Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cult of Windows

It has been a while since I did a Mac v. Windows column but now that it looks like a "new" OS from Microsoft, Windows Vista, is finally going to be released and Apple is just about to up the ante with a new line of PowerMacs, I thought the time was ripe.

A few years ago Wired magazine ran a column comparing Mac users to a cult. I ran across the article again recently and I have to say that Wired was totally out to lunch on this one. The column is replete with assertions that Mac users are fanatical nuts, going so far as to ask (and later answer in the affirmative):
The Mac community may resemble a congregation, but is it a cult, full of zombie-like fans, slavishly devoted to Apple and all its works? Would Mac fans quaff poisoned Kool-Aid if Steve Jobs commanded it?

But nowhere in the article does one find any comment on the slavish followers of Windows. In any case, the idea that loving the Mac is cultish can only be considered a complete misunderstanding of what constitutes a cult.

As a longtime Mac user, a former IT manager at a major UC university where both Macs and PCs were in heavy use, and someone who has extensively studied cults, I can assure you that the term is misapplied, both in this article and throughout the tech media. The closest the article comes to making a connection is that a cult has a charismatic leader. Having never interacted with Steve Jobs, I can’t say whether he is or is not charismatic or if he even is a leader when it comes to those who use his product. I do know people at Apple and I can assure you that the employees of Apple do not revere Jobs as some kind of Messianic persona. So even on this partial definition of a cult we see a breakdown when applied to Apple.

In reality, the generally accepted primary definition of a cult is a "false religion" or an erroneous deviation from orthodoxy. If computing is a religion then we should ask where is it true and where is it false. Where are people brainwashed and where are those who have truly researched the best manner of computing? Where are a few insiders benefiting while mind-numbed masses send in billions of dollars to the head guru.

Using these more appropriate definitions of where cultish computer-buying behavior resides might we instead turn our gaze toward Windows? Where else are people so easily sucked into false teachings? Where else in modern purchasing behaviors do we find so many people blindly buying a product based solely on spin, misinformation and outright false advertising rather than quality, performance, and value? For nearly every other major product-buying decision, and especially for the Mac, people do concerted research, look at all options and buy with due diligence. For some reason, huge numbers of people buy Windows as if they were blindly following the Rev. Moon.

But let's look at the specific definition of a cult. From the Oxford English Dictionary:


1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

Both platforms have devotees. No help here.

2. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

This points much more in the direction of Win zealots than Mac zealots. Most Win users either hate the OS or are ambivalent about it. Relative to the installed base the Win zealots are definitely a small group while Mac zealots are a huge portion of the installed base.

The question is, which group follows something "strange or sinister"?

Nearly everyone agrees that as one of the most monopolistic corporations in the world, Microsoft, is a predator. Furthermore, its primary product is an odd amalgam of ancient code, poor design practices, terrible GUI, and other strangeness. If Windows was released today it would be laughed out of the marketplace. Fortunately for Redmond, they were able to get their grip before people realized they had been sucked into a strange and sinister black hole.

3. a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.

Is the choice of a superior product "misplaced or excessive"? Hardly.

Conversely, what can one say about a misplaced admiration of Windows? Desperately defending a 1990s vintage OS that was never really updated, is buggy, virus infected, clunky, ugly, expensive, and dying by saying "everybody uses it so it must be the best" is simply cultish.

4. a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, esp. among a particular section of society.

Hard to say how this could apply to either. Windows is "popular" while Macs are "fashionable".

But let's sum up:

1 and 4 could apply to Mac zealots.

1, 2, 3, and 4 apply to Windows zealots with 2 and 3 DEFINITELY applying.

There is simply no defense of Windows as a multi-purpose OS on the merits. Windows holds market share largely by sheer momentum. That alone is enough to keep it on desktops where it really doesn't have a right to be. But defending its use as a general purpose productivity OS is the very definition of cult.


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