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Ice Cream
More Advocacy

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The other day I was discussing Mac Advocacy with some particularly nasty and close minded PC-Advocates. Fortunately I don't think these guys were the norm -- since most PC advocates I know are willing to have a conversation and discuss points of merit (and flaws) openly. But there was one point that I kept trying to get to, that they would dodge particularly ferociously, was about choice. The PC advocates wanted to discuss how there was more choice in the PC than in the Mac -- but they would dodge the point that there was even more choice by allowing BOTH in a company.

You can't add more choices by eliminating them

I kept trying to point out that if you are for choice, then you can't be anti-Mac. Allowing your graphics art department and publishing groups to have Macs is not a detriment to a big company and allows specialization of tools. Just like allowing IS and Development to have specialty machines (like SUN SPARCs or IBM AS/400's and so on). These guys kept wanting to focus on the argument that because the PC had more manufacturers (for the same exact parts) that this was more choice than all the others -- and somehow standardization was more choice than allowing specialization for different tasks.

They also kept making the ridiculous claim that PCs were easier to support. And that somehow a single standard of some bastardized hybrid of 3 or 4 OSs, like DOS, Win31, Win95, Win98 and WinNT -- which all run things slightly differently and require different training and so on -- was somehow easier to support than Macs. Not to mention the advantages of BeOS, Linux, OS/2 and a few other variants on their hardware, which they would also like to forbid. They wanted to talk only about the savings of "banning choice" and not about any of those costs. There is serious irony when PC people attack the Mac because it has evolved so smoothly that they accuse it of "not changing". Then they won't acknowledge that this consistency might reduce support costs.

Ice Cream

One of the analogies I made was about Ice Cream.

The PC is like Vanilla Ice Cream. You can have 30 different companies making slight variants of Vanilla Ice Cream -- and you have Apple making Neapolitan (layered Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry).

If you don't want vanilla it doesn't really matter that the PC has French Vanilla, Vanilla Bean, Old Fashions Vanilla, Double-Vanilla, Vanilla Ice Milk, and many more variants of Vanilla (all made by different companies). Adding 10 more flavors of Vanilla, or 100, won't change that dynamic -- it is still Vanilla. Standardizing on Vanilla will not give people more choice. It can't help those that like something else. People need REAL variety -- not just minor variations on a theme.

Of course the reality of PCs is about the same. Look at the sales volume, and you find out that most of the PCs are sold from a very few companies -- all the rest are the same thing with only slightly different parts. There are about a half dozen PC manufacturers that make like 90% of the PCs. There isn't nearly as much choice as PC advocates pretend, because they all buy the same parts from the same companies, and slap them together in the same basic way, they run the same OS's and you get the same results. Some make slightly better variants than others, but that's about it. Where is all that variety and choice I hear about? It is all just vanilla to me.

Of course Apple is only one company making a different flavor(s) -- Neapolitan. Apple buys most of its same parts from the same companies as PCs. Look at the chip suppliers, hard drive, connectors, and so on -- and Apple gets to use the same assembly tools, parts and economies of scale as the PCs do. Or in other words, Apple starts with the same basic ingredients for Ice Cream as the rest (though sometimes choosing higher quality parts). Then Apple mixes it differently -- for a real change. They add in chocolate and strawberry, and end up with something that is quite similar, but enough different to be real choice.

Apple is not the only company that tries to offer different flavors. Sun, HP, DEC (before they were eaten), IBM, and so on, really do offer REAL CHOICE -- different flavors. But many IS people, and PC advocates want to eliminate those from companies as well. We can't have any of those other flavors tainting the purity of vanilla. They always quote support costs -- like having 500 people 10 - 50% more productive (because of a better choice) is far less important and costly than the wages of one part time IS person to support them -- but again, I'm wandering off topic.

What if you want Vanilla

Of course the truth is if all you want is vanilla, then the PC is better.

Sure the Mac (Neapolitan) has vanilla in it, and you can eat just that (run software through emulation). And in many ways the Neapolitan is far better -- allowing you a choice of chocolate and strawberry as well. So for most people, if they were stranded on a Dessert Island (pun intended) with only massive refrigerators and one flavor of ice cream, most would be wise to choose Neapolitan.

But if all you ever wanted was Vanilla, and you had no imagination, no ability to change, and you were the one who got to pick what everyone else had to eat, then maybe you too would be short sighted enough to force everyone to eat Vanilla too. "Good enough for you, good enough for everyone else", as many that make IS mandates seem to say. And let's face it, 1/3 Vanilla may not be as good as ALL Vanilla -- if you only enjoy sameness.

IS and making other flavors

There is another reality though too. While the Macs and Neapolitan is a good flavor -- and offers more choice (in that it is different), and is easier to use, and so on -- a GOOD IS staff can take away much of the potential ugliness of the PC. Let's face it -- if you have a staff of people that spend their entire unimaginative days, doing research on what the latest patches for WindowsNT are, to try to plug all the security leaks -- and if they waste their time updating all the machines for you, then WindowsNT can run surprisingly good.

In my analogy world, I equate this with having a staff of people, smashing up Cocoa-Pebbles and Strawberry Fruitloops (two breakfast cereals), and stirring the contents of said mashing into Vanilla Ice Cream to get something that is not completely unlike Neapolitan. Of course it is not as good as real Neapolitan, but if all you've ever eaten is Vanilla, then it is a pleasant change. And of course most of the torture of just eating vanilla all the time is minimalized.

So IS staffs can be your friends (by giving you some variety), after many have been your enemies (by eliminating your choices in the first place). They can make a PC a lot less painful -- and almost as pleasant to use as a Mac -- for only a lot more cost (time, energy, freedom, specialization). So IS can be a very important service, if you can get over the totalitarian nature of some IS depts. The out of control departments are the ones that lose track of the fact that they are supposed to be a service to make employees more productive -- and not a group of individuals meant to reduce productivity of the company as a way to make their own lives easier.


Saying you want to outlaw all other flavors, or you just wish that they would go away, because there are more variants of Vanilla than any other flavor -- and that is "more choice", is just plain stupidity. That isn't about choice, that never can be -- that is about eliminating choice, and no one with a clue should forget it.

People keep telling me what a better place the world would be if we could just "standardize". Get rid of all the communists, educate all the liberals, eliminate all the lawyers, drive the Mac users out of companies, have a state controlled religion, create social homogeny and complete harmony -- in fact, why don't we just drive out anyone that disagrees, create a workers paradise with uniform wages, eliminate all fashion (and wear Mao-suits) and... er, wait, that's been tried before. It never works as intended. You certainly don't seem to get more productivity and creativity out of the work force when you try this approach!

Created: 10/05/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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