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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

The Macintosh Is A Niche Platform — The Niche: People

An unproductive and heated argument with key IT staff took place on Thursday. It started ugly, got uglier, and didn't end very well. You see, I'm a graphic designer and web developer for a large company in a conservative industry. Actually, I was hired to be a web/graphic designer and Mac support person for the design department of an edgier, medium sized company in this industry, who was subsequently bought up by the large, conservative company.

It goes without saying that this corporation doesn't have much experience with the kind of marketing a company with a dedicated, full time, 10 person design team usually has. I know this, because our company is was the only one of its kind any of us are aware of with a full time design team.

It also doesn't need to be said that the IT staff of said corporation doesn't have much background in the systems we use to generate marketing materials: High definition video, DVDs, CDs, pro audio, web applications, high speed digital presses, digital imaging, graphic design, typesetting, and of course the insanely complex and unforgiving Macintosh computers that tie everything together.

When the large company took over, the "and Mac support" part of my job sort of went away. It would have been nice if they hadn't waited until Thursday to tell me. Actually, this part of the conversation is just bitter rambling. I'm going to leave it in, though, because I'm bitter and it feels good to ramble.

One of the key points of Thursday's argument (which was technically a scheduled meeting to discuss the failure of our IT department to meet the needs of our design department) was the acquisition of a new file server. Our old one is getting a little long in the tooth—sawtooth to be specific—so being that we are all Mac people with practically zero Windows experience, we picked out one of those fancy Apple Xserve machines. Just like we picked out every other piece of equipment in our room.

Our VP of IT wouldn't hear of it. Now that the company is giant, it needs to review all requests for these types of purchases, and weigh them with a series of set standards agreed upon to ensure the enormity of girth our behemoth company is able to hurl around, is at its maximum hugeness.

Understandable. Sort of. Apparently it's not a file server we need. It is a solution—which was what the meeting was initially called to provide. Not a solution for specifically what physical being upon which we will store our huge amounts of data, but a solution for our IT department's inability to provide us with fast, uninterrupted service to critical processes, such as the internet and email.

You see, it bothers me when someone who is not capable of providing two key components of effective web design (internet and email) at the level of adequacy a $29 DSL connection is, suddenly wants to be responsible for picking out, and maintaining the device that is going to be storing 1 to 2 TB of data they don't understand.

It bothers me a whole lot more when the Vice President of IT of a global corporation says, "You have to admit it's a niche platform."

niche |ni ch |
(definition 2)
• a specialized but profitable corner of the market : [as adj. ] important new niche markets.

I've heard this said over and over again about the Mac platform. I can see why some might think it is a niche platform. After all, aren't the only people who use Macs graphic designers? or musicians? or filmmakers? or lawyers? or bio scientists? or journalists? or politicians? or students? or hair stylists? or photographers? or doctors? or NASA? or the FBI? or global technology corporations?

And after all, the specialized tasks these people use their strange Macintosh computers for simply aren't the normal, day to day tasks regular people need perform. No, lawyers don't use email. The FBI doesn't need to surf the internet. Graphic designers don't pay taxes. Politicians don't do word processing. Hair stylists don't make spread sheets. Filmmakers don't instant message. Global technology companies don't need to make PowerPoint presentations. Musicians don't manage mp3 libraries. NASA isn't sharing calendars or to-do lists with each other.

To the IT VP's credit, I'm sure this statement was made in the same haste as most of the hot-headed comments I made. He certainly did a much better job maintaining his professional composure than I, and he did give us a fair opportunity to make a case for the equipment we need. Equipment that will most-likely be what they want us to need, but when enough deadlines are missed because of down-time, viruses and "routine system maintenance," we may eventually have our day.

Regardless, this niche idea has come up a few times here. Now that it is being used in the context of an excuse to help dilute my department's effectiveness, I have to question its validity.

Alas, if I were to classify the niche that the Macintosh computer occupies in my best words, I would have to say... "some people."

NOTE: Professional anonymity has been kept to protect all parties involved. This post is only intended to vent personal frustrations by the author, not to slander executive staff or expose trade secrets—which it doesn't. Posts are live, but will be strictly monitored.