Unix Switchers

Tim O’Reilly comes to the point and says something regarding the people who are switching to Mac OS X: that it’s wildly popular with everyone except Mac OS 9 users. Specifically, O’Reilly is talking about Linux and Unix users:

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.

He backs it up with some simple polling, which, while admittedly unscientific, rings true. The conclusion he reaches is somewhat obvious — Unix-heads love Mac OS X, and are switching to it in droves. Why? Because, in the words of one of O’Reilly’s respondents, Jim Thompson:

“Then I plugged my wife’s Epson 820 printer into the USB port. Everything works. I’m not sure the power of that simple statement gets my mental state across. Everything *JUST* works. It’s weird. No fiddling, no editing of files. It’s a little creepy for someone whose first response is to open ‘Terminal.app’ and dredge though /etc and /var for config and startup files to let the machine handle it.”

That’s a perfect example of the difference in mindsets between Unix and Mac OS 9 users. For Mac OS 9 users, plugging in a peripheral and having it “just work” is not an amazing feature, it is a baseline. Linux and its brethren are terrible at nearly all the tasks at which Mac OS 9 excels. Thus, the appeal of Mac OS X: from the perspective of someone accustomed to desktop Linux, Mac OS X is much more usable in nearly every aspect. Only Mac OS 9 users see anything to complain about with Mac OS X, because they’re the only people accustomed to something even more polished.

In other words, from a Mac users’s perspective, Mac OS X still has rough edges; from a Linux user’s, it’s the Hope diamond. Mac OS X is clearly the world’s best desktop Unix — unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.

To his credit, Tim O’Reilly has been on board with Mac OS X from the get-go, not only using it himself, but establishing ORA as the leading publisher of Mac OS X books. Only at the very end of this Switchers essay, in his conclusion, does he fall off track:

Apple may be wise to target Unix/Linux rather than Windows in their switch campaign. (As the authors of Crossing the Chasm noted, it’s best to dominate a niche, and expand out from there, than it is to tackle a market that’s too big for you to digest right away. And capturing the Unix desktop market would likely double Apple’s market share in one swoop.)

First, there’s simply no way, even if Apple convinced every single desktop Linux user in the world to switch to OS X, that it would double Apple’s market share. There are millions, maybe even tens of millions, more people using Mac OS 9 or earlier than who are using Linux or BSD as their desktop OS.

That’s not to say that Apple shouldn’t take market share growth where it can find it. Which leads to my second point: Apple doesn’t need to advertise to Linux nerds about the wonders of Mac OS X; they already know.