Enter The Fanbois

People are sheep. Fanbois are OCD. Truth is fiction.

The history of fanboyism is sordid. There are great reasons to get behind a product. I have in my drawer, a 1926 Liberty Dollar on a money clip. The other side is the Pontiac logo. My grandfather was a Pontiac fanboi. Rest his soul.

Today's industry fanboi is probably unaware that product fads have come and gone. Fanbois become disappointed. Stuff happens to their product line. Bad and hurt feelings ensue.

There's a great Who song, We Won't Get Fooled Again. It has a nice lyric, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss....." that chimes about history repeating itself. The current drama in the systems, personal computer, and even the smartphone industry is singing that tune.

Once upon a time, I sold pallets of Apple IIs at a MicroAge franchise store. These machines were fun, and what sold many of them was a combination of a business application (and justifying reason) called VisiCalc. But you could also play a raft of games, ranging from silly stuff to arcade-like games. Alongside the Apple II was another machine, the Atari 2600, which used game cartridges. You could get VisiCalc for the Atari, but no one could seem to justify the Atari as a business machine, whereas contractors, lawyers, and other customers of mine were eager to buy the Apple II and get started. VisiCalc was good. I wrote/co-wrote several books about electronic spreadsheets; they were the beginning of that revolution. Grown men in suits became Apple fanbois. Back then, we called it a successful cult. These little beige boxes with weird stuff inside could do business, and games. And they hardly ever broke.

Put that revolution into a business suit with wingtip shoes or an Ann Taylor outfit, and you got the IBM Personal Computer, the progenitor of what most all of us use as a personal computer today. The name of the electronic spreadsheet changed from VisiCalc to Lotus 1-2-3. The base memory was similar, but could be expanded. And someone at IBM published not only a motherboard without a copyright notice on it, but also the full BIOS of the machine, so that it could be reversed engineered. IBM took off, Compaq (now HP) copied it along with a raft of others ranging from Corona to Hyperion. There was an upgrade available soon to a five megabyte hard drive. It was staggering. Then.

Microsoft made software that worked on the IBM and its copies. IBM (and Compaq) would try to make their machines proprietary again, but lost the battle. Eventually IBM would sell its personal computer division to Lenovo. Compaq would be acquired by HP. Apple remained Apple, going its own way, occasionally languishing until its primary motivator returned from stints at Disney and Pixar and NeXt.

Using the NeXt Computer thinking (NeXt was sold to Canon), Jobs reinvented the Mac to eventually run a somewhat non-proprietary operating system, and capture some of the fancy and success of the open source movement-- the only software movement to have sufficient strength to rival the often boorish Microsoft Money Machine. Apple had from 1984 to 1995, captured the GUI. Nothing really came close. Then Microsoft figured out how to change things with Windows 3.0, and an industry was born. Apple would fight to get it back, a ten year battle.

The awful and largely eschewed Macintosh G3/G4/G5 processors were dumped in favor of Intel's microprocessor family. Gone was the troika of Apple-Motorola-IBMs PowerPC chip. The machines became fast, sleek, advanced. They could use open source software (without a re-compile of that software to the PowerPC family). They could dual-boot the dreaded Windows software. Capitulation turned into marketshare for Apple.

By this time, Microsoft had made their way into the enterprise, trying to rival as much turf as was reasonably possible. They bought numerous companies, and integrated their components as they could, all along in great fear of open source software, instead of riding with it. Microsoft's ability to gain integration would cut their sales-- the ones made by various integrators and application makers that used Windows as a platform. It was and is a dicey time for Microsoft. Fanboyism was actually business partnering. You made money with Microsoft, and so the platform moved on, despite its then rickety architecture.

Apple 'invented' the iPod. Microsoft came up with the Zune. Sony came up with the PS2, then PS3, and Microsoft tried to get the xBox family growing. Oracle bought several organizations, including a huge integration concern, Seibel Systems, while Microsoft bought a middle-ground accounting package, Great Plains. The Windows and Office franchise, however, continued to be their 'oil well in the basement'.

Apple brought out the iPhone, and took the smartphone market on its ear. No one argues its numeric and statistical success. It remains huge, and has many fans that await future generations. The iPhone saved AT&T's cellular network from certain financial disaster by allowing itself to be captive to the network.

The iPad created a similar frenzy. The frenzy saw the product sell a million units its first month, and the iPad became the latest tech toy from Apple to become a legend.

Apple once made the mistake of not following the flow of the industry. Today, they're trying to create the flow, and let everyone else follow that. They have momentum to do so based on paying attention to quality and making their customers happy. But there is something onerous and evil happening.

So now everything is fanboi marketing. Blackberry, HP, Asus, Apple, Lenovo, all have cults. Great sums of money are now spent watching tweets to see trends. Google Analytics have become the new marketing manager.

You're a fanboi or fangrrl if you buy a Prius. Voted for Obama. Bought a new gun because of fear of what Obama might do. Have a Mac, an iPad, are vegetarian, own a hottub, went to New Orleans after Katrina, and so on.

You see, fanboyism is actually tribalism in marketing. If you have any disbelief in this statement, Facebook and Slashdot are perfect examples of the tribal phenomenon. People congregate at both places. Facebook is the positive approach to affinity, while Slashdot is a feeding frenzy of intellects, all rabidly hungry. In both sites, people are bored and hungry for online contact.

My former mild rash of Mac fanboyism is now cured. I await another machine to schlep around the world on my various engagements and speaking gigs. It will be lighter, faster, and better looking than yours. That's because it's a _________.

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