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Mac OS X Switcher Stories

by Tim O'Reilly

A few weeks ago, I wrote a weblog entry about Microsoft's perception that Mac OS X uptake is too slow, versus my experience that users are moving to OS X in droves.

It became clear in the course of that conversation that Microsoft was looking at the OS X market only in terms of people moving from OS 9, where my experience has largely been with "switchers" -- people who are coming to OS X from some other platform. Apple's Switch ad campaign focuses on people making the switch from Windows, but it may be the case that there's an even larger wave of switchers from Linux and other Unix platforms.

I decided to do an informal poll. I sent a message to Dave Farber's IP (Interesting People) mailing list, asking:

I'd love to hear from IP readers who have adopted OS X. Were you switching from OS 9, Windows, Linux, or Unix? Are you still using your old system as well, or fully switched?

First, a disclaimer about the validity of such a poll: IP is far from a typical cross-section of the public. The list consists of high tech "thought leaders," including many of the architects of Internet standards, key technology journalists, educators, and technology activists and policy wonks. It skews towards the people I have elsewhere called "alpha geeks" (though I've also argued that these people are good predictors of overall technology trends, as the broader market eventually catches up with their early enthusiasm). Nor do the 15 responses I got from IP's thousands of subscribers represent a significant sample. And of course, any poll with self-selected respondents is not statistically valid. Nonetheless, the responses are suggestive and intriguing.

The 15 responses were as follows:

  • Upgrading from OS 9 (5)
  • Switching from another operating system (10)

Where things got interesting was the platform people were switching away from. Despite the implication of Apple's switch campaign, that users are coming from Windows, the majority of the defections were from Linux, or from a combination of Windows and Linux or another version of Unix:

  • Switching from Windows only (1)
  • Switching from Windows to OS X for personal use, but still using Windows at work (2)
  • Switching from dual-boot Windows/Linux, or separate machines for the two operating systems (2)
  • Switching from Linux (5)

In other words, switchers appear to be adopting Mac OS X at twice the rate of Mac OS 9 users. Linux users, and Windows users who also use Linux or another Unix, appear to be the most common switchers. What's more, two of the five Mac OS 9 upgraders were also already Unix users. While this skew may be due to the demographics of the IP list (as well as of the O'Reilly customer list, since people already familiar with O'Reilly might be more likely to respond to my query), it suggests both an opportunity for Apple -- to go after the high-end professional markets where Unix and Linux are strong -- and a potential upper bound to Apple's increase in market share.

The anecdotal evidence suggests too that Apple and its third-party developers do in fact need to do more to entice existing users to switch. The upgrade price (not just for the operating system but for new applications) was cited as an obstacle by existing Mac users, while Unix/Linux users are quick to see the benefit of having a desktop Unix that "just works" and don't have an application switching cost to swallow.

Here are some of the stories, reprinted by permission:

Upgrading From OS 9

Technology and public policy advocate Jim Warren was one of three Mac-only upgraders. He wrote:

Interesting that you should be commenting about X switchers right now.

I is one! "Been meaning to" try it for maybe a half-year, but a soon-to-depart about-to-be-in-college daughter of a property-mate forked over about $2,300 of her own loot -- earned after school and on weekends -- to get a shiny new iBook ... and that prompted me to go ahead and install it on my desktop G4/733. (Otherwise, I might lose my resident-guru status. :-) )

It's taken a coupla weeks and several false starts -- but I'm getting more and more enthusiastic about X. And (as I am about to write in some "public" comments) David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is an absolutely stellar -- and ESSENTIAL! -- tool for understanding X and getting the most out of it. (Apple's idiotic "Help[less]" files verge on being worse than useless -- partly because one can spend unending time slogging through their links, only to FAIL to find most of the answers. <grrr>)

However, for your survey purposes, I have to admit that I'm a long-time Mac zealot (and an equally ardent Microshaft critic -- in print, online and in person). So I'm not making a "major" switch ... even though, in fact, it IS a MAJOR switch.

BTW, I also envision that X will (is!) be pulling me into finally learning "real" Unix. (One of the things I missed by finishing my last grad degree circa 1975. I wuz goin' out the door, jus' as Unix and C were dribbling in the door.)

[self-inflating puffery: Playboy Foundation Hugh Hefner First-Amendment Award; Soc.of Prof.Journalists-Nor.Calif. James Madison Freedom-of-Information Award; founded InfoWorld, DataCast Magazine, and Computers, Freedom & Privacy Confs.; Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award (in its first year), blah blah]

Embedded systems hacker Steve Roberts of Nomadic Research Labs (creator of the BEHEMOTH (Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy) and Microship projects) wrote:

I switched to OS X at the beginning of this year, and have never looked back. I've been a Mac user since the Mac Plus days (wow ... about 15 years!), and had no difficulty or regret in making the move from the classic environment. The system is very stable, and once I dumped IE in favor of Mozilla the single most fragile app was eliminated.

There is a high probability that OS X will be the core of the Microship embedded system; I'll be taking my iBook anyway, and the embedded system will be another laptop with remoted display, USB hooks to all the I/O, and a few layers of wireless networking with the rest of the flotilla (transparently degrading to slower links as units drift out of range) with a software bus architecture (spread) that imposes a sort of publish/subscribe model on all distributed objects. This is all platform-independent, and since OS X finally gives us the best of both worlds in one package, it is the logical choice for this integrated system as well as the stand-alone "productivity" tools.

Bret Fausett of Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft switched from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, but he's not happy about the upgrade costs. He wrote:

I'm a lawyer, and I use a Titanium Powerbook as my primary workstation. (My law firm provides a Windows PC for my desktop, but I hardly use it.)

The biggest impediment to my complete migration from 9.x to OS X has been the cost of the software -- the unadvertised cost of switching. I first paid Apple $129.00 for OS X (and the company apparently expects another $129 for 10.2 when it's released later this month). Forget that I had purchased Microsoft's Office 2001 for the Macintosh (OS 9.0 compatible) in 2001 for $239.00; Microsoft wanted another $239.00 for the OS X version less than a year later. An upgrade for BBEdit set me back another $65.00.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that there are real development costs in rolling out a new application for a wholly new operating system, and I don't mind paying for those development costs. But I just don't want to do that all at once. So I set my priorities, purchased a couple of things (including the new Office), and I'll buy the new OS-X-compatible versions of software only when I really need them. Expensive applications that I don't use day to day (for me, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Pagemaker), I plan to continue to use in their OS 9 incarnations until I'm really forced to switch.

My other two "upgraders" were already Unix users as well as Mac users. Mikki Barry of wrote:

I switched from OS 9 (after having started off with a 128k mac while also using unix and dos). I have totally switched over, and have switched one of my FreeBSD servers over to a Mac OS X server. I am 99% switched except for the rare old programs I still need that aren't OS X compatible.

OS X has as free many of the networking utilities and applications that we used to sell as InterCon Systems. While TCP/Connect II's mailer still beats the pants off of Entourage, Eudora or Mail, I've still switched over anyway :-).

Scott Bradner of Harvard wrote:

switched from OS9 and MachTen (i.e. have been using UNIX-on-Mac for many years)

classic still there to support

  • Meeting Maker (Harvard supposed to switch a month ago)
  • American Heritage Dictionary

OSX up on 4 machines at home (2 desktops & 2 laptops) and one desktop at work

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