g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.



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Saturday, August 1, 2009
06:54 - Well, I'll be switched

(top)
Part of John Gruber's much-linked-and-discussed recent treatise on Microsoft's declining fortunes of late (and its followups) has to do with whether Windows 7 will cause people to switch back to Windows from the Mac.

But which to choose as the primary platform? Many chose one, many chose the other. But it was an interesting test group, because they were exposed to both platforms. These web developers were not like the people who, in a form of tribalism, claim to despise one or other other platform without having actually used it. Web developers had to know both the Mac and Windows, at least with passing familiarity, and the truth is that many, if not most, preferred Windows.

Today that is simply no longer the case. Microsoft has lost all but a sliver of this entire market. People who love computers overwhelmingly prefer to use a Mac today. Microsoft’s core problem is that they have lost the hearts of computer enthusiasts. Regular people don’t think about their choice of computer platform in detail and with passion like nerds do because, duh, they are not nerds. But nerds are leading indicators.

This is true in many markets with broad appeal, not just computers. Microsoft is looking ever more so like the digital equivalent of General Motors. Car enthusiasts lost interest in GM’s cars long before regular people did; the same is happening with Windows.

Or consider cameras. Companies like Canon and Nikon make most of their money from consumer-level point-and-shoot cameras. But they are intensely competitive at the high end of the market, too. Enthusiasts are valuable customers not just because they themselves buy expensive products, but because they, as enthusiasts, tend to recommend products in their area of expertise to others. The photo nerd who’s delighted with their $2,500 Canon SLR is likely to recommend a lot of $250 Canon point-and-shoots to friends and family.

Vista was a disaster for Microsoft. Windows 7 is, supposedly, the light at the end of the tunnel. But the best consensus about Windows 7 is only that it’s not going to be a complete and total clusterfuck like Vista. That it’s something XP users will actually want to upgrade to. Something that, when it comes pre-installed on a new machine, will not prompt questions about how to downgrade to XP.

But no one seems to be arguing that Windows 7 is something that will tempt Mac users to switch, or to tempt even recent Mac converts to switch back. It doesn’t even seem to be in the realm of debate. But if Windows 7 is actually any good, why wouldn’t it tempt at least some segment of Mac users to switch? Windows 95, 98, and XP did.

In a followup he quotes Harry McCracken saying that "History suggests that people don’t like to switch operating systems". And that's worth looking at in detail with regard to his camera metaphor, which is more relevant in this case than the car metaphor. Cars are interchangeable. Operating systems, like SLRs, are not.

When you buy a $2500 SLR from Canon or Nikon, you're not just spending $2500 on a camera and heading for the hills for a happy day of shooting; you're spending $2500 plus however much money you're prepared to plunk down on lenses. Either you're starting from scratch in the SLR world (in which case you should budget for probably three times the price of your camera body for a serviceable set of lenses of commensurate quality); or you've already got a set of lenses which already cost you a few thousand. And, crucially, those lenses will only work with one camera brand. Canon lenses are not interchangeable with Nikon lenses, which are not interchangeable with Sony/Minolta or Panasonic or Pentax lenses. Which is why the guy who puts down $2500 on a new Canon SLR is making a pretty big brand loyalty decision, a bigger one than it seems at first when he just recommends a $250 point-and-shoot to his family. If he's going to switch brands, he's throwing away (or, well, Ebaying) not just $2500 worth of investment; it's more like $10,000. And committing to making that same investment all over again with a new brand. That's a big decision.

Operating systems are a lot more like cameras than cars in this way. You can switch from GM to Ford, or GM to BMW, without a lot of fanfare; you just buy the car and drive it home on the same roads and stick it in the same garage where you had your old car. Beyond that you're still the same guy, until the point where the BMW begins to seep its eldritch curse into your brain and cause you to start cutting across gore points and swerving between lanes. Other than that, though, a car is a car is a car. And you can always switch back without trashing your investment.

People don't like switching operating systems for the hell of it. Granted, this varies a lot depending on their expertise; a computing novice won't have that much investment into a given OS with regard to expensive third-party software and entrenched music/photo collections that have to be migrated over, but he'll also be a lot more reliant on rote step-by-step instructions and muscle memory for getting various tasks done. Conversely, a power user will be a lot better equipped to make the switch if he decides to, but he's got a much tougher (and more expensive) row to hoe when it comes to moving his whole digital life and all the apps that support it over to a new platform. Switching isn't easy no matter who you are.

If Windows 7 is going to tempt any switchers, it'll probably be people who have never used Windows and are simply curious. People who grew up on a Mac. Because there are quite a few of those now: kids who came of age since 2001 or so, who have no memory of the pre-Mac-OS-X era or a time without iPods, and no experience with Windows other than an occasional gaming session at a friend's or some Windows-centric class at school. These won't be people who switched from Windows to the Mac and now want to give Microsoft another chance. For that latter group to have made that decision to begin with was quite a momentous occasion, and it's astounding that Apple has been so successful in coaxing so many people to do it. They're not going to go through all that again, in reverse; not without an extremely good reason. Because as regards software they'd have to buy and new techniques they'd have to learn, enough time has passed that they'd essentially be starting over from scratch again.

My suspicion is that the field of potential "switchers" in the world has become very small. Anyone who had the wherewithal to switch in the first place has already done so, from Windows to the Mac; and now they're no longer potential switchers, because they don't want to go through all that again. New users entering the market are doing so at a smaller rate than they used to, because computing is so ubiquitous now; and those new users are now spread a lot more equitably across the two platforms than they used to, so of that group the ones who are susceptible to the urge to switch will just be swapping market share with their counterparts in the same uninvested part of the market. And like the rest of the world, most of them will only have one "switch" in them.

In other words, I think the only "switching" that Windows 7 will inspire anyone to do is "from XP".

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22 comments

1. Jim Ellison - 10:26 Sat 8/1/2009 ( email )

This is one reason for Apple to be concerned about MS using the low end to get people invested in Windows software: the inertia.

Apple doesn't currently talk much about the value of their included software which often erases any price advantage Windows based systems are seen to have.

2. Chris M - 12:25 Sat 8/1/2009 ( email | web )

Feel free to correct me, but I believe that the vast majority of MS's revenue comes from business and government purchasers. I suspect MS is mostly interested in seeing these institutional purchasers "switch", as you put it, from XP to Windows 7.

3. Chris M - 12:32 Sat 8/1/2009 ( email | web )

Just a small nitpick: I've owned a BMW M3 since 1988 and have yet to notice any "eldritch curse" affecting my driving.

I'd comment further, but I need to get to the stone altar for the next blood sacrifice to the Old Ones of R'lyeh-Munich, and it's a long drive.

4. J Greely - 16:38 Sat 8/1/2009 ( email | web )

I think the alpha-camera-geek example doesn't work, because people who buy a $2500 SLR often have little or no interest in consumer digicams, and won't automatically recommend "their" brand to friends and family. They're more likely to use a good review site to compare features, price, and usability, with brand a distant fourth.

Me? Delighted that Sony bought up Minolta's camera business so my $10,000 investment in lenses wasn't lost, and very pleased to hear about the new full-frame body at a lower price. But my pocket digicam is a Canon, and that's what I recommend to friends and family...

-j

5. Chris Cogdon - 00:57 Sun 8/2/2009 ( email )

+1 Excellent use of "gore".

6. Bob C - 14:40 Sun 8/2/2009 ( email )

While I won't deny some of Mr. Gruber's assertions, there's one that I think represents a bit of a statistical problem. To say that 91% of all computer sales over $1000 go to the Mac may be perfectly true, it's potentially not representative of the market.

When you consider that the majority of computers sold are notebook computers, and a large percentage of those are netbooks, it's not surprising that the vast majority of computers over $1000 go to the Mac platforms. While most Windows notebooks and netbooks (even the relatively higher end notebooks) all come in under $1000, Apple notebooks start at $999. It only makes sense that 91% of sales go to Apple, when that's the price point where Apple notebooks start.

It's the equivalent of saying that 90% of all car sales over $50,000 go to BMW over the Toyota Scions. It may be true, but it may not really mean anything.

7. DB - 15:42 Sun 8/2/2009

I’d say a closer analogy would be to substitute “other vehicles in the same price range” in place of “the Toyota Scions”. It doesn’t matter whether it’s representative of the overall market, it matters only whether it’s representative of the relevant market—and it is. One can say, and some folks have, that Apple is getting a larger slice of a shrinking pie, but even that doesn’t invalidate the observation; it simply dilutes the claim of growth from “staggering” to “significant”.

It’s the people saying that Macs are unconscionably expensive in an absolute sense who are making the BMW-versus-Scion (or even BMW-versus-Trabant) claim, and it’s the bugaboo lurking behind the Laptop Hunters ads.

8. Bob C - 19:09 Sun 8/2/2009 ( email )

DB, I have to disagree with you. The comparable price issue isn't what's on the table here. The vast majority of Windows notebook computers are priced under $1000, and Mac notebooks start at $1000.

So if you look only at sales of computers over $1000, then, of course, it's going to be predominantly Mac.

9. DB - 19:20 Sun 8/2/2009

I still think it’s pretty significant and meaningful. I’ll have to disagree too.

10. Deadprogrammer - 12:24 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

Little known fact: you can buy a Nikon lens to Canon mount adapter for about $50.

11. WS - 12:37 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

When you swap your Ford and buy yourself a BWM, you drive home on the same roads and park in the same garage. Fair enough. No fanfare. When you swap your Sony Alpha for a Canon EOS, you take pictures of the same things. You load them on your PC using Lightroom of Aperture (or equivalent) the same way you used to do. Not much fanfare. The camera has changed just as the car has changed, but the tasks you hope to accomplish remain the same in both cases (getting places vs. taking pictures of those places).

Sure, you may notice a slight variation in the way you shoot things very much in the same way a car drives, say a Ford vs. a BMW, on the same roads you used to take. Your new camera may of course need a compatible stick of memory and a equally compatible battery, very much as the BMW will need its own tires, oil filter, and various other maintenance or repair parts. In fact, parts of cars are not interoperable between competing manufacturers (maybe perhaps with some retrofitting).

These aren't different, they are the same. Buying a car is the same (yet much more costly) investment as buying a computer. Unless you're saying that all cars are the same. Then I'd have to counter saying that all PCs (yes Macs included) are the same. They all have keyboards, trackpads (mice), and you can do the same thing on a Mac as you can on a PC. Sure the way you do it may differ, just as the way a Ford drives compared to a BMW, but that's the heart of the issue that seems to be captured by all your analogies.

12. Brian Tiemann - 12:45 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

Sure, the tasks are the same... I'm not suggesting they're different. What's different is that there's a significant sunk one-time cost in switching OS platforms that's not present in switching cars.

Sure, your car's consumables might come from a different place, but their cost is negligible compared to the car itself, and the difficulty of obtaining them is no higher. But with a computer, the whole point I'm making is that it's a non-trivial decision to make, switching from Windows to Mac or vice versa, because that copy of Photoshop you'd saved up the money for now all of a sudden has to be re-bought. That's like having to build a new driveway just because your new car isn't compatible with it.

13. J Cobb - 12:58 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

Sure would be nice if companies like Adobe & Microsoft would let users switch freely between platforms. A license for Adobe Creative Suite 4 should be a license for CS4, not CS4 for Windows or CS4 for Mac. If I want to switch OSes I should be able to download the software for another platform and use my serial number there.

14. DB - 15:44 Mon 8/3/2009

A couple of my roommates would like very much to switch entirely to Mac; they are sick of Microsoft’s shenanigans. What’s stopping them is the thousands of dollars of software they would have to buy on top of the thousands of dollars of hardware they would have to buy. Brian’s camera analogy is dead on target.

A software license that’s OS-blind? That would be wonderful—but it isn’t likely to happen so long as there’s revenue to be made in bending switchers over. More’s the pity.

15. dorkafork - 17:21 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

A couple of my roommates would like very much to switch entirely to Mac; they are sick of Microsoft’s shenanigans. What’s stopping them is the thousands of dollars of software they would have to buy on top of the thousands of dollars of hardware they would have to buy.

No, they would only have to buy a copy of Windows XP (<$200) and use Boot Camp

I *cannot* believe no one has mentioned that yet. Maybe everyone here switched before Boot Camp came out. Maybe they were like me, they used Boot Camp when they first switched - just in case - and haven't booted into Windows in years. Maybe it's the "restarting and switching OSes". In which case there's Parallels ($80).

I'm tempted to say that means there's a $280 limit to software cost, but there is one single category of software that would not (necessarily) run well on a Mac with Boot Camp: video games. Even then, how big is the "hardcore gamer" demographic? Do a search for "PC game market", and the results say "The PC Game Market is Not Dead". Not exactly a sign of health. Look at the dollar value in that search, the PC game market is a small fraction of the total video game market. And how many of those gamers have a lightning fast rig? People are perfectly happy with not-very-powerful hardware (Wii) and games with less-than-cutting-edge graphics (WoW, iPhone apps, online Flash games). Even if current Macs can't play someone's game well, future Macs will, making the switch easier.

16. Sam - 18:02 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email )

The problem with Boot Camp is that it really doesn't make much sense to switch if you're just going to keep running Windows. Switching to a Mac doesn't mean buying Apple hardware to run Microsoft's OS.

Your mileage may vary, but even for games, I would not want to dual boot to play. I often alt+tab between games and IM and the web and iTunes.

I much prefer OS X to Windows, but dual booting on a regular basis is not worth the hassle.

Vista doesn't crash, it's reasonably aesthetically pleasing, it runs iTunes and I prefer Chrome to Safari anyway. I hear Windows 7 is going to stop demanding I hit "Continue" every 90 seconds, so I don't see a reason to lose half of my software just so I can run Delicious Library.

17. Kendall Helmstetter Gelner - 19:36 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email )

As Gruber's followup to this post noted, one reason that mac marketshare has increased is that there's not as much software that prevents you from switching anymore.

To expand on that, a big sticking point for PC use was at one point gaming - now taken over by consoles almost entirely.

Office documents? Even the included TextEdit application can read Word files, and there are countless other options to do so - if you're inclined to send Word documents out anymore, though most people these days send PDF files or at least consider them acceptable.

To go back to the camera analogy, computers today are a lot like the old M42 mount any more - pretty much any system can make do in the same way to meet your needs. It's just that these days the Macs all come with much nicer kit lenses.

18. DB - 19:48 Mon 8/3/2009

Dorkafork: Nobody brought it up because everyone understood that the whole point of the exercise is to ditch Windows and its accompanying headaches.

Mea culpa: I didn’t spell that out explicitly, and I should have. I did forget to mention also that another reason for switching to Mac is to get away from certain Adobe applications—and that company’s shenanigans—in favor of software that is available only for OS X. (I don’t recall what off the top of my head.)

The advent of Windows XP and its licensing stupidities cemented the intent to switch. The current machines still run Windows 2000, because the roommates will have absolutely no truck with the obnoxious terms on which Microsoft insists for XP or Vista. I sympathize, but now that Microsoft has ceased support for 2000, it’s getting increasingly tenuous.

The other option is Crossover, from Codeweavers. It cuts Windows out of the equation entirely, which is why I bought it myself. It works pretty darn well, in my experience, so at thirty bucks it’s a heck of a deal. Perhaps when the roomies have the finances at least to buy the Mac hardware, that might be in the cards.

The only heavy-duty electronic games involved are World of Warcrack and a few PS2 titles, so gaming isn’t a significant factor in the decision.

So, yeah: thousands of dollars in software on top of thousands of dollars in hardware, with no budget currently for any of it.

19. Kris Hunt - 20:16 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email )

> there is one single category of software that would not (necessarily) run well on a Mac with Boot Camp: video games.

Not true. I run games under Boot Camp extremely well on my iMac, some even at maximum resolution/quality. (Unreal Tournament III, Call of Duty 4, Lost Planet, Gears of War, etc.) Now, if you had said Parallels or Fusion instead of Boot Camp, you would have had a point.

20. Will - 23:34 Mon 8/3/2009 ( email | web )

Growth and progress are parallel with creativity & innovation, I don't think the market/potential switchers are getting smaller, the question is how far one party is getting worst, or how good the other party has become*. Part of the reason for MS's decline is Windows Vista has hit the low point while Apple reached record high with their OS X, it's not about price, really. Similar things are happening in the photographic industry, more and more users are switching side, and more will come, Canon's lost will become Nikon's gain, and vice versa. When Nikon hit low with their damaging CCD sensor, people were switching side to Canon, and recently Nikon's rise after introducing high performing CMOS sensor to their DSLR, along with new lenses/accessories, we see more black lenses (typical of Nikon's) than whites (typical of Canon's) in Beijing Olympic.

Real innovation must happen to keep the wheel moving.

*) I've written similar topics from the imaging industry/photographer's point of view:

http://portfoliography.com/2009/08/overexposed-the-blurry-picture-of-the-imaging-industry

21. Ian Wood - 15:21 Tue 8/4/2009 ( email | web )

One problem with the camera comparison is that lenses keep their value - even better than 2nd hand Macs. As a general rule of thumb, if you bought a lens secendhand in the first place you will be able to sell it again for very close to the amount you sold it for.

The main cost of swapping camera systems is familiarity and body. Lenses will just get sold or traded in.

22. cq - 21:40 Thu 8/6/2009

A note on the Boot Camp argument for Macs: it's important to remember that with Boot Camp, you cannot run Windows apps and Mac apps at the same time. It's one or the other, with a reboot in between. No copy-paste or anything like that.

There are some packages which let you move back and forth; Parallels and VMWare Fusion both run on the Mac and let you run Windows (or Linux or whatever other PC-native operating system you like) in a virtual machine. The clipboards of the "host" operating system (OS/X) and the "guest" operating system (Windows et al.) are connected. You can even drag-and-drop.

Where virtualization for the home user's desktop falls apart is expense (these are hundred dollar packages), hardware (you need as much memory as you can cram into your computer as possible, plus the added disk space needed for a second operating system and its apps), and compatibility (some apps are unstable in virtualized environments, others actively look for virtualization and refuse to run, as an anti-piracy measure). Performance isn't much of an issue, as modern computers are freakishly fast. (Exception: games, which will soak up every spare CPU cycle, but that doesn't matter because...)

Games on virtualized environments often won't run at all (see previous reference to anti-piracy). They also like to talk to the hardware directly (particularly sound and video hardware), and most virtualization packages say "talk to the virtualized hardware driver, not to the hardware itself". That's a no-go for almost any 3D Windows game.

You also have to be considerably more computer-savvy, and operating-system-bilingual, to use virtualization well. Inevitably problems will crop up, and solving them will require some heavy lifting. Also, Parallels' releases after 2.x have been very unstable, though VMWare Fusion seems well-liked.

The bottom line is that there are many good reasons to buy a Mac, but not an infinite number of good reasons. If you like the OS better, if you like apps available only on the Mac (or find the Mac versions much easier to use than the Windows versions), if you like the design and physical quality of Macs better, and it's worth it to you... get the Mac. And if you don't... then don't. And the Apple-haters (whom, when I encounter in an interview I disqualify, same with Windows-haters) can shut their meddling uninformed opinionated team-destroying whining little fanboi mouths about it. The tendency to mind other peoples' business is a trait to be crushed, not praised.

DB: World of Warcraft runs natively on the Mac :) FOR THE HORDE!
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