As readers of Hit Coffee know, I toy around with Linux from time to time. I keep running into walls that prevent me from making the transition that I long to make, but I keep hoping that the next version of Linux that comes out will be the one that lets me cross that particular bridge. And one of these days, Lucy will not pull the football out from under me…

I think that Microsoft’s monopoly over the OS market was, once upon a time, a very useful thing. I’ll get into this more later, but for consumer computers to really take off, people needed to have a standard. It would have taken things in the United States considerably longer to develop of there were three or four OSes that software developers had to port to.

However, now that the progress has been made, I have come to see Microsoft’s domination of the market as being somewhat counterproductive. I would prefer they receive some real competition to encourage them to actually make a better OS. I was quite happy at the shellacking they got with Vista. Seven is supposed to be better, but they’ve been dropping the ball for so long we’re grading on a curve.

So I’m not the biggest fan of Microsoft or of Windows. Though I use their product, I want to be a Linux user. I doubt I ever will be, but I remain ever hopeful.

But while I don’t necessarily like being a Windows person and would like to but can’t be a Linux person, one thing I will never be is an Apple person.

I think that the so-called “Apple Tax” is overblown if not non-existent when you compare like computers. Offering a better, more expensive product does not a tax make. I also do not believe that most Apple users purchase Apple’s products just to be cool. I’ve heard too many testimonials from people whose opinions I respect about the superiority of their product. Not enough to believe that it’s absolutely superior, but enough to believe that it is that way in the eyes of many.

Though I’ve never used one, I am more inclined than not to believe that the iPhone is the best device in its market. That they were able to enter the market and just dominate the US contingent of it so quickly, making non-Mac users fall in love with it along the way, impresses me a great deal. Though I will not get an iPhone, that doesn’t stop me from being very impressed by it.

And because of this, as well as a superior marketing aparatus, they’re had enormous crossover success into people that are not generally Apple users. They’re coming to dominate the mobile market the same way that Microsoft does the desktop market.

And the thought horrifies me.

I don’t just consider it a good thing that Microsoft won the OS wars of the 90s because somebody had to win. I definitely don’t consider it a good thing because they had the best OS (I don’t believe they did). I am glad that they won because they were the ones that were not hardware-specific. The Mac OS of the time had to be run on Apple or licensed clones. Amiga Workbench had to be run on Amiga computers or licensed clones. OS/2 wasn’t hardware specific as far as I know, but it was owned by IBM and were not as independent as Microsoft.

Whatever Microsoft’s sins as far as anti-competitiveness, the fact that they were not a desktop manufacturer and did not have a dog in that hunt was a real boon to computer users.

But mostly, when it comes to a desire to control the user, Microsft has nothing on Apple. Apple’s insistence on controlling the hardware may lead to a better user experience (less driver issues, for one thing), but it also limits user flexibility when it comes to swapping out parts and building your own machine. And it allows them to do things like run up prices with more expensive hardware. They don’t have to make a cheap Mac cause they know that nobody else is. They can have the customers they want and only the customers they want.

In the Mobile OS market, things are generally more restrictive by necessity. It’s harder to just install an OS and some drivers the same way that you can for a computer. So different devices are meant for different OSes. Arrangements differ in the mobile OS world, where on one hand you have open-source options like Symbian and Android, in the middle you have Windows Mobile which is closed-source but comes on a wide variety of devices, and then you have Apple, who only release the OS on their own product.

That itself wouldn’t be so much of a problem (there was only one Android device for a while), but Apple has such a top-down, integrated approach that they insist on retaining a lot of control over, well, everything. They decide who your cell provider can be. They decide what applications you can install. If Microsoft were to declare that they’re just not going to allow the installation of certain software (for whatever reasons they decide), it would be considered exhibit-A in what is wrong with Microsoft and yet another example of their abuse of power.

For too long, Apple users have given Apple the benefit of the doubt. Any and all cellular problems are attributed to AT&T to the point that the only people I hear complaining about AT&T are iPhone users. Nobody held a gun to Apple’s head and forced them to sign an exclusive deal with AT&T. If AT&T didn’t fulfill its end of the bargain, then Apple has wilfully chose to do little or nothing about it. There is the assumption of some that Apple only puts limits on users as far as hardware devices and software installation so that they can guarantee a better product and superior user experience. Sometimes that’s what they’re doing, but sometimes it’s not.

The thing about Apple is that it is a corporation. It exists to make money. Sometimes this means doing so by providing an outstanding product or service. Sometimes it means doing something at the user’s expense. But at the end of the day, Apple is not a benevolent entity. Neither is Microsoft, of course, but at least Microsoft users don’t pretend otherwise.


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13 Responses to Sour Apple

  1. web says:

    Apple users’ behavior has been compared, in the past, to cult behavior. I am not willing to say that this comparison is unwarranted. The list of poor decisions or downright crappy products Apple has produced over the years, that Mac users defended right until the day that Apple issued the marching order (by killing the product line) that they were now free to bash it, is legendary.

    What you say about “superior hardware” I have never found to be the case. In all cases when I have tried to compare a Mac to a similar-hardware MS/PC or laptop, there has definitely been an “Apple Cost” as defined, approximately, as “You’re paying $XXX to slap an Apple logo on that box.” For instance, Apple generally charges quite a bit for an “upgrade” video board that is, at best, middle-end in the current market, whereby one can (for the same “upgrade cost”) purchase a much closer to top-of-the-line video board and insert it into a PC with no trouble. Apple now uses the same processors and RAM that everyone uses, and their motherboards are sourced to the same manufacturing facilities that many people use for PC motherboards as well.

    About the only “superior” items I could say for Apple might be their monitors, but quite frankly I can’t bring myself to say that the minor image quality improvement between a 24″ widescreen Dell monitor (that also has TV-input functions, dual-viewing, etc) and the “For Macs Only” Apple 24″ widescreen monitor, is worth a $550 difference in price.

    As for the difference between Microsoft… I agree. At the end of the day I’ll take MS over Apple, simply because I know with reasonable certainty that I can use what hardware I want, and what programs I want, without having to get MS’s approval (though that has been slipping a bit with all the DRM crap inserted into Vista and Windows Seven).

  2. trumwill says:

    It’s not so much that their hardware is itself superior, but the integration is superior. By limiting available hardware, they cut down on the driver mishmash that Windows has become infamous for.

    Most of the laptop comparisons I’ve seen demonstrate that when you compare equivalent machines show that they are in the same general ballpark. Of course, you’re pairing upper-end PCs with Macs… but that’s part of the point, Macs only service the upper end of the market and it’s silly not to consider that Windows PCs service markets that Apple doesn’t want to bother with.

  3. web says:

    As far as laptops go, I’ve done a number of comparisons.

    It seems (comparing near-identical hardware, equivalent CPU/RAM, etc) that there is a sliding scale.

    You pay the least for a Dell/HP.
    You pay a little more (not much) for a “lesser known” laptop brand like Acer.
    You pay a tad more than that for a Lenovo (formerly IBM).
    You pay a LOT more than that for a Sony or an Apple.

    With Sony and Apple both, every time I price laptops, there’s about $500 unaccounted for, and it seems to always come down to a charge for getting that logo on the box.

  4. web says:

    Addendum: if you go into the “really expensive” lines (Alienware, etc) you can of course get a Windows Laptop that blows anything that Apple provides out of the water. It’ll cost you, but those companies are in the business of cramming some really expensive hardware into those machines.

  5. Linus says:

    As I age (and it seems to be happening faster every day), I get more and more inclined to just give up messing with computers as a hobby and buy a Mac. I think there is a bit of a price premium if you’re just looking at the hardware, but everything I’ve read leads me to believe MacOS is superior and I think they bundle better software as well, which I could see being worth the extra cost for many people. And now that just about anyone can set up a dual-boot Mac, most objections can be reasonably overcome.

    However, I’m still largely a tinkerer and a cheapskate, and I’ve had far better luck in terms of reliability than Will, so I’ll stay in my little Dell/Microsoft world…for now.

  6. web says:

    It would have taken things in the United States considerably longer to develop of there were three or four OSes that software developers had to port to.

    Actually, if you look at the ’80s, it did. Apple dominated the education market, IBM the business market, and then the home market was a combination of Apple, IBM, Commodore, Tandy, and other small companies. The software market was incredibly segmented, and it showed.

    The rise of MS-DOS, quirky though it was, really crystallized the market and allowed software developers to focus themselves. Yes, some of the other platforms hung on for a good long while after, but they were never more than tokens in the marketplace and it was really the software focus that did them in.

  7. Peter says:

    One thing in Apple’s favor is that the Apple Stores are really nice. Models of all their computers are on display for you to try out, and the salespeople are helpful yet not at all aggressive.

  8. web says:

    Peter,

    have you been in the same Apple Stores that I’ve been at? I highly doubt it – when I went to one last week, it was like walking back into an old Circuit City. Lots of broken/abused “demo” units, very little merch, and amazingly commission-starved “employees” that just wouldn’t leave people alone to browse.

  9. ecco says:

    I have to say that most of the apple stores I’ve gone to haven’t had any of the issues that WebGuy discusses. All of the stores have been excellent places to shop. Now this is only for the apple owned stores; the non apple owned stores, of course, have been variable. As for the OS, it may be more expensive than a windows machine, but I find the greater integration makes up for it in the time savings. After using windows at work, it’s nice to go home and use my mac. Also, I really doubt that apple is going to dominate the cell phone market like Microsoft has dominated the PC market. The cellphone companies are easily as restrictive as apple and they’ll never allow one company that much control.

  10. Kirk says:

    I live in an area that has 600,000 people, but the nearest Apple store is approximately 60 miles away. And other than their stores, and online, I’m not even aware of how to get one.

    And in my entire life, I’ve seen only one. It was set up in a bookstore. That had to be at least five years ago, maybe closer to ten.

  11. trumwill says:

    Web,

    Googling Apple PC price comparison returns a number of results where the cost differences were minimal when comparing similar devices. In a sense, though, all that proves is that if you’re trying to get a PC to do what a Mac does brings the cost in line. Of course, getting a Mac to do what a PC does… is often impossible. Or it costs significantly more. Or, more often than anything, you’re forced to pay more to get more regardless of what it is that you actually need. That’s where Apple’s lack of downmarket devices hurt with a lot of consumers. Apple is fine with that because they’re focusing on the most profitable customers, but Apple boosters keep insisting that it is not so.

    But even to the extent that there is a “price premium”, as Linus points out a lot of that can be attributed to the exclusive OS, the product reliability, and the appliance-like aspect that some (like me) hate but others love and are willing to pay for. It’s not simply a matter of the logo.

    Regarding the different products for different markets, I’m focusing primarily on the home market. Apple had considerable presence on government/business computers. My father (who worked for a remarkably large government entity) always had them until Apple really screwed up in bidding in the early nineties. But yeah, I’m talking about the home market.

  12. trumwill says:

    Linus,

    I hear you in regards to not wanting to tinker with them. I’m increasingly torn on the issue. But the non-tinkerer in me prefers Windows most of all. I prefer quantity over quality of computers and that’s a non-starter with Macs and the idea of juggling two OSes appeals only to the tinkerer.

  13. trumwill says:

    Ecco,

    I hope your right about the iPhone, but right now I’m skeptical. Apple right now has more leverage than do the providers. The providers need Apple more than Apple needs any one of them. Apple was able to dictate a lot of the terms of their exclusive contract. If Apple were to go non-exclusive, there is no way that any provider would try to keep iPhones off their network. Both T-Mobile and Verizon are throwing considerable weight behind Android and Palm under the vague hope that they have something that can remotely compete with the iPhone.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of people really angry at Apple right now over the Google Voice mess. If Google or Android or Microsoft of Nokia can actually produce something comparable to the iPhone in ease-of-use, maybe there will be an opening.

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