Computer Snobbery

by Jim Trageser
This article originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 16, 1993.

One of the worst apsects of hanging out with fellow computer types is the parochialism involved among different computer brands. Every computer user has a personal hierarchy of computer types, with her or his own at the apex and all others trailing behind and below.

What really grates me is people who cough violently after you tell them you use an Atari computer. Most have never seen an Atari ST, Mega, TT or Falcon030 computer, and don't know of what they sneer. In fact, the last machine with an Atari logo they've seen took a quarter to play, but that doesn't stop them from ridiculing the Atari line of computers.

The fact that the Atari family of Motorola 680X0-based machines are capable, flexible and powerful seems not to matter. No, the fact that they aren't IBM or Macintosh is enough to make them different, and thus inferior in the eyes of PC and Mac users.

Friends of mine who own Commodore Amigas — another fine Motorola-based machine — admit to similar experiences, while those who still use 8-bit computers rarely admit so in public, often professing to having no computer rather than acknowledge the Commodore C-64 at home in the den.

You get a similar reaction if you admit you don't have an inkjet printer or better. I normally use a 9-pin dot matrix, with an old Epson daily wheel for cover letters. And dare I admit I use a heat-transfer printer with my 8-bit computers? Or that I have only a 1,200-baud modem? Or that I don't have a hard drive on my main computer?

All of this snobbery is no better than the brand-name loyalty displayed by fans of '60s muscle cars. Mustang owners would rather walk home through a hurricane than ride in a Camaro, while those who favor Chrysler big-block V-8s will invariably run the occasional AMX off the road.

Yet common sense tells us that a '68 'Vette has more in common with a '58 T-bird than it does a '75 Chevy Caprice four-door family sedan.

In fact, I think it's the variety that makes computing so rewarding. Given my druthers, I'd take one of each. Give me a Mac Quadra 700, an Amiga 4000, an IBM Pentium and an Atari Falcon030. Equip each with 25 megs of RAM (well, 14 for the Falcon ...), a 1.2 gigabyte hard drive and an oversized color monitor. Still insist your make and model at home is better?

But if I'm building a collection, I'll gladly accept any donations of Sun SparcStations, NeXT workstations or the spare Cray cluttering up your garage. For that matter, I'd enjoy playing with your TRS-80, Kaypro II or Coleco Adam.

You see, no matter the platform, I enjoy the act of computing. Each platform has its idiosyncrasies, strong and weak points — a personality of sorts. For desktop publishing, the Mac is tops. For MIDI, the Atari. For video handling, the Amiga is pretty hard to beat. For general computer compatibility and inexpensive power, trust IBM clones. (And if you want to calculate whether an as-yet undiscovered planet is responsibile for the orbital abnormalities of Neptune, the Cray is the way to go.)

But I also still enjoy showing my two-year-old daughter how to put cartridges in her Texas Instruments Ti-99, and I've spent the last few weeks trying to get an XT in running shape, installing an internal modem and fiddling with the hard drive.

Having a favorite platform is fine, but the "mine is better than yours" mentality accomplishes nothing.

What we need is less parochialism and more computer mutual admiration societies. As an Atari user, I have nothing but absolute respect for the other makes and models. (I can play "Stunts" or "Continuum" on a juiced-up '486 Windows box for hours on end.) When we dismiss another computer, we really limit ourselves by eliminating other computing possibilities.

Diversity is the spice of life. Think how boring life would be if everyone was blonde and the only music was classical. The computer world would be equally dull if we had only IBM clones from which to choose.

Then again, I'm an Atari owner who eschews blondes, likes the blues, and longs for his old '67 Mustang fastback — so what do I know?

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