On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger
Mac User Illusions Exposed
March 5th, 2001
If I had to determine what the chief mistake is that Mac users make regarding their platform, it is assumption. This oversight leads many of us to look at too many things the wrong way. We always see the Mac world - or the computer world, for that matter - through our own custom lens and forget that reality might just be something else altogether.
Take the new iMac colors as a prime example. Many Mac users, when they looked at Apple's Web site after the MACWORLD Tokyo keynote, made the mistake of assuming that the new Macs were meant for them. To think that Apple, with all its marketing genius, would have tried to sell Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian to the installed base of Mac users is just, well, WRONG. Of course, some of us - not me, let's make that clear now - definitely like the new designs, but current Mac users are not Apple's aim with the new iMac flavors.
One could rightfully believe that Cupertino wants to open a breach into the consumer market. As consumer-friendly as the iMac is, and as popular as it is with the general public, Apple's top selling machine does not go far enough. The Flower Power iMac is not for us, and it may not even be aimed at former hippies. A popular Mac columnist sent me an e-mail, telling me that he is a former hippy and that Flower Power does nothing for him.
Therefore, and despite our initial assumptions, Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian are for different crowds. It could be for kids and students, perhaps even more for women (Think Female?). They are definitely not for geeks though, except for those few geeks that seem to appreciate the new offerings. This is why Indigo and Graphite are still available, and this is also why there is the G4 product line. This is why a few Mac industry folks swam against the wave, some of them putting their own disgust with the new colors aside.
Another major "misassumption" of the Mac user is to think that the Windows environment cannot be used to get things done, especially in the kinds of businesses that represent traditional Mac strongholds.
Graphic design and publishing cannot mix with Windows, right? Wrong. This is probably the biggest hallucination that we could have. Yes, many graphic designers are religious Mac users, but the reality is that many of these people are Mac users because this is the environment in which they learned their trade. What if they learned under Windows instead? Photoshop and other typical design applications are also available on Windows, and they work just as well. I know quite a few designers who get their work done from a Windows PC and guess what, their work is not inferior. The computer is nothing but a tool and their creativity is what produces the result.
I remember discussing my employer's choice of platform with an industry colleague. He was surprised that we used Windows 2000 since his presupposition - possibly based on the fact that many publications are Mac-based anyway - is that a newspaper normally uses the Mac or perhaps Unix for publishing. Should it be a shock that a press entity uses Windows 2000 to publish, and that it works? If you put any assumption aside and have the occasion to see a publication succeed using Windows, the answer is no.
As shocking as it will sound, I had to realize that while imperfect, Windows is capable to get through your day-to-day business. Once you learn how to use Windows, you can do many things that you thought impossible to accomplish without a Mac. Just as a language does for communication, an operating system works differently but in the end, it can produce the results. There is objectively no "wrong" language. In the same way, when you compare the Mac and Windows, there is no wrong operating system. There are different options available, and different tastes. The Mac works better for us and we have great reasons to prefer it, but it is not the case for everybody.
Finally, a gigantic assumption that Mac users make is that Apple owes them something. Because of the special bond between people and their Macs (also with Apple), many customers seem to think that Apple is their friend. The (conceivably sad) reality is that Apple remains a company. This is not a pro-corporate opinion, but the truth as it is.
Of course, Apple manufactures Macintosh computers for more than mere capitalist endeavors. If Apple wanted easy sales, it would manufacture inexpensive Windows-based PCs and that would perhaps spell the conclusion of its never-ending troubles to sell the Mac to the masses. This does not prevent Apple from being a corporate entity that focuses on profit-making and that sees success of the platform as a great way to reach success with its business plans. This applies to Steve Jobs, who is different from the typical CEO, but he is not your friend either. He is somehow between the two.
What do I mean? Nobody should have been surprised when Apple released G3 firmware that prevented processor upgrades. Nobody should be surprised if Apple makes moves that shock the installed user base, such as marketing Macs that are not for us, the geeks who buy from Apple at all times. Nobody should be surprised when Apple makes decisions that seem hard to understand at first. We owe nothing to Apple, and Apple owes no explanation to us for the way it runs its business. We sometimes assume that we know what Apple should do, but I have reservations about that.
That said, we should never refrain from expressing what we think. After all, we do (and should) share our opinions, and Apple is not immune to the pressures of external ideas. To sum it up, Mac users and their ideas have an importance otherwise, Apple would never change its mind on issues such as adding the Apple menu back in Mac OS X - but we should not assume that Apple will do whatever we think is right.
We should all remember that we are not immune to wrong assumptions. It is easy to have reactions without further thinking, and this is exactly what someone has to avoid, even if it sounds like a challenge.
Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.
You can find more about him at his personal Web site.
You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.
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