The minds at Penny-Arcade have a new comic dealing with their newfound feelings at having switched to the flamboyant Apple lifestyle. While they joke about the dangerous path they have set down, I saw the announcement that the two authors of the comic were switching to Macs from PCs to be groundbreaking, and a signal of a big victory for Apple in general.
Here’s some background. Penny-Arcade is the most widely read webcomic around, and they primarily deal with the topic of video games. They have a rabidly fanatical fanbase, and are treated by video game manufacturers as journalists; they have access to sneak previews of new games and consoles, they have been commissioned to make supplementary material for big video games such as Rainbow 6 and World of Warcraft. In addition to this, they have traditionally had a strict anti-Mac attitude; a character in their strip Charles, is typically ridiculed for his love of the Mac platform in general. This has made sense, as they are gamers, and there are… exactly one game (s) available for the Mac that are worth a crap. So I was pretty surprised when they announced over a month ago that they were both looking into buying Apple machines, spurred by the switch to the Intel processors. Though as a Mac fanatic, I am pretty happy about this, it had me a little confused. The switch to the Intel platform has very little impact on the immediate availability of games for the Mac. In fact, due to Rosetta issues, there are reports that some games that worked on old Macs will not work or will run slower on the faster powered Intel Macs.
So… These people were unconvinced by Apple’s switch to BSD, they were unconvinced by Ellen Feiss, and they were unconvinced by Tiger. Why switch now, when nothing has changed from their perspective? How could two users so defiantly anti-switch be swayed by a change of architecture, and the announcement of minor improvements to the basic hardware that they offered before? I have a theory, natch.
You see, I believe that every kid engages in certain ideology battles in elementary school, that carry on through junior high, high school, college, and the rest of his life. Though he may get less fanatical as time goes on, the scars of a “Nintendo vs. Sega” debate can stay with you for a loong time. Though not as flashy as the console wars, the Mac vs. PC war was a pretty big deal when I was a kid. Though most of us were comfortable with our clunky Windows boxes, every school has this one kid that was harping on how great Photoshop looked on his computer, and how you could play some stupid turtle game; for the sake of this post, we will label him “Michael Schuler”. “Michael Schuler” would harp about how awesome his computer was in comparison, we would take one look at the crappy two-dimensional buttons on his OS 9 system and fugly blue folders, laugh at him, and go back to playing Ultima. “Michael Schuler” would bring up foreign concepts like “integrated networking” and “preemptive multitasking”, and we would look at his awkward keyboard and solitary mouse button, laugh at him, and go back to playing Starcraft.
OS X came around and the interface was looking mighty nice, and the underlying system was looking mighty geekily appealing, but people were still hesitant to switch. To switch to Apple would be to admit defeat to the “Michael Schulers” of the world. Newer versions of OS X brought feature improvements, ease of use, and virus invulnerability that would make a PC user weep. Though I personally caved at this point, I know that many of my PC-using brethren remained strong on the frontlines, bravely closing pop-up windows and patiently ignoring malware load times not because they were lazy, but out of deep-seated pride. These people wanted to switch, they needed to switch, but they needed Apple to give up some ground, so they could walk into that Apple store and buy a mac without feeling like they had just sould their soul for a brightly colored bouncing dock with magnification effects. By Apple switching to the Intel chip, they went all the way back to the playground, where one of the fundamental disputes was over basic hardware superiority; they’ve basically let out a Trojan horse with a big sign saying “Look! You were right! ‘Michael Schuler’ was wrong about the processors all along! Come play with us!” Thus, the PC geeks among us all can now march into the store as if claiming war booty, buy a slick machine, and wear our Apple drawstring shopping bags on our backs proudly as if this is not the biggest forefeit in history since we stopped buying Nintendo systems. And “Michael Schuler” is laughing his head off.