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 operating system update culture shock

The Operating System Culture Shock

I’m taking my life into my hands as I write this, considering my place of employment is a Microsoft Partner. But the debate has raged for DECADES about which is better; Mac or PC. In fact, there was a series of TV ads Apple put out a few years ago where Justin Long and John Hodgeman put a humorous spin on the age-old debate.

I personally have a long history of using lots of different platforms. Back in the ‘80’s I taught myself how to use old 8-bit computers running BASIC, but upgraded to an IBM PC that weighed 45 pounds running DOS (with a short stint doing graphic design in CP/M on an Amstrad between them.) I moved on to Windows 3.1, 95 and 98 respectively as soon I was able, but started working for a graphic design department in 1998 that was 100% Mac, so I had to learn to use both. I was not a happy camper! I really didn’t like classic Mac OS. I started dabbling with Linux and Unix a lot in this time, but on my personal computer I ran Windows XP. That is until Apple hired Steve Jobs back and released a public beta of OS X… and I was instantly hooked. I bought an Apple iBook, wiped the hard drive, and ran OS X exclusively. In fact, I still use it today on my personal computer, a MacBook Pro running the latest version of OS X. But when I started working at Bit-Wizards I was thrown headfirst back into the deep end of the Windows world since we run Windows 8.1 on all our computers. My previous job was all Mac, and I hadn’t used Windows regularly in several years, so I had skipped the Windows Vista and Windows 7 eras. Culture shock all over again!

Culture Shock Phases

In fact, I think culture shock is a good term for the transition. I’ve lived in many different countries around the world, and every time I go to a new region with a different language and culture there’s a specific sequence of events that happens (FYI, this usually takes about a month to start, so you’ll rarely experience culture shock on vacation). Culture shock goes through 4 distinct phases, and I believe it also happens when switching from one computing platform to another; whether Windows to Mac (or vice-versa), or iPhone to Android, or even Internet Explorer to Firefox.

Phase 1: The Honeymoon

“Oh, this is AWESOME! Look what I can do that I couldn’t do on my old computer!” This is when you get a brand new device. Maybe a gift or something you’ve saved up for, or even something assigned to you at work. You discover all the cool little things that make that platform unique. iPhoto was a big selling point for Macs a decade ago because you could just connect a digital camera, and it took care of everything for you. Now iPhoto is going the way of the dodo and every operating system has good built-in photo management. But back in its day it had that wow factor.

Phase 2: Frustration

“Crap! Why did it just do that? Where did all my files go? I never had to deal with this on my old computer.” This is where you start to run into annoyances. You may not be familiar with the way your new computer does things. When it takes you an hour to do something you know you could do in 5 minutes on your old computer, you start to get frustrated very quickly. If you’re being forced to use a system (because of work, hand-me-downs, etc.) that you’re unfamiliar with, the frustration builds up very quickly. When your Mac tells you that you don’t have permission to install something on your own computer that you paid for it can be very frustrating. Microsoft removing the start menu in Windows 8 caused a lot of frustration for long-time Windows users. It wasn’t a bad move, just a culture-shocking one.

Phase 3: Adjustment

“Oh, so that’s why it does that. Makes sense now.” At some point in the transition phase you reach a point of competency in the new platform that you’re comfortable doing what you need to do, and aren’t too worried about crazy things happening that make no sense. Now, when little things pop up that you weren’t expecting, instead of getting frustrated, it’s just a learning experience. It’s a continual learning process, and that’s a good thing.

Phase 4: Mastery

“Oh, I don’t mind, I’ll use my Mac/iPad/Windows Laptop… whatever’s closest.” Given enough time you can be good-to-go in both platforms equally well. You may prefer one device over another for certain tasks, but, in general, you can accomplish what you need to on any computer available. The great thing about getting to this place is that you can be equally effective on whatever device you’re assigned at work. Or if your expensive Mac loses a battle with a cup of coffee, you can pick up a cheap PC from Wal-Mart and keep on working while waiting for repairs.

In my next blog post I’ll wrap up all these ideas about comparing Windows to Mac. I’ll also talk about some old stereotypes that should have died with dial-up modems, and I’ll show you how to be comfortable on any device without getting sucked into a flame war with comment trolls on YouTube.


Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT