Windows: Never bad enough to sell Macs by Default

by Chris Seibold Jun 06, 2006

It was a scant few years ago that it seemed every half-tech literate computer user was enthralled by SETI. SETI, as you’ll no doubt remember, is the search for extra terrestrial intelligence. The idea was that by pointing radio telescopes at the sky we might intercept an intelligent signal. Since the news hasn’t been brimming with stories about alien, right-wing, talk shows, one can safely assume nothing, as yet, has been found.

Of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it could be that the extra-solar life the scientists of SETI are so determined to find communicate in a manner much more efficient than radio—lasers for example. This problem the people employed by SETI are working on with what can only be described as zealous diligence.

Some people honestly wonder what the point of SETI is. After all, even in the best-case scenario, communication would be cumbersomely to say the least (imagine sending a message on Tuesday, July 7, 2006 and not getting an answer until 2 million years later, makes the DMV seem peppy in comparison). On the other hand, one of the tantalizing things about alien technology is the notion that it might be, well, completely alien. Perhaps they have a workaround for the exchange of information at faster than light speeds or, more importantly, perhaps they have perfected a restaurant that is moderately priced that not only serves decent food, but also eschews annoying marketing gimmicks. Well the last one is just crazy talk.

While relativity and the mechanics of interstellar communication are valid objections to the utility of the SETI project, the most valid objection is that they haven’t found anything. Some might argue that expecting to get results immediately smacks of arrogance and over confidence. For most, it seems more than obvious that searching the vastness of space should take some non-trivial amount of time before a signal is stumbled upon.

While that may seem the common sense explanation, after all if you go looking for a four leaf clover it will take some searching before you find one, it doesn’t work with alien transmissions. If aliens are out there and using radio technology the universe should be simply teeming with transmissions. The reason being, as you have already deduced, is that the universe is very old. Hence many cultures would have to be far ahead of us in technology and their time spent using the radio spectrum would have literally littered our solar system with identifiable signals.

That problem is known as the Fermi Paradox, named after the famous physicist who once calculated the force of a nuclear blast by the distance scraps of paper moved on the floor. The Mac world is in constant state of anticipation for the moment in time Windows users become so fed up that a switch to the Mac on a massive scale is inevitable. But, like the Fermi Paradox, that scenario has had plenty of time to occur and simply hasn’t happened. Hence, expecting a major market shift explained by the inferiority of Windows is something that just isn’t going to happen.

The above seems absolutely contrary to mainstream Mac thinking. Mac fans are convinced, and armed with anecdotal evidence, that the majority of Windows users are suffering so horribly at the hands of the OS that they simply can’t wait for something better to come along. If only, Mac fans reason, Windows users knew how much better the Mac was they would come over to the “good side” of computing.

It is a compelling argument on the surface, chalking up a choice that you don’t agree with to ignorance is always comforting. Not only does the ignorance of others explain why they didn’t make the same choice as you (those freakin’ idiots), it also reassures you that your choice was both well-informed and logical. Unfortunately, the reasoning is horribly flawed.

Turns out that Windows does all that people need the OS to do. Not only that, when people use Windows they are taking no chances: if things go wrong they are just another one of the masses. Think of the frustrations of Windows as a shared experience for the computing masses, the Windows experience is just a form of OS hazing necessary to get into the computing club.

Surely the informed user is a bit different. Those that really understand computers would happily snap up a Mac. Not so. Even informed computer users don’t want to relearn the OS; they’ve spent a considerable amount of time teaching themselves how to be one of the computing L337. Why throw the investment of time away and end up being just another newbie?

The hard truth is, for the Macophile, that most of the people driven away by the sheer vileness of Windows are already using Macs or Linux. Sure, there will always be a trickle of disaffected Windows users and you’ll see their stories highlighted around the web. This may give the impression that there is some mass movement to the Mac owing to Windows suckine a conclusion that only the most desperate of Mac advocates will embrace.

Indeed, if Apple’s recent performance is indicative of anything (last quarter was flat for sales, but Apple did grow market share in the previous year) it is that people move to the Mac not because Windows is seen by some as the computing equivalent of writing your PIN on your ATM card and responding to Nigerian e-mail. Rather, the people switching to the Mac are switching because OS X is, in their estimation, great and comes coupled with solid hardware.

It is much the same with any piece of technology or appliance. If someone’s coffee maker breaks they get another coffee maker, it might by a more expensive model, but it will be a coffee maker all the same. Apple is in position to convince those in the market for a new coffee maker to opt for a cappuccino machine instead. The only way to pull that trick off is by convincing consumers that the Mac isn’t just another computer but a substantially better experience all around. In the end, Apple can’t count on XP or the oft-delayed Vista to sell Macs, the company must simply produce products that would seem great even in the absence of Windows.


  • Finally.  Another Mac user who isn’t claiming switches en-masse with every new innovation from Apple. 

    Many were convinced that the switch to Intel would be the key, then Boot Camp, now very competitively priced MacBooks, and the list goes on and on.

    There will be no switch en masse.  Apple, unless MS kills itself which is not outside the realm of possibility, will always produce niche machines with a market share of 5% or less.  Are Macs better?  Absolutely and without question.  Are they so good, and Windows so bad, that mass groups of people will suddenly wake up from a technological haze and say “I think I’ll switch to a Mac today?”  Not likely.

    e:leaf had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 32
  • The problem with SETI is that we don’t know what we are searching for. There are too many stars and planets, each one is unique, so (if we’re really not alone) all the alien civilizations are very different. Therefore, we don’t know what signal is “intelligent”. We actually don’t know if they use radiowaves. As the only civilization we know about is our civilization we think that aliens look like we do, think like we do and act like we do. We’re searching for “little green men”, our search is “human-centric”. It’s nothing new, actually. When people didn’t know about other “suns” and planets, they thought that the sun revolves around the earth.

    If our world is the “universe” and people are “planets”, then people who use computers are a “galaxy”. And Mac users are a bunch of planets circling around the huge green apple. ;-] Of course they know that other planetary systems exist, so they don’t think that they’re alone (unlike many “PC planets” who don’t know about the “Apple system”). But they’re still searching for “little green men”... ;-]
    There are very many PC users, each one is unique. Everyone of them has a unique set of reasons he’s not interested in the “Apple system”. Some of them just don’t look into the sky, some got used to the gutter they call their home, some just cannot afford the flight to another “planetary system”... ;-]
    Anyway, it’s not a war. We’re just different. No matter who you are, you differ from anyone else…

    Frosty Grin had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 33
  • The switch is definitely on now.  But if you are expecting a deluge any time soon, take a valium and lie down…  If Apple double the Mac market share in the next 12 months, which is quite possible, this will still leave around 90% of users in the Windows camp.

    Business is not switching to Mac - if that happens at all it will be small businesses where the proprietor is using a Mac at home, and only then if there are current Mac versions of business accounting software etc.

    But a Mac at home is now not only desirable, but risk-free.  A lot of people still don’t know this.  I notice that Mac people make a lot of false assumptions about Windows users - the biggest mistake is to assume that a Windows user even KNOWS about Macs.

    Home users are usually not particularly IT literate - browsing and email are often the only applications they use.  I think thats because most of the other apps are too hard to install, and too hard to use.  And perhaps they have better things to do than sit at a computer all the time… But the Mac is a revelation on the ease-of-use front, and the iLife suite is especially easy to use.

    Because Apple is attracting “early adopters”, the Mac is beginning to be seen as a trendy choice.  It used to be that if you said you had a Mac people would sneer.  I notice they don’t do that now - Apple is constantly in the news after all.

    I see only blue sky.  A doubling of marketshare, albeit from a low base, will bring lots of cash into Apple.  Microsoft will find it hard to move quickly against Apple - Vista is not going to be a hit at home if it ties users up in knots for security reasons, and Microsoft really need a brand new o/s now.  So, Apple is going to have the field to itself in some respects.  With a new, efficient, o/s, great applications, gorgeous hardware, well-supported retail outlets, and constant press, I can see Apple making very large inroads into the home user market.

    And say Apple don’t drop the ball, and continues to increase market share.  Let’s say they achieve 10% marketshare (of home users) by mid 2007, and maintain that rate of growth the following year - that will give them nearly 20% marketshare of home users.  That is a big slice of the market - and will make Apple not only a force to be reckoned with, but it will make Apple a valid choice for anyone buying a home computer.

    It is important split the home and office markets to see where Apple is really gaining ground.  Perhaps Apple will tackle the business market again one day - right now they seem happy to leave it to HP, Lenovo, Acer and Dell to fight it out.

    But let’s not get too excited by the numbers.  Apple’s overall marketshare will remain low because business PC’s make up so much of the volume.  But a good strong home marketshare will be a good springboard into business should Apple decide to go that way at some stage.

    Microsoft have reached their apogee - they are on the way down, bedevilled by an arrogant culture, an old, hugely-patched, user-unfriendly operating system, competition from web applications and open source, and an expensive inefficient corporate structure.  Like an oil tanker, they can’t turn around quickly - I predict a long slow death, preceded by a breakup at some point into numerous entities.

    Apple won’t be the major beneficiary here - Europe is moving towards open source, and it is a more viable option every year.  A wholesale adoption by european governments and businesses will make open source a viable option for any business.

    So Apple will grow, but at home not at work, and if Microsoft loses the business PC market, it will be to open source and thin clients running web-based apps.

    sydneystephen had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 124
  • Doubling marketshare by the end of the year? 10% by the end of 2007? That’s almost delusional. Do you realize how much effort that will take? Apple would have to significantly outpace industry growth non-stop for the next 18 months, at a rate they have yet to achieve. They’d have to sell more Macs than they ever have. I think even moving up a percentage point in maretshare (which would be about a 50% increase [using the Gartner worldwide number of 2.3%]) is rather daunting. Remember, if Apple increases sales but not at the pace of the other companies, their share falls (which happened this quarter).

    Plus, Apple users tend to overstate how bad Windows is… Windows isn’t the disaster yet that Slashdot and MacDailyNews tends to present it as. Frankly, if it was, Apple couldn’t keep Macs on the shelves. This is where the phrase Good-Enough earns its paycheck. For the things most people use a computer—text processing, number processing, internet viewing—Windows aquits itself fine. Even for things like connecting to digital cameras or playing MP3s or many of the things Apple promotes in its get-a-Mac campaign, vanilla Windows is still very capable. My Toshiba notebook hasn’t crashed yet. (Neither has my iMac, nor my old homebuilt box, but that’s neither germane to my point.)

    My only issue with the Toshiba is that it probably won’t run Vista as it has the integrated graphics chip that was perfectly acceptable in 2004 when I purchased—and surveying the current notebook market, I’ll be spending the same for Vista compatibility as I would if I was getting a MacBook, so I could go either way on that front…

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 121
  • That’s almost delusional.

    A bit more than “almost.”  Welcome to the world of the Mac user.  As e:leaf points out, every new hiccup in the Mac product line is the new turning point, the one that’s finally going to blow marketshare through the roof.  It never happens and there’s no reason to think it will.

    And another excellent article, Chris.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • SterlingNorth…  You have missed the most important point - I qualified my growth estimates by specifying growth in the HOME USER market only.  I can’t find any splits between business and home users, but I imagine home users make up a much smaller part of the market than business users.  Anyone know what the split is?

    I see Apple doubling their market share OF HOME USERS this year, and then the year after.  Beyond that it is hard to say.  What will this mean in broad market share percentages?  Not sure.  They have around 2.2% altogether now - though what this translates to in HOME USER terms I am not sure.  But a doubling of market share for Apple is a tiny blip in the market as a whole.

    Apple have a nice shiny new product range, the apple stores have proven their worth already in attracting switcher sales - According to Apple, since 2003 45-50% of Apple Store Mac buyers are new to the Apple platform.

    So, guys, (you too BB) re-read my original post and tell me that Apple doesn’t have what it takes to make major inroads with home users…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Jun 06, 2006 Posts: 124
  • Stephen, you have specified the home market, but you have provided no numbers and no reason to believe that the marketshare could even remotely double in a year.  Right now it’s just wishful thinking.

    In fact, if the Apple share of the home market is higher than the overall PC market, it makes it that much harder, not easier, for Apple to double their marketshare.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Well, at the risk of sounding like just another Windows user who’s switching, I’m seriously considering a switch. My situation is slightly different from the “average” user, in that I’m an ASP.NET / Oracle / Sql Server web developer and consultant.

    Thanks to Parallels I plan to run a virtual XP machine with Visual Studio and SQL Server for development, but “live” in OS X for general use. The way I see it I get

    (a) better hardware for a (small) premium (I’m replacing a Dell laptop, and we’re only talking £150 or so for a MacBook over the equivilant Dell)

    (b) a better OS to “live” in.

    (c) the ability to test my web applications on all major platforms (the only way to test in Safari is through Mac hardware, to my knowledge)

    (d) something new and cool to play with grin

    As more and more programs are being developed as web applications (c) actually becomes a pretty compelling reason to make the switch for a developer. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out, as I certainly won’t missing “living” in XP, even though I am stuck with it to make a living.

    chrisb46 had this to say on Jun 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • So people are coming to the Mac not because Windows is so bad but because the Mac is so good. Reasonable. I would not compare the Mac to a cappuccino machine over a regular coffee maker though. The Mac is much rather a classic steel-mesh-filter coffee maker. Much simpler to operate, much better results.

    I also think “the community” should finally stop being so fixated on marketshare. Marketshare is not important. In fact low marketshare helps Apple to maintain its level of quality. Of course, epidemic spread of Mac-usage would raise general happiness & make the world a better place, and I applaud all the idealism behind that idea. Yet it is undoubtly the case that the majority of people just does not care. In that case, fixation on numbers do not help anyone.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Jun 07, 2006 Posts: 371
  • Bad Beaver, I agree.

    I think that Mac sales are probably more independent from industry trends than other companies are. The mac market is sort of one unto itself: many (the majority?) of its users are not at all interested in other options as there aren’t any direct alternatives. That is, a windows user’s choices between rival PC companies are orders of magnitude more fickle than the choice an apple user makes between Mac/Windows.
    And this is still the case even though macs now use mainstream processors and are directly performance-comparable, though BootCamp is ~BRIDGING THE DIVIDE~ in one direction.

    Benji had this to say on Jun 07, 2006 Posts: 927
  • I also think “the community” should finally stop being so fixated on marketshare.


    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Using the lemming theory to say why Windows users use Windows is self-delusional.  Also, I have worked supporting PCs and Macs for over 10 years and to say that Macs do not have the same types of issues that Windows based PCs do is equally self-delusional.

    Windows users use Windows PCs because they are cheaper than comparable Macs and there are more applications available to them.  The reasons for both of those are the business approaches that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates took selling their products.  Jobs thought he could charge developers for tools and licenses to develop on “his” computers (hardware) and software (OS).  Bill Gates didn’t have control of the hardware and for the software Microsoft gave away tools to developers to develop applications on Windows. 

    Hmm, wonder why there are more apps for Windows?  Hmm, wonder why there are more PCs and PC manufacturers out there and therefore prices are lower?  Yep, must be all those stupid Windows users don’t know a good thing when they see it.

    Richdoode had this to say on Jun 01, 2007 Posts: 1
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