Minority Report: The filth and the fury of the Apple loyal

When Mac evangelism goes too far...

When Mac evangelism goes too far...

Apple is known almost as much for its loyal fan base as for its innovative products. But, asks Seb Janacek, could their outspoken manner be hurting the company's stab at the corporate world?

Hell hath no fury like a Mac user scorned. Run an article about Apple and you usually get a steady trickle of reader comments. Run one that questions or criticises any aspect of Apple strategy, products or leadership and the trickle becomes a deluge. And the accusations of 'Mac bashing' soon follow.

Apple has a fiercely loyal fan base that would be the envy of any other company on the planet and which helped sustain the company's fortunes through the dark days and into its current age of relative plenty.

Mac users have traditionally viewed themselves as being separate from the rest of the pack and renown for 'thinking different'. Within the fan base exists a highly vocal minority which tolerates no criticism of its beloved company and attacks any real (or indeed imagined) slight of Apple in online fora with savage intensity.

It's this minority that seems to be under some form of mass hypnosis - perhaps some far-reaching extension of Steve Jobs' 'reality distortion field' - thinking that Apple can do no wrong and is a panacea for all the IT wrongs in the world.

I've noticed that two recent articles on silicon.com caused particular offence. In one, Dell CEO Kevin Rollins claimed the iPod is just a passing fad. In the second, the CIO Jury was asked whether Apple is a viable contender for businesses. Eleven out of the 12 CIOs said no with one branding the company "irrelevant" to business.

My editors at silicon.com tell me soon after these articles were posted, the floodgates opened and the abuse poured in. They say a great many comments were edited for language, while others were simply deleted because the contents were deemed inappropriate. Many questioned the competence and motivation of our CIOs. It didn't make pretty reading.

Like it or not, those questioned in the article were 12 senior IT managers putting their own thoughts to Apple's chances at working its way onto the desks of businesses other than graphic design agencies or publishing companies. Exactly the kind of people that need to be convinced of the merits of Apple in the workplace.

Apple is determined to carve out a niche for itself in the corporate space. It recently upgraded products its Xserve server range, introduced Xsan, an enterprise storage solution, and dedicated a section on its website to IT pros. The IT Pro pages - complete with a reassuring picture of a server with a tangle of multi-coloured wires sticking out of the back of it - aim to demystify some the misconceptions surrounding Macs, profile the company's product range and highlight some of the benefits of the Unix-powered OS X operating systems. Mmm, BSD.

Meanwhile the Mac mini, though touted as a consumer machine, has huge merits as an office desktop not least by affording the next generation of IT support staff the opportunity to spend less time patching computers and updating antivirus software and more time learning useful things like Unix and database administration. Tempting prospect, isn't it?

The company, for so long considered an also-ran in the corporate sphere, is now getting serious about its corporate credentials. It's real progress for the company that people are at least beginning to ask these questions again.

Despite recent high-profile success with both Cisco and Oracle getting onboard, the Cupertino company faces a battle for recognition. The barriers aren't insurmountable, as evidenced by the ever increasing success of Linux - another example of a technology with a fan base that flamed early articles questioning the operating system's chances of making it onto the corporate server.

Sections of the Linux community have successfully ditched the geeky image, bought a suit and gained heavyweight business credentials from the likes of IBM. Apple faces a similar challenge.

The company's fans have a part to play in helping this happen. Among the hundreds of comments posted on Apple articles, it's refreshing to see an increasing amount of feedback from IT managers, directors and consultants making legitimate cases for the company's products in the corporate space.

However, the other sort of comments need to be tempered. Flame in haste and you may repent later. An incisive comment about how more expensive Macs may actually lower a company's total cost of ownership may be lost among comments calling critics of the company "dorks", "idiots" and "Steve Ballmer's right-hand pit stain" (an actual comment by a silicon.com reader) or worse - if that's possible.

The collective moral outrage does Apple evangelists, and by extension the company itself, no favours. The vitriol seems particularly misplaced in online forums read worldwide by thousands of senior technology professionals and business decision makers holding the IT purse strings.

With its new products, overflowing coffers and über-brand, Apple has the best chance in years of making serious inroads into the corporate space.

Apple has grown up, one can only hope that this particular vocal minority of its fans can follow suit.

Peace. (And for the record: Made on a Mac)


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