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"Apple Elitism"

Preliminaries: my parents owned a Tandy (I think), then a Mac Classic, followed by a Powerbook 30, then a PowerPC. After the Powerbook, I got my first Packard Bell 386/20 (yeah, whoah!), then a Gateway 2000 133MHz, and finally a home-built 448MHz PC. I grew up with the Mac, switched to the PC as soon as I had the chance. Never was a fan of the interface.

My parents, my uncle, my cousin, and probably many more in my family use Macs. It's important to categorize them as Mac users and not Mac advocates. Reason why is that I'm about to attack the advocates, and if I ever use the phrase "Mac users", it's most likely meant towards the advocates and not users in general.

In 1998, I've written two essays, one regarding Apple and its iMac, and the other speculating about the early stages of the Microsoft anti-trust suit.

A lot has changed since I wrote those essays, including my own stances on the matters.

Information subpoenaed from Redmond shows that Microsoft was supporting sabotage of competing products (reverse engineering DRDOS and having Windows 3.1 recognize MS DOS and not DRDOS, AOL choosing Internet Explorer so they'd get Windows support, pushing Intel around, etc.) and destruction of evidence, among other things.

Any doubts that I had in my original article were removed with the recent evidence that's come up. Couple that with reading more and more about experiences using Windows 95 and 98 on both large scales and small scales (computing labs and individuals, both). Microsoft needs to be checked bigtime. Most importantly, for people like me, it needs to allow better compatibility across versions and needs to be less buggy. This goes for both the OS and software.

I still stand by my position that even though Win95 does indeed suck -- interface, configuration, and so on -- it's still the only operating system out there that lets people do more of what they want to do. Let's face it -- the OS usually is invisible to us, and all we care about is the software running on top of it.

A lot has changed for Apple, too. Its iMac has been wildly successful, selling very well and remaining strong even after a month or two of being available. It's not amazing, but it's good news for Apple. The company's posting good financial stats again.

Look, I'm not even going to get into software and hardware comparisons in this essay -- I've worked that into the ground, as I'm sure non-tech people who read the 'Box have loathed. This Soapbox has little to do with computers themselves, but with the mindset of a computer, its company, and the loyal users.

"For a minority to survive, it seems that it must either see itself as superior to the masses or else inferior (making a plea to human compassion). We have chosen the former. Are you saying that Jobs trying to keep Mac culture alive is a bad thing? (OK, bad question.)"

Karl Knechtel

For a long time, the picture has only involved Windows, when it comes to desktop computers. Apple dropped out a long time ago but remained alive with a fiercely devoted group of users and workers hoping for better days.

But all that time, while Microsoft and Intel were cashing in on the growth of the industry, being there when people made their first baby steps onto the Internet, upgrading their software and hardware to keep up with the trends, Apple advocates seethed with bitterness and resentment towards what they considered a far inferior operating system.

It was not popular to use a Mac, and most Mac users were viewed as simpletons hanging onto a sinking ship. They weren't held in much higher regards than Sega Saturn fans or Newton advocates. However, they still loved their computers and despised having to use anything non-Mac. This is how it was for a long time. Years of wondering just why people continued to use Windows even though it caused them so much frustration, cash, and wasted time.

Steve Jobs came back to Apple awhile ago, straightening out the company by streamlining its product line, killing clone makers, and simplifying the advertising strategy. He also commandeered key software deals with Microsoft and Intuit. He went ahead with the iMac, that bondi-blue computer that many light computer users can't resist.

Jobs got the G3 processor rolling into desktops and laptops, and these chips were actually very good and very competitive with Intel. Buyers were no longer confused with what they needed, since the product line was smaller. The iMac used the G3 processor, offering Apple's cheapest computer aimed at first-time buyers and people who just wanted a simple computer to use. No matter what OS you support, you have to admit this was a very wise decision by Jobs and Apple. Streamlining a company is one of the keys to having a clear goal and a unification of resources and mindsets.

At the same time, Intel and Microsoft were getting more and more heat for the qualities of their products and the methods used to market them. Frustration using Windows and paying for Intel CPUs was increasing rapidly (so much to the point that the Windows advocacy newsgroup now has very little advocacy for Windows indeed). Windows 98 was not a dud in sales, but it offered very little that Windows 95 didn't have. I'm still using Windows 95, even on a new box. The bugs and lack of new features in Windows 98 really hurt Microsoft -- you won't see that in many professional articles, but Microsoft is going to get eaten alive by this in the future. Intel is the same -- its recent products have only been small increases in CPU speed, and very little in the way of large design quality increases. The Pentium II line has been out for a good year now and plans for the future are dim (as I have stated ad nauseam).

Apple came in at the perfect time. It got its marketing system ready to go, flashing those minimalist white-background Volkswagen-esque ads and commercials showing the cute little iMac. It then worked with Byte to benchmark the G3 processor versus the Pentium II processor, and their results somehow ended up with G3 being twice as fast as the Pentium II in integer performance. Mac advocates were ecstatic and everyone else was just stunned.

Yes, of course the study was misleading. Sickeningly misleading. Apple used this study as its springboard back into the market, and everyone bought into it. People still use it as evidence. Research into the study showed that the compiler for the Pentium II was old and outdated, compiled for a 486 computer and not a Pentium. Also, the benchmark was shown to be incomplete in full system performance. Studies now show G3 vs. Pentium to be a much closer race, each processor succeeding in different areas.

But what's important here is the path Apple took. It was sitting on a great processor, with what all Mac users consider to be a superior hardware system with the best software installed on top of it. Apple could not resist the dirty advertising tricks, and went ahead with its blatantly misleading benchmarks. I do not discount the benchmarks completely -- I just think that the two processors are realistically about the same at this point. Apple, sitting on a "superior" product, went dirty.

With Apple's success and return of vigor came back this notion of "Mac elitism" which had been filed away under 'Hangers-on' for years. Elitism breeds in areas which are not part of the popular culture. You see it in classics departments, UNIX labs, and underground music in particular. It involves the idea of the "rebel", that by diverging from the path of the mindless person and exploring, experimenting one's way into a product or style that few others have appreciated, one is suddenly more informed and better than others. The "sheep mentality" is how popular culture is described, and is used most often now in describing all Windows users. I do not exaggerate when I say "all Windows users". Elitists look down at other people, in an effort to justify their lack of acceptance from the popular crowd.

Apple elitism, yes. It started, recently, with Apple itself. The company rekindled the fires. "Think different," said the ads, showing closeups of such innovators and important people like Gandhi, Picasso, and even Rosa Parks.

"However, there is no real connection between Gandhi, Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King Jr.'s achievements and the Apple brand. Apple is trying to make an association between personal convictions, integrity, rebellion, and... the purchase of Apple hardware. Let's face it -- at their best, Apple computers are just well-made consumer items. I would define "vulgarity" as reducing the personal sacrifices that it take to challenge society, down to Coke vs. Pepsi.

"It seems like our culture is just going beyond satire. Rosa Parks as product pitchwoman; would have been a joke a decade ago. Today, it's like people aren't even able to distinguish their relationships to corporate brands and real life.

"Come to think of it, if Apple was really trying to show how radical they were, they could have chosen more controversial figures. Approving Picasso is not exactly shocking anymore. Where's the Mapplethorpe "Think Different" ad?"

Neil Kandalgaonkar

The idea behind the ads was that if these famous people who changed so much during their lives were still alive, they would be the types of people who use Macs. Cool advertising strategy, no? The ads were great: black and white photos with a simple Apple logo and the "Think different." selling phrase.

I didn't expect Mac users to rally behind these ads and actually use them as evidence as why the Macintosh is superior. But I was wrong. Contributing to the Mac advocacy newsgroup (which is where my quotes are coming from -- Usenet posts), I saw firsthand that people bought into this advertising. Whatever Apple said became law. I seriously DO like the ads, but they are JUST ads, not fact.

Apple has on its site a section which lists famous living celebrities and authors and scientists who use a Macintosh. Among the people listed are Sarah Michelle Gellar, Douglas Adams, Muhammad Ali, and Tom Clancy (whose game, Rainbow 6, ironically, will not be ported to Macintosh).

"Foh foh foh. Oh Luis, that Resikeio silk tie does NOT go with the Allen-Edmond slipons. And did you SEE that Windows 98 sales are still going up internationally? What fools these mortals be!"

"Ooh, I love it when you quote Shakespeare."

I can see it now.

Apple is making it very clear that it considers who uses its systems to be very important. I concede that Apple needs to show itself as a credible computer company so that people will even consider leaving the Wintel platform. But this whole notion that only creative and inspiring people use the Macintosh, coming from Apple itself, makes me nauseous. Physically disgusted.

Apple is beating us over the head with its accommodation for creative minds, and Mac advocates are deriding and insulting anyone who uses a Windows system. Anyone who uses a Windows-based system must be a buffoon, you would think. Acceptance in the xenophobic Macintosh crowd means full subservience the MacOS.

Apple sets users apart: intelligent people use the Mac and stupid followers use Windows. Advocates will talk to you until they're blue in the face about how none of this is true, but it's all right there, it's all coming from Apple, and you can fucking smell the elitism wafting off Mac advocates.

So what Apple needs to do now is add new users as well as Wintel users to its platform. Do you see any problems with the way it's going about this?

You do not insult your potential customers.

Windows users are sitting on this side of the fence looking over at Apple (if they care at all) and wondering just why they should even think about switching. What you hear from Mac users is how much your system sucks, about how your computer can't even make it to the desktop, about how unproductive it is.

You're lucky if advocates stop before they get into ad hominem attacks. They'll tell you you are foolish and stupid, ready to throw your money into anything if you're told that it's good. You are not good enough to use a superior system like a Macintosh, and you are not wanted by the Mac community.

"The _problem_ with this, is that Mac users were too arrogant early on, when the technological advantages enjoyed by the mac, were basically overwhelming, they acted egotistical. I know I fell into that once or twice. What's more, part of the whole thing about having a Mac is that "elite" mentality; of being somewhat better than the unwashed who own "those WinTel things *sniff*". We have to lose that. It's bullsh*t."

Neil Kandalgaonkar

What's obvious to most Windows users is that none of these claims by Mac people seem to apply to their own experience. Yes, even I will admit that Windows runs into a lot of weird errors that sometimes even fix themselves given enough reboots, but Windows DOES work, and it runs applications extremely well, and it supports a lot of hardware and software. Most people don't consider themselves stupid (it's sad to see someone who does) and to have these arrogant people telling them how ignorant they are for not using a small 80's OS is just ridiculous to them.

The Mac philosophy will not work if Apple is going to become mainstream again.

The iMac sold itself. All the advocacy that Apple and Mac fans put up for everyone to see did not sell that damn computer. It wasn't even the G3 processor running two times as fast as the Pentium. No one seriously believed that shit except Mac users. The iMac sold because it's a different look, because it fits in a tiny box with few cables and easy portability. It's powerful enough for most users and it's advertised as a great Internet machine. That's exactly what people who don't use computers often wanted to hear. A simple computer that makes everything easy? Wow!

Somewhere out there, Mac advocates are taking credit for the iMac's success. "We told you so," they claim. If they knew, they sure argued for its success with the wrong reasons.

Are you looking to buy your first Macintosh? Are you switching from a PC? Do you think that you'll be welcomed into a fun collective community? Guess what? Mac advocates do not care about you, even though their whole argument is based around the "we love the regular Joe and here's the computer for them" idea. To them, you are just a statistic to use as ammo against the PC. To them, you are the sheep who strayed from the flock, the one who is prepared to accept enlightenment. This attitude runs rampant amongst the hardcore Mac advocates.

Even after reading so many posts in the Mac advocacy group, I cannot swallow how much advocates buy into what Apple tells them. Often, the lingo and phrasing even MATCHES the bloody press reports on Apple's site. Whatever Apple says, Mac users believe. And unfortunately, Apple is deceptive. Any articles on any magazine or newspaper sites showing any hint of negativity towards Apple are shunned by Mac advocates, and I think I've seen just about every newspaper blacklisted by advocates since I started reading the newsgroup. That leaves some people with reading...well...National Enquirer and MacWorld.

Mac advocates seriously consider themselves as the people who rode it out through the storm, the people who really deserve all the credit for their loyalty. They consider themselves to have a sort of James Dean rebel attitude, people who shun mainstream crap because they have taste (ironically, they write Linux and other small OSs off as useless crap with no support -- sound familiar?). They see themselves as the defenders of competition, fighting the big boys, Microsoft and Intel. They try to stand on high moral ground.

They deny any truth in the 90% of people using PCs statistic. It's all attributed to stupid people and monopolists.

They are convinced that Windows does not work at all. Any time they touch a PC, it crashes. No credit is given to the system or the companies that make them, because of the companies' reputations.

It never ends. Granted, many PC advocates are just as unfair towards the Mac. But for the most part, most PC people don't even care about Mac. It doesn't want them and they don't want it.

Another key step in Apple's future is reintroducing clones. Some Mac advocates do not feel as though cloning will work, since it didn't work for Apple before. Mac advocates believe in the closed system, a world in which Apple controls what goes out to users. Even though the PC industry has thrived off of dozens of hardware manufacturers just for each separate piece of hardware, Apple and its fans don't see any use in it. Apple has what is essentially a monopoly without the leverage. Yes, it's a different monopoly than Microsoft's, but it is a monopoly anyway. There is no competition for the G3 processor, or for the MacOS. Somehow, the preaching for an open market with plenty of competition does not make it into the Apple side, in the minds of Mac advocates. Impeccable logic.

Apple needs to allow cloning. Dell, Micron, Compaq, Gateway, Packard Bell, Acer, and other companies all sell PC clones, all with very large product lines and wide ranges of products. These companies are overall doing extremely well. Apple can barely keep up with the demand (yes, that's good) for its systems, and cloning would help alleviate these pressures.

"My perspective, however is not law based, but user based. While I wasn't happy with the bleating of disingenuous evangelizing that such a bitching platform should not equate with Apple losing market share, it's clear to me that an elitist entity such as Apple can only lose market share when it remains a closed behemoth. This short-lived flirtation with cloning only reinforces in me the perception of Apple as the tiresome little princess who won't become an adult.

"Now with the inexplicable return of Steve Jobs, things will only get worse, I'm afraid. While the inexcusable expensiveness of anything Apple created a false sense of security among the evangelists, in my opinion, it's the perverseness of Steve Jobs the maniac which will help propel Apple to another dark period of closed-mindedness and even higher prices than ever before.

"I am very disturbed by the impudent elitism of Steve Jobs, who while masquerading as the worker's kind of guy, by bashing the perks that the suits got, deftly tightens the noose around the rest of us with the imminent lack of choice. We see what you're doing! If nothing else, it's un-American, not that should really matter to me, a naturalized American. Nevertheless, the utter communism that reeks out of Apple and Steve Jobs right now makes me content to hunker down with my beloved 840av and stay there. I've just about completed my gamma-testing of all the pre-PPC software that I own."

Vladimir Vooss

Cloning allows for greater competition within the market and cheaper prices for everyone. PCs have benefitted from this for years. As much talk as there is going into the monopolies present on the PC, you get a much cheaper system with arguably more variety.

Will Apple open up to cloning? It has to, and I've seen rumors that it will. But I can't be too sure. Apple and its fans seem to like how things are going.

Even if Apple opens up to cloning, it still needs to reconcile with the clone makers that it cut off awhile ago. Would you strike another deal with Apple after it pushed you out the door? I certainly wouldn't. Apple has treated so many people poorly, that even with all the shit that is prevalent on the PC, people still prefer it to the attitude Apple has.

Apple needs developers. I admit that many quality PC software titles started out on the Mac, like Photoshop. All the Apple products I've used on my PC are of very high quality. But many developers STILL aren't looking at Apple for any of their support, and Macs are lucky to have games like Quake and Unreal at ALL. id Software is not going to be porting Quake 2, currently the hottest game on the 'Net (still). id Software doesn't care about the Mac, and neither do a whole bunch of other companies.

Maybe it's partly because of the attitude of Mac users towards games. I have actually seen people questioning the need for games. "We're too busy being productive and making something of our lives to play games." So obviously, Windows users are slackers who waste their lives away while Mac people are the ones who are pushing human progress. This seems more like a defensive reaction than a practical one. Games are pushing computers faster and faster -- you think spreadsheets are the reason why? -- and they're providing jobs to a lot of innovative, creative programmer/designer upstarts. I was even told that the educational system is failing because kids are playing computer games instead of reading books. Guess how old this person was? Not from my generation. Games are much more interactive than books as far as contributive efforts go. They're where people are putting their minds these days. Just for the record, most of the books published these days are slop, so don't give me that "books send you to a higher level" bullshit. Playing games and reading are not exclusive to each other -- in fact, they're both necessary for the feeding of human curiosity.

So let's sum up (I know you want to be done with this). Apple is a company on the rebound, but it's held down by its 80's notions. It is a platform which is content with pointing out the flaws in Wintel systems instead of advertising what IS a great system on its own merit. The Mac IS a great product if you prefer it. It's becoming more competitive these days. It's slowly getting more of what users want. The Mac, however, is competing with a PC market that is completely turned off by the elitism Mac users and Apple throw every day. The Apple community is acting juvenile, winning few friends and making more enemies.

Apple has a lot of apologizing to do, and a lot of growing up to do, before it becomes widely accepted again.

The PC market, on the other hand, does not see Apple as a credible competitor yet, and won't for at least three more quarters (and probably more). Even though Intel and Microsoft are on the outs, people are not going to be turning to Mac as much as some think. The upcoming OS is not MacOS, but Linux. The free OS, along with UNIX. Once it gets some developers going for it, it'll start flying. It does not have anywhere near the degree of elitism that the Mac has, partly because many Linux systems dual boot between Linux and some flavor of Windows.

I'm installing RedHat 5.1 soon. How about you?

I personally cannot stand Apple right now, even though I think its latest systems show REAL promise towards being the dominant computers of the future. It has no shame in its advertising and it's shunning new users while at the same time trying to embrace them. It's disgusting. I do not use my damn computer to fight a moral battle (which Apple has clearly dropped anyway) -- I use it to be productive. And, believe it or not, whichever system you LIKE using will be the most productive for you. Don't let people tell you how YOU work best.

The Macintosh: it's more expensive because the attitude comes bundled with it.

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