It's easy to lose perspective when you're on the inside of anything. A clique, a country, a community of just about any kind. Mac users aren't any more immune to it than Windows users -- both groups make lots of assumptions that they might not make if they knew a little more about what's going on on the other side of the fence.
Take Microsoft Office. This month in Macworld (July 2004 issue), we ran a story in Mac Beat about the differences between Office 2003 for Windows and Mac Office 2004. You could argue that Mac users don't really care about Windows Office beyond compatibility issues, but I'd disagree -- it's always useful to hear what the current state of the art is on the other side. It helps put your own world in a different perspective.
It works both ways, too. Harry McCracken, the editor in chief of PC World , uses a 12-inch PowerBook G4. Does he own a Mac because of Apple's fantastic design prowess? Well, maybe in part. But he also owns a Mac because it helps him have a better perspective about what he covers for his magazine: the Microsoft-influenced world. It helps him see ways that Apple approaches problems differently from Microsoft and company. It's certainly gotten me thinking that I need to play around with Windows PCs more.
That was a point that hit home with me a couple weeks ago at the Macworld UK Conference in London, when Andy Ihnatko -- yes, longtime Mac stalwart Andy Ihnatko -- pointed out that iPhoto really didn't match up to Adobe's Windows-only Photoshop Album. Knowing about what was out there on the PC allowed Andy to call Apple on the limitations of iPhoto in a way that he might not have done otherwise.
It's funny, because I didn't even have to leave the platform to get that particular bit of perspective. Dissatisfied with the speed of iPhoto 2, I jumped to iView Media. When I recently revisited iPhoto 4, I was struck by the differences on both sides. Apple's product is much more polished than iView's, although iView Media 2.5 closes the gap a tad. But iView Media is so much more flexible -- and faster! -- than iPhoto.
Both products have a lot to commend them. But spending time with each of them gave me a welcome perspective about how each of them could be much better than they are today.
Sure, some might argue that this kind of perspective only causes trouble and sows the seeds of dissatisfaction. But I'd argue that it's better to be armed with knowledge, any knowledge, than to be ignorant. Sometimes a perspective shift will only throw the quality of Apple's products into sharper relief; other times it will reveal where Apple has fallen down. Either way, it can be a useful experience.