It seems whenever I want to make a point, I have to offer a little history lesson. I’ve you’ve been around the Mac universe for very long, this little refresher course may seem familiar to you, but I have a pont to make and, as usual, I’ll take my time getting there. Just bear with me.
In the mid-1990s, it went the other way. Mac users began to desert the platform in droves. Doesn’t seem possible? Well, some technology pundits seem to think it was the result of the switch from the original 680×0 processor to the PowerPC. How come? Well, I suppose they believe that the near seamless transition from one processor family to another must have been confusing and frustrating. But the real reason was, in large part, the arrival of the first almost usable version of Windows, and that was Windows 95.
Maybe it was that infamous Rolling Stones spot, using their hit song, “Start Me Up.” It’s hard to believe now, but when Windows 95 hit the store shelves, folks were lining up to subject themselves to punishment, or rather buy copies. Microsoft becoming hip? Not quite, but Windows 95 was good enough to convey the impression to many users that it had reached parity with the Mac OS. Of course that huge advertising campaign didn’t hurt.
Now to be fair, it is true that some software companies who were probably on the fence about continuing to build Mac software decided that updating their products for the PowerPC wasn’t worth the time and effort. But these publishers would have probably ditched their Mac products eventually; they just used this as an excuse. At the same time, Apple seemed to lose its way, which only compounded the problem. Rather than amaze us with new products, they came up with wrong-headed designs that made such simple acts as adding RAM a major chore. Do you remember the Quadra 800 and its successors? You had to remove a logic board just to get to the memory slots.
The Mac OS? Well, development seemed to have stalled, while Microsoft worked furiously to deliver a better product. The best some Mac users could offer was that the Mac OS “sucked less.” This “lesser of two evils” argument just didn’t fly. In all fairness, I stuck with the Mac, although I also had to acquire a PC box because I was offered some Windows-oriented book assignments that I had to accept to pay the bills.
Somehow, Apple muddled its way through, and now that we are well into the Second Age of Steve Jobs, it appears Windows users are finally getting the message. For the first half of this year, an estimated 400,000 Windows owners bought Macs as Apple outpaced the growth of the PC industry.
It may be too early to break out the champagne, but it appears a number of these Mac converts were influenced by the iPod. To think Apple could build something that would become a cultural icon rather than just a boutique product. But Microsoft has also managed to shoot itself in the foot in recent years, suffering from the programming lapses of yesteryear that made the platform vulnerable to all sorts of malware.
At the same time, Apple faces an important challenge. If those 400,000 newcomers embrace the Mac OS with enthusiasm, they could become evangelists for the platform, encouraging others to make the move. Here first impressions count for a lot, and if the Macs they buy fails to “just work,” it could have a really bad effect. These people have already been burned by Windows. They came to the Mac hoping that life on the other side of the tracks would be better, and if they have any suspicions that it’s not so, Apple may not get a second chance.
As much as you’d like to regard your Mac as an appliance, it’s a complicated and sometimes temperamental beast. True, most of you will unpack your new Macs, turn them on, and get on with your business. But the experience isn’t always seamless, for otherwise there would be no need for troubleshooting sites, books and articles to help you get a handle on the problems you confront all too often.
In fairness, you can’t expect perfection. No personal computer comes even close to behaving as reliably as a typical household appliance. Sure, the Mac is close, and it’s true that many of you can carry on for days, weeks, or months without encountering a lick of trouble. I still provide consulting services for a number of local clients, and I delight in the fact that I can set them up with a new Mac, or perform a “tune up,” and seldom get a call to make a return visit to fix some new problems. It’s not that I am so perfect, but it’s a nice thought. The truth is that Macs don’t require near as much maintenance as the counterparts from the Dark Side.
But there are still problems that are just too irritating, and Apple has to work harder to improve its quality control. Tiger, for example, was probably released prematurely, and it’s taken two maintenance updates for things to settle down. And now the pressure is on to deliver the goods to those brand new Windows switchers, and Apple can’t afford to drop the ball.
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