Wall Writings – My Mac Magazine #52, Aug. ’99

“Mac Advocacy, or Counterproductivity?”

I had an interesting conversation with my girlfriend the other day. She told me her family is considering buying a new computer because their old ‘386 running Windows 3.11 just isn’t doing the job anymore. Since she knew that I’m a bit of a computer geek, and a computer science major in college, she gave me an advance invitation to go shopping with them and offer advice. But before I could even begin thinking about the chance for a little Macintosh evangelism, she told me, “As long as you promise to pick out a good Windows computer, and not an iMac or something.” (Just like a mind reader, a case may be made that my girlfriend knows me a little too well! 🙂

Of course, this led to a discussion about the differences between Windows and Macintosh. I tried all of the usual “trump cards” that I use when defending the Mac OS, including:

1. Apple updates their Operating System with bug fixes and new features regularly, and often offers these updates for free (or at least discounted) to users of the previous OS. You don’t have to wait three years for the next version to come along and fix a longstanding bug, and then have to pay over a hundred dollars for it.

2. Installing, deleting, or moving around software applications won’t cause your shortcuts, aliases, favorites, and System software to go haywire. And if an alias on the Mac OS does break, it’s very easy to fix.

3. Adding peripherals like hard drives, scanners, external modems, printers, speakers, and video cards is truly a plug-and-play experience. This is surely not the case for Windows computers, with all of their device driver conflicts and the like, no matter what Microsoft would like you to believe.

I had several other points, too, but it was three that my girlfriend took and threw back in my face. It was a very eye-opening counterattack. It went something like this:

“To me, what you’re saying is that Apple computers are best suited to computer geeks. People who LIKE updating their operating system, installing and trying out new software, tinkering around inside their computer with RAM and hard drive upgrades, and adding a ton of peripherals. My family doesn’t care to do all that. They want a computer, a modem, and a printer, and they want to set it up and install software one time, and then use the computer without ever having to worry about updating anything or buying anything new ever again.”

About that time, I had just realized the error in my arguments, but it was too late. Just as I was about to extol the virtues of the iMac in that category, I was shot down with:

“And sure, you can do that with a Mac, too–no one says you HAVE to update stuff just because Apple lets you. But, then the Mac starts to lose its appeal. If you’re just talking about taking a computer out of the box, setting it up once, and then using it, things are about equal between Windows and Mac, right? I mean, didn’t you even say that Macworld ran a test in one of their issues a couple months ago and found that the iMac and a Gateway computer tied in that respect?”

Ouch. That was a tough one to fight. At least, it was tough to fight given the arguments that I had previously presented. Going back on them now, and saying how easy the iMac was to maintain without updating or adding anything, would definitely lend a touch of dualism and hypocrisy to my earlier “easy to update and expand” argument. (“So, what you’re saying is that this computer is easy to update and expand, but you never need to? What’s the point, then?”)

I lost the argument that day, but you can rest assured the discussion will come up again; I refuse to lose that easily! I did learn a valuable lesson in Macintosh advocacy, though. Namely, when arguing persuasively for the Mac, you have to point out the features and advantages the Mac has that will appeal to the crowd you’re trying to persuade, and not features that will drive them away or scare them. Professional and business users will appreciate the fact that Apple’s computers are powerful, easy to maintain, update, and expand, and have cutting-edge technical specs. Tell those same points to a family or mainstream consumer, though, and you’ll probably end up scaring, confusing, or intimidating them. Likewise, saying that the iMac is easy to set up, will be on the Internet in less than ten minutes, and won’t need to be updated will appeal to the consumers and families out there, but the professional will be unimpressed and more concerned with how much muscle and upgradability their computer will have. The Mac has advantages over Wintel machines in all of these areas; it’s just a matter of knowing what buttons to push with a particular potential Mac buyer.

Apple is doing a superb job of this in their commercials and print ads. The power and easy expandability (can you say “hinged door?”) of the blue and white G3 towers has been highly touted by Apple, but ads for the iMac focus on their style, looks, and simplicity. After being looked down upon and criticized for their mediocre ad campaigns for so long, Apple appears to have gotten a handle on how to advertise to their target audiences–and WHAT to advertise. Up until just recently, they obviously had a better grasp of this than a certain college-aged Mac-advocating columnist, who shall remain nameless.

The point is, even though Apple is doing a fantastic job with their current ad campaigns, they still need their tub-thumping loyal fans to help them out. But, as Mac advocates, we should be sure we’re helping Apple out by giving the right arguments to the right people, or else our good intentions may end up hurting our favorite fruit company more than we realize. Before you begin to point out certain advantages of the Macintosh, make sure you know who you’re talking to and what their interests are. By doing that, you’ll be able to point out the right combination of features that’ll make the Mac sound like an offer they can’t refuse!

Mike Wallinga

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