & Unix programmers

From Eric Steven Raymond’s “Problems in the Environment of Unix” (The Art of Unix Programming: 19 September 2003):

Macintosh programmers are all about the user experience. They’re architects and decorators. They design from the outside in, asking first “What kind of interaction do we want to support?” and then building the application logic behind it to meet the demands of the user-interface design. This leads to programs that are very pretty and infrastructure that is weak and rickety. In one notorious example, as late as Release 9 the MacOS memory manager sometimes required the user to manually deallocate memory by manually chucking out exited but still-resident programs. Unix people are viscerally revolted by this kind of mal-design; they don’t understand how Macintosh people could live with it.

By contrast, Unix people are all about infrastructure. We are plumbers and stonemasons. We design from the inside out, building mighty engines to solve abstractly defined problems (like “How do we get reliable packet-stream delivery from point A to point B over unreliable hardware and links?”). We then wrap thin and often profoundly ugly interfaces around the engines. The commands date(1), find(1), and ed(1) are notorious examples, but there are hundreds of others. Macintosh people are viscerally revolted by this kind of mal-design; they don’t understand how Unix people can live with it. …

In many ways this kind of parochialism has served us well. We are the keepers of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our software and our traditions dominate serious computing, the applications where 24/7 reliability and minimal downtime is a must. We really are extremely good at building solid infrastructure; not perfect by any means, but there is no other software technical culture that has anywhere close to our track record, and it is one to be proud of. …

To non-technical end users, the software we build tends to be either bewildering and incomprehensible, or clumsy and condescending, or both at the same time. Even when we try to do the user-friendliness thing as earnestly as possible, we’re woefully inconsistent at it. Many of the attitudes and reflexes we’ve inherited from old-school Unix are just wrong for the job. Even when we want to listen to and help Aunt Tillie, we don’t know how — we project our categories and our concerns onto her and give her ‘solutions’ that she finds as daunting as her problems.

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