For as long as Apple has been in business it has strived to be exclusive and cultish. It has been happy to have a solid place in a small percentage of the computer world with devoted followers who believed; and still do, that Apple can do no wrong. It didn’t want to deal with Grandma, Auntie May and Cousin JoeBob or the rest of the great unwashed masses.
Then with the return of Steve Jobs, the iMac and iPod an interesting thing happened – the world began to discover Apple. Cousin JoeBob was buying iPods for his kids because they had to be cool. Auntie May was learning how to make playlists and enjoy taking her music where ever she went. All of a sudden the great unwashed masses were arriving on the shores of AppleLand and buying into the whole “it just works” marketing.
During this period Microsoft was fighting off the hounds of the DoJ and rival companies seeking to limit the company’s reach. Along with this they where having to deal with new technologies and information access that they didn’t necessarily have a lock on. The landscape was changing for them as well. Operating system needs were; and still are, changing as were the users desire for something more than just plain vanilla boxes with battleship gray colored applications.
So we saw the introduction of XP and the beginning of the trend of eye-candy for eye-candy sake. While the boxes may not have changed the systems and programs that ran on them began to show life. The unfortunate part of this is that along with this came incredible bloat and inconsistent user experiences which didn’t settle down until at least the second service pack for XP.
Throughout all this Apple was slowly making improvements through a series of feline iterations of OS X adding real eye-candy as well as actually improving the user experience without apparently adding the same kind of bloat factor. Along with that they were marketing some of the nicest looking computers seen to date. Put an Apple along side a PC desktop was like putting a high class model alongside an 80 year old spinster. No wonder people in general were questioning their reliance on the PC and Microsoft.
In the last year pretty well this has all come to head with the release of Vista which contrary to the marketing WOW, was far from it. A lot of people were rightly beginning to feel gouged and getting nothing of real value in return. On the other hand Apple brought the iPhone into the world and whether they have truly changed the mobile market forever is debatable, the fact is they are now a major force to deal with in that market.
Then came Leopard, the newest version of OS X and the version many believed out WOW’ed Vista hands down. For the first time in Apple’s history an OS X release was getting press far beyond its usual cult base. Blogs were talking about it and as a result the mainstream media started talking more about it especially considering the overwhelming success of the iPod and now the iPhone.
Talk of switching to a Mac was becoming more than just talk. The great unwashed masses were discovering that maybe switching to a Mac wouldn’t be as painful as they thought considering things like Parallels and Bootcamp would allow them to still work in Windows if needed. Suddenly Grandma could have a really nice looking computer that just worked and Cousin JoeBob’s daughters could show off their cool MacBooks at school.
However there’s a problem when the great unwashed masses decide to start joining the party – they bring problems and inexperience which is something the rather closed world of Mac isn’t use to and to a very large degree dread. As the release date for Leopard was approaching I saw a lot being written about what people; both Mac users and Windows users alike, was going to bring to the table – how it was going to change things like the iPod and iPhone had. Hell even I got bitten by the Leopard fever which hasn’t changed. I would still like to have a MacBook with Leopard on it but the fact was that people’s expectations and hopes were high. After all this was the “it just works” operating system and hardware.
In the aftermath of the release I have been fascinated by the reaction of reported problems being experienced by both Mac diehards and new comers to the platform. When Microsoft releases an OS that has to support hundreds of different hardware configurations from home desktop to enterprise wide upgrades and has problems it is always Microsoft’s fault. Yet when Apple does the same thing with far fewer restrictions placed on it and the users old and new encounter problems it is the user’s fault.
This attitude was more than evident when people like Rob Hyndman, Robert Scoble and Dave Winer write posts about problems they have experienced with Leopard. They get called everything from morons to Microsoft shills even when they quite rightly point out that they are experienced Mac users or have spent more money than I will see in a year on Apple products.
Apple and its devoted cult of users may not want it to happen but I hate to tell you all – the great unwashed mass is heading your way. Mac might only have a small percentage of the desktop or corporate marketplace but given the dissatisfaction with Microsoft that percentage is bound to grow. That growth will be people like Grandma, Auntie May and Cousin JoeBob and they are going to have problems which means they are going to be looking for well intentioned help not moronic quips about their mentality or heritage.
As Apple joins the rest of the real world of regular users it may find its downfall isn’t the price of admission but rather the rabidness and condescension of those that have manned the walls that have surrounded AppleLand. Like the Berlin Wall this one too will topple but it would be better that Apple and its cult followers did the toppling rather than it being forced upon them by the great unwashed masses headed their way.
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