Google fans are the new Mac elite, the users who "get it"

Google users are taking a cue from the Mac elite by adopting new technologies and proving that they "get it" when it comes to being open-minded about the power of something new.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

There's a certain amount of arrogance that emits from Mac owners, those of us whose smug attitudes toward Windows users seems to just scream "I think I'm better than you." But I can honestly say that, as one of those obnoxious Mac guys, I don't think that we're better than Windows users. We just tend to "get it" a bit more.

OK, that sounds arrogant, too - but I'm not trying be that way about it. I've talked to many folks who've switched from Windows to the Mac and they all seem to say the same things - that the computing experience is superior and that they finally have come to the realization that many of us have known all along.

I don't write this to spark some sort of Apple-Microsoft debate. Instead, I bring this up as a way of illustrating how the tide seems to be shifting - evolving to the next stage of the debate between those who "get it' and those who don't. Apple fans still get it - and increasingly Google fans are right there with them.

Specifically, I'm talking about e-mail.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how Google was bent out of shape over a the e-mail contract for the state of California. The company didn't actually submit a formal bid for the state's business because it felt that the requirements of a new e-mail system were written specifically for Microsoft products. One of the highlighted examples was the state's requirement to be able to "sort" for e-mails.

Google cried foul and explained that its user interface didn't allow for sorting but instead used search technology to find messages - and then went into a rant about how search was a better way to find important messages within the inbox. In the end, the state refused to change the language for more than 100 different requirements and Google, feeling that it didn't stand a fair chance at winning the state's business, chose to not submit a formal bid.

You see, the state government of California doesn't "get it." It is stuck with a 1990s mindset, as it relates to e-mail. Sure, there are some legitimate reasons for California - or any local, state or federal government agency - to have concerns about security. We've been through that debate practically a million times already. But this particular argument has little to do with security concerns. This has more to do with people - in this case, state employees - resisting something new, an approach to email that might allow them to work more efficiently and increase productivity if they just gave it a chance.

Google Apps - the cloud-based e-mail and productivity software suite - has gained some ground with business customers. But it also has seen some potential customers - notably, the state of California - stay out of reach over the "get it" factor. Last week, I had a conversation with Michael Cohn, co-founder of Cloud Sherpas, one of the biggest Google Apps resellers in the country. The company finds itself on the front lines daily, helping business customers to understand and integrate Google Apps into their operations.

I talked to Cohn about the "get it" factor and he shared some of his own anecdotes about those who approach them with a strong understanding of the Google suite - largely because of their own personal experiences with GMail and Google Docs - and potential customers who are still kicking the tires. Those folks have heard about the cost savings by going with Google but still have some concerns.

What about those who are hung up on the ability to sort versus the search functionality offered within GMail? Cohn didn't hesitate with his response: "We just say thank you... We don't waste our time trying to win those guys over."

Why not? Because they don't "get it" yet.

Here at CBS Interactive, the parent company of ZDNet, we've recently switched to Google from Exchange, and I've encountered some resistance among colleagues on things such as threaded e-mails, no folders and, of course, the inability to sort messages.

Cohn explained that, with some companies, his team will survey a company's employees before deployment on how many of them are existing Gmail users as a way of gauging their comfort with the Gmail user interface. In a lot of companies, it's the executives and decision-makers, not the employees, who resist the change. The employees of some companies - especially those running older systems - are quick to welcome the change.

For some time now, I've been squawking about the inefficiency of e-mail and how products like Google Wave - a multi-faceted communications and collaboration platform that Google launched last year but killed earlier this month - are pushing us into a better way. Wave, which had a big learning curve, never got off the ground with user adoption. But Gmail, which has evolved as the company has rolled out small features one at a time, does have that user base.

Over time, Gmail users have come to appreciate the freedom of labels over the limited use of folders, archiving messages over deleting them and, of course, search over sort. It doesn't happen overnight - but eventually, they "get it."

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