Always in Alt

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In a post titled Passion is Blind Kathy Sierra discusses passionate users, double-standards, and forgiveness:

But there’s no getting around it–we all have double standards. We are all cutting one side some slack while holding the other to our ruthless, concrete expectations. And of course we will all screw up. We aren’t perfect. Neither is our software, our hardware, our service, our support, our employees, our policies, our products and services and ideas. But that’s the beauty of passion–if you can inspire it, by helping your user kick ass–they WILL cut you some slack. They’ll forgive you when you screw up.

To demonstrate her point, Kathy uses the now legendary support that Apple customers feel for the company, as compared to Microsoft customers.

It is true that it seems as if Apple can do no wrong, and Microsoft do no good. In fact, the unstable nature of Windows and the ‘blue screen of death’ is a standing joke in the industry. However, I imagine if there were as many Mac users as Windows users, we would hear the sounds of dissatisfaction about Apple just as loudly. In fact, from the anger expressed by many about the new Nano iPods, Apple doesn’t necessarily have the same ‘free’ ride it has enjoyed in the past. Apple is not as successful as Microsoft, but it successful enough.

How does a company get a break from its users? It’s easy: all they have to do is stay small, or appear to stay small; personalize the company so that being critical of a product is equated to being critical of a person or a group of people; most importantly, create a feeling of being an insider by being a customer–all the cool kids have iPods, you know.

(Personally, all the really cool kids have super-cheap iPod rip offs, and use the money they save to buy more music.)

Does this all then mean that there’s a double-standard in play because we’re critical of Microsoft where we’re not of Apple? If both companies delivered the exact same products, possibly, but both companies don’t deliver the same product. True, Apple and Microsoft both deliver an operating system–but the claims they make for both differ dramatically.

Apple promises to provide an environment in which you can add and remove devices and rarely have to worry about configuration; that’s simple to use and easy to maintain; that doesn’t have some of the performance issues associated with fragmented disk space and so on. The company can make these promises because it provides much of the hardware as well as the software, and in this environment, it’s easy to follow through on the claims. It is the hardware that allows Apple to shine, and which sets itself apart from Microsoft.

Apple focuses as much of its effort on design as it does engineering–knowing that people are easily swayed by smooth corners and sexy slim lines. Someone, somewhere thought, “Let’s put a lighted Mac logo on the back of all our notebooks”, so that a seeming sea of blinking apples face us out of conference after conference, even though in the beginning most notebooks probably weren’t Apple (but that changed, as all the cool kids etc.)

All in all, Apple promises what it can deliver. Apple promises to be easy, and it is; Apple promises to be sexy, and it is. What Apple doesn’t promise is what it can’t deliver: to be a cheap, reliable work horse.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is a company that makes claims based on its weaknesses, rather than its strengths. It makes grand promises about security, and thus virtually guarantees being a target; releasing, on average, one new security bulletin a week. It brags about reliability, when the operating system has to work on devices that range from the powerhouse to the puny. It seeks to win over business based on the stability of its products, and just when developers had created a wealth of applications in one environment (COM, DCOM, and COM+), it abandons it and the developers in favor of something completely new (.NET).

To be blunt: Microsoft has a corporate death wish, but will never be allowed to die and will, instead, thrive. This rather astonishing contradiction is based on the fact that the Windows operating system is about as ubiquitous as the common cold; the kicker is the reason it’s so ubiquitous is that Microsoft makes promises it can’t keep. Soooo, Microsoft gets slapped, true; but it gets slapped all the way to the bank.

Saying there’s a double-standard, then, when people complain about having to re-boot a Windows laptop, as compared to having to re-boot an Apple powerbook implies that both systems are focused on the same audience, and based on the same promises. It ain’t no such thing.

And this leads us to the second example Kathy uses in her post: she also references the past discussion that occurred when Phil Ringnalda noticed the sponsored links at the O’Reilly web sites, and when I brought up the sponsored links at my own site:

But sometimes our double-standards bite us in the ass and we’re forced to face it, as Phil Ringnalda did a few months back. When O’Reilly appeared to have search-engine-gaming ads, Phil slammed him in this blog entry. But when his friend Shelley Powers does it, the conversation got very interesting. It was fun (and impressive) to see Phil acknowledge and wrestle with the ambiguity of it all.

True, Phil is my bud–and not just because he has a great way with a rant. But was he indulging in a double-standard because he was critical of O’Reilly for sponsored links but not as critical of me? If he had continued being as unevenly critical, yes. In the end, though, as discussion on the topic brought about a deeper understanding of the issues, I think he was equally disappointed with both of us, but my cat, Zoë, won him over to the dark side.

In the end of her post, Kathy writes:

So, we have to ask ourselves… what can we do to put ourselves on the side of forgiveness? What can we do to help protect us from the times when we will screw up? What would it take in our product, company, service, whatever — to get users to have a glass-half-full attitude about whatever it is we do? If “rebooting” is a metaphor, I’d rather be Apple than Microsoft.

As a developer I try not to make mistakes, but when I do, I fix them. I would hope that ‘forgiveness’ never enters the equation, as forgiveness implies an emotional context, and what does code have to do with emotion? As for my site, what can I do to put myself on the side of forgiveness? I can do nothing, because I promise nothing.

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