A PC to Mac OS X switcher's tale

By my calculations, based on Steve Jobs' claim that half of all Macs are sold to first-time buyers, roughly 9,000 people switch to the Mac every day. They're buying new iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros and Mac Pros, most of which come in at sticker prices of $1,200 and up, plus add-ons. With OS X Leopard and iPhone hitting in June, I expect all hell and hallelujah to knock over those fence-sitting switchers. I'm looking forward to that.

What makes the 9,000 number so impressive is the courage of the users switching from Windows. Let's face it: Words such as "friendly" and "intuitive" don't easily tip the scales against "familiar" for professional users who have been running Windows their entire careers. It becomes ingrained that the only roles a platform's core GUI needs to fulfill are authentication, program launching, and file management. It's counterintuitive to many professional Windows users that system software should do anything more than that.

I know someone who is of that very mind-set. She has used Windows since 3.0 and has never seen any reason to use anything else. Her computer, she says, is a tool, not a toy (jab); she needs neither a point-and-click nursemaid nor eye candy, and she's too busy to see how that other half lives just for the sake of broadening her horizons. I can't argue with any of that. These are the unmistakable words of a hardcore non-switcher.

Nonetheless, I piqued her curiosity when she happened by while I was working a project that brought together the UNIX command line, X Window, Windows, OS X, and Mac application resources. I was running a two-headed Mac Pro, and she said that I made it all look so easy. That's as much credit as she's ever given a Mac. I saw in that an opportunity.

Parallels recently made it possible to make an entirely faithful virtual clone of a physical Windows machine, with that clone able to run on either a Mac or a Linux or Windows PC. I offered her a chance to have zero-risk, zero-pressure access to that other half, as she called it, to see how easy she found it to use. Windows would be there, an exact duplicate of her original PC, but behind the OS X Aqua window in which her Windows PC existed, lay a Mac that I wired to give her read-only access to documents on her Windows virtual machine. Beyond that, all I did was prepare for her the briefest of OS X cheat sheets. I put her PC in storage and replaced it with a MacBook wired to her existing LCD panel.
The official start of my study (which you'll find I am approaching scientifically) was that first moment of discovery. She approached her desk to find her PC and its tangle of cables, along with its noise, gone. I nudged the mouse and her LCD panel lit up with her Windows desktop, only now inside an OS X Aqua window.

I had migrated her to a MacBook, which rested invisibly on her desk with its lid closed. I told her that, if nothing else, she now had a much faster Windows PC for work, and when she needed it, she could take it mobile. I also told her that if she chose to keep using Windows, even indefinitely, I'd make sure that was easy for her. Yet I also explained that I had made it just as easy to explore the Mac platform, and that she couldn't damage Windows or OS X by experimenting with either one.

Now it's down to standing back, watching, and discovering what happens when you leave a professional Windows user alone with a Mac. Will she resist? Or will she make the switch? Stay tuned.

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