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Ideology and the PowerPC Processor

Posted Jun 11, 2005 in Apple

The recent announcement that Apple Computer is moving the Macintosh to Intel processors has stirred the passions of many of the Mac faithful. I’d even admit to some shock and a degree of dismay over this move, not the least because, as a Mac user in a Windows environment, I had to cop a good couple of days of flack from my co-workers over the move. Fair enough though, I suppose. Mac users have long bragged about the technical superiority of the Macintosh’s PPC processor; now we’re getting the same CPU as everyone else, so it’s pay-back time.

At a technological level, this makes a difference to programmers—particularly those who invested in optimising performance on the PPC (G4 and G5) processor—and hardware designers—some of whom may be looking at a dimmer future. But it’s not at the technological level at which the response from Mac fans is operating.

A perusal of the lengthy threads at Arstechnica’s Macintoshian Achaia is revealing. Many Mac users—end users, not developers—are upset. Very upset. And not just because they’re getting scorched by PC users.

John Siracusa, Ars’s Mac specialist, discusses his feelings:

Despite all the interesting possibilities for the future (which I’ll get to in a bit), I’m saddened by this turn of events. Everything that was captivating and exotic about Apple’s CPUs added up to little more than a few brief moments of glory in the market and a handful of trips to the top of the performance heap. But to silicon-loving geeks, it really meant something.

I don’t think it’s just the fans who are turned on by silicon who are upset. One of the things Apple does really well is craft and deliver a message about what its computers stand for, its values, its ideology. One of the core ideological values is that the Mac is a bit more than a computer, more than a cold and inpersonal calculating machine. “I wuv my Mac”, and all that. Mac users like this ideology. They participate in fashioning it, and they work to reinforce it. And they don’t like to see it damaged.

I say this not to psychologise Mac users. I think there’s something interesting at work in the way that middle-class humanists fashion identities through consumption and elaboration of what are almost “anti-consumptionist” ideologies, even when the branding and marketing imperatives behind their initial construction dissipate.

2 comments so far

Comment by heretic at 12 June, 03:04 pm

Iidentities through consumption and elaboration of what are almost “anti-consumptionist” ideologies

I think the average person no longer has a tribe, so they’ve substituted a brand. Or, more realistically, a conglomeration of a set of brand choices built to display an overall identity.

Mac users of yore have tended to fall into a few basic categories and are more likely to be vegan than PC users ;) Ahh generalisations.

Overall I think Apple must have really seen problems with the powerpc platform to lose the mystique of ‘different processors’. They’re diluting the idea that their product is anything more than a computer.

As in… PCs have a hard drive, processor, etc and you can type stuff on them. Macs have a hard drive, same processor now, and you can type stuff on them.

If the wintel industry had paid more industrial designers over the years, the Mac probably would have gone the way of the dodo long before it was saved by the iMac.

Comment by Nick Caldwell at 4 September, 01:56 am

bq. If the wintel industry had paid more industrial designers over the years, the Mac probably would have gone the way of the dodo long before it was saved by the iMac.

And if I had wings I could fly ;-)

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