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Datadump from New York City: The Adoption of Mac OS X.

Volume Number: 18 (2002)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Datadump from New York City: The Adoption of Mac OS X.

by Andrew C. Stone

I have excellent man-in-the-street news for Mac OS X developers - old time Mac users are now using OS X full time, joining the legion of 'switchers' who are buying Macs for the first time and X is all they know. Having shipped the first suite of native OS X applications, I've been closely following the X adoption by listening to the folks that visit our booth during MacWorld Expos, especially the ones in NYC where you hear the undecorated truth. Critical mass has finally been reached in my estimation because 'da heavies are using it now.

In all previous Expos, I heard things like "When PhotoShop ships, I'll change to X", "when our print drivers are available, I'll change to X", and basically, "when this that or the other thing happens, I'll change to X". Those things must have happened because now users are saying, "The only thing I miss on OS X is ______". This is exactly the discussion that we X developers love to hear, especially for the great ideas they give us!

I have a few "X adoption lead indicator" people, including John Perry Barlow, cognitive dissident and freedom fighter, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and the String Cheese Incident, and ex-Apple Master. He was an '80's Mac user, who saw the NeXT and the Light, and was one of the great journalists for this visionary platform. In 1990 on different Rocky Mountain ranches, the two of us were running NeXTStep, the precursor to OS X and the platform on which the Internet was created. You had to be some kind of unix geek to configure those beautiful black cubes.

By the time NeXT was subsumed by Apple in December, 1996, John had already faithfully repatriated to the Mac. I've followed his foot-wetting into OS X over these last several years, and seeing his home computer running in OS X was a welcome telltale sight indeed.

Walking around SoHo and Greenwich village, you are pleasantly innundated with Apple's new "Switcher" ad campaign. Simple in concept, the ads have a nice-looking but normal person with a look of contempt and a caption like "When my PC didn't work, I used to think it was because of me". The "Switcher" campaign is going to work well, and ex-Windows users are going to be some of the happiest of the OS X lot, and I'll tell you my theory on this:

When NeXT computer ported what is now Cocoa to run on top of Windows 95/NT in 1994, Windows users were given a taste of this new "everything is an object and you can drag and drop data" and all the other cool user interface concepts that were pioneered on the NeXT Computer. Once running on Intel hardware, these ideas were inevitably copied by MicroSoft and other vendors. If you can look behind the dreadful UI color schemes in Windows, many OS X ideas are part and parcel of Windows. So I contend that PC users will actually feel quite at home using Mac OS X, since they don't carry any "not like Macos 9" baggage. My guess is Apple's next campaign will be!

Since my grandfather lived in New York City, I have a lifelong connection with the $24 rock, including knowing downtown Manhattan before the World Trade Center. But for most of my life, the main anchor of Tribeca was those towers. Just as an amputee is said to have a 'phantom limb', the same effect occurs in our perception of the City, and if you fly into Laguardia, it hits you like a brick. I made a mental note to make a pilgrimage to Ground Zero during MacWorld NYC, since it's only 6 blocks from my cousin Todd Stone's loft and studio.

But living that far downtown had farreaching consequences for Todd. A lifelong landscape painter, he had been painting those towers in early September 2001, and he was in his studio making photographic studies on 9/11. Out of that day came Witness <> : an e-Gallery of watercolors in elegy to those who died that day. Check it out - the site was made on OS X with native Cocoa apps.

After an intense week of schmoozing and finally seeing the advent of the user adoption of OS X, it was time to kick back and enjoy a show at Radio City. Not just any show in that incredibly exquisite venue, but the String Cheese Incident - the Rocky Mountain jam band that's wielding at least one of the Grateful Dead's spiritual torches. Since I have naively grown accustomed to seeing SCI in venues that barely fit 250 people, this was phenomenal! To give you an idea of the energy, before the show, I was on a balcony overlooking the huge foyer. In an impromptu release of all the stress of the week and year, I gave a wild, New Mexico style hoot as loud as I could, echoing off six stories of mirrors and marble. Spontaneously about 1000 people hooted and hollered in return for what seemed like a pretty long time. Wow!

The show [and after parties and parties after that] were memorable, but wandering around Tribeca at 4 am, I recalled my promised pilgramage to the WTC. Approaching Ground Zero at that eerie time of day, the omnipresent construction lighting illuminated the moisture and dust above the biggest hole I've ever seen in Manhattan. A native New Yorker and I began circumambulating the site, totally alone inside the phantom limb. By the time our circuit was almost over, we were heavy with grief. Then, in this miraculous sort of way, we approached an amazingly verdant park, covered in Irish clover and ancient stones. The sprinklers sent a cool mist over the city streets and our weary bodies, and I swear I'm looking at Ireland.

Reality is stranger than fiction - I was actually gazing upon a piece of Ireland! Stones from each County were brought along with a complete stone ruin to commemorate the lives of those who lived and died during the Irish Potato Famine. I reflected back on the struggles we've had surviving the OS X Adoption Famine, and realized hunger would soon be just a memory worth preserving. As the city awakes, I can leave town knowing that Mac OS X's time has come. In a world where software technologies live and die so quickly, and in a fantastic twist of fate and incredibly focused energy, NeXTStep-OpenStep-Rhapsody-Cocoa has risen to be the most copied and hopefully one day, the most used, operating system in this part of the universe.

Andrew C. Stone, chief architect at Stone Design <>, develops low cost publish to web, print or PDF applicatoins for Mac OS X, and has patiently awaited the adoption of OS X since 1989.


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