Monday, March 12, 2007

Some Interesting Thoughts About Apple...

As a geeky tech-nerd back in highschool, I was staunchly on the PC side of the Mac/PC debate. So were most of us. In fact, we only had a small handful of pro-Mac individuals among the geeky tech-nerd crowd with which I associated (including, paradoxically, our resident hacker-wannabe Joe Koberg. I only shudder to think of what he could have accomplished as a hacker-actuallyis on a PC instead of the wannabe status to which he was limited on the Mac). This being the early 90's, of course, the pro-PC crowd had it easy -- Macs so clearly sucked, particularly if you wanted to do anything with your machine, apart from, oh, say, word processing or making pretty 256-color VGA pictures. Software was, and still is, very limited for the Mac. Customizability was nonexistent. And back before Mac OS X, all you had was single-button mouses and incorporated monitors and CPU cases. My own pet theory about why Mac even survived the 90's was that it whored itself out to enough college campuses, becoming their sole supplier, that it was able to stay afloat in its own sea of mediocrity until something better came along at the turn of the decade/century/millennium (iMac, then iPod). My own undergraduate institution was no exception -- for the first three of my four years there, all the dorm computer labs were stocked with Macs, and virtually all the library/general access labs were stocked with Macs (the main library had a bank of maybe 4 PCs). So of course, for compatibility's sake, many students were suckered into buying Macs as well. It's very telling, I think, that the School of Engineering and Computer Science was just about the only place to field a fully-stocked lab of PC machines instead (being a young and undergrad-focused program, they had no Unix/Sun/Linux expertise). I should also note that, by my fourth year, it was about 50-50 new PCs and old Macs, and the PC-to-Mac ratio has grown considerably since then, as the Macs have largely been replaced by PCs altogether with the exception of the occasional iMac.

Why am I writing all this? Well, I came upon a comment at AirCongress (the article is about the anti-Hillary Obama ad that hacks the famous Mac "1984" ad) by some person calling themselves "celebrim", and I found it very telling (please excuse their constant spelling of "their" as "thier" -- it's coherent otherwise):

As a computer programmer, I’m always amused by Apple’s public stance as the champion of a sort of Libertarianism. Apple would have you believe that they are some sort of anti-establishment corporation, whose cooperate philosophy is somehow empowering to the lower class individual. Apple would have you believe from thier marketing that they are the company of the small guy and of free thinkers. They are in a word, “Hip”, and consequently Apple enjoys a measure of success in hip crowds that want to be seen as socially cutting edge - media figures, artists, various academics, young people, etc. The 1984 Superbowl is typical of Apple’s entire marketing strategy. “Buy Apple and you will be a free thinker.” “Buy Apple and you will be cool.” Or even, “Apple’s competitors are evil.” Much of Apples limited success can be directly linked to the success of getting out this message. It’s quite easy to find a certain segment of the American population which holds as a political idea the notion that Apple’s competitors are in fact monopolists, anti-small guy, oppressive, censoring, un-hip, and in fact evil.

The problem with this narrative is that a close review of Apple’s corporate history shows that its all a load of bunk. Apple has never ever acted in a fashion that could be described as ‘liberating’. In fact, Apple owes much of its crushing failure in the PC market to business policies which are exactly the opposite of the public face that they’ve successfully presented themselves at. To site just a few examples, Apple in the ’80’s refused to allow academic institutions open access to thier programming manuals because they wanted to retain full control of all the code which ran on thier machine. IBM/Intel/Microsoft in contrast actively encouraged academic institutions to teach how to program for thier platform. As a result, just when Apple needed a generation of young programmers to know how to create programs for thier machine - none in fact existed because Apple had actively discouraged thier creation by insisting on full control over the process. If you wanted to program for the Apple, you had to gain Apple’s approval. Similarly, Apple technical manuals were only available to people that Apple approved of, and could not even be ordered via the mail because Apple was so paranoid about losing control over the process that you had to buy the manual in person. This created an environment that was absolutely stiffling in the community that actually used the technology first hand - the computer programming and technology community itself. Software simply wasn’t available on the Apple at the same time that it was flurishing on the IBM machines because IBM had took the more libertarian open source approach.

Likewise, it was IBM that licensed the production and assembly of thier product allowing any number of IBM clone machines to be produced. Apple on the other hand insisted on full centralized control for fear of losing control of the process. So, from the vantage of the people that actually built computers, it was Apple that was stifling creativity. This philosophy of deciding what the customers want and not actually letting them choose permeates the entire corporate history of the company - as anyone that’s wanted to configure Apple’s hardware according to thier tastes will tell you. Likewise, Apple has deliberately set on corporate policies that kept thier machines too expensive for anyone in a lower income family to afford. It’s little wonder that Apple is very popular among affluent media types, because they are about the only group that can afford such frivelous status symbols.

In short, Apple tried to be a domineering monopolist and it killed thier business - with the exception of a few ‘hip’ crowds that were taken in by thier public marketing mask of “empowering hip free thinkers to fight authority” and had the money or lack sense to endulge that marketing driven sham.

What is my point?

When some group steals Apple’s methods to try to sell thier product, it leads me to think that they are probably more anti-Libertarian than whoever they are criticizing.

He touches on another reason why, even in their newfound success, I still hate Macs: they're the "product of the trendy". The only thing worse than being an early adopter of some product that subsequently becomes "hip" and "cool" and "trendy" is only buying a product because it is "hip" and "cool" and "trendy".

p.s. Macs still suck, Joe Koberg!



Anonymous Marty said...

Hold that thought. I'll send Chris over you're way and you two can have at it. I'll just stand back and watch.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Joe Koberg said...

At least I could make fake IDs on my Mac.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Wow! Somebody went egosurfing, I see... well, feel free to look around. And Welcome!

3:24 PM  
Blogger Joe K said...

Incidentally that "celebrim" guy doesn't seem to know his computer history. "IBM licensed the technology..." are you kidding? The first "clones" were made by Compaq and had to be created with a "clean room" method to avoid legal liability with IBM.

Don't forget that the personal computer revolution was basically fueled by the likes of the Apple II - a machine created in a garage, by two talented (and poor) individuals. Sure apple sucked during the 90's - they had shitty management. They seem to have flourished since Jobs took it back over.

So that exploit was patched today - that has been an open door to compromise every version of Windows, ever, totally. I guess those quality PC programmers really knew their stuff.

11:38 PM  

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