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Switcher Stories Follow Up

by Tim O'Reilly
09/17/2002

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article called Mac OS X Switcher Stories. It was based on an informal poll I'd done to find out where recent OS X adopters were coming from. A lot of people responded to that column, and I'd like to post some of their comments here, as well as invite the rest of you to weigh in. (I apologize for not having a "Comment on this Article" link in that first article. The feedback from readers is an important part of a story like this, and it's a lot easier to receive feedback in an open forum, directly and immediately, rather than through email that we repost a few weeks later.)

Mark Onyschuk writes that there's no point in pitting two Unix-based OSes against each other.

An interesting article about "switching from the not-so-obvious target market segment."

In my opinion, Apple knows full well that there are going to be a large percentage of switchers coming from the Linux side, in part because I think it's "built-in" to Apple (ex-NeXT) management's perception of the world--that there's a value in building an easy-to-use, Unix-based OS for consumers.

But, and here's where I differ with you, I think that Apple is being particularly low-key about this aspect of the "switch" because it serves no purpose to pit two emerging Unix-based OSes against each other in the face of a unified Microsoft. I agree with this approach, and I think that one of Microsoft's greatest nightmares has to be the fact that there's actually one honest-to-god vendor out there that can carry the ease-of-use argument in conjunction with the Unix flag, yet not be in such a "market-share dogfight" that it has to discredit other Unix vendors just to keep the stock price afloat.

I should also give credit where it's due on the consumer front. I'm an ex-NeXT myself, and we all believed in that mix of Unix and real mom-and-pop users. It was something that was always promised, but something that NeXT could never really deliver. Apple seems to be doing it.

Mark's point is a good one. Unix has a history of infighting over small version differences. And Apple certainly doesn't want

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to go down the path of fighting with Red Hat and Sun over Unix market share--they want to stay focused on the mainline consumer market. But at the same time, it's important to recognize who your early adopter customers are--they often provide important clues to the larger markets that you can penetrate after your products "cross the chasm."

Bob Edmison says students are leading an almost subversive movement toward OS X on campus.

I just finished reading you "Mac Switchers Stories" article, and I have a little tidbit you might find interesting.

I am on the research faculty at Virginia Tech, which is Virginia's land-grant university. VT cranks out a lot of computer engineers and computer science guys, as well as a bunch of MIS/Corporate IT types. So, as you might expect, M$ is fairly well entrenched in terms of what the students have to use. There are only a couple of departments on campus that require Macs. The rest are Wintel, and most of the enterprise management stuff is M$/Wintel.

Now that OS X has been out for a while, there is almost a subversive movement inside several of the departments lead by the students! I've seen several of the student geeks with TiBooks and iBooks, loaded with OS X, and then sitting out in very public study areas doing their work. We have several buildings with 802.11 access, mostly housing the Engineering and CS departments, so these kids are hanging out in the atrium or sitting outside on the lawn, all the while attached to the university network.

The primary targets are the professors, because, of course, they set the course and hardware requirements for the departments. And it turns out that dropping into Terminal.app is the thing that really blows the professors away. It totally shatters their long-held belief that you can't do serious computing on a Mac. Now they see you can do data visualizations, or develop compilers or build data-driven Web sites using open source tools, all on the Mac. I know of at least a dozen faculty members who have switched from Wintel or Linux to OS X. I know several who have started using Darwin on Intel hardware as there Unix underpinnings of choice. In my lab alone, we have 10 students, of which 8 have switched. Over and over, the thing I hear the most is "The UI is gorgeous!" and "It just works."

I only wish Apple could figure out a way to leverage this as a long term assault on the business marketplace. If you get the current crop of students hooked, 5 years from now they will start to become the decision makers.

Anyway, the subversion continues. I enjoyed your talk at WWDC, and look forward to hearing you in the future.

Interesting indeed. Your story illustrates how much Mac OS X is catching on as a grassroots phenomenon. Customers are doing the marketing for Apple, which is a really good sign. Most really great products catch on by word of mouth. All professional marketing can do is to help add fuel to the fire.

Tom Van Vleck wants to switch to OS X, but he has a feeling Apple is squeezing him. So he can either put up with Linux, which will approach the Mac gradually, or put up with OS X, which will approach Linux gradually.

I use multiple operating systems every day. I hope to use OS X as my everyday desktop, once a few missing pieces are filled in.

As far as being a "switcher," I did pretty much switch from Windows to Linux, using VMWare to run Windows for access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I'd switch again, to OS X, if my hardware is supported and the tools I need are there. I've loved Macs since the 80s, and having the Mac human interface with a Unix inside sounds great.

My Wall Street Mac has OS X on it, but I usually run OS 9, because it supports LocalTalk Bridge, and the Wall Street can talk LocalTalk to my LaserJet and Ethernet to my wife's G3. My D-Link print server box can run the laser printer -- except for binary PostScript from Photoshop and Illustrator on the Mac.

I do get the feeling that Apple wants me to solve my printer problem by buying a new printer, and that they really want me to buy a new PowerBook pretty soon, too. And a lot of new software. Basically, buy everything new again. So I have a choice; I can put up with Linux, which will approach the Mac gradually, or I can put up with OS X, which will approach Linux gradually. I know which will be more expensive.

Cortlandt Winters has Mac envy, but because of the cost of replacing software, he still hasn't switched. He has an idea about how Apple could really make strides in adoption.

I just wanted to mention my thought on the switching to OS X topic as a Windows user who used to poo-poo the Mac, mostly because of its memory management, but who now has Mac envy. I have wanted to switch to Mac since OS X came out, primarily because it's a good Unix machine with a nice interface, and in particular to do in-house Web-technology oriented projects.

Nevertheless, I haven't done so. The reason is, like Bret Fausett pointed out, the cost of replacing software -- though I recognized it up front. At this point I have about 5,000 dollars in software for the PC accumulated from the past 7 years that I would want to switch a good portion of. As expensive as one of those small servers they just put out is, the software transfer costs make it too much to switch.

Note that if you map my decision point here on to your survey sample, it seems that most of the folk who are moving to OS X are doing so because their software translates pretty well.

Here's the interesting thing, because it is a way Apple could really make strides in adoption: enough of the software that I own has Mac versions that if Apple were to create and manage a process for trading in Windows licenses for Mac ones, it would make up enough difference in the cost that I would do it.

For example, what Apple could do is put together a Web application for a new OS X user to enter the Windows software that they would like to switch to Mac software. Apple sets up relationships with the software companies to manage the transition of software. They will have a lot of bargaining power as a user switching OSes is a great place for software vendors to either loose or gain customers. A list of the costs and terms involved for translating the different licenses based on their arrangements needs to be maintained and easily examined so we know how much and what it will cost to switch.

Most of the software I am thinking of (Macromedia's Studio MX, Painter, Eovia's Carrara Studio, Tibco Extensibility's Turbo XML) is already available on OS X. But the process of trying to contact all the companies individually to see if they'll let me switch the Mac versions is time-consuming and unreliable enough that I doubt if many would do it.

For each license, the partner company would validate my license and either allow me an exchange of my Windows license for a Mac one, offer a Mac license at some reasonably small fee, or a competitor could try to catch me as a new user with a competitive upgrade if no Mac version exists for an application. (BBEdit might give me a competitive upgrade for my UltraEdit license, for example. Or LightWave might offer a competitive upgrade to 3D Studio MAX users who are thinking of switching to Mac.) I'm skeptical of programs working properly in Windows emulators, but if some companies were to list the Windows emulators that they have tested their software to run properly in, that might replace a license translation. But I can't take Apple's or the emulator manufacturer's word for it. It has to come from the company that makes the program.

Personally, I think it all boils down to software at this point. Whether it's OS 9 to OS X or Windows to OS X or Linux and Unix to OS X, the clear reason in my mind that the Linux and Unix folk are the ones who are moving is they are the ones with the software licenses that translate most easily.

Software upgrade/switch pricing is definitely an issue Apple ought to be concerned about. Of course, it's more important to the Windows switchers than to the Unix/Linux switchers, since much of their software is either Java or open source, with minimal switching cost. I understand that some companies already provide cross-licensing programs, and my guess is that this trend will accelerate as the momentum of OS X gets more visible. BTW, most companies with an Office site license have one that covers both Macs and PCs, though sometimes they don't realize that fact.

As one friend at Apple commented, "The hard part is to get everyone wanting to use a Mac. Now we need to work out the details."

Larry Gearhart is sticking with Linux. He writes that the system-cost differential isn't justified for people like him, and open source is here to stay.

I hopped on the GUI bandwagon as soon as I could afford to. The early versions were pretty terrible, limited by the Intel 8086/88 address space. Windows 3.1 was an improvement, but I delayed entering that market until 386-based system prices came down. I was never in the market for a Mac, even though I knew the technology was much better. It wasn't sufficiently better in ways that counted to me. I was a systems programmer who did PC stuff as a hobby.

With that experience behind me, I switched to Linux ASAP. I now use Windows only to test browsers on my Web pages and to run Bible software. The learning curve was significant, but now it's past history. Mac OS X is probably better, but the system-cost differential is not justified for people like me. I envision its success in John/Mary Q. Public's study, especially if Linux doesn't get its act together on the desktop soon enough--about a one year window of opportunity. Even so, most people like me, who care about the technology, will never pay the difference. Open source is here to stay.

An anonymous, wannabe switcher writes about Mac usage stats on Google and OS X's barrier to entry.

I really liked your column on MacDevCenter about Mac uptake. I just wish there were more evidence that folks are really switching.

Anecdotally it seems people are switching. Rael, Cory, and Raffi all use Macs. There were iBooks all over the last Emerging Technology Conference. Great, no? But take a look at the stats Google publishes on the Zeitgeist. You'll see that going back as far as the data does, June 2001, the Macintosh usage Google has seen has stayed at a steady 4%. The January 2001 report doesn't have a number, but visually, also looks to be the same: 4%.

Google stats aren't a random sampling of all Internet users, but I think they're pretty close for these purposes. The only thing I could think would skew the stats is if Sherlock has a big impact. I don't know if it does, but I doubt it.

Personally, I'd try out OS X in a heartbeat if I could just run it on my junky PC hardware. But the barrier to entry of buying a new computer that can only run OS X is too high. Too bad Apple is a hardware company.

Soren (Kurgan) Birk Jacobsen has a problem with NeXTStep and speed per dollar in OS X.

Apart from the fact that 15 people is a bit of a skimpy foundation to build "perspective" upon, you might very well have received so many Linux/Unix switch responses because those are the people dominantly accessing the (might I add great!) O'Reilly resources.

As for my experience with switching to OS X, I can say the following:

  1. So far, I've been very disappointed with what they have done with NeXTStep. That was indeed a great system, at its time. Little has changed, and what has changed is for the worse (nonsense like jumping icons, etc.). Then again, I haven't tried Jaguar yet, so who knows?

  2. About speed, especially speed per dollar--Linux may not be as polished (though KDE 3 and GNOME 2 are quite polished), but it offers raw horsepower far outside the reach of the current OS X hardware platform, and that at a cost that is still less than a standard OS X box.

So must I conclude that the "switchers" are not major users of cpuCycles?

I've always believed that Linux will be the Unix platform of choice on the server end. My 1997 slogan was that Linux should aspire to be "the Intel inside of the next generation of computer applications," and that vision is largely coming true. Many of the most interesting "Internet applications," like Google, are actually running on top of Linux. Linux is finding great opportunities in CPU-intensive applications, from film special effects to bioinformatics. (That being said, OS X is finding some traction in these fields as well.)

Todd Hoff writes:

I'm a Windows-only user and I plan to switch to the Mac on my next purchase because of XP's DRM approach. Using XP would be like voluntarily entering a jail cell and closing the door.

From an interface perspective, I don't find the Mac superior.

Amen to your DRM concerns. Apple has been relatively more enlightened on the subject of DRM, recognizing that most users are fundamentally honest, and unwilling to support the extreme position of fear-mongering media executives.

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