Ideological Purity (or, Apple Does Wintel)

For some time now, Apple Computer has been shipping machines built around the Intel Core Duo processor, which has the same instruction set as any other Intel processor. When this move was first announced, Steve Jobs emphasized the gains in reduced processor heat and increased speed; but observers speculated that this was Step One in a bid to allow Windows use on the Mac.

A few days ago, this potential became reality as Apple introduced Boot Camp, software that allows you to partition a section of your hard drive and install Windows on it. Apple has no intention of shipping Windows software itself, so users have to buy the operating system from Microsoft and install it on their own; but as a marketing move, this is brilliant. Apple has been struggling along with a 3% market share in personal computers. Many people who would prefer to use Macs are forced to use software for their work that is only available for Windows; owning a Mac under these circumstances was a luxury. But now, you can buy a Mac and still use all the Windows software you want, including computer games or anything else. Suddenly, the equation changes; now, when buying a Mac you are paying a slight premium over other PC models for the exceptional hardware design, and access to the beautiful OS X and the specialized software that comes with it — while losing no functionality.

Moreover, as more people begin to experience the joy that is Macness, fewer people will tolerate working with Windows software if they can avoid it. The opportunity cost of purchasing a given piece of software for Mac, as opposed to Windows, just plummeted. In time, many people might completely transition to Mac software, using Windows only for specialized applications.

So, who can possibly be upset by such a shrewd business move? Apparently, the Los Angeles Times.

Last Friday, the print LAT carried a lead editorial titled Apples, Oranges and Windows. In it, they accused Steve Jobs of selling out to the Man:
Apple's move looks like a concession, if not a defeat, in its three-decade-long battle against rival Microsoft. For years, Apple's advertisements have urged computer users to abandon Windows, asserting that the choice between Mac and Windows was a choice between easy and confusing, cool and geeky, good and evil. On Wenesday, however, Apple started giving away software for Intel-powered Macs that makes it easy to install Windows XP…. Instead of trying to cure people of their Windows addiction, Apple is now an enabler…. It seem[s] silly, like trying to fit a lawnmower engine inside a Vespa scooter….

But from a cultural standpoint, it's jarring. It used to be said that the difference between the two tycoons of the computer age is that Bill Gates just wants your money, while Steve Jobs wants your soul. What Wednesday's announcement shows is that, if forced to choose, Jobs will take the money too.
This editorial should be embarrassing for the Times. Good heavens, a businessman actually wants to make money! Imagine that!

More than that, this editorial perfectly demonstrates a pernicious worldview that continues to harm American politics, of which the Times is often a major exponent. In this worldview, image is more important that reality, and cultural subversiveness is prized above all. It doesn't matter that Apple's computer business was continually struggling on the edge of irrelevance, with a market share that would horrify General Motors. No, what matters is that Apple is part of a Manichaean war with the font of all evil, Microsoft, upholding the sacred virtues of coolness and soul.

Never mind that this Manichaean drama was never so cut and dry. Microsoft, while it had some business practices that were definitely unethical and occasionally illegal, and while its software is generally clumsy and poorly written (and has the aesthetic sense of ten drunken clowns in a flea market), performed the service of making software that was good enough. And Bill Gates has in recent years been using his prodigious fortune to fight the spread of malaria in Africa, fund biomedical research here in the States, and assist in a host of other beneficial activities.

Never mind, too, that the Times's narrative uncritically accepts Apple's slick advertising pitch. The idea that you could demonstrate your moral superiority by your choice of computer is laughable. But it appeals to a certain class of people who want to be seen as virtuous, not because of what they actually do in the world, but because of the image they project.

Note the horror with which the Times treats Steve Jobs's desire for profits over so-called principle. They would be much happier, I'm sure, had Apple continued to flail away in the quicksand of the marketplace without getting anywhere, but still preserving their purity of ideas, the pristineness of their vision. Actually getting things done is not important. What is important is to be true to your beliefs in some bizarre sense that holds that intentions trump reality.

Therefore, if you cut taxes for the rich, even if it helps the poor in the long run by stimulating economic activity, you are evil. If you raise taxes for the rich, even if this puts hundreds of thousands of people out of work, you are righteous. If you oppose universal health care, even if such programs are a disaster in every country that has them, you are evil. If you force businesses to purchase health insurance for their workers, even if this makes them fire everyone they can spare, you are righteous. What is important is not real-world consequences, but the beauty of your inner vision.

Needless to say, if you ignore basic economics, if the idea of cost/benefit analysis is beyond you, if you make decisions based on emotion and not logic, if the long run is too far in the future to even cross your mind, if you lack the ability to think three moves ahead, if you willfully disregard Murphy's Law and Heinlein's Law of Tanstaafl (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch), if you insist on casting the basic operations of a free society as an apocalyptic clash between good and evil — then you will tend to create ruinous public policy.

These people should learn from Steve Jobs. They do claim to venerate him, after all.

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