The Stigma of Mac Shaming

I recall hearing a story of a co-worker at Microsoft, who was a technical assistant to an executive, who had a Mac. It wouldn’t normally be a big deal, except he worked directly for an executive. As a result, this Mac was seen in many meetings across campus – it’s distinct aluminum body and fruity ghost shining through the lid a constant reminder that this was one less PC sold (even if it ran Windows through Boot Camp or virtualization software. Throughout most of Microsoft, there was a strange culture of “eww, a Mac”. Bring a Mac or an iPod to work, feel like an outcast. This was my first exposure to Mac Shaming.

I left Microsoft in 2004, to work at Winternals in Austin (where I had the last PC I ever really loved – a Toshiba Tecra A6). In 2006, on the day Apple announced Boot Camp, I placed an order for a white Intel iMac. This was just over three months before Winternals was acquired by Microsoft (but SHH… I wasn’t supposed to know that yet). This was my first Mac. Ever.

Even though I had worked at Microsoft for over 7 years, and was still writing for Microsoft’s TechNet Magazine as a monthly Contributing Editor, I was frustrated. My main Windows PC at home was an HP Windows XP Media Center PC. Words cannot express my frustration at this PC. It “worked” as I originally received it – but almost every time it was updated, something broke. All I wanted was a computer that worked like an appliance. I was tired of pulling and pushing software and hardware to try and get it to work reliably. I saw Windows Vista on the horizon and… I saw little hope for me coming to terms with using Windows much at home. It was a perfect storm – me being extreme underwhelmed with Windows Vista, and the Mac supporting Windows so I could dual-boot Windows as I needed to in order to write. And so it began.

Writing on the Mac was fine – I used Word, and it worked well enough. Running Windows was fine (I always used VMware Fusion), and eventually I came to terms with most of the quirks of the Mac. I still try to cut and paste with the Ctrl key sometimes, but I’m getting better.

I year later, I flipped from a horrible Windows CE “smartish” phone from HTC on the day that Apple dropped the price of the original iPhone to $399. Through two startups – one a Windows security startup, the other a Web startup, I used two 15″ MacBook Pros as my primary work computer – first the old stamped MBP, then the early unibody.

For the last two years, I’ve brought an iPad with me to most of the conferences I’ve gone to – even Build 2011, Build 2012, and the SharePoint Conference in 2012. There’s a reason for that. Most PCs can’t get you on a wireless network and keep you connected all day, writing, without needing to plug in (time to plug in, or plugs to use, being a rarity at conferences). Every time I whipped out my iPad and it’s keyboard stand with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, people would look at me curiously. But quite often, as I’d look around, I’d see many journalists or analysts in the crowd also using Macs or iPads. The truth is, tons of journalists use Macs. Tons of analysts and journalists that cover Microsoft even use Macs – many as their primary device. But there still seems to be this weird ethos that you should use Windows as your primary device if you’re going to talk about Windows. If you are a journalist and you come to a Microsoft meeting or conference with a Mac, there’s all but guaranteed to be a bit of an awkward conversation if you bring it out.

I’m intimately familiar with Windows. I know it quite well. Perhaps a little too well. Windows 8 and I? We’re kind of going in different directions right now. I’m not a big fan of touch. I’m a big fan of a kick-ass desktop experience that works with me.

Last week, my ThinkPad died. This was a week after my iMac had suffered the same fate, and I had recovered it through Time Machine. Both died of a dead Seagate HDD. I believe that there is something deeper going on with the ThinkPad, as it was crashing regularly. While it was running Windows 8, I believe it was the hardware failing, not the operating system, that led to this pain. In general, I had come to terms with Windows 8. Because my ThinkPad was touch, it didn’t work great for me, but worked alright – though I really wasn’t using the “WinRT side” of Windows 8 at all, I had every app I used daily pinned to the Taskbar instead. Even with the Logitech t650, I struggled with the WinRT side of Windows 8.

So here, let me break this awkward silence. I bought another Mac, to use as my primary writing machine. A 13″ Retina MacBook Pro. Shun me. Look down upon me. Shake your head in disbelief. Welcome to Mac shaming. The machine is beautiful, and has a build quality that is really unmatched by any other OEM. A colleague has a new Lenovo Yoga, and I have to admit, it is a very interesting machine – likely one of the few that’s out there that I’d really consider – but it’s just not for me. I also need a great keyboard. The selection of Windows 8 slates with compromised keyboards in order to be tablets is long. I had contemplated getting a Mac for myself for some time. I still have a Windows 8 slate (the Samsung), and will likely end up virtualizing workloads I really need in order to evaluate things.

My first impression is that, as an iPad power user (I use iOS gestures a lot) it’s frighteningly eerie how powerful that makes one on a MBP with Mountain Lion and fullscreen apps. But I’ll talk about that later.

I went through a bit of a dilemma about whether to even post this or not, due to the backlash I expect. Post your thoughts below All I request? I invoke Wheaton’s Law at this point.

10 comments

  1. I first started using a Mac in 2006, six months after leaving Microsoft. And yes, caused a bit of a stir when I first went back on campus with it and also when attending MS events. But by Build 2011, there were plenty of Macs and iPads about.

    I still work primarily with Microsoft software. But for hardware, nothing has come close to the Mac for form factor and convenience. Ditto the iPad, that is increasingly becoming the only device I take when attending events.

  2. Okay I won’t defend the Shamers but I do understand where some come from, at least from the peanut gallery. I think for some it is about the investment in the platform. Seeing somebody that works on Windows but for most things relies on Apple makes some believe that they don’t believe in the product. The reasoning is if this person who works on Windows or in a MS environment doesn’t use it its a sign that they made the wrong bet. I think especially in the post Windows 8 world its a tricky thing. I know I get a little irked because we invested and we want a good return. Now others they hating to hate

  3. OK, the article sounded a bit one-sided to me. You talk about the funny looks one gets/used to get when they use Mac/iPhone/iPad while covering MS events. Can you imagine the reaction an Apple-only blogger/journalist would get at Apple events if they only used Surface RT/Windows Phone instead of Apple products? I can bet it will be MUCH worse.

    And that’s my problem. I find Apple software and hardware design ugly and riddled with poor usability. I love my Surface RT. I LOVE Windows 8 and Windows Phone’s Metro UI. I believe they are the best UI and UX innovations in the computing world in the last 20/25 years.
    With this background, could I ever get accepted as an Apple blogger? Unlike a lot of MS bloggers who use only Apple products? Definitely NO.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, Roger. See my blog post today for my thoughts. http://getwired.com/?p=1418

    I’m earnestly curious what aspects of Apple’s software and hardware you find broken with respect to usability?

    Metro is a distinct design language, that is certain. Microsoft most definitely forged their own road with it, and for that, I give them kudos. It’s not my cup of tea, but that’s the great part about living in a free society.

    FWIW, I don’t think I’d ever really get accepted by the Apple blogger community as an Apple blogger… 🙂

  5. I’d absolutely understand that if I still worked at Microsoft. Part of the reason I left in 2004 is because I strongly didn’t believe in the direction where Windows Vista was going, or the product it was going to en up as. My relationship as a deployment advocate working with Fortune 500 customers meant I either needed to polish a turd, or leave.

    So that said, I have concerns if Microsoft employees, especially in the Windows/Windows Phone groups, are using Apple products as their primary computing device out of personal choice. If you’re not building a product that your own employees love and want to buy, you may have a problem. At the same time, I think it is imperative that some people within Microsoft keep a bit of a pulse on Apple, and shouldn’t turn a blind eye to iOS or OS X. The should be cognizant of where it is at, and where it is going.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Sharon. Good to know I’m not alone. 🙂

  7. fwiw, this wasn’t really my experience at Microsoft at all – I’ve been on teams (and not ones developing Mac/iOS software) where there seemed to actually be a bit of a stigma to *not* using a Mac. guess it really depends where you are.

  8. The problem I have with Apple’s UI design is that they are not ambitious and disruptive enough. At least no where near as much as Microsoft. Yes I know that may sound strange to many people who have bought into the “Apple is innovative, Microsoft is boring” mantra. But that’s how it’s been for at least the last 5/6 years.
    Microsoft has never been afraid of completely overhauling the UI and UX of their best-selling software, even though it had the danger of alienating of their billions of customers. They did it with Office 2007’s ribbon UI. That was an incredibly bold move on their part. And even though some would like you to believe it was a failure, if you look at sales figures and customer reaction in the real world, it’s been nothing but a roaring success. Having used Office ribbon, I can now never go back to using something like LibreOffice on Ubuntu. It just feels so dated.
    The similar feeling I get with Metro and iOS’s “transitional” touch UI. As iOS was so early to the market, I feel they chose a good “transitional” UI between the desktop and touch. iOS UI today is not totally touch-centric. It maintains lots of features that someone coming from a mouse-driven UI would appreciate, but are not optimized purely for touch.
    Metro, on the other hand, is the first UI made for touch in mind from the ground up. If we had never heard of mouse and keyboards, I feel Metro is the UI that would feel most natural. I find it a complete joy to use on a touch device. Microsoft has bet their entire Windows business on the premise that touch is the future — even on traditional laptops. That’s another incredibly bold move.
    So there you go. I think Microsoft have been more bold and forward-thinking in their approach to UI design, while Apple have been more conservative. I am curious to see what they plan to do with iOS 7. If it is a revolutionary new paradigm, I am prepared to try it out, and even switch allegiance. But I somehow doubt they’ll take any risk their billion dollar cash-cow like Microsoft has done.

  9. Could also be the timeframe…

  10. Apple isn’t innovative. They rarely innovate. They are refiners. They take other people’s innovations and glue them together in mass-marketable ways. So no, I wouldn’t disagree with you there.

    I also wouldn’t necessarily disagree when you say “they aren’t ambitious” either. Ambition gets you attention, but it doesn’t always get you sales. Apple has been very cautious (many say, sedentary) about how they evolve both OS X and iOS. The pace of evolution is practically glacial, if you’re not using it day in and day out. If you _are_ using it regularly, you begin to notice the nuanced changes, smoothing away rough edges. Could iOS and OS X use even more refinement? Sure. But in my opinion, they both work the way I do.

    I don’t think the Ribbon was, itself, a bad idea. Like “apps” of today, it is a task-driven UI. Unfortunately, the first iteration was unfinished, but 2010 improved it, and 2013 made it quite workable. It’s far from perfect – it’s still painful if you’re proofreading and editing a large document, as you keep having to flip back and forth between tabs. But it’s not that much worse – and in other ways much better – than the old menus. It just takes learning.

    I’m not sure I agree that iOS isn’t totally touch-centric. It extended many of the paradigms we were used to (scrolling, grabbing), but did so in a way that was gentle, and not abrupt. As a result, it is quite approachable and discoverable. I’ve got another blog post coming in the next few weeks about iOS/OS X and gestures, so I’ll share more there – but in a nutshell, Apple has been very cautious (and perhaps too slow) about gestures. But there’s a consistency between the Mac and iPad that is quite amazing. I’ll point that out in that upcoming blog.

    Microsoft definitely has been more bold. If you want bold, I’d stay in that camp. iOS will be, I predict, an evolution, not a revolution. The glacier will move a few more inches… And won’t risk anything, but also may continue sales…

    Thanks for your thoughts.