Mac Zealots and PC Bigots

With Apple on the rise, expect the Mac vs. PC debate to get more heated

by David Lang (Posted: 2/14/05)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely my own, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG.]

Apple Computer, Media Darling

Back in the dark days of1996, when Apple Computer was in the midst of what could only be described as a death spiral, I read an article which argued that Apple's biggest problem was not its loss of marketshare, but its loss of "mindshare." After all, the Macintosh had always been a minority platform, but it had also had a reputation for innovation, ease of use, and style which brought Apple a great deal of attention, admiration, user loyalty, and continued growth. Yet after several failed attempts to upgrade the operating system, an endless procession of bland, beige boxes, a series of managerial blunders, and the widespread notion that Windows 95 was "just like the Mac," Apple's name never appeared in print without being preceded by the word "beleaguered." The average person on the street believed Apple would soon be out of business, and who wanted to buy a computer from a company like that? In those days, Apple couldn't buy good press, and even their occasional successes were widely panned as being too little, too late. In order to turn things around, Apple needed to recapture its lost "mindshare."

Fast forward to today, and it would appear that Apple's "mindshare" has never been higher. The G5 iMac, the Mac Mini, and of course, the various iterations of the iPod have all made Apple a media darling. These days, it's Microsoft that can't seem to upgrade its operating system, while an ever-increasing maelstrom of worms, viruses, spyware, and adware is making it increasingly difficult for Redmond to buy good press. Who'd of thunk it?

Like most Mac users, I'm hopeful that the Mini will be just the thing to entice thousands of potential switchers into giving the Mac a try, but I've been a Mac user long enough to know that the jury is still out. Amazingly, a majority of industry pundits are now writing as if it has already happened! I've never seen anything like it, and I gotta tell ya, I sure hope it continues!

Same Old Song

Of course, not everyone is enamored with Apple. Paul Thurott, Rob Enderle, and John Dvorak have become notorious among Mac users for pooh-poohing Apple's efforts and continually singing the 2% marketshare refrain. At this point, I'm not sure why the Mac web even bothers to link to and respond to their drivel, but they've become very good at making inflammatory comments about the Mac and iPod whenever they want to boost their number of web-hits. In addition to such "regulars," various journalists, bloggers, and industry pundits will occasionally criticize Apple, its products, or its users (typically referred to as "zealots" or "fanboys"), and then bemoan the wave of hostile e-mail they receive in response.

A couple of recent examples stand out. First, there was the "tech writer" for the Daytona Beach News Journal who wrote "Mac Mini an amazing $499 — until you add essentials." Why these ignorant, uninformed articles always seem to come from "journalists" in my home state I'll never know, but I suspect these are the same people who had trouble figuring out how to vote in the 2000 presidential election! Anyway, after pointing out that the Mac Mini doesn't come with "essentials" like a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and speakers (I never realized speakers were "essential"), he then writes:

Even if you ignore the fact the Mac Mini is missing a lot of essential parts, it's really not that cheap. PCs that run the dreaded Windows operating system are quite a bit cheaper. Best Buy recently advertised a desktop computer, with keyboard, mouse, speakers, 17-inch monitor AND a printer for $170 less than the bare-bones Mac Mini. And Wal-Mart sells a stripped-down desktop PC that runs Linux for $200 less.

Now, is it just me, or does it strike you as a bit irresponsible to point out that you may need to pay more than Apple's advertised price of $499, only to compare that price to the advertised prices of the bare-bones PCs at Best Buy and Wal-Mart? Did he bother to tell you how much memory comes standard in those computers, or that they don't come with dedicated video memory, or Firewire, or any number of other "essentials"? Does he mention that it will cost you extra to add anything even remotely resembling the iLife suite of applications? Does he mention that they come in big, bulky, and unattractive beige boxes, or that you don't dare connect them to the internet without first investing heavily in virus protection? Conveniently, he leaves out those little details, and follows it up with this insightful analysis:

So who should buy a Mac Mini? The target audience -- the 97 percent of the world that still uses Windows -- is a long shot. Most of them are probably pretty satisfied with what they have and therefore have no compelling reason to switch. Window-based PCs are still a lot cheaper and, let's face it, they already know how Windows works. Who wants to learn a new operating system?

Okay, where do I start on this one? Let's start with the fact that 97% of the world does not use Windows. Approximately that percentage of new computers sold ship with Windows (that's market share), but the installed base of Windows users is much, much lower. First let's subtract all the Mac users, including all those who haven't felt the need to buy a new Mac in the last five years or more. Then subtract the growing number of Linux users, many of whom are running Linux on PCs that originally shipped with Windows (thereby boosting Windows' market share numbers). Now subtract the whopping number of PCs that are still running some form of DOS—you know, the ones with the headache-inducing green or orange monitors which are still in use by countless businesses throughout the world. Then subtract all the two and three year old Windows PCs which are simply tossed out and replaced. I'll clearly concede that Windows PCs dominate the installed base of computers found in our nation's landfills! The point is that Windows' installed base is far from 97%, whatever the market share statistics.

Okay, that's enough about market share. Let's look at the other hard-hitting journalistic statements, such as "most of them are probably pretty satisfied with what they have." Oh yeah, Windows users are just a picture of contentment these days! They don't have a "compelling reason to switch"? How about the number of pop-up ads they have to contend with? Or the amount of spyware their computers are infested with? Or the amount of time and energy they have to pour into warding off an endless barrage of viruses? Want a compelling reason to switch? How about that you might want to be able to do something with all the digital photos and video you've taken?

Sure all that security and freedom to create sounds nice, but it's clearly not enough to justify buying a Mac Mini for $499—much less for $700 once you add all the missing "essentials." After all, these people already know how Windows "works," why would they want to "learn a new operating system"? What this gentleman doesn't appear to understand is that a growing number of people are eager to learn a new operating system, particularly one as easy to learn as Mac OS X. This is precisely because they are familiar with how Windows works . . . and frankly, they're sick of it.

Why am I taking so much time to rebut such an uninformed repetition of the same old tired Mac myths? Because of this writer's expressed motivation for writing. He begins his article like this:

Here we go again.

Yet another over-priced, over-hyped product from Apple that Mac fans are gushing about.

That was predictable enough.

But this time, they are getting lots of help from their usual nemesis: The Press.

I've read lots of reviews and it seems everyone loves the new Mac Mini -- except me.

What does this snappy little introduction tell us? No, I mean besides the fact that this guy doesn't know when to start a new paragraph! It tells us that all of the Mac Mini's positive press really bugs him. Mac users are celebrating, potential Windows-switchers are excited, the press is infatuated, and this guy is personally irritated by it all. So he writes a poorly thought-out review in order to put us Mac users back in our place, to remind us that we're a 3% minority that was foolish enough to pay more for our highly overrated computing experience!

Mr. Potty Mouth

Let's move on to another example. At least the Daytona Beach "journalist" managed to refrain from any profanity while trying to put us in our place. The next example was a downright flamefest. In a blog entitled Why Militant Mac Zealots P*ss Me Off, a blogger voiced his irritation with Mac users' arrogant assumption that any Mac interface convention must empirically be superior to anything on Windows. Laced with expletives and caricatures, this rant lampoons the Mac for what this gentleman sees as serious interface flaws, mocks Mac users for failing to see those flaws, and lambasts Mac developers who port their applications to Windows without adopting Windows interface conventions.

Now, if you can get look past the profanity and inflammatory comments, this guy actually raises some reasonable points. The Mac user interface is not perfect, nor is it perfectly intuitive. It has its idiosyncrasies and hidden shortcuts, some of which this gentleman is right to criticise and some of which I think he is blowing out of proportion.

The thing that really burns this guy up is the arrogance of cross-platform developers who foist Mac interface conventions on their Windows users. He offers no examples, but iTunes gets mentioned in a follow-up blog. Again, he's got a point. Mac users lambast any program which feels like a "Windows port," and we expect developers to adhere to Mac interface standards. Isn't it reasonable that Windows users would react the same way to ports which feel too Mac-like? Sounds fairly reasonable to me.

It's not that "Mr. Potty Mouth" doesn't have some valid points, but he could just as easily have made them without all the wisecracks and insults. So why indulge in them? Well, let's face it, we Mac users can be a somewhat smug, self-congratulatory bunch, and we do find it hard to conceive how anyone could actually prefer using Windows. That, of course, is irritating to those who really do think PCs are superior to Macs, and I think it has been the impetus behind much so-called Mac-bashing over the years. In short, much of the "persecution" we Mac users have received over the years has been more than a little deserved.

Expect it to Increase

Whether or not we deserve it, we should expect this kind of vitriol to increase in direct proportion to Apple's new-found success. Up to now, the PC user who chafed at our sense of superiority has simply had to toss out the latest market share statistics in order to feel better about his choice of computer platform. After all, he thinks, if the Mac is really so great, why are so few people using it? Secure in that supposition, he can then fall back on all the old myths about the Mac's high price, lack of software, incompatibility with 97% of the computers out there, yada, yada, yada.

If, however, the Mac Mini and the iPod halo effect really do deliver on the promise of bringing large numbers of switchers to the Mac platform, guys like those just cited can be expected to get more and more strident in their attempts to remind us that we're not really as smart as we think we are. If Apple's market share starts to climb even a few percentage points, and if it continues to receive the glowing press which it has enjoyed of late, expect the PC die-hards to grow increasingly hostile.

People always do when they're threatened.

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