Let me start by saying I have been a die-hard proponent of the Personal Computer and the x86 platform for over twelve years. All of my computer education is based upon the PC. I own my PC Techs, a small business in Phoenix, Arizona that provides technical support for the PC. I work for a company that uses Microsoft Windows computers exclusively. I have referred every person I have ever known to PC related hardware, software, and I myself have avoided alternative forms of computing, such as the Apple Macintosh, like the plague.
My dislike for Apple has at times been deeply rooted. It was over twelve years ago that I first started to read heated debates in online threads where fans of the Apple Macintosh were making insulting comments towards PC users. They made broad claims that their Apple computers were better than any PC. The hardware was faster, they said, the software easier to use and the overall experience was far better in their opinion. Their computers never crashed. Their computers did not have problems with viruses. They could not understand why anyone would choose to purchase a PC over a Macintosh; they claimed that PC users were ignorant consumers. Some even went so far as to say that the smart people only bought Macintosh while everyone who owned or worked on a PC was an idiot.
Then the PC users would arrive on the scene to these threads and respond. They claimed that Apple computers were crippled; they couldn’t run any hardware other than the expensive hardware purchased through Apple. They stated that the Apple computer only had one mouse button, making it impossible to use for advanced office tasks. PC users talked about how the Apple operating system dumbed down the user experience, and while simple to use for the average person, it lacked any advanced features or commands and hampered productivity. They made fun of Apple fans for paying twice as much for half a computer and just like the Apple fans, insulted the other side, claiming that you had to be pretty dumb to work on a Mac.
These arguments often turned ugly at this point, with pointless insults being thrown back and forth. Before long, the debate on computer platforms turned into name-calling and general chaos. At that point, my curiosity peaked. Were Apple computers really that much better than PCs? Did the Apple fans have any basis to their arguments? I kept an open mind, honestly wanting to determine which side of the argument was the right one. I turned to hardware and software reviews online and in computer magazines. I read articles from Mac and PC experts on the pros and cons of each platform.
Eventually, I came upon the truth: It turns out that the PC users were right. Not only were all of those Apple fans, in my opinion at the time, snobby and arrogant – they were also misinformed. The Macintosh had only a single mouse button and it did limit productivity. Hardware did have to be purchased directly from Apple and it was more expensive than smaller and faster PC alternatives. The software was easy to use but did lack advanced features. Sure, it was a slightly better platform if you were interested only in Graphic Design. PCs could do Graphic Design too, but they were also capable of everything else that Macintosh couldn’t do. Hardware was cheaper in a free market and there were a thousand times more pieces of software available for the PC.
Fast forward through ten years of PC dominance that saw Microsoft and Intel rise to the top of the industry while the market share for Apple computers continued to decline from highs of 15 percent down to less than 2 percent. The future of Apple looked bleak. In December of 1997, the price of Apple stock reached its lowest price in over ten years, at 3 dollars per share. Some analysts expected Apple to close shop and go away forever.
But then something major happened. While Steve Jobs had been working for Apple since 1997, in 2000 they named him the permanent, full time CEO of Apple Computer. Good things began to happen. Apple released iTunes, a revolutionary piece of software that ran not just on Apple computers, but PCs as well. The software was the first of its kind to gain approval from all of the major record labels to distribute their music in digital form. The release of this software on Windows also marked a major change from previous Apple thinking where they tried to limit all of their technology strictly to Apple computers. It was a great success and iTunes rapidly took over the market for online music distribution from the likes of Napster and Emusic.
In fact most, if not all, of the positive things Apple has done in the new millennium have been attempts at making the Apple product lines compatible with or working like their PC counterparts. First, apple made their interface device more like those of PCs when they introduced a multi-button mouse, a first for modern Apple computers. Next, starting with iTunes and continuing with other software, they began to make releases available for both PCs and Apple computers. Finally, and probably most importantly, they completely changed the hardware architecture of their computers to run on the x86 platform. For the first time, Apple computers would be able to take advantage of the same low-cost hardware supply as do other computer manufactures. Apple finally learned the lesson that while being different can sometimes be a good thing, being so completely different that no one likes you isn’t.
Just making their hardware and software work on a PC was not enough. Apple computers needed a stepping-stone to give consumers a reason to purchase Apple computer hardware. To do this, Apple looked to a niche area where traditional computer hardware vendors hadn’t yet explored. Apple recognized very early on that people increasingly wanted to bring their information along with them, all the time, everywhere they went. Even though notebook computers existed to do this, they were still too large and cumbersome to make large inroads to the market. The success of their iTunes software opened the door for Apple to introduce a mobile device that people would carry with them all the time. Enter the vision of the Apple iPod.
The future of computing is portable and everything will be handheld. In 2006, for the first time in a very long time, Apple was a visionary company ahead of the times. They had found a way to get take control of a market that did not yet exist but was eventually the future of computing – portable hand-held computing. Starting with the iPod, people could bring their music with them everywhere they went. Then newer versions of iPod allowed people to carry around not just music but also video, and everyone realized how cool it was to be able to watch their favorite movies in their hand on a plane. Finally, the iPhone, and suddenly everything was in one place on one device in the palm of your hand. You could use your phone, listen to your music, watch your movies, check your email and even surf the internet.
Meanwhile, while Apple rockets towards the future, Microsoft has spent nearly five years shooting itself in the foot. Seven years of development time to release the Microsoft Windows Vista operating system has resulted in a buggy, bloated, slow and embarrassing piece of software. Their recent operating system release is so bad that people have been begging Microsoft to let them downgrade, to remove Windows Vista from their computers and go back to Windows XP. Then there is the negative sentiment. Over the years, Microsoft has given people reason not to trust them. The overwhelming sentiment on the internet today is a dislike for Microsoft and their business practices.
Microsoft running themselves into the ground has opened the door for other companies, like Apple, to gain a foothold. No matter how much functionality is built into a portable device, and even though Apple seems firmly in control of that market, people are still going to need a computer on their desks at work. There are hacks out in the wild now that will let you run the Apple Leopard operating system on a regular PC. How long until Apple realizes the opportunity they have here? I think it’s only a matter of time before they make their operating systems install to a normal PC without a hack and sell the software directly to the PC consumer sans the Apple hardware. All of the age-old arguments for Apple computers hold true. Their operating system is easier to use, looks better and functions better than comparable Microsoft products. However, most of the old complaints have been resolved by Apple.
Can you see the day, five years or less from now, where Apple is on top of the portable and desktop/laptop computer market? I can. They have 15 billion dollars in spare cash lying around to increase their market share. I’d imagine they will use some of that money to improve the iPhone, iTunes and to find a way to get the Leopard OS on every PC. A future where everything is in one place from one company, perfectly merging an individuals need for entertainment and media with productivity and business applications, provided most likely online through Google. The future is very bright for Apple and I see no end in sight. Maybe that is why their stock has risen to an all-time high of $194/share, dwarfing that of Microsoft and other competitors. Now the word on the street is that Apple stores are packed full of people for the Christmas season. With holiday sales for computers and iPods strong, Apple is poised to gain four more percent of the personal computing market in 2007.
It certainly looks like everything is going great for Apple with more in store. However, what of those Apple fanatics from a decade ago? Looking back I can see that while wrong at the time, they were ahead of the times, just like Apple is today.