Different Thinking

Finding favorable writing about the Mac on the Web is easier than finding the names of your senators and representatives in Congress. Though the platform has a relatively minor share of the computing marketplace, there’s no shortage of highly enthusiastic voices — old and young, articulate and visceral — generating an endless litany of pro-Macintosh rhetoric.

Yet the nature of this writing, while invigorating, often fails on the point of making truly persuasive arguments for buying a new Macintosh instead of a new Windows machine, and certainly on the point of providing objective or sound reasoning. Which is to say, most of what you’ll read on the so-called Mac Web amounts to a kind of benign dogma. In the last few weeks, however, I’ve noticed a small number of articles of notably impressive quality, all of which are worth reading for Mac diehards, interested computing agnostics and maybe even for inveterate Windows users.

On Fire

Firmly in the ‘pro’ camp but also possessing formidable powers of debate is John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, which is a consistently excellent outlet for his self-styled “Mac punditry and crumudgeonry.” Gruber wrote a powerful and hilarious essay called “Good Times” about what the recent spate of email viruses — which bedeviled Microsoft Outlook users, Microsoft Exchange servers and the Internet as a whole — means for the Macintosh. (His follow-up is also an illuminating read.)

Gruber rightly sees the dumbfounding tolerance of the general public for this type of disturbance to be a kind of travesty, and his essay delves a little bit deeper into the psychology of why we’re in this situation. He also draws a memorable and gut-busting parallel between corporate email technology and plumbing:

“Imagine if the plumbing in corporate America worked with the same degree of reliability as their computer infrastructure. This would mean that individual sinks, urinals, and toilets would go out of order on a regular basis. Water from drinking fountains would turn brown, but, hey, that’s just how it is. Every few weeks, teenage pranksters from Hong Kong would overflow every toilet in the building, knocking them out of commission.”

Is There an IT Conspiracy?

What Gruber concludes, not surprisingly, is that it just it just doesn’t make sense not to choose Macintosh. But a centerpiece of his argument is that it has become the purpose of corporate information technology professionals to justify their jobs, first and foremost. Windows technology — by virtue of the fact that it has such hefty requirements for IT staff to support its operation — dominates the computing world because of its skillful dovetailing with that purpose.

This is very similar to the argument that famed computing commentator Robert X. Cringely uses in his essay on IT productivity at PBS.org, “May the Source Be with You.” (Gruber, in fact, references Cringeley’s work in his own pieces.)

Cringeley asks the question, “Why aren’t Apple Macintosh computers more popular in large mainstream organizations?” He discards his original belief — that the Macintosh is too absurdly simple to use in comparison with Windows and Linux boxes — in favor of a more direct allegation: “Now, I think Macs threaten the livelihood of IT staffs. If you recommend purchasing a computer that requires only half the support of the machine it is replacing, aren’t you putting your job in danger? Exactly.”

The Cold Eye

Finally, the magazine IT World recently ran a cover story, no less, on Apple’s play for the enterprise market. The lead article, by Tom Yager, is optimistically entitled “Apple’s Playing in the Big Leagues Now.”

Where Gruber and Cringeley offer punditry, Yager takes a much more objective look at the value of Apple’s offering to the corporate market, paying particular attention to the Xserve and the suite of tools and software that comes bundled with it. For end users like myself, this article is a compelling peek into the mind of IT buyers, as it largely disregards some of the aesthetic attributes of Apple products that mean so much to consumers.

All the same, the products hold up under IT World’s professional scrutiny: “We don’t assume that Apple will come out the winner when it’s put under IT’s microscope. But we strongly advise IT to look at Mac clients, Xserve products, and Panther without prejudice.” His reviews of the newly released Power Macintosh G5 is also guardedly favorable — which is a kind of victory for Apple in itself. Yager writes, “If [the G5] was an empty head in expensive clothes, I’d know it. It is not — but that’s about all I know at this point.” It’s a fair shake written with a even hand, which is something new.