The View from the Middle

1998 June 22


Prev Commentary

Next Commentary



MacZealotry - Why Mac users are sounding a lot like Amiga users

This editorial originally appeared in MacOpinions - an excellent site for opinions on both sides of the Macintosh debate. I'd recommend checking it out at http://www.macopinion.com/.

I'd like you to join me on a little trek back in time to 1985. It was a very interesting year in computing: Apple had just released the very first Mac a year earlier - a very closed limited 128K machine with 400K floppies. The summer of '85, two computer companies put their new machines on the market: Atari with their 520ST and its remarkably Mac-like interface developed by Digital Research, and Commodore-Amiga had just released their first Amiga computer which was sort of Mac-like but was based more on Unix and X-Window concepts.

Both computers were, in some ways, more advanced than the Macintosh of the day - the Amiga in particular had a Unix-like OS which delivered preemptive multitasking and an had an advanced graphics system for its day with a wide range of colours.

I bought the Atari ST, mostly because at the time I wanted a Mac but simply couldn't afford it. The ST came in at half the price of the Mac and in some ways seemed to be a more elegant computer - it was also very compatible with IBM-PCs which was a necessity for me. Yet, I never gave up my hope that I would buy a Mac, and as the 80's wound to an end, the Atari and the Amiga faded, I did finally get a MacSE.

The other thing I did was to try and get Mac, Atari and Amiga users to stop squabbing with each other, and to take advantage of their common processor environment to try and garner support for their systems. That's when I learnt some very interesting and disturbing things about computer zealotry. Around this time I also started writing a computer column in a national free computer paper in Canada called 'Input' and that exposed me directly to some of the most rabid of the Mac, Atari - and especially the Amiga fans.

There were several common themes to the Amigan rhetoric - that their computer was being unfairly represented in the press, that it was the best computer ever made, that it was technologically way ahead of everyone else, and that it's lack of compatibility and expandability (at first at least) was more than justified by its power. The other common thread was the sense of superiourity that all Amigans seemed to have when it came to their computer choice - that in some way, they were smarter and more creative for owning an Amiga than the common masses who bought Macs, Ataris - or God forbid - a PC.

Amigans loved to pop into Mac only areas on bulletin boards and later systems like CompuServe and harass the Mac users. They'd go into Atari-only stores and ask questions like 'Does that computer do preemptive multitasking?', 'Does it have a graphics mode which supports 4096 colour?' knowing full well that the Atari didn't (seriously - this happened...) for no other reason than to be obnoxious to the salesperson who had no real say in which computer their store carried.

Yes, they slowly became the single most obnoxious group of computer owners around.

But let me ask you - does any of this sound remotely familiar? It should. It's very similar to the rhetoric I'm hearing about the Mac.

So let's step back a moment, shake our heads and try to turn off the ego investment in our computers for a moment and review the real world. The Macintosh is a computer. Apple is a computer company. Apple makes money selling you computers. You get things done using their computers. Apple doesn't know who you are, nor do they care. Period. Owning a Macintosh no more makes you a part of Apple than going to see 101 Dalmations makes you a shareholder at Disney.

Neither does owning a Macintosh make you wiser than anyone else any more than buying a Dremel drill set makes you a better model maker or buying a Lambourghini make you a better driver. It's what you do with your Mac which makes you wiser or better at what you do than anyone else. Certainly, the Mac is an excellent tool for doing a great many things - but assuming you're going to be better at something just because you bought a Mac is reverse-logic.

If you buy a Mac because it solve a problem you have better than any other computer - or if it meets your need better than any other computer - then pat yourself on the back - you're wise. If you refused to buy a PC because you refuse to own a lesser computer even though the software you need to use only runs on a PC and needs major hardware - then sorry, you're being stupid. If you criticise a PC owner simply because they have a PC and you think PCs are garbage - you're being both stupid and annoying (see the Amiga discussion earlier).

On the other hand, if you take the time to show PC users how Macs can do some (or many) tasks as well as the PC and in many cases better and more easily, if you help your IT department to integrate Macs, if you take the time to learn something about the PC and its advantages (and yes, it does have many - surprise) then you will not only learn to become a more effective spokesperson for Macintoshes - but a more likable computer fanatic.

'But they won't take the time to learn about Macs!' I hear you cry. Yup, they won't. They don't need to. They are 93% or more of the computers out there and surprisingly, it actually does work - most of the time. That means it's *our* job to educate, not their job to learn. Guess what - calling someone stupid while trying to teach them something rarely works - in fact, think about how you felt when I said that Mac users who call PCs garbage are stupid and annoying - didn't feel much like listening to me, right? Think about it.

Keep in mind that Apple is just a computer company trying to make a buck. Your buck. Turning off critical thinking about Apple products is unwise unless you have lots of money - actually it's unwise in that case too, but you'll survive that lack of wisdom better than most of us. If Apple survives, it has to be on the strength of well designed and well marketed products which compete against the rest of the computer market and Mac users aren't the rest of the market - the purchasing patterns of Mac owners are different than that of PC owners who tend to be very conservative and dollar conscious.

It also has to stop thinking that the world is like Silicon Valley. Current estimates are that just 23% of the US population has access to the Internet - and that access is much lower in the rest of the world. Even cool new communications technologies like ADSL and Cablemodem aren't universal by any means. Here in Vancouver, BC, Canada, one of the largest cities in Canada, many areas can't get ADSL or Cablemodem (my area for one). Assuming the availability of a co-required technology based on its availability in your area is dangerous. Consider Quicktime Conferencing and Quicktime TV - two Apple technologies which were supposed to be really great - until we noticed that neither worked, or worked well on 28.8kbps modems, which were the norm when those technologies were released. Both of these technologies died quickly after release because they weren't appropriate for high bandwidth users, nor usable for low-bandwidth users.

Finally, we have to stop listening to the media and assuming that they are without bias or agenda. Consider for a moment how many articles in MacWorld and the now defunct MacUser were about relatively high end desktop publishing uses - the sorts of uses which publishers of magazines like MacWorld and MacUser are. Then consider how the selection for articles like excessively large (and expensive) hard drives, networking facilities and the like get made... they're the solutions for sorts of problems that large businesses and magazine publishers run into.

Sure, we like to read about them too - but it skews the real world view. Fortunately there are writers like Andy Ignatko and Ric Ford who deal with reality and the problems the regular user tends to hit - but you'll note how few articles talk about effective use of ClarisWorks 5 - the most widely used piece of software on the Mac.

Same with MacOS X. MacOS X is cool - no argument, but it won't run on my Mac (a 7200) and I'm not sure a CDN$2500 upgrade to run it is justified - especially when I know that the next cool OS Apple makes will probably on run on the G5 or whatever processor Apple is using that year. Again - Apple is a computer company who wants your money and does it by selling you hardware - not operating systems - the OS is the lure they use to get you to buy new hardware. Remember that. And Apple hardware is notoriously hard to upgrade short of replacing the entire motherboard with all of the subsystems - which is almost as expensive as buying a whole new Mac. Remember THAT. Apple is not in the business of selling you bits and pieces - they want you to buy entire new systems. That's why they killed off the clone market.

Remember that when you think 'you can always upgrade' an iMac. If you think Apple will make it easier - dream on. It's never happened before. Ask yourself why the feature rich AIO Mac only costs US$1500 while the severely gutted iMac costs US$1300. Ask yourself why Powerbook G3's have the ROM on the CPU daughtercard. Makes selling you a third-party, faster CPU upgrade pretty difficult, no? Why would Apple want to make that harder? So you can't just buy a cheap Mac and buy speed later. Simple. If you think that's silly - then why doesn't Apple sell the daughtercards themselves?

Remember, you're buying a computer, not a lifestyle, not a family. You're not buying into a community, you're buying a chunk of expensive machinery. Support Apple - yes - but never turn off your critical thinking and never buy into the latest fad without asking if it makes sense. When you tell Apple 'I'm not buying into it until you meet my needs' you get Apple to think different - to think about the consumer.

Don't get sucked into anyone's reality distortion field.