Miscellaneous Ramblings

Personality Predicts Your Place Along the Mac-PC Divide

Charles Moore - 2010.02.23 - Tip Jar

The Toronto Star's Vivian Song last week posted a fascinating comparative profile of the complimentary antagonists staring each other down across the barricades in the Mac vs. PC digital divide. Song reports that a "resistance movement" of sorts is brewing in Toronto coffee shops against "the alien Macintosh navigational system, and to Apple's smug air of self-importance."

Ms. Song is herself a recent switcher to the Mac after five years on a Windows PC, admitting that as a new Mac convert she hasn't stopped stroking the keys of her MacBook and engaging in shameless public displays of affection. She thinks that, as a broad generalization, Apple's TV commercial stereotyping of PC users as technological dinosaurs and Macintosh users as young, creative trendsetters holds a fair bit of water objectively. Her observations ring true based on my own 17 years as a Mac user, evangelist, and partisan who wears the "fanboy" taunt as a badge of honor - although if you're a regular Low End Mac reader, you know I'm anything but an uncritical Apple acolyte.

Macs as 'Fisher-Price Toys'

Song notes that the generation-old feud between PC and Mac users can sometimes be downright vitriolic, with the PC crowd slamming Macs as "Fisher-Price toys" for pretentious computer illiterates and insufferable snobs. That Fisher-Price analogy dates back to my newbie days in the Mac community in the early 90s. I haven't heard it myself for quite some time, but it looks like some Windows advocates are having trouble coming up with anything more original.

It's also more than a little ironic, given that Microsoft has been busily copying the Mac user interface for nearly 20 years now - some topically current examples being how two of Windows 7's "new" marquee features (the task bar and Aero Peek) are obviously sincere forms flattering the Mac's Dock and Exposé; Windows file previews are an homage to OS X's column view; Windows Gadgets are a shameless aping of OS X Widgets; new Sticky Notes in Windows 7 duplicate a feature the Mac OS has had since System 7.5 in 1994; and Windows 7's new Windows Disc Image Burner duplicating functionality the Mac OS has had in its Disk Utility utility since Mac OS Classic days.

Does this all make Windows a "Fisher-Price" wannabe?

Mac users, in turn, are inclined to mock PC loyalists as propeller-head Neanderthals who read computer manuals in their spare time and fear change, says Song. I would say Not so fast there. I'm a longtime Mac enthusiast and loyalist, but I can get into a good computer manual as recreational reading. Apple used to include some great hard copy documentation with its systems in the early days - no longer alas, although David Pogue's "Missing Manuals" series has mercifully picked up some of the slack there. I enjoy them for recreational reading as well

And while I don't "fear" change per se, as a lifelong conservative in taste, temperament, and philosophical persuasion, I don't embrace change for change's sake and vigorously resist trendiness. For instance, I'm typing this column on a 10-year-old Pismo PowerBook that I have no intention of giving up on in the foreseeable future.

Predictable Caricatures Hold Up

However, there is an undeniable cultural schism separating the Windows and Mac solitudes. Ms. Song reports that in a hunch.com 2009 report, its consumer motivation analysts poring over data profiles of 76,000 Hunch users identifying themselves as being in the Mac or PC camps were able to identify some fairly reliably predictable caricatures, notable examples being that Mac users like to be perceived as "different" and "unique" - verbalizers, conceptualizers, and risk-takers with a predilection for making distinct and individualistic esthetic statements - while PC people conversely tend to be more conformist types, characterizing themselves as steady hard workers and team players who favor practicality over theoretical flights of imagination, enjoy sports, like to be entertained, and strive to be in harmony with mainstream opinion rather than swimming against the prevailing current (as Mac fans are more wont to do). So far, so good, I say, speaking subjectively as a lifelong nonconformist, although hopefully a thoughtful and purposefully considered one.

In automotive tastes, Song reports that Mac users are more inclined to go for Mini Coopers, while Windows PC users are more likely to choose a truck or Dodge Charger. Once again, the stereotype breaks down where this Mac user is concerned. A motorhead for more than 50 years now, I like Mini Coopers, but I also like trucks, and Dodge Chargers, and my current ride is a 4x4 pickup.

In reading preferences, however, I'm more back in the profile groove, at least sort of. Song says Mac users tend to read magazines like Wallpaper and Harper's, while PC users read Sports Illustrated and Reader's Digest. I'm not familiar with Wallpaper, and I can't abide the smug, supercilious, left wing snottiness of Harpers, but I do subscribe to the more balanced Atlantic Monthly, as well as to Road & Track, Automobile, and Car&Driver, as well as several hard copy newspapers. I don't think I've ever read a copy of Sports Illustrated, and I detest the watered-down-ness of Reader's Digest's abridged content.

Starbucks vs. Tim Hortons

In summarizing, Vivian Song analogizes that if her MacBook was a cup of coffee, it would be a premium priced blend from Starbucks, while a corresponding PC laptop could be more aptly compared to Tim Hortons java - economical, ubiquitous, and prosaic. (If you're not Canadian, perhaps the Tim Hortons analogy will draw a blank, but "Timmies" is a quintessential icon and symbol of Canadian bourgeois culture - in coffee and doughnuts and aesthetic motif.)

As one Toronto computer café (not Tim Hortons) owner interviewed by Song observed that the Mac vs. PC stereotypes hold up pretty reliably among his clientele, noting that the Mac users tend to be serious writers and creative, "artsy types" who order organically grown health snacks, while PC users are trying to get something done and more likely just want some coffee.

Not All Mac Fans Are Pretentious Status Snobs

Song concludes her essay with the disclaimer that she chose the MacBook after reaching terminal frustration with virus attacks on her erstwhile Windows box, and for the Mac's perceived user-friendliness and value, not to satisfy any status symbol nonsense. I would emphatically make the same evaluation of my own Mac usership. I'm not trying to be cool. I simply don't have the time or patience to put up with all the crap and hassle that my PC using friends seem to accept as normal overhead associated with computer use - the virus scans and purges, the user verification hoops Microsoft makes them jump through, and, yes, the aesthetic pain of having to stare at the homeliness of the Windows user interface all day.

For nearly two decades and well over a dozen machines, my Macs really have pretty much "just worked", providing what I consider excellent value for the money across the board in total cost of ownership. Not a stinker or lemon in the bunch. That's what keeps me on board, despite my frustrations with Apple at times.

Purchase price is a poor benchmark of value in a tool, at least in my estimation.

How about you?

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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