13 Mar 2008

On Choice

Author: q | Filed under: Pontifications

People who prefer to use Macs and people who prefer to use Windows PCs don”t always get along (big surprise). As someone who interacts with both communities, I get to see the good and the bad on both sides. Yes, discussions between the two camps can get heated and polarized (I think “religious war” is a term that gets bandied about occasionally), and so long as the discussion remains good-natured, I don”t mind participating in a discussion, as I”m in a position to speak to the benefits and drawbacks of each platform. But when the discussion resorts to name calling or absolutism, I walk away and distance myself from the other parties. There”s no value in continuing to participate in a discussion when it gets to that level.

Recently, I observed an interchange in a public forum where someone made a comment about a web post relating to Apple technology. Two posts later in the “discussion,” someone threw out an absolutism that Macs are not viable business machines. And the remainder of the thread was jumped on by the “me too” crowd. I get so frustrated by the zealots on both sides (yes, even though the term “zealot” is usually bandied about by Windows folks referring to the Mac community, it does go both ways) who can”t settle for expressing their like or dislike for a program/product/platform and instead resort to absolutism.

Those of you who fall into one of the two extremist camps, stop reading now and go elsewhere on the net. You”re not going to like what follows.

I run my business on a Mac. Yes,I have an SBS 2003 box in the server closet,and I”m running a Terminal Server with Windows 2003, and I have a test box running Windows 2003 R2 x64. But my main workstation, the tool I use every day, is a Mac. And doing so doesn”t make me less productive, less capable, or less efficient than if I was running just a Windows XP or Vista PC. Yes, I am running Windows XP on the Mac using Parallels, and before you Windows zealots (yes, I think there are probably a couple of you that didn”t heed the warning above) say “ah HA! You DO have to run Windows so therefore your Mac isn”t a good machine for you,” there are exactly two tools I use under Windows, and quite honestly, I could run those tools on my TS if that box weren”t as underpowered as it is. One is Outlook, which in reality I could opt not to use since I have Entourage on my Mac, but there are some pieces of Outlook 2007 that are nicer to deal with than Entourage 2008. The other is Internet Explorer, but I only use that for two specific web tools that require an ActiveX control to perform correctly.

For everything else, I”m primarily using tools on the Mac. While I have both Office 2007 and Office 2008 available, I regularly use Office 2008 for Word, Excel, etc. 95% of my web browsing is done with Firefox on my Mac. Why? Office 2008 is fully file-compatible with Office 2007, and the interface is solid (not to mention there”s no ribbon bar). And I do operate at significantly lower risk of web-based threats by surfing on my Mac than in IE.

Note that I said “lower risk” not “completely free from.” No, the Mac platform is not inherently more secure than Windows, per se. But is is targeted far less than Windows, and Windows-specific attacks simply have no impact in my Mac apps. I”m not naive enough to run my Mac without Antivirus protection (Sophos) and hardened settings in the network firewall in OS X. But if there”s a suspicious URL I need to investigate, I”m less apprehensive about approaching that site with Firefox on the Mac than I would be, even with Firefox under Windows (which, yes, I have loaded also).

This arrangement works for me. It doesn”t work for my current staff, but if I do hire in someone who prefers to work on the Mac platform, we”ll make allowances. It”s not going to work for every IT pro out there, and I”m not suggesting that it would. Nor am I suggesting that anyone who is not already familiar with the Mac platform would be more productive after taking the time to learn how to navigate the system.

But what I am suggesting is that displays of absolutism don”t come across the way that some of the absolutists think it does. In this industry, I don”t think you can really take a totally absolutist approach. When I see consultants brag about how they talked a client out of getting a Mac simply because the consultant didn”t want to support it, I”m disappointed. Both for the consultant and for the client. Just because the consultant isn”t comfortable with the Mac platform doesn”t mean that forcing the client to work on a Windows box is going to be the best scenario for the client. Case in point: I dislike the Blackberry devices. Loathe them, specifically. Yet I have several clients who are using Blackberry devices, and we support them. Why? Because after discussing the pros and cons and looking at all the alternatives, in these cases the Blackberry is really the best solution for these clients. Same with the iPhone. Those who choose to stereotype will probably be amazed that I actually work very hard to talk my customers out of getting iPhones (since I”m a Mac-lover, I must want to see the iPhone take over the world, right? Wrong.) But I have two clients who carry them. One who purchased the device before consulting with me, but now he has learned the lesson about discussing technology purchases BEFORE making them, so it wasn”t a total loss. The other chose to go with the iPhone after discussing the options with me for several weeks. In his case, it has turned out to be a benefit to him, even with the shortcomings the current iPhone has in the area of Exchange connectivity.

The bottom line is that there is no absolutely right and absolutely wrong technology. When I see my peers in the industry take stands about certain technologies, I cringe. I see consultants who refuse to support Blackberry. I see consultants who refuse to support Apple technology. I see consultants who refuse to support Linux. I see missed opportunities. My potential customer base is larger because we support Apple, because we support Blackberry, because we can work our way through a Linux box. This is one thing that sets us apart from our local competition. When you draw a line in the sand with a customer, you force them to make a decision. While some see the outcome as the customer choosing to go along with the trusted advisor, there will be some who will choose to find another provider.

I choose to run my business on a Mac. I choose to support Blackberry even though I wish they”d all just disappear overnight. I choose to be flexible in what we support as a company, because I choose not to artificially limit my potential customer base.

Customers can choose, too. And often do.

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