Cooking with a Rake

All my clients know I'm big on analogy and metaphor. It’s how I explain technical things to non-technical people.Working with a new client recently, I hit upon an new analogy: cooking with a rake.Cooking with a rake - in other words, doing something with tools that make the job much more difficult.Why do people cook with rakes?

    I've always done it this way.
    The rake salesman told me using a rake was very simple.
    What else is there for stirring a pot or chopping carrots?
    I don't have time to learn to use a spatula right now, I have to get this dinner prepared on a very tight schedule!
    Everyone I know uses a rake to make sushi.

Now, those who know me may think I'm about to launch into some sort of anti-Windows tirade, about how MS Windows 95-98-NT-2000-ME-XP is the rake.Nah, that’s too easy. Especially on a Mac site like this.
All the readers have read it before anyway.No, I want to show the, um, “rakishness” of some applications and methods many Mac users rely on.

First up: America OnLine.
Did you know that AOL started as a Mac-only service? Yup. Way back in the late 80’s, before the internet existed, AOL was a proprietary bulletin board system aimed directly and exclusively at Mac users. Well, the last part of that has changed (note version 7 for PC but only version 5 for Mac) but the first part hasn’t. AOL is still, in its heart of hearts, a proprietary bulletin board system. The broader internet is tacked on, but if AOL had its druthers, you’d always use a keyword to visit CBS news, never by typing “www.cbs.com” in a browser window.As my buddy Brad put it “AOL is a walled garden. They don’t want you to leave the garden, no matter how nice it is on the other side of the wall.” Many AOL users don’t even realize that AOL and the internet are different things. Sometimes it seems like AOL forgets this too.AOL is simple. So is a rake. But like that rake, when you need to do complicated things, it is not the best tool.
AOL mail is the best example. Do you need to set your email address to automatically forward messages to someone else? Can’t do it with AOL.Do you need to automatically sort incoming or outgoing mail into project folders? Can’t do it in AOL.Want to export your email addresses to a database for managing mass mailings or email merging? There’s no way to do it with AOL. This is probably intentional on AOL’s part, since the ability to export email addresses makes it easier to change from AOL to some other way of doing things.Do you need to change email addresses and forward your AOL mail to another address during the transition? Not with AOL. They won’t set it up. Do you want to download your old email en mass for long term storage? You can only do it one at a time with AOL.
Every other mail program available on the Mac, from Claris Emailer 1.0 (circa 1992) to MS Entourage X (recently released for OS X only) has more and better email management than AOL mail. And most all of them are easier to upgrade, migrate to or from, or export to other programs.

AOL’s web browser is another good example. It’s the most limited browser in widespread use, but that’s not the biggest issue. Due to complicated technical issues I won’t go into here,* anyone using AOL for their internet service provider doesn’t have access to the most up-to-date “real” internet. Sometimes it takes days for AOL’s service to “notice” that a web site exists, or that a set of web pages have been updated. If you need to find uncommon web sites through AOL, your selections are likely to be more limited than if you use another service provider.

AOL isn’t the only rake in most people’s kitchens. I’ve seen people struggling to use Excel for something that really requires a simple database in a program like AppleWorks or Filemaker Pro. Or manually faxing the same document to a hundred different addresses, when there are fax programs to do it all.If you find yourself asking “Why is this so hard/inconvenient/time consuming?” then you’re probably cooking with a rake. Take a moment to find the right tools, and your cooking will be more enjoyable!

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