Mac Musings

Mac Users Are Different

Daniel Knight - 2000.11.01 -

Call it some kind of mass denial, but the simple truth is that the Mac is not the computer for everyone. We should stop pretending it is.

No, I don't mean that the Mac wouldn't be a perfect computer for just about every computer user. What I mean is that the Mac is different, a minority platform in a world dominated by the Windows operating system and Intel hardware.

It Isn't Easy Being Mac

Back in 1981, a newcomer to the personal computer industry, IBM, decided to see if it could make a dent in a potentially lucrative market. They contracted with Microsoft to provide an OS for the computer, which was known as PC-DOS when IBM sold it and MS-DOS when the clones arrived.

Apple welcomed the competition, not having a clue how the letters IBM would forever change the face of computing. Despite (or perhaps because of) the Apple /// and Lisa, by 1984 it was pretty clear that Apple was losing. The IBM standard was destroying Atari, Commodore, the various companies making CP/M computers, and Apple.

It was very much a matter of perception: IBM meant business, so the other computers were toys, "home computers."

The Macintosh intended to change all that, giving Apple a powerful business computer that was easy to use and only one-fourth the price of the Lisa. It was an uphill battle. Every time Apple introduced something, Microsoft said they had a similar technology in the works for IBM-standard computers. (Windows 1.0 shipped in 1985, using some ideas licensed from Apple.)

Compute Different

Macs had it all over PCs in all the ways that mattered - networking, adding memory, SCSI hard drives, LaserWriters, desktop publishing, consistent interface, and more - except one. DOS was entrenched. Businesses had already made their choice while Apple was playing with the Apple IIgs, Apple ///, and Lisa.

As far as the business world was concerned, the Mac was too little, too late.

But starting in 1984 a core group of computer users willing to buck the industry standard adopted the Mac. It was and remains the premier tool for desktop publishing. (PageMaker shipped in 1985, the same year as the LaserWriter.) Schools that had used Apple IIs considered the Mac a viable alternative.

Even Apple realized it, marketing "The computer for the rest of us." But even the Mac had to coexist in a Wintel world, so products such as MacCharlie (a PC and 5.25" floppy drive that sat next to a compact Mac), the first DOS cards (introduced with the SE and Mac II in March 1987), SoftPC (the first DOS emulator, one that even ran on a Plus), and eventually the DOS-compatible SuperDrive floppy (1988) came into being.

Despite all those innovations to make the Mac more palatable to the business users, Apple struggled at about 10% market share. Seriously, there's not a thing wrong with having 10% of the computer market, but with 90% of the world using DOS and Windows, Mac users always felt different. Maybe superior some of the time, but always different.

It takes strength of character to take the road less traveled, something Apple tied into with campaigns from "The computer for the rest of us" through the "Think different" era. They know that those who choose Macs are by definition nonconformists, square pegs in round holes (or vice versa).

Different, Not Better

While we may see Wintel users as mindless lemmings and they may see us as out of touch idealists, the difference doesn't mean one side is better than the other. It's like comparing a Miata with a Montana; each is different, each is better in certain areas, and each is worse in certain areas. Macs and Windows PCs are different like that.

You can talk 'til you're blue in the face about Apple innovation, Wintel market share, 63,000 known bugs, visual aesthetics, viruses, core OS technologies, and cost of ownership, but in the end Macs and PCs are different solutions to similar problems.

For us, Macs are the better solution. We are different. They are different.

For them - well, I guess being corporate drones works, too. They manage to be productive, just like Mac users, although they probably don't enjoy the ride as much.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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