X appeal attracts switchers

While pundits are divided on the success of the Apple 'Switchers' advertising campaign in the US, interest in Mac OS X has led to one very valuable group considering making the switch: Linux-using professionals.

A few months ago Apple began its "Switchers" advertising campaign in the US aimed directly at Windows users.

Presented against a stark white background, real people who wrote into Apple tell their stories about how they found computing salvation in the form of Apple hardware. The most famous of all the "switchers" has undoubtedly been Ellen Feiss, whose story about how her dad's PC ate her homework has made her an internet celebrity (check out one of the fan sites).

While pundits are divided on the success of the campaign among the general populace (see Can an Apple a day keep the IT expert away? and Apple of their eye), interest in Mac OS X has led to one very valuable group considering making the switch: Linux-using professionals. The reasons for this can be summarised in two small words: tools and users.

When Mac OS X was released to the public, Apple surprised the developer community by making all of the previously costly development tools freely available. The determination to make the Mac OS X platform as accessible as possible to developers was highlighted not long after with the inclusion of a CD containing all of these tools in every retail copy of the operating system.

When these tools are combined with the fact that the base of the OS is a modified version of FreeBSD (known as Darwin), it hasn't been surprising that most of the popular open source applications have been ported very quickly from Linux. Apache, mySQL, PHP, Emacs, GIMP, Mozilla and OpenOffice are but a few of the applications that can currently run alongside such commercial stalwarts as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office.

In addition, this Unix base has persuaded enterprise database developers such as Oracle and Sybase to port their applications to Mac OS X, and if a recent online survey is anything to go by, IBM's DB2 might be next. Taking into account that with the addition of x86 emulation software such as Virtual PC you have access to most software that only runs under Windows, you've got a platform that can run almost anything.

As a laptop user myself, one of the best things about Apple's integration of its hardware and software is the fact that unlike on most laptops running Linux, Mac OS X's power management works like a charm. With the modern iBooks, four or five hours of battery life is a reality and not just a dream of the marketing department.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for a Linux developer to look at Mac OS X, though, is the simple fact that Apple is now the biggest vendor of a Unix derivative OS. This means that every year there are around five million more users eager to try out, and pay for, good software.

With the downturn in the technology sector biting hard, it is obvious that for Apple to thrive it has to continue creating unique solutions that improve the computing experience of its users. By attracting talented developers with great tools and a large base of users, Apple is in a better position than it ever has been to capitalise on the talents of these switchers and provide the fruits of their labours to its user base.

White is MIS manager at Cookie Time in Christchurch. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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