Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Macs In IT Mags

You think you get a lot of junk mail? Try working in the Information Technology field for a living and make the mistake of letting trade magazines know about it. On any given day a typical IT person might receive 5 pieces of junk snail-mail, maybe 20 SPAM e-mail messages, and phone calls from vendors "checking to see if you have any new project looming that could use a really good reverse binary laminated code defulminator. Our latest version allows Web access, uses interactive voice print analysis, and makes really tasty empanadas;" as if we donit already have enough to do.

One of the perks of IT junk mail, however, is the free magazines which, in reality, is why IT folks get the junk mail in the first place. It works like this; you read a really good article in an IT trade mag then notice one of those cardboard inserts offering to give you the magazine subscription for free if you would just fill out the card and check the appropriate boxes in the included questionnaire. Simple, easy, and you get a free subscription to an apparently useful magazine.

Sweet!

What you fail to realize is that the reason the magazineis publisher can give you the rag for free is that he makes some of his money selling the information you filled out on that questionnaire to the highest bidder. The buyer of that info then sends you another "free" magazine hoping that you find it useful too, and sign up for their free subscription, and the process starts all over again. By the end of the week your name is on at least 20 mailing lists for companies that sell everything from code debuggers to plastic tie-wraps, but letis get back to the magazines for a minute.

The magazines IT folks read are indeed useful. Articles about how different companies solve a myriad of problems fill the pages ensconced in a blizzard of ads. The topics of those articles cover everything from how company A was able to successfully deploy a nationwide WAN utilizing the latest technology, to how company B found that it was losing money by staying with antiquated servers and the problems they had migrating to new servers, to how company Cis CEO and CTO are at odds over whether Microsoft is just a synonym for evil and whether its software should be banned from company desktops.

People do read the trade mags, but what I really suspect is that thereis a competition between IT folks to see how many free magazine subscriptions they can get. Itis the geek version of the classic imine is bigger than yoursi rivalry; instead of fast cars serving as Freudian phallic compensators, these guys have stacks of magazines to show off. Iill admit I might have been doing a bit of compensating early in my career. I donit now; Iim firmly at ease with the size of my stack.

As I said, people do read these magazines. I read them, and one thing I noticed is that, up until recently, Apple got very little page space devoted to its products in these mags. Articles on how Sun, IBM, HP, and Microsoft solved the problems of the day was as common as sand on a beach. Oddly enough, the space in the trades dedicated to advertising contained pitches for the very hardware that solved the problems in the preceding article. Isnit that strange?

Apple, on the other hand, garnered very little IT mag real estate. Macs were not seen in these periodicals as solving real world problems. One rarely even read the words iApplei or iMaci in these trades unless the article somehow had to use them. And forget about ads featuring Macs, or even store ads that listed Macs in their inventory. Not one, though that is clearly Appleis fault. The truth was that beyond Apple specific magazines, Macs are largely ignored, and no self respecting IT guru worth his stack of mags would have been caught dead reading a Macworld.

This state of affairs has a twofold effect: first, because these magazines donit talk about Macs or have ads that feature Macs, IT folks never think about Macs. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes: a statement never truer than in the IT world. You can show an IT person a picture of a naked person (insert gender preference here) and it will hold his or her attention only until the next problem or gadget appears. IT people have no attention span, and a short-term memory thatis best measured in nanoseconds. (Itis a genetic alteration we all must have in order to be trusted with the irooti password.)

Second, since Macs are never seen in these magazines then it becomes a self-fulfilling notion that Macs arenit worth being in these magazines. Itis kind of like thinking that thereis a bear in the woods: unless you see the bear you really donit know heis there and you donit think about him until he eats all of your granola, your crackers, your jerky, your trail mix, and your boot while your foot is still in it. You get the idea.

Lately, however, Iive seen signs that this situation might be changing, and this change has to be for the better since it canit get much worse. In a recent Federal Computer Week (Vol.16, Number 16, May 20, 2002) I saw a two-page ad that featured the G4 PowerBook. The caption said, "Send other UNIX boxes to /dev/null." Obviously directed at those who use UNIX boxes. Not Windows boxes, something youid normally think Apple would be trashing, but UNIX boxes. Whatis more interesting is that the same ad appears twice in the same magazine (pages 4-5 and 26-27).

Whatis even more interesting is that thereis a vendor in the magazine who is openly advertising the fact that it has Macs for sale. In fact, the picture of the iMac G4 occupies a full 1/4 of the full-page of the vendoris ad! In the May 1, 2002 issue of CIO magazine thereis an article titled, iAn Apple for the Enterprisei, which may be the first time in a very long time that CIO ran a feature article specifically about Macs. Thatis flattering because the article was exclusively about Mac in the IT world and nothing else. Iim sure if you thumb through some of the latest issues in your IT mag cache you too will find instances where Apple and Macs are mentioned.

The point is that, after years of Apple getting no respect from IT professionals and their assorted magazines, it could be that the tide is turning for the better. The mainstream press seems to have fallen head over heels for the new iMac and they all but gush over OS X. It seems only logical that, with so much mainstream press play, IT rags are bound to take notice and wonder what all the hoopla is about.

OS X has definitely had a lot to do with getting the attention of the My-UNIX-Can-Beat-Your UNIX crowd. Suddenly, thereis a new kid on the block and everybody wants to take a peek and see where this new OS fits in. Will it hang out with the cool crowd; all glamour and gloss but not a lot of smarts, or will it run with the geeks; brainy and nimble, but relegated to tiny niches? Perhaps Apple has bred a new baby, one that can chill with the cool kids and still manage to have quickness and smarts while avoiding the niches?

So far itis looking good. Version 10.1 has convinced all but the most die-hard OS 9 users to consider switching to OS X. Jaguar promises to turn even more heads with features that no other UNIX can boast, and this could make an IT pro much less anxious about mentioning Macs in mixed company. More and more of these UNIX gurus are looking past the candy coated Aqua shell and eyeing the BSD innards of OS X and smiling; more, they are ordering systems, which must be music to Jobsi ears.

Who knows, in a few months we may see an article telling us how a Mac running OS X saved company A several million dollars in upgrade costs while adding significantly to the companyis moral. And you can bet youill see more vendors proudly displaying the Apple logo. Buy your stock now, itis gonna happen.

Vern Seward is a frustrated writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. Heis been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.