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Articles: Giving Microsoft Users a Break

Much has been said about Mac users being a bit arrogant when it comes to the choice of their operating system. There is a certain amount of truth to it, which is unfortunate when you think about how it actually would be best to “convert” more users to the Mac platform. One hardly gains traction with someone on the other side of an issue by belittling the other viewpoint.

So I might offer the idea that instead of putting up our noses at those who use Windows, Mac users should have a mindset that includes acceptance of the Windows alternative, and an understanding that there is a need for multiple operating systems, and a reason some people pretty much have to use one or the other.

For whatever reason, Microsoft became the dominant player in the desktop OS arena. One could say that part of the reason is that they made themselves more effective and relevant in corporate environments. Indeed, Apple has seemingly given up on that war, and is increasingly turning itself into a consumer product company. Part of that may simply be accepting itself in a certain niche and maximizing that niche… not a bad corporate play. The other part may be that they feel really effective consumer marketing happens when you can make surprise announcements of cool new products… something at odds with the IT world where product road maps are an important part of the equation.

But let’s face it, a whole bunch of people have to use Microsoft in their workplace, and so it can make some sense to use the same system at home. Apple must continue to be that much better to make the decision to use a different OS at home compelling. That’s their challenge, and to an ever-growing number of users, they’re meeting that challenge.

One of the benefits of an open-market economy is to foster competition, which ultimately benefits the consumer with better products. Accordingly, both sides should welcome the competition between Apple and Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Linux. I would no more like to see Apple with 90% of the OS market share than I like Microsoft having it.

For me, Apple has the advantage with cleaner, smoother user-oriented programming. I am frustrated every day when I use Word and Excel, for instance. To me, those are clunky, slow, and buggy products, and I give thanks every day my entire operating system isn’t based on this same company’s products. And now with Excel 2008, they removed the ability to use macros (!). Why Microsoft often chooses to disable certain past features while cramming all that many more into these programs is beyond me. But it’s a good example as to why we need competition. We’re pretty much beholden to Word and Excel as the standards in business. The result is bloated programming with new releases that do little except encourage people to buy only because their old version might not work with the current OS or hardware, or because too many other people are using the new versions that aren’t compatible with the old.

But regardless of the problems, we are still lucky to have such powerful tools available to us at reasonable prices. No longer is the ability to use a computer the fortune of a few. And part of the reason for that is the nature of competition.

So we can be grateful for the competition, and so should even encourage it, which might create a different approach when talking to a Windows user who has been put off by the arrogance of the Mac faithful. There are intelligent reasons to use Windows. I think Apple is quietly addressing that with its “support” of Windows on Intel-based Macs (support being in quotes because they allow it, but don’t really support it like a Dell or HP might) and a focus on the creative side of our lives, where the Mac really shines. Of course being the smaller player, they have to market themselves against the detriments of Windows, and so we have the Mac vs. Windows ads. But then they offset some of the implied arrogance with humor, which I think is a good thing.

In any case, such that any of us would like to be evangelists for a product we feel has superior features, we might do well to remind each other that you rarely “convert” by making the target of your efforts feel defensive about what they use. Instead, understanding that there was some thought or reason given to why they’re using it, pointing out the positives of an alternative product, and keeping the debate from getting personal are all good ideas for making progress to what might be the perfect (or as perfect as we can make it) world: Microsoft and Apple each sharing about 50% of the marketplace with their respective products. If that were to ever happen, and Apple and Microsoft refrained from colluding, I think our computing experiences might have a chance to leap ahead in an order of magnitude.
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