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Weekly Musings #5 - Those Wacky Mac People
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: July 12th 2004
Unlike many gamers - or like many gamers, possibly - I know Mac people. In my day job, I deal with several die-hards, several agnostics who have both platforms available at all times, several former Mac people who converted (because of necessity) to the Wintel platform and are, though this may be heresy to Mac people reading this, enjoying it, and one former Wintel user who has switched over to the Mac because she liked it after seeing the agnostics use it.

The Macintosh, and Apple in general, do a very good job at presenting public image, but an understandably lousy job at managing to actually get users to adopt them. Setting all that aside for the moment, I thought I'd analyze what it is Apple users are after when they pick a platform - because picking Apple is a decision that, at least to some of them, is not unlike picking a brand of shoes to wear.

The first thing Mac users do, when they really get going, is they embrace the Mac. The Mac isn't simply their choice of a computer - it's a change in lifestyle. This was the advertising strategy of the switch campaign; more than just trying to convince people that the Apple is the right choice for them, the point was to convince people that it's a stylish choice. Unfortunately for Apple, the Switch campaign didn't quite work all that well; far more people saw the commercials as preaching to the converted, than saw them as legitimately convincing. Apple users, after all, have been inundated with the "oh the Windows PC is so horrid" line, even as the majority of the world adopted the Wintel platform on the desktop, and either Wintel or Unix/Linux solutions on the server side.

The second step is to convince prospective Mac users that the Mac is somehow "stylish" - more than just a tool. In some ways this is similar to how car companies work; a car is, relatively speaking, a car. It goes from point A to point B. The rest is "style", and the appearance (and sometimes just name brand) of the car makes all the difference. To do this, Apple gets avante-garde, and sometimes downright silly. Instead of offering multiple styles of case, they color-coded the cases based on how much hardware was in them at one point; at another, they offered a mouse that looked like a hockey puck, and wasn't at all functional. Even before the advent of curvy-designed cases, however, the Mac attempted to appear stylish, as exemplified by their choice of appearance for their user interface.

The third portion of what makes Mac people Mac people is evangelism. It's not enough that THEY are Mac people - it is their duty, it seems, to try (mostly unsuccessfully) to convince everyone on the planet to get a Mac. If there's a new Windows virus out, their standard response is to tell the whole office - or worse, send out a batch email - saying "See, this wouldn't happen if you were using a Mac." If someone's computer crashes, "ooh, wouldn't happen if you used a Mac." In fact, every single computer misfortune - even the occasional power failure or hard drive failure that even happen to Macs - somehow wouldn't happen, they will claim, "if you only used a Mac."

This also plays into the "it just works" aspect they tout - Apple manages to centralize its drivers, and even third-party drivers, far better than Microsoft does. Why is this? Because so much less hardware is made to be Mac-accessible from the start. Unfortunate but true; when you buy a Windows piece, you may have to install a few drivers, but your choice is dozens of different products that all serve the same basic function, so you can pick and choose the one you want based on price and extra features.

The fourth portion of being a Mac person is denial - denial of how far Apple fell, and denial that they are now in the minority. Intrinsically, Mac people know that they are used by a small minority of the computing population, and their defense is to pretend that using a Mac is still an elite function. In every market that matters - video editing, audio editing, word processing to name three - the PC has caught up to, or in some cases surpassed, what the Mac is capable of. But the Mac has its holdovers, who believe that their Mac is still the perfect machine for not only their job, but every other possible job. Now, if you're using a Mac because it fulfills the function you want it to fulfill, that's great - more power to you. If you're using it because you refuse to explore options, because you've been using it for 10 years, that's not such a good excuse. It's you who should be trying out the PC just as much as it's your likewise PC-bound counterpart who should be trying out the Mac.

Being a Mac user, ultimately, is very similar to being in a cult. PC users get this way, perhaps too much - we've seen cultlike behavior in other areas as well. There are Linux zealots out there who insist that everyone and their cousin should be using some build or other of Linux, or when a new virus comes out insist that you wouldn't be seeing that problem if you used it. If you can handle Linux and get it set up and like it; more power to you. If you want to try to teach them all, or if you want to come up with a Linux version that actually passes the grandmother test, that's great, go for it.

Likewise in the days when 3dfx and NVidia were at graphics card war, we saw similar behavior; adherents to Glide technology (like Tim Sweeney) fervently denying that anything else would ever be needed, proponents of the newer, faster, better NVidia boards responding, flamewars on message boards erupting. It could happen again, soon, as tensions are rising between the current giants NVidia and ATi.

As to the Mac people and their evangelism, here's my responses:

Yes, I know that if I were using a Mac (or Linux for that matter) I would not have to deal with the virus of the week. It still wouldn't protect me from spam, which I consider a far worse epidemic. And it denies me compatibility with a good portion of the computing world, not to mention access to many Windows-based games and programs that I use on a regular basis, or treasure enough to pull out and play every now and then.

I also get hardware interchangeability. I can customize a PC to be exactly the machine I want it to be, put in whatever components I can afford. I can make it out of an AMD or Intel platform if I so choose, of whatever magnitude I want. I can put in as many or as few drives as I want. I have a wider choice of peripherals, dozens of MP3 players instead of just the iPod for instance. My price for this is the possibility that I may have to install a driver now and then, but it's something I'm willing to live with to get the EXACT system I want. Too many Apple systems, like the iMac, are basically immutable on the inside, requiring that any add-ons be attached via USB or Firewire - all fine and good, but having seen my Mac-using Uncle's old SCSI stack that was 10 devices high, it gets me a little worried at times.

And finally, yes, I know Microsoft is probably gouging me for the OS. So what? Apple wants me to pay out over $100 just to upgrade from version 10.3 to 10.4 of the Mac OS.

There's my answers. Got questions, or comments? Send 'em on. No, really, I mean it. I want to hear everything you can throw at me. It's your chance to convince me, there's a PC and a Mac both sitting on my desk at work. They're just waiting for you to try to convince me to use that Mac more than I do.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!

Weekly Musings #5: Those Wacky Mac People


Added:  Monday, July 12, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

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