Thursday, March 13, 2008

Microsoft is in trouble, Mac is using the Big Tobacco approach

My wife and I recently attended our kids 1st grade patriotic presentation. It was adorable and sweet, the kids all sang and gave speeches on American symbols like the flag and the statue of liberty. After the presentation we were taken back to the classroom and our kids got to show us the work they had done to prepare for the patriotic presentation including an individual multimedia CD. Being a tech geek myself I was very interested to see this presentation so we headed off to find a computer to view it on. There was a set of about 20 Mac laptops sitting on desks in the pod area, all in use by kids showing parents their presentation. The classroom computer was already in use. We headed off to the lab and found another 50 Mac's in-use and not a single seat available. Next stop was the library. There were 15 Mac's and 15 Dell PCs along the wall. Every single Mac was in use as well but the PCs sat untouched. My son looked up at me and said we would have to wait for a computer. I was in complete disbelief that my son, who had used a PC since he was 3 years old was completely PC illiterate. I told him to his surprise that we could watch his presentation on one of the available PCs. We sat down and I blew the dust off the keyboard and mouse and up came the Ctrl-Alt-Del login screen. I am not sure how a 6-year old is supposed to understand this screen and why the school would leave the corporate login screen active when it was just as easy to setup the more friendly Welcome screen up with fun icons to login with. I went ahead and gave the 3-finger salute and up came the username and password which, of course, my son had no idea what his login information was. The very sad part is that I work for the technology department for the school district and had to use my login to get to the desktop.

We were finally in and ready to view the presentation. My son took out his CD and proceeded to look on the side of the flat panel... no drive. Next he looked on the side of the keyboard... no drive. He looked at me perplexed and told me it didn't have a hole for his CD. I showed him where the drive was and luckily the system had Quicktime installed or we would have been out of luck. No one else touched a PC, there was no way to use one. I even heard one Dad say that he would never buy a PC again.

This is an example of the kind of customer building experience that Microsoft is missing out and Apple is feasting on. Why go to all the trouble to convert users when you can get them locked in when they were young, a proven successful method of garnering market share time-tested by big tobacco except there are no harmful effects to what Apple is pushing to our kids. I have heard the statement repeatedly that since we are teaching how to use a browser and Microsoft Office that the students will be able to use either platform in the future. I think the experience I had with my son, a PC and Mac user of 4 years proves otherwise. I personally believe that both OS's are just as easy to use but Apple is providing the kind of customer service and support that drives the teachers to use their products. Why would you spend the time to teach how to do the same process on the Microsoft platform when Apple is providing deep discounts, better licensing models and technical training that entice our teachers and administration. We are building a full generation of Apple customers who will turn their noses up at the Microsoft environment.

Within the technology group in my office almost every person is a die hard Apple fan, however, most of us are using our Microsoft driven Dell laptops while director level and above are all using Mac's. Why? The Mac's are dead simple to use, they offer very little barrier to entry with a geeks dream of linux under the hood for customizing and automating the OS further. Heck, if there is a PC-only program you can't live without, run it in Parallels.

So why in this sea of overwhelming reason to use Mac do I still refuse to switch? First I like the ability to customize my computer. I feel it should be as individual as I am. I like a faster video card, a reasonably priced sound card and terabytes of storage. I have a limited amount of customizability with the Mac but infinite options with my PC. With the Mac, all systems are created equal, since no Mac is really better than any other, it follow the same theme as educations No Child Left Behind act; if no child can get ahead, then no child can be left behind. I would hypothesize that it is far easier to create a stable OS for a system with a small and finite number of peripherals while Microsoft is put in the unique position of supporting millions of options. Mac's may be more stable but they are far less versatile when it comes to hardware and software options. When it comes to solving a serious problem with a Mac you are left with a pretty limited tool set to solve it unless you go to the command prompt. If you want hardware support, you take it to the Apple store, no option. If you have  a problem with your PC you can take it to dozens of local stores, in-house PC techs or your favorite family geek.

Overall it does come to personal choice. If you want to do basic stuff with your computer and have it just work, the Mac is for you. If you want a fully customized experience and to run some of the more powerful software, buy a PC. Good luck thought Microsoft, Apple is recruiting them young.

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