Hidden Strength

I spent a lot of time interviewing in May, and as a result I saw the inside of a lot of companies. Specifically, I saw what sorts of computers the programmers had on their desks.

Macs. Macs, Macs, Macs. Sure, there was the occasional suit with a Windows laptop, and the occasional sad Linux holdout, but mostly it was those lovely, overpriced hunks of aluminum.

I think the explanation for this is pretty simple:

  • Mac OS X is BSD UNIX (well, close enough, anyway) under the skin, offering programmers all the power and POSIX-compliance of that platform. And none of the Planet Microsoft one-off-ness.
  • Apple’s market share is big enough that a decent software ecosystem exists for the Mac. And big enough that IT dept’s are willing to learn to support their stuff.
  • Mac OS X offers a really nice desktop. Nicer than Gnome or KDE or whatever else you’re going to propose. Admit it. Apple gear is also physically beautiful.
  • Amortized over years, the AAPL price premium isn’t so bad. The premium is even less of a problem for the developer if corporate purchasing is paying for it, and any half-way rational business will be happy to pay a few hundred bucks extra to keep those cost centers known as programmers typing a little longer each day.

So: More developer-friendly than Windows, more supportable than Linux, prettier than either, and not that expensive in practice. It’s not hard to see why developers are flocking to it.

I think that this small cadre of influential users is a real hidden strength of Apple’s. Developers produce the software that ultimately differentiates computers (or other devices) in the eyes of consumers. If you’re the little fish, you have to worry about them ignoring you. If, on the other hand, you can get them to like, use, and work on your platform:

  • Lots of cool little ideas will be born there, and many will tend to stick.
  • Developers will want to build stuff for your platform, so that they can use it.
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