Will Mac addicts trade cool for cheap in the recession?

The Mac is more than a status symbol, encouraging adoption even during a recession.

The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Akst takes a sobering slap at Apple fandom in an opinion piece on Friday. Written by a hardcore (if relatively new) Mac snob, the article asks if The Cult of Mac is an elitist fad that will die in the face of grim economic realities:

Like eating only locally grown food or majoring in gender studies at college, Macs have become luxuries that command a premium out of all proportion to their utility -- unless their utility is simply to broadcast your own disposable income....

Most of the cool people I know use a Mac. My sense is that they like to think of themselves as egalitarian sorts unencumbered by snobbery -- rather than, say, brainwashed cultists obsessed with class-signaling. Yet at today's absurd prices the Mac is even less than ever "the computer for the rest of us." Instead it's a well-designed status symbol for the elite -- another way that people with money can distinguish themselves from hoi polloi.

While I dispute several of the author's assumptions, especially about the comparative prices of Macs and PCs (taking software and hardware into account, Macs fare pretty well against their "Proletariat" Windows peers), the author raises a fair point. Certainly some of the Mac's rise in recent popularity is driven by iPod infatuation and social lemmings' desire to be cool, and surely some people will leave the Mac for cheaper PCs, but I think this misses a more significant, long-term threat to Microsoft:

Most people I know who flock to the Mac do so because it 'just works,' and does so with elegance and style.

These people aren't trying to be cool. They're trying to get their work done with minimal bother from malware, and that "work" includes an increasing focus on things like photos and video, an area where the Mac shines brightly above Windows (and which software comes gratis on a Mac).

As for cool, well, most of my (seven-sibling strong) family runs on the Mac now, and I'm not sure I could credibly call my family "cool" in the author's sense of the word. My flight attendant this morning who gushed about her Mac to me when she spotted me using mine wasn't cool. The guy sitting next to me was very uncool. And so on.

Sure, there will be groupies. But these don't comprise the bulk of Apple's converts, in my experience. No, the Mac has gone mainstream, and it's being picked up by people that care about quality and are willing to pay a little more for it.

These aren't elitists and dogmatists. No, those are the people that have been hounding the college girl for not grokking Ubuntu in The Proper Way....Linux desktop users remain their own worst enemies in far too many cases

Mac adoption is not about elitism. It's about pragmatism and enthusiasm. People will pay that price, even in a recession.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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