The personal computer tifosi

A few weeks ago I wrote about the potential impact of the verdict in the Apple v. Samsung patent case. The reaction from many readers who took the time to comment was, let's say, not supportive of the position I took in the column. You should take the time to read the comments -- they are enlightening -- but more about a very long-running split in the technical community than about the actual content of the column.

I am not going to revisit the topic itself other than to note that legitimate questions have been raised about the impartiality of at least one of the jury members. Instead I'd like to ponder a bit on the passion displayed in some of the comments.

BACKGROUND: Apple v. Samsung: Innovation vs. clones

I have been an Apple user for a very long time. I toyed with an Apple II at one point but got serious when the Macintosh was introduced. I was one of three people at Harvard to get a Mac in the fall of 1983 -- yes, before they were publicly announced in the legendary 1984 Super Bowl ad. I have used Macs ever since. I have owned a few computers running one Microsoft operating system or another but have never used one as my regular machine. This is not for any deep religious reason. At first it was because I thought the graphical user interface fit my feeling of what a personal computer should be more than the command line-based interface used by DOS, and later it was because I was more used to the Mac interface than the Windows one. So I do not have any significant experience with any Microsoft user interface and you should take that into account in evaluating my generally pro-Apple views.

The passion displayed in the comments is hardly new. I first encountered the term "tifosi" that I used in this column's title in conjunction with the almost rabid fans of the Ferrari Formula One team. The term is an Italian one referring to a group of supporters but is most often used when the fans are particularly passionate. Over these many years I have observed a lot of tifosi-like passion in the personal computer space. There seem to be strong pro- and anti-Apple passions and anti-Microsoft passions but I have never seen that many pro-Microsoft passions.

As a Mac user, many has been the time that I have had to sit through an anti-Apple diatribe from one corporate data manager or another. Over the years, there has been a consistent thread of the same anti-Apple passion in the comments posted in response to the columns where I've said something positive about Apple. The column on the Apple/Samsung verdict is more pronounced than most.

One of the more succinct comments on that column was, "What a stupid opinion piece written by some dinosaur that probably owns a crapload of Apple stocks." For the record, I do not own any Apple stock that I know of (some mutual fund might but I have not checked). Others are likely better judges of the validity of the rest of the comment than I.

I'm not a psychologist so I have no informed opinion on what causes such vehement negative reactions to makers of inanimate objects. But I certainly observe it. It does not make for rational discourse.

Disclaimer: For a very long time Harvard was a hard place for employees who wanted to use Apple products, but that is changing. In spite of the change I know of no university opinion on the logic of the anti-tifosi.

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