Monday, March 5, 2007

The Cult of Mac + The Search (book reviews)

A couple of recent reads ...

1. "The Cult of Mac" by Leander Kahney

An interesting look at the so-called "cult" of Mac users.  There's a
broad spectrum of user types, from die-hard fanatics to ordinary
pragmatists.  There are chapters on body art, collectors, Macspotting,
Macquariums and the Mac-rumours phenomenon.  There's even a tongue-in-
cheek chapter looking into the quasi-religious nature of Mac users.
Lots of photos help make this an easy read.

Personally, I'm more of a pragmatist than a rabid fanatic.  I bought my
first Mac in 1992.  Before then, I respected Apple but I thought their
products were overpriced.  I opted for cheaper computers (e.g. Atari
ST), but by 1992 there seemed to be just two contenders left standing
in the market: Apple Macintosh and the myriad of (bland) DOS PCs.
Fortunately I was a uni student at the time so I could take advantage
of educational discounts to buy my first Mac.  I was astonished at how
good it was, even in those days.

IMHO the Mac OS has remained far ahead of the alternatives.  And Macs
are no longer as overpriced as they were in the 1980s and 1990s.  I've
used Linux, Windows and Mac OS over the years at work.  I would only
ever consider using Macs at home.  I want my computer to work reliably
(and dare I say elegantly?).  Macs let me focus on the actual tasks I
want to do rather than the boring administrivia that seems to be
associated with keeping Windows PCs (barely) stable and Linux
environments (barely) usable.

2. "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business
    and Transformed Our Culture" by John Battelle

A mostly non-technical history of Internet search technologies.  It
describes the evolution of search from the pre-"Web" days of Archie,
through to the present day.  While most people associate Google with
search, there have been others along the way that have left their mark,
including Altavista and Architext/Excite.  Obviously from the title
there is a focus on Google, but Yahoo is still a player today, and
Microsoft, Amazon and others are keen to profit from search.  The book
also looks at some promising future directions for Internet search.

If you want a more technical view of search engines and the technology
they use, you should look elsewhere.  The author does describe the
basics of search engines, but the focus is on the business side and
the end-user's point of view - for example improving the ease of use
and the quality of results.

Also, don't expect a complete history of Google.  Last year I read
a book which does a better job of that, including more information
about the founders of Google:
"The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology
 Success of Our Time" by David Vise

However, Battelle does take a more critical view of Google's stated
objective of "Don't Be Evil" than Vise does.