Friday, May 28, 2010

Apple Overtakes Microsoft: 'O, What A Fall Was There, My Countrymen!'

That's what Shakespeare might have written about the news that Apple has overtaken Microsoft as the largest tech company by market capitalization.

I will note up front that there are things not to like about Apple. CEO Steve Jobs can be thuggish and his product line is engineered and retailed to force buyers to return time and again to Apple when it comes to most add-ons and apps.

Having gotten that out of the way, there are things to love about Apple that explain why it is eating Microsoft for lunch.

First of all, its customer service and tech support is without peer.

When the Dear Friend & Conscience considered buying a pricey MacBook Pro last year, the folks at the Apple Store spent 90 minutes with her explaining the ins and outs, as well as possible shortcomings, of the laptop. Sale made, she signed up for a year of tutorials, which are great for a semi-Luddite like herself, and re-upped after the year was over.

When I decided to move on from 16 years of PC laptop hell this spring and buy a not-quite-so pricey Mac Book, I had an on-line chat with an Apple dude who explained how it could be configured to my specs, told me I was eligible for an academic discount and then offered to do all the heavy lifting himself.

When a friend's brand new MacBook Pro began seizing up one evening in Manhattan as he was racing to finish some design work for an exhibition that was opening the next day, he took a taxi to a 24-hour Apple Store where a techie apologized about not being able to fix it immediately. He got a call at 4 a.m. the next morning. His computer was good to go.

While I cannot speak for the iPhone (don't want one) or the iPad (why would anyone want one?) Apple laptops are works of art.

Bill Gates engineered the Windows OS to be, at almost every turn, unnecessarily complicated. What I can do on a Mac with one or two key strokes would reliably take two, four or six with Windows.

Then there is iTunes. I webstream most of the music that I listen to and it was long an ordeal with Windows Media. No sweat with iTunes, which loads my favorite radio stations in a fraction of a second.

Then there are the brilliant screens and graphics capabilities. The graphics and web design folks with whom I have worked over the years moved over to Macs in the early 1990s and have never looked back. I work with a fair number of art, art history and material culture students in my cloistered academic setting. All use Macs.

There is a certain element of schadenfreude in the news that Apple has overtaken Microsoft, and it should not be forgotten that Apple survived a tough patch in the late 1990s because of Gates' largess.

But shed no tears for Microsoft, which to name but one egregious example of what passes for "progress": has taken its Word software through several generations of "improvements" that make it more difficult to use while stripping away virtually all of the intuitive features that made it so easy to use back in the day.

Then there was the smoking turd known as Vista and the web browser war that Microsoft for all intents and purposes has now lost after crushing Netscape with its Internet Explorer in the early 1990s. I know of no one -- including tech support where I work -- that uses IE anymore. Mozilla's Firefox is now the coin of the realm.

So while Apple boldly goes where no one has gone before, Microsoft has gone from a Death Star to a rudderless ship whose only goals seem to be to react to what Apple (and Google) do.

Oh what a fall indeed!

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