Apple Snow Leopard: why don’t we all use Macs?

Last Friday I attended Apple’s press briefing for Snow Leopard, and I’ll be a Mac (mostly) for the next few days as I put OS 10.6 through its paces. For as long as I can remember, I’ve set up my desktop so that I can easily switch between Mac and Windows, so it is no great hardship.

Snow Leopard is a relatively low-key release, timed by accident or design to appear not long before Windows 7 makes its full public debut in October – though many IT professionals are already using the final build. In the unlikely event that you’ve missed the many reports, the headline new features are:

  • Many small refinements and speed improvements
  • Major applications re-written in 64-bit
  • Grand Central Dispatch – OS-level support for easier concurrent programming
  • OpenCL – standard means of using the GPU (graphics processing unit) for general processing, not just graphics
  • Exchange support in Mail, iCal and Address Book

The Exchange support is welcome, though unfortunately it is limited to Exchange 2007. It was already possible to access Exchange in Mail, though the older support (which still exists for pre-2007 Exchange) was based on IMAP, whereas the new support is based on Exchange web services and has richer features.

I use Exchange 2007, and found it easy to set up my account in Mail. Unfortunately I’m missing some Outlook features, such as the ability to choose a different Sender  address, and I’ve found it prone to a few mysterious pauses –  once it went into a sulk for over a minute when I marked a message as junk – but this might be a problem with Exchange web services rather than Mail, who knows? I also have some public folders which appear to be inaccessible from Mail or iCal. Then again – Entourage isn’t as flexible as Outlook either.

Still, I  expect the Exchange support will be good enough for many users, and this will make it easier to integrate Macs into Windows-based networks.

So, here’s a thought experiment. Let’s make an assumption:

  • Most people prefer the Mac operating system over Windows, and prefer the Mac hardware over most PC or laptop hardware.

If that is the case, why do we not all use Macs?  There’s a host of reasons which come to mind, starting with price. I looked at macwarehouse.co.uk and pcworld.co.uk, which are owned by the same group. The cheapest Mac I can find (Mac Mini + keyboard, mouse and display) is currently £536.96, vs £260.86 for a PC; and the cheapest laptop is £645.99 + VAT for a MacBook vs £216.52 for a cheapie PC laptop with Vista Basic. These differences are not small.

Note I am not saying that the Mac is poorer value; that is an entirely different argument.

A second big issue is application compatibility. Although there is no problem that cannot be solved with finding alternatives, or dual boot, or a virtual machine, it is all friction that impedes Mac acceptance.

Third, there is the greater manageability of Windows in a corporate environment based on Windows. This is a form of incumbent advantage, which is hard to break unless the incumbent messes up badly. Arguably Microsoft has messed up badly, though less in the business context than in the consumer context, and Windows 7 will pull back some lost ground.

The above leads me to believe that Snow Leopard is not likely to change the status quo significantly – understanding that the status quo is that Apple is gradually increasing its market share – even granting the assumption I made, which is somewhat controversial. On balance, I consider it more likely that Windows 7 will stem the flow towards Apple, though without a high degree of confidence.

More significant than either factor is the continuing migration towards the Internet. In this respect I’ve argued that Apple is like Microsoft. The Internet is a great leveller; it will reduce the friction of changing operating systems (helping Apple) but also make Apple’s UI advantage less noticeable (helping Windows/Linux/Google), and make it harder to sell expensive desktop software (Microsoft is the bigger loser here I think).

It’s fun to speculate; but I must add that so far Snow Leopard has been a pleasure to install and use. Technically, Apple hasn’t missed a beat with OS X since the first release, and that’s an impressive achievement.

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13 comments to Apple Snow Leopard: why don’t we all use Macs?

  • Martin

    Hi,

    I think it is a pretty big assumption that

    “Most people prefer the Mac operating system over Windows, and prefer the Mac hardware over most PC or laptop hardware.”

    I know quite a few people who complain that don’t want the pc to become more “Mac like” as they prefer the way the pc does things.

    Also when it comes to hardware a lot of people prefer choice as to what they can use and buy.

    Just because the media has fallen “in love” does not mean that is true of the majority of people.

  • tim

    I know quite a few people who complain that don’t want the pc to become more “Mac like” as they prefer the way the pc does things.

    That’s true, and there are things I prefer about the PC – though the issues about choice etc, while important, aren’t what I was getting at here.

    An interesting question would be: how much of that preference is simply due to familiarity, and would go away after an extended trial?

    It must be significant that more people switch PC to Mac than vice versa, as far as I’m aware.

    Tim

  • 1. Inertia
    2. But mostly the fact that most desktops are bought by employers (see 1).

    FWIW we used PCs seemingly since Adam was a lad in our business but moved to Macs three years ago. It’s been a delight and a revelation.

  • …and we’ve just ditched MS Entourage for Mac Mail…and it’s working just fine with our hosted Exchange server. Launches much, much quicker, syncs much, much faster, takes up much less space.

    Can’t fully express the joy I feel at being able to wrench loose another Microsoft tentacle from my around my throat.

  • I work with Windows all day for a living and use Macs at home. In my experience, both offer similar levels of reliability and functionality but there is a huge amount of fanboy hype that often shows Apple PCs in a positive light. Once you get under the surface (listen to a few Mac podcasts) you’ll hear that Macs sometimes have problems too.

    Much of the resistence to Windows becoming more “Mac-like” relates to the concept of simple vs. easy – i.e. “simplicification” does not always make it easy to acheive what one set out to do.

  • tim

    @Mark another factor here is that you have admin skills. Many of the “problems with Windows” aren’t seen by you or I, because we’ve learned how to avoid them or solve them without a second thought. The Mac is better in this respect, if only because it comes pre-packaged by Apple, not by an OEM with mixed motives.

    Tim

  • I find the whole “why do you like a given OS” an interesting argument, as I can never really explain why I still prefer Windows.

    I come from an Amiga OS background which had a lot similarities with Mac OS back then. It was basically the poor mans Mac IMO.

    I eventually made the switch to a Windows 95 PC as Amiga was a dead platform. I built it myself using junk parts. I had used Win 3.1 at school and training centers but never owned a PC at the time.

    I have had minimal contact with Mac OS and so never really fell in love with it. Perhaps that is the only reason why.

    The thing where it gets complicated however is when I eventually made the switch to Linux as my primary OS. I have been using it for over a year as my primary desktop (much longer as a router/server) and yet, I still prefer Windows.

    So IS IT familiarity? I am pretty comfortable with the command line and find it quicker to do plenty of things, yet Windows still wins hands down when it comes to ease of use even though I am a power user.

    In many ways I wish I could spend some time with a Mac to get the feel for it. But I cannot help thinking anything a Mac can do I can do Windows cheaper. I always build PCs from scratch upgrading a part at a time, which is probably a big factor in why Windows wins hand down every time. Yet its the same thing that causes people to perceive Windows as less reliable, due to bad drivers because anyone and everyone releases hardware for Windows PCs even if they are totally unskilled at writing the drivers for it.

  • tim

    @alex

    But I cannot help thinking anything a Mac can do I can do Windows cheaper.

    Broadly true IME.

    Tim

  • Clyde Davies

    why don’t we all use Macs?

    Next time you’re in the Nottingham Broadway arts and media centre, go into the cafe/bar and take a look at the kind of people posing with their MacBooks. Then think about whether you need to ask that question again.

  • lol @Clyde

    I think price is a big issue, that said the resale value of second hand Macs is much higher than PCs so that needs to be factored in.

    As a dev I like the VM route, I can create a ‘clean’ XP install, clone it, install whatever I need and always go back to my clean install or run separate VMs with separate software on. OS X gives me that with *useable* performance.

    Running windows VMs on windows seems very poor, even with 4gb of RAM. Now I could of course do that with Linux but I think OS X is that bit friendlier and of course if you want to do any iphone development (as I do) then you have to have XCode/Interface Builder.

    Gary

  • Clyde Davies

    Seriosuly now…I think also that apart from the price of the hardware, you also had to pay for updates to the OS. Effectively you were forking out each time for a service pack.

    Also, even though the underlying OS is undoubtedly stable and well-engineered, I’m not so sure about how the application software itself measures up to Windows applications for reliability.

    Don’t get me wrong: I quite like Macs. I just don’t care much for the rabid fans.

  • mas528

    Speaking as a corporate sysadmin who’s inertia is hurting mac acceptance, I can think af a few reasons.

    The VPN does not support pptp properly.

    Samba sees windows shares fine in unix, but in the gui, files disappear randomly.
    Not to mention the garbage files that are created in any writable share.

    Now we’re dealing with the flaky “support” for exchange in 10.6.

    Right now, we’re back to imap and RDP for outlook.

    I almost feel sorry for apple.

    When the vpn problem showed up, we called enterprise support.
    They wanted $700 for something that should have worked out of the box.

    It was cheaper to buy a third party vpn client that was programmed correctly in the first place.

    The mac is simply not enterprise ready.

    It takes a lot of work to make “the os that just works” actually work.
    Of course mac fan kiddies think we should pay a lot of extra money for software that doesn’t work.

  • I would say better than windows.

    Why? Simply because an application is packaged into a single file (like a CAB or ZIP archive) and all of the resources and dependancies for the main program are there. Compare to windows where DLLs (and in the old days OCX files and COM objects) were scattered across the drive, place in system and system32 (and possibly overwriting what was there with different versions) and you have a recipe for disaster. In fact the very reason windows becomes clogged over time is because of installs/removals of apps, the OS itself is pretty good its just the deployemnt architecture which is poor but I know this is something M$ have been improving over time.

    Gary