Is Apple Overselling the Mac?

January 30th, 2008

You recall that Mac versus PC commercial, where it’s announced just how many Windows viruses were in the wild at the time, followed by the pronouncement, “but not on the Mac.”

Of course, you could subject that statement to several interpretations, such as the fact that Apple wasn’t claiming there weren’t any viruses on the Mac, just not so high a figure. Yes, I realize the statement is a little fuzzy in its meaning, and you could have a different — and equally valid — interpretation.

Another claim is that the Mac is akin to a toaster oven or perhaps a refrigerator, meaning it’s an appliance. Of course toaster ovens burn up and refrigerators go bad over time. So this is not the promise of perfection, and the claim that a Mac “just works” may also be overwrought.

Now I don’t know how many of you came to the Mac after working on Windows, or whether you must delve in multiple platforms as part of your work routine. Regardless, I wonder whether Apple’s constant claim that Macs are perfect and Windows is the pits might just be stretching the truth a little too far.

Of course, people are jaded today. You don’t really believe that Cheer is substantially better than Tide when you’re picking a laundry detergent, and the differences between Coca Cola and Pepsi are largely a matter of personal preference. Moreover, does the famous Maytag repairman actually sit in the office doing nothing because the company’s washers and driers never go bad?

So the Windows switcher has to know that some amount of Apple’s hype about the Mac is exaggerated and it cannot possibly be as good as claimed. They have to realize that there will be problems with all personal computers, and, in fact, I have to admit there was even a time or two that I had to restart the iPhone I’m reviewing after a freeze.

To take a brief trip back through time: Not 15 minutes after I installed my first Mac in my home, back in the 1980s, the damn thing froze solid, and pushing the Restart button in the Finder’s famous “bomb” window had no effect whatever. I was annoyed, but not disenchanted. I cherish perfection, but I haven’t driven a car, cheap or expensive, that’s rattle-free on all types of roads either. There will always be the occasional noise that extends beyond that of the suspension and the rolling tires.

Indeed, I’m sure some car dealers want to look the other way when I arrive for another “rattle check,” and even the friendliest person occupying a Genius Bar at an Apple Store is going to look askance if I walk up and announce I had a couple of system crashes in the last week or two.

In short, Apple can’t promise perfection, for it would have stopped at Mac OS 10.0, or even System 1.0, for that matter. No reasonable person can be expected to believe that the Mac is free of software conflicts or, as a matter of fact, a potential malware infection.

How can you possibly take Apple’s claims as 100% gospel? Marketing is just that, and there will always be terms and conditions that separate the fanciful claim from the sad reality.

In saying that, however, Apple tends to be scrutinized far more carefully than any other PC maker. You expect things to go wrong on your Dell or HP, but how is the newly-minted Mac user going to react when the promised blissful life of computing perfection isn’t achieved?

Take the claim of being virtually virus-free. Well, I don’t feel inclined to give much serious attention to the naysayers who say that Mac viruses are on the way now that the platform is taking off in a big way, and you’ll have to fend them off any minute now. In the real world, Apple releases regular security updates to address known threats, but they are rarely exploited.

But during the days of the Classic Mac OS, a few irritating virus threats did come along, and I’m sure some of you long-time Mac users were affected, as I was. I do feel we are living on borrowed time, and that some full-blown outbreak will arrive some day, and you’ll have to download a copy of the latest and greatest virus protection software to protect yourself.

If that happens, though, will the Windows switchers imply decide that things are no better on the Mac side of the fence, and that they might as well return to Windows? What about a few episodes of quitting applications, or, horror or horrors, the dastardly kernel panic? That one is a real shocker for someone who hasn’t seen it before.

Maybe I’m exaggerating here, but I do think Apple has to be careful about creating an aura of perfection where none can possibly exist. Sure, I don’t think their spin level is any worse than any other company, and maybe better in some respects. But people have been programmed to expect more from Apple, and they have to be real careful not to over-promise. They are not, lest we forget, Microsoft, even though some people would prefer to have us think otherwise.

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4 Responses to “Is Apple Overselling the Mac?”

  1. Will says:

    If you are concerned about anti-virus, install a tool like ClamXav and start using it today. You might get zapped by a BootCamp, Parallels, or Fusion enabled bit of malware so making sure you have some anti-virus mac tools is a good idea. Even if you run Windows-free today, you can still forward emails sent to you with malware in them, and your friends may get bitten because they trusted you and your computer as being virus free. Use a tool to scan your email for malware helps keep your friends safe even if you aren’t going to be bitten. Of course the best reason is that when a real viral threat comes out for Mac OS X, anti-virus tools like ClamXav will be among the most prepared to address the issue so why not get used to it’s scans and issues today when the threat level is virtually non-existent and time can be spent on issues like it’s GUI and applescript support.

    I don’t think Apple can be blamed for touting a virtually malware free OS any more than a hard drive manufacturer can be blamed for touting a virtually failure-free hard drive. Don’t you use back up software before your hard drive crashes right? Like a good backup tool, the Macs current anti-virus tools won’t save you from the disaster ahead, but you’ll be in a better position to recover from the mess.

  2. Ilgaz says:

    As a PPC owner, I am not sure how virtualisation can handle it but the best way to stay free of viruses and worms is using a Windows Antivirus with heuristic capabilities. I heard Parallels bundles Kaspersky on some edition, AVG may also work.

    Windows viruses are far beyond the offline scanning capabilities or old fashion “watch a folder for known virus signatures”. A previously unknown virus with morphing may really take over entire OS before someone submits sample to Clam.

    Apple should really educate their old breed of users, systems with Bootcamp or other utilities are way insecure if user is a actual Mac user who didn’t see real evil viruses since 1990s. They are far beyond “double click, enter your admin password” method of “infection” (!).

    I don’t know if first ever real virus, worm will ship anytime but I don’t think the black hat coding it will spend time to make it “universal” 🙂

    Hate them or not, the only antivirus which will do heuristics are Mcafee (as they claim) or Intego Virusbarrier X4/X5. Problem (!) is, there is nothing to watch on OS X yet except a totally moronic “DNS changer” manual virus.

  3. kenh says:

    Yes, it will probably happen, but for me it all comes down to the fact that I have been on OSX for what, 5 years now?

    Still nothing, no evidence with 25-30 million copies out there. It seems like that I should be having some kind of problem if we do have a virus or malware problem.

    Would it not seem logical that the most likely time for a virus to happen would be early in the development cycle?
    It seems that more and more leaks are being plugged as time goes on? Someone who knows tell me.

    I have also heard, (honestly don’t know where) is that the key functional difference between Windows and OSX is that because of the nature of the Windows file system, “new” viruses are actually modifications of old ones that can reopen ports that have been previously closed by virus “fixes”.

    Does anybody know about this?

  4. Jon T says:


    If you want evidence, just scan through the responses to this recent NYT column, and just see how angry people are about Windows, and how happy they are that they switched to Mac. The gulf of difference as perceived by real experiences of real people is huge. Ask them, and they’ll likely say it’s undersold not oversold…

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