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  • Apple Circles the Wagons

    November 12th, 2008

    When Bill Gates appeared to a round of boos and catcalls on a satellite feed during a Macworld Expo keynote some years ago, you wondered why Steve Jobs was so readily conceding the operating system wars. Jobs went on to state that, for Apple to succeed, Microsoft didn’t have to lose.

    You’d think he was just going to accede to the status quo and move on, but it hasn’t quite worked that way, although I expect Microsoft only realized it recently.

    First there was the iPod, with Apple pushing tens of millions of them every single year. More iPods are sold to Windows users than Mac users, and with a library of millions of songs and sales of billions of downloads, it still seemed beyond belief when iTunes became the number one music retailer.

    Imagine how it felt to Microsoft knowing that most of the PC users who owned music players had iPods, and how just selling a million Zunes seemed a chore.

    With estimated sales of 13 million iPhones so far, the OS X user base has grown by 50% in just 15 months. It won’t be long before more people use that operating system on their iPhones and iPod touches than on Macs, but that’s only part of the picture.

    Every single iPod and iPhone sold to a Windows user is a compelling advertisement for Apple’s products. While there are growing pains here and there and the need for periodic firmware updates, these products deliver an extremely high level of customer satisfaction. Check the ratings yourself, and then see how a BlackBerry and Zune might compare.

    So next time these people want to buy a personal computer, how hard is it to switch to a Mac? Well, for the average home or small businessperson who uses a PC for email, browsing and word processing, the task is fairly simple. Apple offers a pretty good amount of online information on how to make the switch, including steps to move your stuff from a Windows PC to the corresponding folders on a new Mac.

    Indeed, if you buy a new Mac at an Apple Store, just bring in your old Mac or PC, and they’ll take care of the file transfer process for you. Third party retailers who have smart management and savvy service departments will do it too. You don’t have to be a power user.

    The other day I was talking about Mac users no longer being part of an elite class, but members of a smart mainstream population that has better things to do than waste half a day installing a printer driver. Yes, I know that some Windows users will say that rarely happens, but it does occur far more often than they care to admit. The other day I read a survey that over 10% of Vista printer installations fail, and, no, I won’t make it easy for you to find the link. That’s why we have Google.

    Besides, I have difficulty believing that any single Windows user hasn’t encountered problems of one sort or another when moving beyond the default installation, particularly when deciding to go it alone without help from the IT staff. Did you ever wonder why you hear all those radio ads from companies willing to help you, by remote control, fix the problems on your Windows PC? What does tech talk show person Kim Komando talk about, mostly, on her weekly two hour radio show? You guessed it? How to save yourself from the Windows-problem-of-the-day. It’s particularly enjoyable to hear the self-proclaimed “digital goddess” describe the intricate details of repairing corruption in the infamous Windows Registry.

    Apple is often criticized for not doing enough to push Macs into the enterprise, but maybe that initiative is no longer necessary. Even IT people are hearing more and more demands from employees — quite often from top management — to bring more Macs into a company.

    While there is a common conspiracy theory that system admins don’t want to embrace Macs because they might lose their jobs, there are practical reasons to show caution. Even though a Mac may be easier to set up, and not difficult to master, there’s still a price to pay.

    A Windows network might still require updates to admit Macs, and employees might have to undergo a small amount of retraining to understand how to handle some of the minor interface differences between the Mac and Windows. There are also software licenses to consider. Some software developers with both Mac and Windows versions of the same product will allow you to pay the standard upgrade fee to crossgrade from one platform to the other. But there’s still a fee involved, so even if the Mac and PC are comparably priced, it’s not a free ride.

    On the other hand, a few years ago, you probably wouldn’t take any of this seriously. How could Macs ever gain a major presence in the PC market? But with a third of all potential note-book buyers in the U.S. now putting Macs at the top of their shopping lists, according to recent surveys, the future Microsoft never dreamed about even in their worst nightmares may already have arrived.



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