Mac-PC Equivalency

I recently crossed paths with a person who looked at some of the artworks in my portfolio and commented on them. He liked them a lot. After telling me this, he said, “Was it made on a Mac?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. Not really understanding any of the potential implications in the question, I asked him something like, “What made you think that?”, leaving myself open to the possibility that there were some subtleties/vagaries in regard to the creation of images or the programs commonly associated with the OS that I was unaware of, that would make him think that the image was produced in Mac instead of Windows. His question made no sense to me, but I decided just for fun to to respond with “What made you think that?”, just to hear what he’d say.

He said, “Because it was well-made. You know, they say Macs are good for people who like to create things.”

The fact that the image was well-made causing someone to think it was made by a person using Mac OS is just silly. An image is an image. As my father once said to me, “A bit is a bit is a bit.”

This idea of Macs being good for people who like to make stuff, brings to my mind, the Church-Turing Thesis. To give the short story, there were thought to be two ways to do things involving things that are computable (the Church way (involving recursive functions) and the Turning way (involving Turing machines)). Well, it turned out that, as long as you get the same output, it doesn’t really matter which way you do it. Basically, they were equivalent: anything you could accomplish with one, you could accomplish with another.

Both Mac and Windows are written using programming languages that are Turing complete. Both of them can perform any calculable function. Both of them can generate the output the user wants. If the final file is something you can imagine, it can be done, in either operating system.* That final .JPG file is, ultimately just a bunch of ones and zeroes that one may generate using whatever method one pleases.

When I was in my first year of college, I heard one of my (not art) instructors say that artists should learn how to use Macintosh because it’s good for artists. Now, the value in being able to use an operating system is great, so yes, it is good to learn how to use it. However, looking back, it seems the reason she gave me learning it was a pretty bad one.

So, the superstition is that Macs are better for art folks. It is, in fact, a superstition. A person can make a image file, a movie file, a text file, a web page file, or a sound file in one operating system and then make the same thing in another. I recently read a page about creative software and found the root of this superstition about Macs- all these years I had heard misguided people saying that Macs are for artists, and I finally figured out why. In the late 1980s, when computers started to be seen as a decent tool for artists, a lot of the early software packages targeted toward artists were Mac exclusives or initially released for Mac (somewhat parallel to the fact that Windows is associated with video game players). So it all made sense, to me then, and I was able to put these years of hearing that Mac is a superior OS for art to rest and realize that it was all supersition. It also doesn’t help that there are misleading “I’m a Mac” ads that imply that Windows is bad for making video, Mac is the only OS that can make photo collections, or Windows computers don’t have a USB port that you can plug a camera into (those ads are pretty fun to watch, though).

Remember that a digital image is just a conglomeration of code. You can make an image (or any other kind of file) on one OS and then make the same thing on the other OS. Data is data. How did you make the file? Metadata notwithstanding, it won’t make a difference.

Which operating system is better? Well, that’s beyond the scope of this post. The point I’m making here is that the appearance of the output (that digital image that appeared in my portfolio) is not dependent on the OS the person making it used. The OS had no bearing on whether it was going to look well-made. It doesn’t matter if you make the file with an abacus, a binary punch card, or a roll of paper tape, as long as you get the job done.

Now, is what OS you use completely irrelevant and not important to you? Are there no significant differences between Mac and Windows? Of course there are differences. Which OS you should use, you have to decide for yourself. Which OS is better? Can you get the job done with the OS? Can it do what you want it to do practically? Is it easier to do something in one than the other? These are relevant things to think about. Which of the ways to get from A to B is more comfortable for you? Which one is better is something that’s going to differ from individual to individual.

Which operating system is the best for making artworks? The one that works best for you.

*Yes, this applies to Linux and other OSs too.