Will Longhorn Suck Enough to Cause Mass Mac Migration?

by Chris Seibold Jul 06, 2005

Microsoft is flailing away on seemingly every front. For some reason this gives Apple fans a giddy feeling akin to those few delicious moments after the dentist starts the flow of Nitrous Oxide but before the drilling begins in earnest. The reason for these glowing feelings about the future of Apple owes it’s existence to the fervent belief that if Longhorn just sucks enough Apple will be the beneficiary and gain massive amounts of market share. While increasing the market share for Apple is of debatable benefit for the current Mac users (after all if you’re using a Mac now it is obviously a good enough experience) it seems to be some sort of Holy Grail for many. Unfortunately for those pining with utmost earnestness for a double digit number to be placed next to Apple’s slice of the computing pie unless Longhorn actually causes computers to explode upon installation thereby decreasing the overall market for said wonders of silicon and magnetic plates no matter how execrable Longhorn actually is Apple will not benefit.

The logic of the argument is so basic as to be transparent but an inspection is nonetheless in order. The reasoning is as follows: If Microsoft releases a version of Longhorn that is emasculated to such a point that it is little more than Windows XP with some new eye candy (and Microsoft is bad at eye candy, so it would probably be something like this)  with oppressive DRM “features” users will become so disgusted that they will want to jettison Windows altogether for a more superior computing experience. Since the only other viable operating system that the Average Joe can comfortably use is OS X Apple stands to be the primary beneficiary of such a misstep. Couched in those terms it seems hard to argue with conclusion, after all there are only three viable operating systems: Linux is the clear price winner but remains too challenging for the average home user, Longhorn (in this scenario) is so bad as to be unusable, so that only leaves OS X.

The flaw of the argument is found in the premise that there are only three viable operating systems. While technically true, in reality should Longhorn be the computing equivalent of Pepsi Clear, the result will not be a mass migration to OS X (or Linux) rather the result will be downgrading to an earlier release of Windows. The truth of this is already evidenced by the persistence of Windows 2000 in the workplace. Businesses do not function as individuals, rarely will they upgrade just for the purpose of being on the cutting edge. Instead they tend to use any operating system that does not negatively impact productivity while still being fully compliant with needed tasks. Citing businesses, not the Macs strongest area, is probably not enough to completely dismiss the argument. After all thirty-three percent of the computers are sold for home use and a significant change in the market could push the Macs numbers ever higher.

At first glance the home market seems to be fundamentally different. Home users, for example, are more likely to be beguiled by the advertisements blitzing across their television screens during their favorite version of CSI. Yet the average user just doesn’t consider Macs as a viable alternative. If the current machine becomes uncomfortably slow or unstable and the decision is made to replace the computer he will likely purchase a new PC without a second thought. He may have strong opinions on computers, he may feel that HP makes solid machines while Gateways are inherently buggy but that is the extent of his equivocation. In any event our anonymous test subject purchases the computer, finds Longhorn to be simply awful and blames the computer manufacturer. Our imaginary friend is hopelessly frustrated but he sees no alternative. He calls a friend that “knows” something about computers. The friend sympathizes and then helps him install Windows XP on his machine. The computer is no longer slow and buggy (fresh install) and our mythical playmate is suddenly newly satisfied. He has everything he wanted out of the deal: new hardware (everyone loves new hardware), a system that is “good enough” and zero learning curve. In the end Microsoft sells one copy of Longhorn, racks up one more install of XP and Apple sells zero extra Macs. What is really happening is that people don’t see OS X as a possible option.

In the end it is not the failings of Longhorn that will cause the Mac market share to grow, it will be the success of OS X. Recently Steve Jobs has not been shy about pointing out that the Mac is outpacing the PC side on year-to-year sales. The recent success of Apple is not because Microsoft has made anything worse, indeed they haven’t made anything at all. It is because OS X is seen as freshly innovative. Apple is giving people reasons to buy Macs and the reasons aren’t because Microsoft blows. Sure there are people (and you know who you are) who will quibble that XP is just as good as OS X for nearly any real task, but these people are woefully misguided.* Hence sitting idly by and expecting Microsoft to make mistakes of gigantic proportions thereby propelling Macs to their rightful place ™ in the computing world is a ridiculous notion. If one truly wishes to see substantial growth of the Mac platform it will likely come through slow, plodding expansion until the Mac reaches a level where it is available in many of the places you find PCs and displayed correctly or in the form of something truly revolutionary that appeals deeply to the masses that remains exclusive to OS X.

*Well kinda. Tiger was received glowingly and most tech savvy types would, some grudgingly, admit that the Mac has the superior operating system for now. Unfortunately much of that superiority is unused by the majority of folks. The WGOS (world’s greatest operating system) is not strictly required to do anything that the majority of people actually do. Or put a different way: Windows 98 or OS 9 can still email, print pretty pictures and surf the web.


  • Great article, Chris.

    And I liked your final point - is OS X becoming bloatware?  I have Tiger but don’t use Automator at all, and Dashboard very rarely. Nor do i use Expose. 

    I feel OS X is drifting into the same territory as MS Office. e.g. Why do we need all the bloat? I just want to type my resume, send an email, surf the web. (That’s not me - that’s an example!)

    So all these features of OS X we so happily grag are lacking from Windows… how many do we really use and use all the time?

    And more importantly, how many do Joe Consumer - who has probably never heard of AppleMatters - actually use?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • grag=brag. oops

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • ...On the other hand, I use dashboard and automator daily and still have yet to ‘remember’ that spotlight is even there.  Years of Windows folder organization in practice!  The beauty of the untrimmed fat in OS X is that you aren’t forced to use any of it if you don’t want to.  It’s obviously not slowing anything down, both of my (former) Panther machines seem noticably faster running Tiger than they did out of the box.

    I do have to stop and laugh for just a second here though, the above article is good - no doubt about it - however, pointing at MS and MS alone in the area of DRM “features” seems a little off-base.  After all, if you were to go strictly by the popular news media perspective, Apple are the current crown-kings of DRM ‘offenders” with the lockdown of iTunes / iPod and all of the theories floating around about the possibility of iTunes Video.  MS has yet to do any real offending in this area - at least not in practice (and I don’t count protecting themselves from piracy).

    Some of the new eye candy in Longhorn though, man is it sweet!  (sarcasm) Transparent windows people!  That’s the thing of the future!  (riiiiight)  You haven’t used a GUI until you’ve used one with these little buggers!  You should have heard the applause at WinHEC this year.  Those of us with $550 video cards and at least 2GB of RAM get TRANSPARENT WINDOWS! YIPEE!

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 112
  • On the third hand, I use dashboard and spotlight all the time, expose occasionally, and the only time I tried to use automator it didn’t have the built in action I needed so I gave up (for the time being). One man’s bloat is another man’s bread and butter. (Although, sometimes bread and butter makes me pretty bloated… har har wink

    I like the new Tiger features, but at some point I hope Apple stops piling on the new features and starts refining what’s already there. I have a long list of little things I want fixed with the OS in existing programs like iCal and Mail, and I know lots of people have long lists of their own.
    In the long run I think it’s this refinement that will win people over to Mac, not the suckiness of Windows. If it was the suckiness of Windows people would have left in droves already.

    daver had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 13
  • I read an interview of Palm’s design architect (I guess when you make high 6 figures, you are called a design “architect”) where he hit home on the problem of feature creep. You can never remove a feature. So all additions on the Treo were very painstakingly researched. The advantage corporate researchers have is data - not just anecdotal experience like single users and blog commenters have.

    I sometimes wonder just how painstakingly researched Apple’s new features are, but I also don’t want them to lose the pure innovation (like the click/scroll wheel) that we’ve seen over the last few years. I think that Palm probably suffers in innovation simply because they are too worried about needing user research to dictate features.

    The 2 year future of the Mac OS I personally hope is in refining the interface and interaction. The Mac is nowhere intuitive everywhere in the OS - while head and shoulders beyond Windows, it is difficult to really point it out unless the difference is so stark that it cannot be argued.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 219
  • While I think it is likely Apple’s share of home consumers will increase, I don’t think serious inroads are likely at all in the big business world.  Those IT shops have been building Windows-specific in-house apps for years that they have NO incentive to change.  Indeed, serious Windows performance issues are simply job security for these IT departments. 

    However, small businesses clearly DO offer an opportunity for Apple…any shop that cannot afford to maintain a substantial IT shop.  I’ve hired myself out as a Mac support person for the county to meet this need, and currently support ~60 Macs for them. 

    Yes, the county has an IT department, but they won’t touch Macs in any timely way, and when they do their solution is typically to reformat and treat the Mac like a Windows PC.  That doesn’t work for the department I support, and is the reason they hired me. 

    For nearly two years now I’ve provided them instant Mac support, routine recurring maintenance to keep everything up to snuff, and never had to rebuild a Mac from scratch.  Yes, if their IT department was actually interested in hiring Mac-skilled people they could provide this support too, but they’re not.  As I noted above, they have no incentive to provide quality Mac support.  So, any available Windows-trained person is diverted to deal with Mac issues, and they consistently fail.

    I don’t see this scenario changing anytime soon…there’s too much legacy Windows stuff and mindshare.

    Dave Marsh had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 44
  • Forgetting for a moment the assumption that Longhorn will indeed cause your computer to explode upon installation, and that, while falling short of MS’s ambitious original plans, it will still improve upon XP and add some new features, I don’t see any scenario playing out that really benefits Apple, provided Longhorn is priced reasonably (around the same as Tiger). 

    While certainly fodder for tech geeks, the reality is that the long delays are meaningless to the consumer happily tapping away in XP.  What matters is security, features, and stability.  No one will care that it was late, but they will remember if it was an improvement or not.  And as long as it is, then I’d expect the status quo in terms of market share.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • This was one of the most immature, ignorant articles yet. You sound like a little boy crying why Sega Genesis is better than Super Nintendo when Nintendo hasnt even released its system yet. Doesnt make sense to you? Too bad.

    IgnorantBastard had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 4
  • Perhaps, IB, you should reread the article. It is not my position that Longhorn will automatically suck. It is my position that even if it does suck, not that it necessarily will mind you, it won’t help Apple very much if at all.

    In other news:
    Thanks for the compliments Chris, dickrichards2000 and Macpot. On the DRM issue, I don’t know what DRM features longhorn will or will not have. I do know that people will go ballistic about whatever DRM Longhorn uses. In the end it won’t matter, people will keep using Windows.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 354
  • It is not my position that Longhorn will automatically suck.

    But let’s be realistic, is there ANY chance that any diehard Mac user will try Longhorn and come back with a positive review?  I will eat my shorts the day a review positively comparing Longhorn to OSX shows up in Macworld or on MDN.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 07, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • lmao Beeblebrox. Your shorts are pretty safe!

    People, no matter what their interest, are often passionate about it. Especially when they feel like they have to continue the defend themselves.  What Mac user hasn’t been asked why? It’s no wonder they are so passionate - they have been pushed into a corner.

    I suspect that Macs have a higher percentage of users who understand the technology than Windows.  And I think that’s a fairly safe assumption.  And it’s usually those more knowledgable sorts who are defensive - because they feel they have made an informed choice. Ditto any field of interest.

    How many times you spoken to a mechanic who swears by one manufacturer, yet another mechanic will swear against them? Which one’s right?

    And so it is with computers.  You can’t get into a Mac vs Windows argument with Joe Average, only with someone who thinks they know about computers.

    And who’s right? We all are of course - because no matter who we are, we come at it subjectively - biased by own needs and experiences.

    I appreciate your comments here Beeb, and your effort to keep us thinking objectively.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jul 08, 2005 Posts: 1209
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