I think I may have found the answer to all Apple’s prayers. I have just noticed something that could be the first stages of a mass migration from Windows to Macintosh. If Apple was to play its cards right it could be the premier choice for home computers.

Computing has come a long way since the seventies, particularly home computing. In the 1970s, the people who suggested that every home would have a computer one day were laughed at. Now almost anybody who wants a computer at home has got one. But what I’ve noticed is that an awful lot of them aren’t being used. Not the Macs – I’m sure all our readers use their computers a lot, either for work or leisure. No, I’m talking about Windows PCs – and if recent experience is anything to go by, the era of the home PC is passing quickly.

The problem is that using a PC has become a fruitless exercise. For the novice, using one is so hazardous that it simply isn’t worth the bother. Here’s a user experience recently described to me.

“Whenever I dial up to the Internet I spend the first few minutes downloading patches and updates to all the viruses, pop-ups and bugs. When I finally can be bothered to do that, I find that so much of my mail is spam it has taken the best part of an hour for no reward.” The person relaying this information to me at a party was immediately backed up by two other people who agreed wholeheartedly. Two of the PC users hadn’t turned on their PCs since Christmas, and the third was still using the PC, but not online.

Take cover

I was flabbergasted. I knew deep down that PCs sucked, but this was actually scary. Can you imagine what a chore computing would be if every time you connected to the Internet there was a volley of destructive code aimed at your computer? It would take all the fun out of it. No wonder these people think email is rubbish and they can live without it. Most use email at work where it is filtered and screened. The experience at home is so awful that they just don’t bother. The scary part is that if all my friends elect to forgo the pain of PC Internet connections there will be little point in me having email. Thankfully, most of my friends use Macs.

So I got to thinking – if we don’t catch these people before they’re completely disillusioned, they will never want a home computer. But if we move quickly to convert them to secure and comfortable OS X, they might still be saved.

Apple’s Switcher campaign was a limited success. I don’t know how many people actually switched from Wintel, but it wasn’t enough. What we need is a scare campaign, demonstrating the horrific, frustrating and expensive experience that PC users are getting from the Internet – then demonstrating that Macs are all but immune from viruses, pop-ups and spyware. Granted we still have the spam issue, but it’s at least manageable. If people understood how safe they could feel using a Mac, I’m sure they’d find it appealing.

Of course, the spam issue is still a bugbear, and whoever manages to cure the world of this cancer will surely be held to be the saviour of the Internet. If I was at Apple I would be doing my damnedest to make sure I found a solution before Microsoft does. Whoever gets to that Holy Grail first could legitimately lay claim to the home desktop market.

My latest tactic in the War On Spam is to just assume everything is spam unless it fills certain criteria. So if the incoming email doesn’t have my name in the body text, or doesn’t come from a trusted domain, or doesn’t come from somebody in my Address Book, then it goes into my reject box. It actually works very well, though I still have to delete them from the reject box by hand because occasionally real email gets passed over.

To be honest, the email that doesn’t get through that probably should generally falls into the category of slightly irrelevant press releases. They don’t address me by name, and they aren’t from people in my Address Book, so they’re likely to be from a PR company using the scattergun approach to press releases. No great loss there.

Don’t go away mad

So the next time you find yourself at a summer barbeque with your Wintel friends, perhaps you might like to mention that Macs can’t get viruses. You probably mentioned it before, but they were so excited by the release of Windows 98 that they didn’t notice. So do them a favour and mention it again. Try not to be too smug. Try not to say I told you so – just offer them a vision of a life without viruses. While you’re at it, you could mention the compatibility with Microsoft Office: it’s something else they tend to forget.

In the past these tactics would have elicited a response along the lines of “yeah but Macs are slow and expensive”. However, these arguments hold less water now, not that Macs are all that much faster or cheaper. But they fall a bit flat when you never turn your PC on because it sucks so badly. As for the expense aspect, don’t forget to mention that you can live without the expense of all the firewall software, or the assistance of a guy to come around and salvage your virus-ravaged PC. Of course computers that work are bound to be more expensive.

Sorry if this sounds evangelical; I’m not usually this way. I normally don’t care if people use PCs – it just gives me an excuse to indulge myself in a little elitist smuggery. But when I heard that people were simply not using their computers, it just seemed wrong. Novice PC users could become a technological underclass just because their machines are too dumb to exist. I want you to offer them some salvation – a route to a better computing life. Hallelujah. MW