OPINION

Macintosh Justification

One of the oddest facts about the Wintel versus Unix (including Linux and the Mac) debate is that the Wintel proponents practically brag about never having actually used Unix while the most committed Mac/Unix advocates have generally used both. If in reality the Unix products really are better, faster and cheaper, why is it that we’re always on the defensive, having to justify our choices against a Wintel default?

Review, for example, the information collected under the Macintosh Justification heading by Macintouch.com. There are seven subsections, each containing a number of success stories, purchase and use rationales, and more or less personal analyses of the costs and consequences that go with a Mac decision.

Mac Preferred

Read this stuff quickly and you’ll see that most of the contributers obviously have experience with both Wintel and the Mac but prefer the latter because Wintel consistently costs more and achieves less.

Look more carefully, however, and you’ll see that the underlying reason in almost every case where the Mac lost out to Wintel doesn’t have anything to do with rational arguments based on cost, performance or functionality. Instead, Wintel proponents are shown as consistently fudging such arguments as rationales for decisions already made and getting non-IT executives to justify signing off on those decisions mainly by overweighting the argument that Apple’s market share has long since entered the insignificance of singledigits.

In effect, Wingots seem to shout “We’re winning” loud enough to convince the people around them that it’s true, and indeed you could fill a good-size book shelf simply by quoting analysts and commentators who’ve publicly written Apple off over the years. However, almost all of the older ones also enthusiastically welcomed OS/2 as the anti-Unix, went on to join their younger colleagues in heralding the Itanium as the anti-RISC, and were united across generations in their shared enthusiasm for the security and performance benefits offered by each new Wintel generation.

Revenue Dollars Measured

It’s true, of course, that Apple’s share of new desktop sales runs only a bit over 3 percent right now, but the conclusion these commentators draw from this is wrong because the 3 percent is a measure of revenue dollars to PC sellers, not hours of usage by customers.

In reality, Apple’s declining relative market share measured in dollars has been due more to the expense of Wintel product churn than to a fall-off of interest among Mac users. Over the longer term, Apple’s unit sales have consistently increased; what caused the decline in Apple’s annual share of market dollars has been growth in revenue to the PC sellers.

In other words, it’s Wintel’s rapid upgrade cycle that’s been getting progressively more and more out of line with norms for industrial or retail electronics products, and therefore not falling interest in the Mac, that’s behind the numbers. Think about this for a minute: If PCs remained usable as long as Macs do, industrywide total revenues (aka customer costs) would be nearly two-thirds lower.

The other argument you see people make all the time is that consultants and IT staff make money on failure, not success, and are therefore motivated to push Wintel. I think that’s right, but insufficient as an explanation. After all, it’s ultimately the non-technical customer who decides and all the MCSEs in the world couldn’t keep a GM or KPMG using Windows if end users in those organizations didn’t go along. So the question really is this: What keeps those people from actively investigating Mac OS X and other Unix variants like Linux on x86 or Solaris on SPARC?

Microsoft Supporters

Part of the answer really is the shouting coming from Microsoft and its supporters. Consider my deafened friend Dr. Bernie (not his real name). Bernie is your all-around good guy. He’s very bright, deeply committed to his family first and his cultural values second, and fundamentally as honest as anyone I’ve met. On the other hand, he’s got a crippling blind spot: a passionate loyalty to Microsoft that no amount of either rational argument or economic coercion is likely tobreak.

Until the NT bubble came along, Bernie had been doing pretty well for himself — at the top of his profession and a solid middle class property owner with no mortgage and a well-stocked retirement fund. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for all things Microsoft drove him to buy into bubble companies, and now he’s working himself into an early grave trying to recoup before age catches up with him.

As part of that, he’s exhausting his Rolodex to get outside projects while antagonizing his biggest supporters because he never has time to focus fully on anything — in effect fooling himself by mimicking Microsoft in his ability to sell the next project in time to cover up shoddy execution on the current one.

Laptop Rebooted

The last time I was in his office, we were supposed to be discussing a price quotation he’d obtained on a new server for a course-ware project, but got sidetracked while he rebooted his latest laptop — it hadn’t recovered from a spam call that came in while he was showing me that he could now get free long distance calls.

In preparation, I’d done nothing more than print out a line from an e-mail dated a year or so earlier — when the school’s Blackboard server ran Linux:

Oct 8/2003

Please be advised that the Blackboard server will off-line for several hours on October 26 for processor and memory upgrades.

In contrast, the present machine — which runs Windows 2003/XP Server and some application written (I think) in BASIC that only works with IE and a Windows client — happened to be accessible during our meeting, but even Bernie admitted that it hasn’t exactly been setting records for stability.

That’s due, he said, to the incompetence of the people running it — and he wasn’t in the least appreciative when I pointed out that he had previously argued that the Linux package should be replaced with a more expensive Windows solution mainly because it’s so much easier to find Windows support expertise.

As part of spreading Microsoft wherever he can, Bernie now has four Wintel machines for personal use: his latest laptop, a 14-months-old office desktop, and two older machines at home. As a result, he wastes six to eight hours every week just keeping it all running — time he desperately needs for his real work.

Predictable Shutdown

Pointing out to him that the Linux administrator could accurately predict his next service shutdown several weeks in advance while the Wintel people can barely limp through a day without a reboot was like throwing water on a duck — it generated vague resentment but no behavioral change.

Later I tried talking to him about using a Powerbook to avoid Windows futz time but got nowhere, and two weeks ago I sent him a reference to the Macintouch justification page.

And do you know what my efforts have gotten me so far? Right: I’m no longer his friend. Apparently I have an agenda here; some diabolical personal reason for wanting to him to buy a Mac. And it’s true, I do have a reason: He’d be a lot happier and more productive using a Mac because it would let him focus on the things he’s good at — an impressive list that doesn’t include Windows administration.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get there from where he is. Instead, I’m going to hear, someday soon, that the stress killed him, either directly or in traffic. That’s a bitter lesson, but one we all need to learn: Sometimes rationality and goodwill just aren’t enough, and you have to walk away because you can’t talk to the willfully deaf.


Paul Murphy, a LinuxInsider columnist, wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 20-year veteran of the IT consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues. .


6 Comments

  • I think the point that a lot of people miss is the hardware aspect of this situation. Case in point: I can buy cheap high-preformance intel based "boxes" just about everywhere – I HAVE
    to buy relatively expensive Apple boxes to run OS/X. Would I RATHER run MacOS? Sure! I run Free and Net BSD on my other boxes and would MUCH RATHER have MacOS/X as my workaday desktop – but I don’t want to pay Apple’s prices. Once upon a time, there was an open spec called CHRP – remember it?
    It featured Sun’s OpenBoot EEPROM and would have allowed you to go to your local electronics store (say Fry’s here in SV) and buy/build your own box and then you’d purchase a copy of MacOS
    and install and run it. Uh… Just Like Windows and WhiteBoxes! WOW! What a concept. Some years ago there was a huge clamour from the Sun sales reps in D.C. ’cause the DOD wanted
    Trusted Solaris for x86… Sun didn’t want to do it fearing that it would cut into low-end SPARC based systems sales – what they missed was the inexpensive and disposable nature of
    x86 hardware and the interchangability and most importantly that it’s the OS and not the hardware that defines the platform seat: ISV’s write to the OS not to the hardware (let’s not
    make that into a bigger issue – I understand the underlying HAL aspects). If Apple could "eat" the revenue losses from hardware long enough to see the gains from stand-alone OS sales, we might really see a true competitive OS contendor against Microsoft. Nah! Jobs will never let that happen… And I will
    probably never own another MacOS based machine… which is very sad. I love the OS but not Apple.

  • No offense, but if you cannot keep an XP 2003 server running with no down time then you are not an adminastrator.
    I have linux and 2003 servers running and they have both been up for months with no issues.
    Heck my personal XP box has been up for about a month or so, admittedly I only use it for mail and (it feels like anyway) VPN to work. Doing hard core development I can hard lock Linux just like I can XP.
    People need to get over the anti-Microsoft train, get people to use the right environment for the work they are doing. If a user is more comfortable in Windows let em use Windows. Converting to a new OS for most people is too much change.
    If you can get people to TRY something that is great, but if they don’t want to change drop it.
    My wife would never use anything other than Windows, why? One reason, she uses Office at work and Office at home, otherwise she plays the ocasional game (WoW which actually happens to have a Mac version) and browsing. All this could be done on a Mac, but there would be subtle differences that matter to her.

  • So in your own words your friend is an "all-around good guy. He’s very bright, deeply committed to his family first and his cultural values second, and fundamentally as honest as anyone I’ve met."
    Now he is not your friend ? Hmm. I’m guessing from what I read that you never actually laid out calm and collect reasons why he might look at the Macintosh. No. You drove this "all-around good guy" to write you off.
    In short you drove the poor man crazy and in all likelyhood he’ll never look at the macintosh again because he’ll always associate it with "that nut job I used to know"
    Congrats. You didn’t convince him of anything other than you are a raving lunatic who tried to drive a computer platform down his throat.
    I’m sure he is better off without you Paul. From your writing I can only imagine what hell you put this guy through.
    You are a tool.

  • In my opinion Paul is touching the truth here…
    I have been using a lot of different platforms in my life and for the moment my employer has Win XP as a standard for the desktops/laptops but at home I switched to Mac OSX a year ago.
    Without regret. I do not have to spend time anymore in rebooting, crashing, reinstalling, virus-scanning, spy-ware checking, upgrading… and on top of that the OS is so much more fun to work with
    Some of the people close to me switched as well now (Basically because they saw how enthusiast I was and maybe because I stopped giving support for Wintel… )
    Some others really stick to Windows for all the wrong reasons.
    – Price of the equipment: They call a Dell PC a brand A product and compare it to Apple… but compare it to HP for example. The price of the HW is more or less on the same level. On top of that, you will continue to work with your Mac for a longer time, because you are happy with it. With a Wintel after one year you feel that you need to upgrade.
    – Price of the software: Difficult one. Why? Because they compare wonderful Apple applications like the ones included iLife (which you get for free when you purchase a Mac, but the future releases are to be paid) with the illegal copies they get for free from friends for the Wintel pc’s.
    – Availability of applications: "There are some much more applications available for PC". True. How many of the do you use? Paid version of MS Office? Available for Mac. Legal version of Adobe Photoshop? Available. A browser? Available. A mail application? …. get the picture?
    Do I want to ‘convert’ you? No. I just want to share with you how happy I AM on my new platform. And I AM sure it would make you happy as well…

  • Do you know why youre no longer his friend? By the sounds of it, he is exactly like you, just coming at it from the other direction.
    Those IT admins who actually take the time to do their homework (and have say in what is run) will generally wind up in a mixed OS environment. Windows is an excellent choice for some problems, a lousy choice in others. Unfortunately, folks like you (and your ex friend) can only play one note, much to the detriment of those you support.
    Michael

    • actually it’s not the same. the friend here is an example of MS branded cattle (for all i can tell he only knows windows).
      the author is familiar with linux, mac os x, and windows (3:1, author).
      and thus can make a comparison/choice. how many PC users have compared systems/platforms and concluded that a wintel machine was best for them? not that many.
      the author wasn’t trying to "convert" his friend to any one OS. he was just trying to show his friend that there are other available ways of getting things done more efficiently.
      and anyway i think the point is that many windows users (not just IT admins & pros, but especially them) absolutley refuse to give anything else a fair evaluation and rely on short-sighted, outdated, & bogus rhetoric to justify staying with a system that sucks time & money away from their lives (it creates jobs & self-worth, too; but u know what i mean).
      It’s the rationale that’s under question here.
      the puzzling thing is the reasons for clinging on to windows so desperately while flat-out denying any other alternative. rarely do i hear about the merits of windows, but i always hear some cliche BS repeated to me (like it was from the same broken record… u can really tell that no thought has gone in to whats being said) for reasons not to use macs.
      and yeah, every OS has its pros & cons… that’s understood.
      mix & match? fine. IT admins did their hw? cool.
      the problem is with those that will blindly use MS products out of self-interest or ignorance rather than to the benefit of the greater objective (whatever ur trying to accomplish with the computers) & their rationale.

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