Do Apple zealots do more harm than good?

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser Jun 1988 (guess) - scanned

Are you a Macintosh missionary? Do you take every opportunity to try and persuade non-Mac users of the error of their ways? Or are you more inclined to let them live with what you perceive as their mistakes?

I'd like to suggest that if you like Apple products, you need a healthy Apple Computer company and to a large extent the company's future rests in your hands. Taking either of the above approaches to the 'opposition', you are unlikely to influence many to switch to Apple products. On the one hand, you're not even trying to show others what they're missing, and on the other, you may be trying too hard.

As an extreme example of those who try too hard, take some Apple employees. Meeting them can be an unnerving experience Many are filled with a missionary zeal which would have done credit to the crusaders. Their sense of mission may be well-placed but I can't see that it serves Apple's best interests.

You know what it's like when Jehovah's Witnesses knock at the door or when the Mormons pop round. I don't wish to offend Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses (or Apple employees for that matter), I'm just trying to point out how outsiders feel when confronted by such enthusiasm. You could extend the analogy to include keep fit addicts, natural childbirth enthusiasts and anyone else who thinks they have found the key to a better life.

When faced with such a person most of us switch off. We throw up our mental barricades. We may listen politely, but we've conditioned ourselves to devalue everything they say by about 90%.

Inside the keep fit classes, the Mormon church or Apple, mutual enthusiasm fans the flame of the faith and it burns strong enough to sustain these people when they go into the outside world. They can face ridicule with fortitude and carry on drumming their messages into anyone prepared to give them half an ear.

I get frightened when Apple employees hit me with the 'we're going to change the world for the better' stuff. Whatever they think internally, they should keep it to themselves beyond the confines of fortress Apple. The only thing that counts in the outside world is 'does this computer company deliver solutions that I want?'. I'm sure Apple knows this and its thrusts into desktop publishing, communications and desktop presentations testify to this awareness.

The company seems to focus much of its public activity at the 'gee whizz' end of computing, which is certainly where it leads. It also emphasises coexistence with other systems. But it still has to convince potential users that Apple computers are good for any task that other personal computers can perform.

The trouble is that these applications aren't sexy and they don't attract attention. A wordprocessor or an accounting system doesn't appear to impress people anywhere near as much as a good graphic display, HyperCard or a burst of four-channel sound.

When the Macintosh first came out, I loved it but I couldn't take it seriously In fact, the first real user I met confessed that he only used it for interoffice memos. This guy is a millionaire but even so, I couldn't see how he could justify such an expensive machine for such trivial tasks. A year or two later I met another enthusiast who also happened to be a millionaire, and a world-famous author to boot. He spent a couple of hours impressing the socks off me with what his Mac could do.

He had a preview copy of Switcher which I loved. The capability was nothing - it was the way the two program displays slid across the screen that transfixed me. He fed a picture of himself from a camera into the Mac and then distorted the image in a number of amusing ways. I went away mightily impressed with the Macintosh and what it could do.

The trouble was, I had been shown the gimmicky side of the machine nothing he had shown me could justify the purchase of a Macintosh for myself I carried on in my DOS world, convinced that this was where the real work took place and even more certain that the Mac was, at best, a rich person's toy.

Now, I have a question. What do you show people when they want to see your Macintosh? Are you overcome with the urge to impress with its gimmickry? Or do you show an application which might be relevant to their needs?

My guess is that we are all so taken with the Macintosh that real-life applications take a low priority in our demonstration repertoire. Our audience ends up impressed, but not convinced. Like me, they go away with the sort of idle desires they might have for a Rolls Royce or a Lear jet but know they have to operate in a real world of Ford Sierras and British Rail.

Now, even if Apple got its act together and banned all external displays of missionary zeal, it still has the end users like you to contend with. Be a missionary by all means, but do it in a quiet and convincing way. Realise that, as attractive as the Macintosh is, you still have to move people from a position of indifference, through awareness of the machine's potential, to interest in its use for their own applications. The rest of the selling cycle is then up to Apple and its dealers.

Had one of my millionaire chums said to me, 'David, do you want to see how I use the Macintosh to write bestselling books?', I would have been hooked. After all, I earn much of my income from writing and a system for chomping out bestselling books would be certain to catch my interest.

In many ways, your task is eased if the person has no computer at present. They merely have to be convinced that the Macintosh can do the jobs they want done and then all the features that make the Macintosh worthwhile will be a bonus.

It will take much more to convince the person who has already committed significant amounts of money to an existing computer set-up.

The best you can do there is to get them using your machine for a while so that they understand what makes a Macintosh special. Then perhaps they'll think Macintosh when the time comes to extend their system or trade up.

If you are a Macintosh zealot, hide it from your visitors and show them the practical stuff along with the gimmicks. In this way Apple will prosper and bring you more and more of the products you like so much.

Frighten people off with misguided enthusiasm and you will be doing your bit to undermine the company's future.