Friday, October 7, 2011

Operating Systems and Marketing

The "personal preference of a computer brand" debate has clogged Internet discussions as much as any other pointless debate. "Why The Simspons aren't funny anymore", and "Kirk versus Picard" are arguments almost as old as the Internet itself. Yes, people actually came up with one hundred point lists as to why one fictional space-captain was better than the other. In fact BBS boards existed for specific models of computers, and the operator would kick you if he found out that you had a Commodore on an Amiga board; because obviously Amigas were superior machines in every way.

When I was fifteen I went to CompUSA to buy a copy of OSX 10.3. I bought an iMac G3 with OS8 at a computer fair with the plan to upgrade it, and then turn the computer over for a profit. It ended up being one of the biggest pain in the ass projects I ever attempted. I found the Apple rep, who was talking to a woman with a child. I asked if they had any copies of 10.3 still laying around, because all I saw were boxes for 10.4. The Apple rep snickered and said "Ha! Nobody uses Panther anymore!" The woman rolled her eyes and laughed. As the two people returned to their conversation, smiling, I stood there contemplating the reason why grown adults would result to school yard attempts at ostracization over consumer products. I then realized my mistake wasn't asking the Apple rep for help, but going to CompUSA in the first place.

The point I am trying to get at, isn't that Mac users are assholes (disregarding the two people in CompUSA), but that we are affected every day by consumer marketing, and that the two assholes in CompUSA were just as much implicated in be affected by marketing as you and I are. Nevertheless a specific operating system is required only by the type of work you do. If you're a system admin, you're probably going to use Linux or Unix. If you're a video editor, or graphic designer; you're probably going to use a Mac at work. And for spreadsheets, and everything else there's windows. If you think one computer is better, and all you use it for is checking your e-mail and browsing the Internet, you're a tool, and this post will explain why. And no, using a torrented copy of Final Cut Pro to make Naruto, and Avenged Sevenfold Youtube music videos wont justify your purchase to your anime fan forum.

First off, the act of simply branding a product has an effect on us:
In 2003, researchers led by Read Montague at Baylor College of Medicine used an old ad campaign as inspiration for a seminal scientific experiment. They decided to have their test subjects take a Pepsi Challenge of sorts, with one key difference: the subjects' brains would be monitored by a functional MRI machine as they completed the taste test.

The results were remarkable, as summed up in this excerpt from a Frontline report by Mary Carmichael: "Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of [the subjects] said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke 'lit up' the medial prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague's hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product."

In other words, about half of the subjects who said they preferred Pepsi when both drinks were anonymous changed their preference to Coke when the drinks were identified. And when the brands were revealed, the Coke brand actually caused activity in a part of the brain that remained dormant at the mention of Pepsi.
Computer science majors probably
have different concepts attached
to this image than other people.
I have often heard people exclaim "ads don't effect me". But if we weren't affected by ads, we would be unique in human history in that we would be unaffected by our culture. Anything that stimulates our senses affects us. You reading this sentence right now is affecting your brain chemistry the same way reading "you are now aware of your breathing" affects you. How are messages specifically designed by marketers and psychologists to target you any different?

A brand is a collection of images and ideas representing an economic producer; more specifically, it refers to the concrete symbols such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Think about the concepts that are tied to the products you own.  I decided to make a list of the first six words I thought of when I thought of the words "Microsoft" and "Apple".

Microsoft Apple
Windows slick
BSOD macintosh
desktop tower firewire
Bill Gates graphics design
Steve Ballmer Steve Jobs
XP Apple store

You could of course, do this with any product, and results are going to differ from demographic to demographic, person to person. My personal results up there don't matter, I am just trying to covey the idea that we attach meanings to concepts. Hence why people prefer Coca-Cola, even if Pepsi tastes better. Here is another example of how branding influences us, well in this case influences men:

Although a sample of fifty women and fifty men probably isn't a significant sample size, even after applying the T-test.

The public reaction to the passing of Steve Jobs is an excellent example of how branding and marketing affect us. News articles have gone as far as to compare Steve Jobs to inventors such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. It is completely ignorant to make such a statement, and disregards the fact the the invention of the computer was done so on the shoulders of many other people and companies. (The book Accidental Empires is a great history of the invention of the modern computer, and can be found on Amazon for a dollar. ) Although your Facebook feed right now might give you the impression Steve Jobs invented computers, MP3 players, cell phones, and the Internet. But this is what was intended, Steve Job's most important contribution to Apple upon his return was the complete overhaul of Apple marketing.

Steven Wendel
Don't make fun of Steve Jobs on Facebook

Every classroom I have ever been in, starting with firstgrade, has had an Apple computer sitting in the back of the room; from the Power Macs to the Imacs. Whether or not the computer was utilised was the teacher's preference. Still, the case stands that almost every student in the US would come to equate Apple with education. Apple cut deals with schools everywhere to sell them Macs. Even today Apple offers discounts to college students based off of which colleges they attend.No other computer, or product is as well liked to education.

In 1998 the year Steve Jobs returned to Apple was the same year they pushed the think different campaign. The Imac line was specifically targeted towards college age people and students. This also includes the modern design of the products, and the way Apple products are made to compliment each other (Ipod > podcasts > Itunes, Ilife). Even the newer "I'm a Mac" ads portray Apple and their products as being younger, hipper, and more user friendly. Before the rehiring of Steve Jobs, Mac ads only focused on how much easier their computers were to use over PCs. Does intelligent, creative, unique, young, and different define the people you know that own Macs, or define how those people wish to appear? How would you describe a "Mac user" compared to a "Windows user", or "Linux user". When you buy a product, you're also buying in to the concepts and ideas behind it.

I am not trying to discredit the accomplishments of Steve Jobs, but it is important to note what his role was in shaping the computer, and not what we are lead to believe. Yes, he owned over three hundred patents. Is the amount of patents somebody owns a measure of intelligence? One patent troll can have over one thousand patents easily. Many of these patents were design details of Apple products, not technical aspects, and while there is a patent the for the graphical user interface, it was Xerox that first created the GUI in 1970. Steve Jobs was a great marketer, and capitalist. But inventor and genius on the scale of Ben Franklin or Einstein?

In German, a play on words can be made between the word Schein and Sein. To appear and to be. It is important to see things how they are, and not how they seem, or how you want them to be. Marketing tries to convince you otherwise.

Schein und Sein
by Wilhelm Busch
Mein Kind, es sind allhier die Dinge,
Gleichwohl, ob große, ob geringe,
Im wesentlichen so verpackt,
Daß man sie nicht wie Nüsse knackt.
Wie wolltest du dich unterwinden,
Kurzweg die Menschen zu ergründen.
Du kennst sie nur von außenwärts.
Du siehst die Weste, nicht das Herz.

Here is my attempt at a translation:

Appearance and Being
by Wilhelm Busch
My child, there is in all things,
No matter how large or how little,
packaged essentially so,
that one cannot crack them like nuts.
How would you undertake,
the short path to fathom the people,
you know them only from the outside.
You see the vest, not the heart.


  1. Macs are sleeker, but damn if they aren't way overpriced.

  2. I second what Sub-Radar said. Apple products are beautifuly designed and sleeker, but holy crap they are expensive compared to everything else. I have treated myself with an Apple product a couple times though. I don't even know if i have a point hahahah

  3. I don't give a flying crap what my computer looks like, if I'm not looking at the screen, I'm not looking at it at all :D

  4. I have always been a function over fashion kind of guy. I prefer to build my own pcs and disregard aesthetics in favor of performance.