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The Cult of Mac 374

Posted by timothy
from the distant-drumbeats dept.
cgjherr (Jack Herrington) writes "The Cult of Mac, a new book by Leander Kahney, is a love letter to the Macintosh community. The book seeks to simultaneously define and evangelize the Apple cultural phenomenon. With 25 million users (in the author's estimation) there is a lot of culture to go around. The tattoos. The modified machines. The pilgrimage to MacWorld. The sub-cult of iPod. It's all here." Read on for the rest of Herrington's review.
The Cult of Mac
author Leander Kahney
pages 268
publisher No Starch
rating Excellent
reviewer Jack Herrington
ISBN 1886411832
summary A love letter to the Mac community

The form and structure of the book is a cross between a Wired magazine (for which Kahney has long written on Apple) and a coffee table book. There are great pictures of people, machines and art to appeal to the eye. Some pages are all pictures, while others are primarily text -- most are a combination of the two. The layout is always attractive. If this were a book from Apple, the style would be cleaner and there would be less emphasis on the past; this book is from and for the fans, though, so the style is more edgy and chaotic.

The book is divided into five large sections. The first covers the Macintosh itself, its users, its evangelists, and a little of its history. Including, to my amusement, but not surprise, its connection with pot, which occupies three pages. Wozniak is covered lovingly, and Jobs is painted with the same awe, love and hate brush that the community uses. Leander even covers the TV and movie Macintosh spotting, where the good guys always use Macs and the bad guys always use PCs.

Section two takes us into the MacWorld phenomenon. The secrecy, the crazy crowds, the keynote -- the whole shebang. We also get a look into the Mac phenomenon in Japan.

The final three sections are the most interesting to the hardware lovers. Section four covers modifying the Macintosh, futuristic designs, and the variety of things that have been built from dead Macs. The fourth section is about collecting Macintoshes; there is an excellent image here of a reception desk built entirely of old Mac Classics. Some attention is also paid to the devotees of Apple tsotchkes -- the shirts, the pins, the shoes, and other logo-branded novelties.

The final section is all about what comes next. Here Leander covers the iPod and its subculture, as well as the ongoing cultural battle between Microsoft users and the Mac world. The author even goes so far as to associate the construction of the swivel head iMac to that of a newborn baby to justify our attachment to it. And that makes my Powerbook a what?

There is a lot of great material in this book just to flip through, or to sit down for an enjoyable read. For the technically minded, there is nothing here to help you write better code or get more out of the operating system. This is a book about a culture, its icons, its people, and its ideology.

I can't recommend this book for a PC person, Unless he's interested in learning about the phenomenon or becoming part of it, I doubt there is much he'd interesting in this book. A PC user uses his machine to perform a task and thinks little of the machine itself. A Mac, on the other hand, is a key component of an integrated lifestyle. If you don't live the lifestyle and you care to know more about it, then check out the book. Otherwise, you might as well skip it.

As a Mac enthusiast myself I really enjoy this book. I started programming on the Macintosh with the first 128K machine, took a hiatus on Windows for a couple of years, and switched back with OS X. I've been to a MacWorld and seen some of the phenomenon first-hand. But it's nice to see it catalogued here in such an attractive, nicely constructed, well-written book.

In the early days of Apple versus Microsoft we had a real culture war, command line versus GUI. Windows won. Which is bad because Mac is, IMHO, better. But the Windows victory does allow us in the Mac camp to revel in our own individuality. This book is a fun way for new and old Mac fans alike to share in the common insanity which is our somewhat unrealistic love for this computer and it's company.

I'm certainly glad this book came out before Christmas. Now I know what I am going to give a couple of my fellow Macaddicts.


Reviewer Jack Herrington authored Code Generation in Action, and edits the Code Generation Network. You can purchase The Cult of Mac from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Cult of Mac

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  • apple tattoos (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coneasfast (690509) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:47PM (#10667284)
    ok, i've never heard of this, but the first google search came up with this page [theapplecollection.com]
  • I want to see this: (Score:1, Interesting)

    by ecammit (775253) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:48PM (#10667304) Homepage
    image here of a reception desk built entirely of old Mac Classics
  • Propoganda! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kazrath (822492) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:48PM (#10667311)
    Mac's need to stick to serving burgers!!!! It's actually surprising what some of the technology Apple has been pushing out the door in the last few years. Apple seems to be more geared to specific aspects of computing and do it very well. I have a hard-core Linux co-worked who is seriously thinking of purchasing a MAC for a media PC. Either the marketing is getting better or the options are. Good job Apple.
  • Reminds me of Saturn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zymurgy_cat (627260) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:55PM (#10667385) Homepage
    This reminds me of Saturn (at least when they first came on to the scene). Here was a company that did things differently, even in an off-beat way, and was rewarded with the type of customer loyalty that gives Harvard MBAs wet dreams.

    Such companies define the "niche" market that everyone seems to talk about these days. It's the narrow market that captures the imagination and excitement of its customers.

    Of course, one cannot manufacture this. I think its formation is a rare combination of vision, guts, luck, and a willingness to task risk. Unfortunately, the vast majority of companies today have none of this, valuing things like "vision statements" or "world class (insert skill)" over creativity and audacity.
  • Re:Excuse me? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WilliamGeorge (816305) on Friday October 29, 2004 @04:57PM (#10667412)
    I agree! I frikin BUILT my PC from SCRATCH!!!! Its much closer to a "baby" to me because of that than a MAC could ever be. And I am constantly adding to it, giving it better parts, tweaking it to run faster... in fact, thats the very thing that turns me off so much about MACs - the lack of being able to "build my own". /rant off

  • CULT-ture of Mac (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YetAnotherName (168064) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:00PM (#10667438) Homepage
    Sounds like a good read; I enjoy studying the social aspects of our industry.

    Having touched my first Unix system back when I was 9 years old (actually it was a Silent 700 terminal, built-in acoustic coupler modem, dialing into System III) I've been fanatical about the command-line, anc always views Macs as a curiousity more than anything else. Worthy of derision most of the time, and of a nod now and then.

    I then got stuck on the Windows platform for the longest period of time, and it was partially my own choice. I was doing Java development at the time, and the JVM from Sun was better than the early JVMs for Linux. That, and the fact that I kept getting more and more Micro$oft-based attachments that when edited with the early Star Office would be mangled beyond hope when I sent them back.

    One day last year my wife let me play with her PowerBook running OS X. It had a really nice JVM that ran Java apps with blazing speed. (Yes, "Java" and "blazing" in the same sentence!) It ran Micro$oft Office programs, and in most cases, with more reliability than their Windows counterparts. It was infinitely more usable than Windows' best user interfaces. And best of all, you could fire up a shell and run vi on your .bashrc file.

    I went head over heels.

    Now, I still have Linux systems (and even a FreeBSD system) in my server room, but my desktop and my laptop are all Mac OS X, and I've never needed to look back to Windows again. Am I a "fanboy"? Probably. (I even got an iPod.) But I'm a fanboy because of what's under the hood now, not because of the path Apple took to get here.
  • Re:A cult? Puhleeze (Score:2, Interesting)

    by l4m3z0r (799504) <kevin.uberstyle@net> on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:00PM (#10667443)
    I'd have to say that without its "cult" following which definitely exists Apple would have died as predicted. However, there are those fanatics that are at the base of the Mac culture and as such alot of the fringe Mac users are driven towards loyalty to fit in with the core crowd of Mac users.

    A good comparison would be against VW, which has a very similiar cult following in its own right and as such even casual VW drivers are somewhat more fanatic than say your average ford driver.

  • by Bill_Royle (639563) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:01PM (#10667449)
    I met Leander about a year ago down at TechTV for Mitnick's "back online" show and was impressed with how down-to-earth he was. While other media folks were working to impress each other with accomplishments, he did his job quietly and turned out a good article afterwards.

    While some people might see this as cheerleading for Apple, the same can be said for some Windows-favoring and Linux-favoring journalists. The difference I found with him was how *normal* he seemed, compared to other journalists that I have met.
  • Re:Excuse me? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wandazulu (265281) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:10PM (#10667530)
    I think a proper comparison would be a Porsche to a Ford. There are some beautiful [fordvehicles.com]Fords. There are Fords that are a work of art [autointell-news.com]. It's not denegrating to Ford, it's just that Porsche's have that certain look and appeal. It's not for everyone, but those who are "into" Porsche's are *really* into them. I think it's safe to say that with Porsche and Mac, there is very little middle ground. Sure, to some Porsche owners it's "just a car", but on the other hand, they still are concious of the fact that it's a Porsche, even when driving it to the store.
  • Re:A cult? Puhleeze (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PriceIke (751512) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:19PM (#10667611)
    Brilliant post .. would mod you up (Insightful) if I could. I too wonder why certain interests (obsessions) are societally acceptible while others are not. Football = ok, Star Trek = FREAK!!!!! Oprah Winfrey = ok, computers = GEEK!!!!! What makes liking football "better" than liking Star Trek?
  • Not to start a flamewar, but....

    In the early days of Apple versus Microsoft we had a real culture war, command line versus GUI. Windows won. Which is bad because Mac is, IMHO, better.

    The Mac may or may not be better; that's certaintly debatable. What's not debatable is that it's much, much, MUCH better that Microsoft won. If Apple had won, how long would we have been saddled with proprietary hardware with proprietary software? A LONG-ASS time, and Macs would have been far more expensive. The only reason that a Mac is "only" 50%-2x the price of a PC is because PCs are so cheap. Without PCs, we would be totally at Apple's mercy, and they don't exactly have a good track record of not gouging their customers.

    Microsoft may have its flaws, and they may charge too much for their software (although, I could argue that you get a lot of technology for a measly $129 retail), but at least they never tried to come out with a "Microsoft PC" with proprietary hardware.

    What's amazing is that Apple is still too stupid to realize that the money is in the software, not the hardware. It's really mindblowing when you think about it. If Apple had won, then they WOULD have been a petal-to-the-metal monopoly that would have had to be broken up.

  • Re:The cult of Apple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dswensen (252552) * on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:34PM (#10667768) Homepage
    I can't speak for anyone else, but I didn't buy a Powerbook to be cool. Believe me, using a Mac you have to develop a thick skin very quickly, as everyone who sees you using one will accuse you of being a crazy evangelist or snobby elitist. (Case in point.)

    I bought it because I like the way the OS works, and the software is perfect for what I want to use a computer for. And this is after 10+ years of using Windows PCs, not to mention giving Linux a try.

    The only trend-humping lemming behavior I ever see is from people who make knee-jerk assumptions that anyone who uses a Mac must be part of the Steve Jobs "cult."
  • by Trurl's Machine (651488) on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:36PM (#10667787) Journal
    It doesn't get much more main stream as far as Apple products go.

    I'm not that sure. First, it's easy to use (at least once the songs are loaded; I do this service for my relatives) and a non-techie person can use one right away. I bought one for my father and another one for my significant other. Second, if one could say that the clubbing scene is a sort of main stream for urban young people, then the iPod has already won the battle - at least in London [pocket-lint.co.uk]. There are many interestung cultural phenomena related to iPod - such as the habit of offering someone opportunity to "jack-in" [operationgadget.com] to your iPod to share musical tastes. Plus, partially thanks to clever product placement, partially just for virtue of the gagdet itself, it's actually ubiquitous in pop culture nowadays. It's the first product made by Apple - since the original Apple II computer - that managed to break out of the ghetto and get popular in the simplest meaning of the word.
  • Re:Propoganda! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 29, 2004 @05:40PM (#10667817)
    I agree Mac is doing a good job these days. I was a die hard PC person for the past 20 years and I admit i hated Mac and it's entire user base, but I couldnt' explain why. Years later I just think I hated Mac/users because they were different and it didn't make sense.

    Now Apple embraces open standards such as Unix / BSD and throws their beautiful GUI on top of it. I personally enjoy using the Mac whereas when I used my PC I didn't enjoy it, I just used it. Plus after using PC's for so many years you come to release everything keeps repeating itself (better 3d cards, more RAM, faster CPU's, etc) however in the Mac world things do get quicker like PC's however they veer off into the 64-bit RISC world which most PC fans only dream of.

    You people can make fun of me, but it comes down to you get what you pay for. You spend $50 grand on a Porsche and you get high quality, and you don't have to question "do i like this". Same goes for PC's. People have their hobbies and like to invest in what they believe in. Nothing wrong with enjoying Macs for their raw performance, logical architecture, and open source standards.

    I dig Mac in a big way and anybody who disagrees, go and try using a Mac for a bit if you can. You will find you enjoy computing again.

  • Inconsistant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall (25149) * on Friday October 29, 2004 @06:02PM (#10668003)
    I know you can get cheaper Macs[...]but one does have to wonder if the outrageous prices reflect the target audience

    How can you complain about outragious prices on one hand, and admit they have cheaper models on the other?

    Should PC's be lambasted as crazy expernsive just because you can buy a $7000 Alienware?

    Macs have products in a good range of prices at this point. I don't think you can really call the prices outragous anymore.
  • Re:Uhhh No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hackstraw (262471) * on Friday October 29, 2004 @06:10PM (#10668071)
    It's a computer that happens to run an alternate OS and have a good marketing department, which is nice if you don't like windows or you are a drone consumer who cares about what is 'cool'.

    Maybe I'm just in the minority of Mac users, but I don't consider OS X an "alternate" operating system. Alternate to what? Linux, Solaris, Windows, or FeeBSD, or insert OS here?

    I use a Mac because it is a great computer in terms of its hardware and software. Its not perfect, but there is no other computer that I could buy at any price that I would want on my lap right now. I'm a computer professional, and have spent years working with a number of operating systems and hardware platforms in development and administration, and its refreshing to have a personal machine "that just works" so I can do my work.

    I require an OS that has a nice windowing system and a functional command line interface. My Mac with OS X, in my opinion, is the only system that even comes close to my expectations. The screen is high quality. The keys are backlit. USB and Firewire peripherals work fine with it. Multiple displays work good. Safari is an excellent web browser, and with PithHelmet I don't see any web ads, no popups, or any of the stuff that was common years ago. The Terminal appication is the best of its kind that I have ever used. Expose is a very uniqe and useful feature. I can dump anything to a PDF file. I can use the same dotfiles from my cvs repository that I use on Linux and Solaris. I can take my laptop and easily drop it into my many environments in terms of networking and printers with no problem, and putting it into a new network is simple. Installing and uninstalling software is excellent either from the GUI or from the commandline via fink or even from source for many standard OSS packages. I still find new things that I like about my Mac. I rarely find things that I don't like, and I'm picky. I could go on, but its not some laundry list of features, its simply a pleasant computing experience. I could not imagine having to settle for anything less at this time. Maybe another vendor will surpass what Apple has achieved at this time, but right now, I simply believe that its the best thing that I have ever used in my lifetime, and from what I see its only going to get better.
  • What's the diff? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity AT sbcglobal DOT net> on Friday October 29, 2004 @06:48PM (#10668440) Homepage Journal
    Then you are not a Mac User, your just happen to use a Mac.

    If a Mac user is not someone who uses a Mac, then what is one?

    I use an iBook for both my work stuff and my home stuff. I have an iPod. I got the free subscription to MacWorld. I have all of the accoutrements of the Mac User subculture.

    I got the iBook because it does what I need it to do. Because it runs on top of BSD and GNU, I can get it to do a lot of other things. I got it because it revolves around my life. My life does not revolve around it.

    In fact, it is that very thing that caused me to "switch." With my Windows box, I had to diligently upgrade it, monitor the many hardware components to make sure they were working together... I spent more time getting it to work than I spent working on it. My life revolved around the PC.

    I dedicate as little time as possible to maintaining my Mac, and the question in my mind is always: What have you done for me lately? The day it stops serving me, I will drop it. This is not a lifestyle choice. This is merely: Do what I need done efficiently, or I'll find something else that can.

    The Mac has been a better experience than the PC for me, but that has more to do with having the proper drivers and a pre-assembled machine than anything "Mac"-y about it. I might have had an equal experience buying an Inspiron or a Vaio if I used the OS as installed by the manufacturer.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday October 29, 2004 @06:54PM (#10668478) Homepage Journal
    The Mac may or may not be better; that's certaintly debatable. What's not debatable is that it's much, much, MUCH better that Microsoft won. If Apple had won, how long would we have been saddled with proprietary hardware with proprietary software? A LONG-ASS time, and Macs would have been far more expensive.

    Or maybe -- and this seems far more likely -- we would have had a world of competing platforms (hardware, software, and assorted combinations thereof) some better, some worse, and none with Wintel Inc.'s innovation-crushing market dominance. It was only a matter of the merest luck that the Mac survived where pretty much all the other alternative platforms (the Amiga being the best known; I'd also mention OS/2) were crushed out of existence. Remember how in the Eighties you could go into an electronics store and see several different types -- not just brands -- of computer on sale, each with its own capabilities, and make a meaningful choice? Wouldn't it be nice to have that kind of choice with modern computing power?

    Now that "Wintel" is no longer quite as meaningful a term, thanks largely to the success of AMD and Linux, I'm hopeful that we're finally moving into a truly competitive PC market. But it's long overdue, and without Microsoft on the scene, it might well have happened a lot sooner.
  • Re:A cult? Puhleeze (Score:1, Interesting)

    by DogDude (805747) on Friday October 29, 2004 @07:46PM (#10668853) Homepage
    This is an obsession over a multi-national corporation. This is nothing but pure, unadulterated consumerism. Looking at Apple fanatics, I can completely understand (and partially agree with) why the Muslim world thinks that the US in particular, is full of fucked up, anti-spiritual, ultra-consumers who pray to the god of Keeping up With the Joneses. When people start putting a permanent tattoo of an advertising campaign for a company on them, it's time to start looking at our culture to figure out what went so terribly wrong.
  • Re:Excuse me? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by luna69 (529007) on Friday October 29, 2004 @08:21PM (#10669063)
    > I think a proper comparison would be a Porsche
    > to a Ford

    Well, having driven a Carrera 4 *and* a Taurus, I can see the point of the analogy. But having driven a Cobra (427, original) and a 914, I think it doesn't hold up all that well.


    Ultimately, I'd prefer to have a PC (read: no proprietary junk, commodity components, tweakable, moddable) that has AT MOST a couple features of the Mac (uhh...I'm trying, hold on...uhh...).


    I don't WANT to "live the Mac lifestyle" - I have my OWN damn lifestyle, which works very well, thank you very much. And the very fact that Mac snobs constantly prattle on about their "Mac lifestyle" only makes me want to gag harder. I've sat in cafes in SF and LA, NYC and in Europe, listening to silly Mac people talk about their own superiority as if THEY were superior humans for having the grace to own a f^&%ing powerbook. Imagine my loathing and bile-spitting disdain...except that I don't voice my own sense of superiority to these powerbook-toting, vw-driving Steve Jobs fanboys, while they eagerly rattle off the virtues of their nonsensical operating systems (which they often know nothing about aside from the sales litersture, which is read like Playboys used to be in bathroom stalls).

    And that gets me to the OS. Why in the world would anyone choose, willingly, to use an OS that refused to maximize a window when told to? Or that insisted on being "cute" at every opportunity, even when being so is distracting, unnecessary and reeks of an out of control case of eyecandyitis? Christ, at least when I tell a window under pretty much ANY other OS to maximize, it DOES. And let's not even get started on the stubborn, Bush-like insistence on staying with the failed policy of single-button mice.

    Now, I can hear some of you saying "well, uh...but we have a commandline! And it's *nix!" Well, yes sonny, you DO have a commandline. But I'd rather have my Linux commandline anyday, unencumbered by OS X's ridiculously overblown, unintuitive, overwrought GUI.

  • Re:Propoganda! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ocelotbob (173602) <ocelotNO@SPAMocelotbob.org> on Saturday October 30, 2004 @12:40AM (#10670223) Homepage
    Now Apple embraces open standards such as Unix / BSD and throws their beautiful GUI on top of it. I personally enjoy using the Mac whereas when I used my PC I didn't enjoy it, I just used it. Plus after using PC's for so many years you come to release everything keeps repeating itself (better 3d cards, more RAM, faster CPU's, etc)
    So, basically, you're bemoaning the fact that the PC has a faster upgrade cycle. You just have to choose not to upgrade. However, that competition brings better products.
    however in the Mac world things do get quicker like PC's however they veer off into the 64-bit RISC world which most PC fans only dream of.
    Um, ever heard about AMD's X86-64s? 64 bits, much more sane than standard x86, and more prevalent than the mac.
    I dig Mac in a big way and anybody who disagrees, go and try using a Mac for a bit if you can. You will find you enjoy computing again.
    I tried. It sucked. It tried to force me to do things its way instead of letting me choose my own workflow. Plus, the interface was a hell of a lot uglier than a well tuned KDE install.
  • by mehgul (654410) on Saturday October 30, 2004 @02:24AM (#10670657)
    How about being intelligent about it and putting a page explaining the situation to Mac users ? Do you really think they can't understand ?

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