Author of brainy best-sellers The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum died late last week, and was heavily eulogized over the weekend in pretty much every major newspaper around the world.
But while most people (understandably) focused on his status was one of Italy’s best-known literary exports, did you know that Eco also once wrote an essay about the benefits of Mac OS versus MS-DOS? It’s pretty much the academic’s answer to those classic Mac vs. PC TV commercials.
“The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers,” Eco wrote in the September 30, 1994 edition of Italian newspaper Espresso.
“I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant … It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.”
It may not be one of the bits of writing Eco is best remembered for, but it’s one I’ve always gotten a kick out of. Anyone old enough to remember what it was like to have the graphical user interface of the Mac in a world of a Microsoft C:/ prompts will also likely be able to relate to it.
If you’re not familiar with Umberto Eco, whose writing is a lot of fun, you could start by checking out the Sean Connery-starring adaptation of his classic medieval murder mystery, Name of the Rose, on iTunes.