Opinion and Return on Technology

ALTOM: Whether you're a Mac or PC person says a lot about you

November 3, 2012

My first work computer was a Macintosh 128.

I remember visiting the computer store (there were many such stores back then) and asking to see a computer I could do writing and production with. The sales guy led me to the Mac, which looked like a toy with its built-in little display and tiny footprint. But he gave me a demonstration that knocked me out. The interface was simple and clean, and it was reasonably fast.

The computer itself had no hard drive, so everything, from operating system to files, had to be on a single disk. I grew to love the little machine, pounding out every sort of thing imaginable, including several articles and a book.

But when I decided to move on, I chose a PC. It wasn’t clean or simple. Microsoft’s Windows was still a ways off; I was using DOS. So why did I regress? Because Apple had decided to make its machine proprietary, destroying its value within corporate America.

The PC’s open architecture inspired the computer revolution and took over so much market share that the Mac was relegated to design studios. My clients weren’t using Macs, and I needed to be able to collaborate with the people who paid my bills. Macs and PCs weren’t compatible back then. Files from one wouldn’t necessarily run on the other.

Today, the two worlds cross over almost effortlessly, but the divisions between them have spawned entirely different design and usage paradigms (how’s that for market-speak, eh?). Simply put, there are now PC people and Mac people. Over the years, the differences have shifted but not blurred much.

This came to mind recently when I read a piece by Joshua Gans on Digitopoly (www.digitopoly.org) called, “I’m a Mac. You’re a PC. There really are two types of people.”

Gans makes the point that Apple products really are designed for Mac people, not for everyone. Macs are now a tiny part of Apple’s business, relatively speaking, but the same design principles used in Macs are used in the iPhone and iPad.

Instead of Apple, Microsoft has been the leader in design for the PC crowd. To see the stark difference, take a look at both the iPad and the new Microsoft Surface tablet. To Mac people, the Surface’s snap-on keyboard is a throwback almost to the Neolithic Age, while to PCers it will seem entirely comfortable and even intuitive.

The Surface has a display that has less resolution than any Apple product, but that was intentional to maximize battery life. And so forth. It’s meant for the PC people, not Mac people.

It turns out the two camps may be far apart in more than just their choices of hardware. Hunch (blog.hunch.com/?p=45344), a site for data analysis, has an enormous infographic that spells out the differences they’ve found in their data between PCs and Macs.

PCers, for starters, tend to be older than Mac users, and are slightly less liberal politically. PC and Mac users are about equally educated, though Macs edge out PCs slightly in the proportion of four-year degrees. PCs are more likely to say they want to fit into a group, while Macs are more likely to say they want to make a personal stamp on the world. Macs throw more parties and tend to wear more upscale or fashionable clothing. PCs prefer Impressionist art, while Macs seem to go for modern art. PCs are partial to Harleys, while Macs would often go for a Vespa scooter. Overwhelmingly, Macs are more likely to be vegetarian.

PC users are more often “users” than “drivers,” people who just want to use the computer as a tool and not penetrate its mysteries. Macs have a tendency to describe themselves as gearheads and happy geeks. PCs are more likely to order a strawberry daiquiri or an Irish coffee in a bar, while Macs more often prefer a hot toddy, gimlet or a Moscow Mule. PCs like USA Today for morning reading, while Macs seem to enjoy The New York Times.

You’ve probably already drifted toward one camp or the other by now, and you’re unlikely to switch. But it’s well to keep in mind that the other side isn’t misguided; it’s just different. Apple products feel uncomfortable to me. It seems like technology that isn’t focused on productivity but glitz and entertainment. I’ve become a stodgy old PC user, unimpressed with cool in the workplace. But I know many productive Mac-lovers. In today’s diverse world, it’s best to be tolerant. Mac users are people, too.•

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Altom is an independent local technology consultant. His column appears every other week. He can be reached at taltom@ibj.com.

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