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Well, nobody loves Dell.

Anyway, first thing I noticed in my past Apple story is that I used the phrase "put the hurt on". I have never used that phrase before in my life, though I see a bunch of people on the internet putting the hurt on that phrase. I'm guessing someone at SportsCenter listened to some Otis Redding one night, and decided to make that lyric his new catchphrase. Thus it spread like a virus. It must have infected me after visiting DrunkenBlog, run by a fellow who calls himself Drunkenbatman. I can only thank him for what little I know about the Macintosh, OS X, and what is going on in Apple. Up until recently, he published on roughly the same schedule as I did: once every epoch. He's been the one who has soured me somewhat on the Mac Mini, though. (I'd be a kick-ass machine should Apple quit insisting that OS X can be run with 256MB of RAM, or Apple had chosen a larger or speedier hard disk, or had added more than 2 USB ports.)

"Switching is Hard to Do" was inspired by comments in these two posts --Microsoft Opens Office XML Format and Rumble Young Man -- in addition to Jason Snell's comments to Salon, yesterday. To quote the relevant part of "XML Format":
Let's assume for a moment that Apple, or someone else, basically had a feature-complete alternative solution for everything you get in Microsoft Office Professional on Windows. No technical or format issues whatsoever. The fact would remain that it still wasn't Office.

The temptation here is to say "It has everything you need", but that's only part of the story when it comes to really making headway. . . Moving to something else, even if it has everything you need, can be a maddening experience because the interface isn't the same, and you know the interface. Or rather, you know the app.

Let me reiterate: it doesn't matter if the new interface is better, it just matters that it's different. . .They've gone to classes. They've bought books. They've built up a knowledge base, and muscle memory, over years if not a decade. This is something a lot of Mac users never got when they saw a switcher come over from Windows and just decide they weren't Mac people. It wasn't that the Mac interface wasn't better when you sat down and tested someone who was fresh with a computer. It was just that the other person knew Windows, and the Mac was different.
But going on to this, look at an extreme Avon salesman from "Rumble Young Man"

Awhile ago I was privy to an interesting interchange between two people, where one was in the market for a new computer, preferably a laptop he could depend on, and the other was trying to convince him to get an iBook.

His selling point was the great quality of the Mac hardware, among other things. Since I knew this guy peripherally, I knew his iBook had been sent in for repairs no less than five times, and from memory went something like this:

  • Screen problem, where the hinge was chewing through the cable. Was sent in and repaired.
  • Logic board problem, which was sent in and fixed.
  • CD-ROM stopped working, was sent in for repair.
  • Trackpad stopped working, along with the firewire port... was sent in for repair.
  • Logic Board again, which was sent in and returned without being fixed because the 'problem could not be reproduced'.
  • Logic Board failed in a spectacular way, and was sent in for repair and repaired.
  • The machine is currently having display issues, and trackpad issues, which sounds like a logic board problem... when he called Apple, the support person asked if the symptoms were actually happening right then. Since they were intermittent, and weren't, the person couldn't issue an RMA number until the person called and they were happening right then (I'm seriously not making this up), so he knows this machine is going to have to go in again.

Since I was there, I couldn't help but ask "Didn't you have to send yours..." which caused him to promptly downshift into a newer mode for Mac users, that of "Well yes, but all computers are going to have problems, but Apple fixed mine... how they are taken care of is what matters...", which meant he's now focusing on the service, not the hardware itself.

Now here we have a person who has first hand knowledge that this is one fucked up model in terms of quality, yet he wasn't going to mention the problems he'd personally experienced, and he's recommending it to a new user while trying to sell it with the reliability card. That's bizarro-world logic.

There's two related things here that seem to work in tandem to create a cultural and psychological barrier to folks wishing to considering a Macintosh just another computer. Of course, Apple has very good reason to sell their machines as more than just another computer. But the slight undercurrent, the feeling that using an Apple is akin to freeing yourselves from some sort of slavers shackles, an undercurrent that is magnified by some very zealous fans, does manage to turn off and/or scare people away. This is not a new psychology played by Apple advertising. This is the no-so subtle message that was in the very first advertisement for the Macintosh: The ad with the female runner throwing a hammer at the screen of the image of "Big Brother," the stand in for Big Blue.

This is the psychology that I believe has backfired spectacularly in Apple's face of late. Today, I do not think there is anyone in America who has not used a computer at some point. Even if they do not have one at home, they work with them through the day in school, or at work. A vast majority of these are Windows-based PCs, though a number of places have special needs which requires a specialty computer. Thinking of it like this, every single person who is looking is in the market for a second-computer. If that's the case, you want your second computer to be like your first one. Unfortunately for Apple, because of some things they have little choice in  (building on top of a different processor architecture), some things they do to themselves (being gratuitously different, like pushing one button mice on everyone), and some things done by their well meaning fans, the thought of purchasing an Apple becomes akin to learning French.

Rather than mitigating the concerns, Apple tried turning a weakness into a strength by hyperemphasis on Switch. Sure, the differences between Apple and PC are its strengths. Viruses designed for Windows, using flaws in Windows will not work on Macs. With less chance for a craptastic device from nowhere Taiwan killing the hardware, Macs will be more stable and reliable. However, it also helped heighten fears that the difference between a Mac and a PC is closer to being the difference between a Ford and a Cessna, as opposed to the difference between a Ford and a BMW. And with a very visible and cultivated cult that has taken the "switch" badge and made it mean something akin to a religious conversion, aiming to lead PC users to salvation, Macintoshes are scary.

Returning to "The Mac is Back", the author of that piece responded favorably to my response to the article. If I had half of a brain, I would have sent it out to Salon's letters to the editor and have had thousands of people read it, as opposed to the dozens -- the few who don't automatically think LiveJournal.com as the moody teen girl salon. Though if I had sent it out, it would have been mixed in with the letters from both Mac fanatics, and a group I never would have thought existed -- Windows fanatics.

Frankly, I didn't think such people existed. Nobody loves Microsoft. Though I remember the concert-length lines of people waiting for a chance to purchase Windows 95, Microsoft has lost all such coolness cred. Most people tolerate Microsoft, not much more. Microsoft is pretty much the phone company. If there are people praising Microsoft in all that they do, I will have to admit I just don't understand.

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