The technology industry has an amazing ability to change; it’s perhaps this property more than any other that keeps us all hanging on, waiting to see what’s next. The hardware changes the fastest: quicker processors, better displays, greater storage. More slow to change are the affiliations: you’re an IBM person, an Apple person, a Microsoft person.
With the benefit of twenty years of observation of the technology industry, I can see how these swings occur. Gradually at first, and then a tide.
It’s 2012. Who would have guessed, even five years ago, that Apple would be in the dominant position it enjoys today?
This tweet was prompted by an article by Matthew Murray on Extreme Tech, a typical pro-Windows site. And I’d seen others, particularly this one by Paul Thurrott, a famously pro-Microsoft writer. The gist of these articles is to lament the direction that Microsoft is traveling in its next iteration of Windows, due to be released by year’s end.
So why did I author such a provocative tweet? And why did I end it with so unkind a rebuke to the reader? That’s the subject of this post.
I was in the back seat of a car, traveling east on Highway 403 in Mississauga. The car belonged to my girlfriend’s father, and my girlfriend was in the front seat, while her dad drove. We were en route to their cottage for the weekend. I was never entirely comfortable with her old man; he was kind of awkward, unsure of himself, in a way that even my 22-year-old brain could pick up on. I wasn’t sure what he did, professionally, but he was clearly successful at it: he owned a fine home, cars, an amazing cottage near Wasaga Beach. He wore dress shirts, on the weekend. He was a serious business guy.
At that moment in the car, the conversation turned to my choice to use a Macintosh. I was explaining, quite naively, how I felt they had the best advantages in terms of design, ease of use, networking support, applications, etc. I wasn’t expecting any retort, but I received one: a dismissive “well, I hear they’re good for artsy-type stuff”.
It’s the thoughtlessness of the comment that I want to draw to your attention. He wasn’t evaluating anything I had said, which alone would have disputed his estimation. He was simply repeating dogma, a long and popularly-held opinion that neatly sidelined Apple and its computers. And by extension, the people who used them. I interpreted that comment as a personal attack, and the conversation ended there.
In the summer of 1997, Apple was losing. The war was over. Microsoft ruled the personal computer space, and that was that.
That incident is just one of the many I encountered over the years (and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have your own stories). It builds a certain amount of bitterness in your heart, but it teaches an important lesson as well: the majority of people can be wrong about something.
I’m sure Apple, from Steve Jobs down to the guy writing the developer documentation, believed just as I did. That Apple was better. That Microsoft won because they played dirty, or were in the right place at the right time. That the best computing platform hadn’t won, yet.
Things change. Fifteen years later, we don’t even see Microsoft as the enemy. While they were resting on their laurels, Apple was changing the rules. Mobile computing was becoming the future, and Apple put themselves at the front of the line. The paradigm of computing is different now: going away are the complexities of the PC era. Here to stay is a computing experience based on simplicity, single focus, great design and quality.
And here lies the ideological difference between Apple and the others: that notion that truly breakthrough quality is the way to win in this market. Apple has always been about that, and it wasn’t always a winning strategy. But now, it is.
You can win a war for a lot of reasons. Because it’s a market that values “speeds and feeds” over user experience; because the people who buy the product aren’t its primary users; because inertia is a powerful force. Today, Apple is winning because it’s making the best damn product. That’s it.
And I’ll be damned if Microsoft hasn’t flat out admitted it. There’s no greater admission than the massive sea change in front of us here, in the form of Windows 8.
And those of us who have appreciated Apple’s products for all these years? Well, we kinda seem to like Windows 8 (or at least, the Metro part of it). Microsoft is doing something more Apple-like than anyone else: they’re innovating on a brand-new platform that promotes usability, great design and top quality. The results don’t look like Apple, but the ideology is awfully familiar.
So I don’t know what’s going to happen with Windows 8. It’ll either convert its apparently suspicious and uncomfortable user base, or it’ll fold in on itself and die. But there’s no doubt in my mind: by adopting Apple’s principles, Microsoft has admitted their defeat.
So when I say “Apple won, bitches”, it’s with the bitterness of twenty years of abuse. You guys, you in your starchy dress shirts, loafers and blazers. You smug cockatoos, with your arms folded, your bad haircuts and your stacks of MCSE manuals. Your knowing smirks and your thoughtlessness. Your pointless day jobs, your passionless existences, your lunch in the basement food court, your pasty skin living in fluorescent lighting.