Thursday, April 26, 2007

How I didn't buy a Mac

Before our move to Japan, my wife and I are considering buying a new, compact computer to take with us. Being the cool kids we are, we stopped by the local Apple Store to see if we liked anything. My wife worked in publishing for years and is pretty comfortable on a Mac; being a former FreeBSD developer, I liked the idea of BSD under the hood.

Anyway, we were pretty well sold on getting a Mac Mini until a thought crossed my mind: how do you uninstall software? I appreciate that Macs come with less circusware than Windows PCs, but when my "Test Drive" version of Microsoft Office or 30 day trial of iWork (sound familiar?) expires, how do I remove that useless trialware from my Mac?

We checked the help file on the Mac we were looking at -- there wasn't even an entry in the help addressing how to remove software. Not under "uninstall", not under "deinstall", or even "remove". In disbelief, we each took a turn visually scanning every single topic in the help file for something that even hinted at telling us how to uninstall a program. If there is an entry in the Mac help on removing software, we couldn't find it.

So we asked an employee. I wish I had a picture of the expression he made. Apparently it had never occurred to him you might ever want to remove software from a Mac. I guess that explains why Macs come with such large hard drives.

Experimenting, we tried just dragging an app into the trash to see if that would uninstall it. It worked: the app went into the trash. But I have no idea whether that meant the application was really uninstalled or not. Apparently, it depends on the app. And that is the answer that we (and the store employee we had baffled with the question) finally arrived at. Removing software on a Mac is really simple, unless it isn't.

On FreeBSD, I can pkg_delete programs I don't want anymore. On Windows they have an Add/Remove Programs item in the Control Panel that gets the job done pretty consistently. I'm sure linux has got the problem solved several different ways by now. I was honestly surprised that Apple didn't have a good, consistent solution for removing unwanted software. Perhaps the problem is too mundane?

I recall reading that retail stores' sales increase when shoppers know they can return goods without penalty. I think installing software is a lot like shopping: if I don't know whether I can remove it cleanly (i.e. without penalty) then I'm not likely to install it. Which means that I become really hesitant to install anything on my computer. If I can't comfortably try different editors, or mail readers, or web browsers, or whatever, then the value of the computer is appreciably reduced. For example, I know I would have never installed the FireBug add-on for Firefox had I not been sure I could remove the thing if it sucked (which it doesn't, by the way).

So we didn't buy a Mac. Yeah, I'm stupid, but that's the story: not being assured that we can cleanly uninstall software was enough that we left the store empty-handed. Perhaps we're more pragmatic than most. Perhaps I'm not as cool as I thought.


jjinux said...

"It's easy to uninstall software except when it isn't." Yep, that's it. These days, in my mind, the biggest flaw in Macs is the lack of an ability to easily install and uninstall open source software. I've heard over and over again that Darwin Ports and Fink both suck. In contrast, this is something that Ubuntu totally kicks butt at.

Here's one more thing Mac users can't do.

Kelly Yancey said...

Thanks for the link JJ, I can't believe I had forgotten about The Best Page In The Universe. Maddox rules. I've always particularly liked this page.

Zhuoshi said...

Try AppCleaner. It makes uninstalling a lot easier.