Further to my last post, Mike Arrington has some similar thoughts about the success of the Mac being directly related to the Internet.

Arrington seems to think consumers went to the Mac simply because the playing field was levelled by the Internet. But there's more to it. Regular people don't just jump platforms because the playing field is "level". It took them a long time to learn how to use their computer. They won't change without a good recommendation. And who do you ask for a recommendation? The "computer guy" you know, who is probably a programmer or IT person for something or another.

Those "computer guys" (and gals, of course) were among the early adopters of Mac OS X because they are the types who are willing to jump platforms on their own. They are the ones who aggressively kept Windows XP up to date, upgraded OS X as soon as upgrades became available, and tried out new Linux distros for fun--everything that the casual computer user was not willing to do.

These folks were the first switchers, and found much to like. A superior environment for doing your work in, good compatibility with Microsoft file formats, and great compatibility with the unix boxes in the data centre, with all the killer commercial apps available. It was, in fact, the ultimate compatibility machine--the complete opposite of what a "closed" architecture should be like. Windows soon got relegated to the home desktop rig, running games, Linux got relegated to the server, and OS X found itself doing the day-to-day work because it was the versatile, plays-nice-with-everybody notebook that got lugged everywhere. But because of that portability, it was the Mac that people saw being used, and that put it into people's heads that it was an option for their next upgrade. If the computer guy uses it, then… And so they started asking about it.

In those early years, I had this conversation with Windows users, many times:

Them: I didn't know you were a Mac guy.
Me: I'm not, really, I only starting using one recently.
Them: How do you like it?
Me: It's great, no problems at all.
Them: I heard you don't have to worry about viruses.
Me: That's true, pretty much.
Them: I need a new computer, mine sucks. Do you think I should I get a Mac?
Me: Depends. Do you use anything that is Windows-only?
Them: Oh yeah, I use Office a lot. :-(
Me: Office is available for the Mac.
Them: Really?

Or, if I was talking to someone in the Linux world:

Them: I didn't know you were a Mac guy.
Me: I'm not, really. The new Macs are unix boxes.
Them: Wut?
Me: Yeah, full BSD, like a NeXT. See, here's my terminal.
Them: What!?
Me: Yeah, they come preloaded with emacs, gcc, perl, apache, X11, all kinds of stuff.
Them: They can run Linux software?!
Me: Most open source stuff will compile. See, here's Gimp. Here's LaTeX.
Them: Whoa...
Me: Plus, it runs Office and PhotoShop.
Them: Fuck.

Done, sold. The Mac faithful never really had these same conversations, because they had always used Macs, had always put up with the differences, and people saw them as iconoclasts with somewhat suspicious opinions. But when the computer guy's ThinkPad disappeared one day to be replaced with a PowerBook, that made you think and ask questions.

That's how Apple beat both Linux and Microsoft at "open computing" -- by being open enough to run everybody's software on a single platform, and do it well. Nobody else did that. They still don't, over 10 years later.