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Better Computers and Better Users

Mac Appeals to Sophisticated Taste and Just Plain Horse Sense

Charles Moore - 2002.07.15 - Tip Jar

The Mac has long enjoyed (or been saddled with, depending upon your point of view) a reputation for being the creme de la creme of personal computers - the machine used by the best and the brightest, the elites.

Are Mac users really smarter and more sophisticated? Now there's scientific corroboration.

Several news media reported late last week on a Nielsen/NetRatings report that found Mac users tend to be better educated, more Web savvy, and make more money than their PC-using counterparts (see Cnet and atnewyork.com). Although Apple enjoys less than 5 percent of the overall U.S. personal computer market, 8.2 percent of Americans who surf the Web at home are using a Mac.

70.2 percent of Mac users online have a college or postgraduate degree, compared to 54.2 percent of Web users in general. The survey also noted that Mac users are 58 percent more likely than the average Web user to build their own Web pages and 53 percent more likely to seek out product reviews.

Mac users are also slightly more likely to make purchases online than the average surfer, especially of computer hardware, software, and music products. Conversely, Mac users are less likely to read horoscopes online or play online video games.

"With above-average household income and education levels, the Mac population presents a very attractive target for marketers, both online and offline," a Nielsen/NetRatings spokesman commented.

Of course, we already knew that, didn't we? ;-)


A topic of endless and enduring fascination for me is trying to fathom how and why people form such different opinions and affinities about things. Why are some people liberals and others conservative? Why do some people like Chevies and others prefer Nissans? What makes some people like dogs and detest cats, while others take the diametrically opposing view? Why do some like the toilet paper to unroll from the top while others adamantly insist that it should emerge from the bottom?

You say to-MAY-to and I say to-MAH-to, and so on.

Consequently, I spend as much - or perhaps more - time reading and thinking about ideas and opinions I disagree with than I do ones with which I'm in accord. A degree of dissonance in opinion makes life more interesting and stimulating (although too much diversity of vision and perspective and you end up doing your arguing with Stealth bombers and cruise missiles!).

Macs vs. PCs

These ruminations actually do have some relevance to the Macintosh and computers in general; to wit: Our endless debate over which is better, the Mac or Wintel PCs.

To my way of thinking, this one is a no-brainer. It seems obvious to me, and I have trouble fathoming why it isn't abundantly obvious to anyone who has given the two platforms a fair evaluation, that the Mac is clearly superior for a long list of reasons, which can be summarized briefly as:

  1. ease and pleasure of use
  2. aesthetic and functional elegance
  3. performance, reliability, stability, and low maintenance demands
  4. freedom from Microsoft's egregious licensing hoo-ha

PC people seem to tolerate and even expect many aggravations as part of dealing with computers. Some software installations screw up the computer. Adding a peripheral device may be simple or might take days and days - Russian roulette.

They find it difficult to believe when Mac users tell them they have never had trouble installing a peripheral. Or that (at least in the Classic Mac OS) if your hard drive crashes completely, you can just pop in a Zip disk and boot up, go online, and even use productivity software to get some important work done while you're waiting for a replacement drive.

An Enigma

But there are also the more computer-savvy types who have actually used the Mac enough to know what it's about, and who still profess to prefer the PC. This I find enigmatic. Ignorance is one thing, but with these people it isn't a lack of exposure to the Mac.

There is still a radical dissonance of visions here. Mac people really do "think different(ly)" from PC partisans. In my observation, this cross-platform experienced PC-using minority (as opposed to the Mac-ignorant majority) tend to be technocratic, reductionist thinkers who prize inductive, material rationalism.

It's not that they're stupid. Some are very bright individuals. To them the PC is the right choice for a whole raft of boring reasons that make perfect sense to them: compatibility with others, low initial cost, wider software availability, diverse development tools, cheap and ubiquitous availability of parts and service.

These people are also inclined to accuse us Mac-heads of being too "emotional" and "passionate" about our computers. They think they have scored major debating points in so doing. For them, emotion and passion are a negation of scientific reason.

On the other hand, many Mac fans may actually take such assertions as a compliment. We can think of lots of practical, factual reasons why the Mac is better than the PC, but we also unabashedly enjoy our computers, an affection we consider quite sensible and commendable.

Personally, I would much rather do my work on a machine that I find a joy to use in its own right, than to "just get the work done" on a prosaic and mediocre tool I feel indifferently about at best. I spend a lot of hours at my Mac, and I'm perfectly sanguine about paying a bit more in upfront capital cost for the privilege, especially since I'm also convinced that the Mac is a significantly cheaper machine to own over its service life - a win/win equation.

Think Different

Some cross-platform-informed PC types tell me that it's all a matter of what you're used to, that Mac fans who criticize the PC as clunky and user-unfriendly "haven't taken the time to work with PCs long enough to unlearn their Mac orientation and think the way the Windows requires you to think," one suggested.

However, that phrase "the way Windows requires you to think" speaks volumes. Microsoft programs in general, and Windows in particular, force you to do things their way. The Mac (especially the Classic Mac OS - there's been some slippage on this point with OS X) is far more intuitive, usually allowing multiple approaches to performing any specific task, which I suppose is one reason why the linear thinkers don't like it. They prefer things to be clearly defined and regimented, and they rank intuition with emotion and passion as messy and unquantifiable distractions from a rationalistic, reductionist approach.

I'm always saddened when I ask someone I meet for the first time what sort of computer they use, and they mumble apologetically "Well, er, I have a Macintosh," or something like that, as if bracing for a barrage of scorn and derision, no doubt based on painful experience.

This is not the image we want to project. The Mac is not something to apologize for! You're using the best all-round computer in the world. Arm yourself with the facts. Windows is a monument to mediocrity. The Mac? It just works.

Thinking different(ly) has never been a formula for mass popularity. Those who swim against the current of entrenched orthodoxies and received wisdom usually do so at considerable cost. The path of least resistance is seldom the path of excellence.

The next time some supercilious PC-fan tells you the Mac is a "toy computer," remember that you're a member of the elite, and just smile knowingly.

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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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