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Think different? You bet I do!

Kevin Harter

It's a common theory that Apple is a "hardware company" not a "software company." What does that mean? Doesn't it actually sell both?

The idea is that Apple uses software to push more hardware sales. If Apple was a software company, you wouldn't see the fantastic and very useful iLife bundle of applications included for free on every new Mac, including the el-cheapo Mini. Instead, they might decide to charge $99 for it, or worse, break it up into pieces and distribute it as separate packages, each with its own price.

Snow Leopard's price also seems to support this theory, especially when contrasted to Microsoft's pricing model. Any "dot-oh" operating system upgrade priced at $29 is simply amazing. And given the fact that you can upgrade a whole home or small office full of Macs for less than the price of an Xbox 360 game...well, that's just a special kind of awesome. The main OS competitor, however, has graciously offered its upgrade, similar in "just fixing stuff and making it run better" nature to Apple's update, at the low, low price of $129. Ouch! At least you can save a substantial amount by buying Microsoft's family pack at a tick under 150 bucks, but that discount will only get you three copies instead of Apple's five. And it's still three times the price of Snow Leopard's bundle!

But I realized something interesting about the whole "hardware company vs. software company" argument. As a Mac convert, I've noticed that I think quite a bit less about the hardware than I do the software. In the PC world I still live in, we talk about processor benchmarks, motherboard options, frontside bus speeds, and other Ambien replacements. However, when I talk Mac, I'm often concerned much more with the software it's running, what OS version is installed, and where I can find a free app to do what I need.

Maybe it's a result of my personal role with each platform. I sell PCs, I don't sell Macs. So when my customers approach, I'm ready with the specs of our machines, rather than what kind of awesomeness they can produce.

I tend to think that it's a bit deeper than that, though. Apple's narrower-by-comparison field of hardware offerings helps its customers focus on what to do with the Mac rather than what's inside it. That's one of the reasons that, to "the outsiders," the platform looks pricey on paper. They don't see the intangibles that make the Mac worth more than the sum of its parts.

Now, I'm not suggesting that hardware specs don't matter at all in the Mac universe. It's still important to get the appropriate machine for the job, and that requires a comparison of models and their respective innards. But the simpler choices allow Mac users to focus on what's ultimately more important to most computer users: how is this machine going to make my life easier/less stressful/more rewarding? Most of the time, those answers lie in the software and have little to do with what that software runs on.

Another consideration is the ease in which software is "tried" on the Mac. As you use a Windows machine -- installing and removing applications, upgrading software, etc. -- its Registry becomes all gummed up with old and broken entries. (In my non-developer view, this is Microsoft's biggest problem and the reason Windows needs to be rewritten from the core.) After a few blue screens of death, the average user becomes nervous to try out software, and tends to pick a group of apps that reliably work over the years.

However, because of the lack of a similar centralized registry, operating systems like the Linux distros and Mac OS X don't suffer from nearly as many slow-downs and mysterious lock-ups caused by errant apps. Mac users, therefore, are more likely to try new software and new ways of doing things, without the fear of "breaking the computer."

Since entering this strange and (mostly) wonderful world of Apple products, I have been much more focused on software than hardware. I've also noticed that I've become a bit more creative. I've always wanted to write, but I didn't start until I got a Mac. My PCs were always near top-of-the-line machines, with tons of horsepower and lots of gadgets attached, and would have easily handled video editing. However, I didn't begin putting our vacation stills to music until I checked out iMovie, a freebie on my Mac Mini. Now I offer that service to my customers and actually make some extra coin.

Computers have become fun for me again.

Was it my enthusiasm for the new-to-me platform, or was it the Mac itself that pushed me to be brave and start my new hobbies? Do creative types gravitate toward Macs, or do Macs create creatives? Yes.

So, while Apple is a hardware company that uses software to move more boxes, it's interesting that the software is the piece that has changed my world.

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