Windows 7 Launch is a Dangerous Time for Mac Advocates

Yesterday was full of news and commentary about Apple's reaction to Windows 7, including some nice quotes from Apple SVP Phil Schiller. However, at your level, the project level, there are pitfalls for Mac enthusiasts who go about evangelizing the wrong way. Here's what to avoid, and here's what to do.

I have been involved in some fairly high level technical projects in my career. This was at NASA, White Sands Missile Range, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. What I've learned along the way is that there are two critical factors that will determine your success as well as the success of your technical project.

Technical Depth. Recently, I became aware of a project in which there was a need for a major database. The project had lots of technical people, even database experts, who felt that Oracle was the way to go in the long run. However, IBM came in with a great song and dance and sold the management on DB2. For those not familiar with DB2, it's IBM's flagship database, but it's old, quirky, and doesn't run as well in Linux as is does in AIX. The managers were wowed by IBM and the lowball price. It wasn't the best decision for the project in the long run.

At issue is the technical depth of the decision makers in any organization. If senior managers have been in the trenches and have real hands on experience for decades, then they can carry that into their management years. However, many managers are selected these days, not for their technical talent, but for the ability to manage money, manage people, look good with customers, and impress their bosses. Often, that means making a decision based on the only metric their limited training can handle: costs.

Of course, we'd all like them to take advantage of the greybeards and young technical experts in an organization, but doing so makes modern managers uncomfortable, insecure, and threatens their ability to impress executive management. So they go it alone, select low cost but technically inferior solutions, get a promotion, move on and leave the project stewing in the mess they've left behind.

Technical Savvy. That's the second, and even more important element for technical people. Not only must you have extreme technical depth on a wide range of solutions, but you must be able to present options to senior managers in a way they can understand -- not as something that seems simply to support your own agenda.

In other words, you must be capable of presenting technical options that show a deep understanding of the issues, but do it in such a way that your boss both respects your judgment and feels that you're looking out for him (or her) and the good of the project.

Clearly, being an arrogant, sarcastic fan boy of Apple isn't going to leave that impression with decision makers. Accordingly, it pays to be careful in the selection of websites and books that you read. Apple websites that offer up nothing but a continuous stream of ad hominem attacks, disrespect, and blind allegiance to Apple won't provide you with the training and frame of mind to be a deep, useful, trusted technical contributor to the team.

Windows 7

Microsoft's Windows 7 is an OS that will provide certain benefits to any organization. People in your own organization will be actively perusing an understanding of what those advantages will be and how (or when) to roll out an upgrade. While the OS is certainly deemed technically inferior to Mac OS X, believe it or not, that's not the only basis on which the decision will be made.

Next week, when Windows 7 is launched, you should be thinking about how you are perceived in your organization. What have you bothered to learn about Vista in the past? Are you technically deep in Windows 7? Have you been spending your evenings playing with the Windows 7 betas? Are you technically prepared to offer quantitative, technical and cost evaluations of this OS so that your managers see you as making an insightful technical contribution? (If not, then just keep quiet.) Or are you planning to just smirk your way through the cubicles, suggesting that now is the time for everyone to follow your own agenda, get on your bandwagon, and generally piss off everyone around you.

Phil Schiller can get away with suggesting that everyday consumers just not bother with an onerous, tortuous upgrade to Windows 7. But there are people in your business organization who are technically experienced with XP, Vista and Windows 7. They're tasked with understanding how to keep the organization functioning in a PC dominated world. If you're not helping them with that deep technical assessment, contributing your knowledge on how Windows 7 and Snow Leopard can both work together to make your project a success, then you'll be marginalized, pushed aside.

And then, you'll be wondering, on your way out the door, why everyone around you is such an idiot. Instead of becoming a trusted, senior member of the technical team.