Going to MacWorld--a trade show exclusively for the Macintosh--made me think about Mac zealots. Not mere users, but the ones who are compelled to be buttheads by telling PC users fighting with configuration problems or mystery system errors that they should have gotten Macs.
Obviously, I wouldn't be at MacWorld if I wasn't a Mac user. My laptop is a PowerBook G4. My desktop has been a PC since 1991 (when it replaced a TRS-80), and has nearly always run some form of Windows, save for a two-year period between the time Windows 95 annoyed me that I removed it and the time I decided I'd put Windows 2000 on it instead. (Those who've known me for a while will know I ran BeOS exclusively in that time period.)
So I admit it--I prefer the Mac. I won't belabor the reasons, but I want to be clear that it's not because I "hate" Windows. When I first bought a Mac, it was running Mac OS 9 and the fact of the matter is that Windows 2000 was a whole lot more stable. (As one of the early Mac designers related it: Mac users in Silicon Valley used to have bumper stickers that said "Windows 95 = Mac 89," which might have been true, but the problem was that Mac 95 = Mac 89. For practical purposes, Mac 99 = Mac 89, too.) Mac OS X has the stability of Unix and all the geek stuff I grew to like using FreeBSD professionally, puts a face on it that's prettier than BeOS's and almost as nice to use (yeah, tweak tweak).
What I consider to be Windows' real Achilles' heel isn't instability and--even if there are still nits to pick--it isn't ease of use. (OS X has its own share of nits, trust me.) It's what I've called "creeping crud syndrome." A Windows installation that's two years old will have significantly more crashes and unexplainable errors than one that's two months old. I've seen this in every machine I've owned and every one I've worked with professionally. My suspicion is that it has to do with library management, something Microsoft never got right and tries to solve in complex Rube Goldberg methods.
But, that's my take, and it isn't be enough to build up that Mac zealotry. I have my machine, you have yours, and that's okay, right?
Except that it isn't, apparently.
I'd gotten a bit of flak before with BeOS or with flirts into Linux for being incompatible, but being nonstandard on the PC platform is, somehow, cool. Nobody expects you to be really compatible. If you're running Unix, nobody expects it to be easier, either--the pain is presumed to be part of the fun. And when I was running BeOS, people's reactions were along the lines of, "Wow, you just plug in the hardware it knows and it works. That's amazing!" (Never mind that it knew very little hardware.)
But if your alternative platform is a Macintosh, whoa boy, the gloves come off. As one wag observed recently, when Macs first came out, PC users sneered at them by saying they'd only be good for games, whereas real computer users needed business support; now it's virtually reversed--PC users sneer at Macs for not having good games support.
Mac zealotry, I realized, comes from a seige mentality. When you're a Mac user, any computer conversation risks an undercurrent of you're stupid for being different. You paid too much. You don't have as much software as I do. You're not THE INDUSTRY STANDARD. It starts the first time you show your Mac to someone and get a response of "Well, it's pretty, but...."
Eventually, you get defensive. And you want to hang out with other Mac users who understand your choice, and you end up reflexively circling the wagons.
The other day I came across an angry, frustrated entry in a friend's journal describing computer problems they were having with XP drivers, and there was an acid comment warning Mac users not to say "get a Mac," followed by a slam or two against OS X. The superiority of their choice and the fallacy of "the other side" had to be preemptively asserted, thus insuring that I had to spend a few minutes arguing with myself about making a direct retort--something I wouldn't have actually thought about doing otherwise. I hope my friend will forgive using this as a canonical example of how the Mac-vs.-PC battle is perpetuated, and understand that I know Mac users do the same thing. (I've seen some make careers out of it.) But if one thinks one's waving a red flag at an irritable bull and wants to fend off a charge, the solution is not to wrap the flag around a rock and bean the bull in the head.
Here's the scoop. Whether you like it or not, the PC platform has spent the last 17 years cribbing ideas and technologies that started on the Mac. No matter which platform you own, you can probably recite the list. The flip side is that--again whether you like it or not--owning a Mac means eternally paying the "early adopter penalty," the double whammy of premium pricing and lower compatibility. Both of these are undeniable truths. Deal with them. I don't need to gloat over the Mac's cool stuff, but I should be able to tell you about it without you dissing it. And likewise, you should be able to tell me about cool PC stuff my Mac can't do without me dissing it. The "iLife" concept on the Mac is pretty cool, but XP Media Center machines really rock, and while I'm not much of a gamer, there are graphics systems available for the PC that the Mac can't touch yet (particularly at the professional rather than consumer level).
My line in the sand is interoperability standards. If you tell me I can't read a document or view a web page because I own a Mac, I will get in your face about it, just as you would have reason to get in my face if I told you the reverse.
Well. Now to get lunch and to get some of those errands underway, finally. And, probably, to return to MacWorld tomorrow and to look at things that--even were I employed--I couldn't afford.