The Mac user: Loyalty über alles

In this new weekly column, SunSpot explores the farthest reaches of the world of Macintosh users

Daring to be an Apple Computer Inc. devotee in a world dominated by Microsoft Corp.’s Windows may seem quixotic, but just about any Macintosh user will tell you that despite some disadvantages, they’d never turn to the "dark side."

So why choose Apple? And why are Mac users so incredibly loyal?

It doesn’t seem to add up. Apple’s share of the computer market hovers around 3 percent to 5 percent, with nearly all of the remainder using Windows.

The total number of Mac users worldwide is estimated at 25 million, dwarfed by the hundreds of millions using Windows.

Critics point out that Macs cost more than Windows PCs, have slower processors, run far fewer programs and aren’t compatible with industry standards.

Technology "experts" periodically predict Apple’s imminent death.

But Mac users tirelessly combat these perceptions, which aren’t as black and white as they seem. They maintain that, while Macs may cost more, they usually last longer; that processor speed isn’t necessarily the most important feature of a computer; that Macs interact with Windows PCs far better today than they did 10 or even five years ago; that almost any software the average user might need is available for the Mac.

Most Windows users can’t figure out the extraordinary affection Mac folks have for their computers; in the Windows world, the prevailing attitudes toward computers tend to be indifference, if not irritation.

While a few bona fide Mac-haters exist in the PC world, the typical owner of a Windows PC considers the Mac a nice-looking computer suited mainly for schoolchildren and artists.

Mac users, on the other hand, consider Microsoft in general, and its Windows product specifically, as an evil that must be fought. To bring a Windows user over to the Mac camp is akin to saving their silicon soul.

What is it about Macs that elicits such sentiments? As a Mac user myself for the past decade, I offer these reasons:

  • First, there’s a conviction that Mac is a better-integrated, more intuitive computer -- partly because of Apple’s attention to detail and in part because Apple makes both the hardware and the software. This results in easier-to-use machines with fewer conflicts than their Windows counterparts.

  • Second, there’s the siege-mentality factor. With such a large percentage of the world dismissing Macs, belittling them or just ignoring them, Mac users feel compelled to join forces to defend themselves.

  • Third, there’s definitely a cachet to being in a group that refuses to conform to the "standard." Apple even capitalized on this concept with its four-year "Think Different" advertising campaign that just ended this summer.

  • Finally, there’s the friendly "Mac community," a loose term that describes the camaraderie between Mac fans everywhere. Mac users form an instant bond with one another, wherever they meet: at work, at a cocktail party or, most typically, on the Internet.

    For a platform seemingly so tiny relative to Windows, there are a staggering number of Web sites devoted to the Macintosh -- dozens and dozens.

    Some are devoted to general news and commentary, some to rumors, some to troubleshooting, some to games, others to specific types of Macs (yes, there’s even a site devoted to the short-lived Cube , discontinued less than a year after shipping began), and several to the new operating system, Mac OS X.

    The so-called "Mac Web" provides a virtual meeting place to exchange information, to get advice and to vent anger over a range of Mac-related issues.

    Many sites sponsor forums where users can ask one another for help or post observations. I’m always amazed at the depth of knowledge in these forums. It’s often a better way to find an answer than consulting Apple’s own online Knowledge Base.

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