Defining the Apple “Power User”

silver iMac near iPhone on brown wooden table

Table of Contents

macbook-blkwht2.png2006 is the year of the laptop for me. After several years of living by on company-issued laptops, then purchasing a low-end used laptop myself when I went freelance, I finally got to push myself into buying a new laptop this July, which was an entry-level Compaq Presario V2000. I really wanted a MacBook, but that didn’t fit my budget at that time. Then there’s the PowerBook Pismo I was able to acquire for close to nil this August. Good enough!

A couple of colleagues of mine also went on their respective laptop shopping sprees almost the same time as mine, and snapped up more powerful Core Duo and Core 2 Duo machines. They wouldn’t go for anything with integrated graphics. It had to be discrete (from either ATI or NVIDIA), and it had to have at least 256 megabytes of video RAM. They chose to go with buld-to-order ODM/”whitebox” models rather than the major brands. To them, it’s a choice of specs/performance over brand/design, and they preferred to have full control of what peripherals their laptop featured.

I could understand that it’s because of our respective needs. I’m a writer, and my colleagues are developers and designers. They’re quite the avid gamers, too, hence, the need for discrete graphics. I could probably find a need for blazing fast graphics with a discrete GPU and non-choke multitasking with two processor cores sometime in the near future (meaning when Power-hungry Windows Vista comes), but I couldn’t bring myself to justify the added cost right now. Hey, I got the Presario for less than half the price my friends got their higher-end laptops. And the Mac? The cost is almost negligible–I practically just resurrected the Pismo from the dead. Now it runs Tiger pretty decently. So I can say I pretty much got a good deal.

Get a Mac

outofhtebox.pngThing is, I’d been goading people I know to go for Apple computers (especially laptops) for the longest time, particularly considering the price of the MacBook–which his even tad cheaper than the Windows-based laptops my good friends bought. Sure, comparing the specs, the MacBook would be lagging behind. But with some added RAM and perhaps a hard drive upgrade, it would already be on par performance- and price-wise, except probably for the discrete GPU (here’s where the more expensive MacBook Pro would excel).

However, the tech evangelist that I am, I have a low batting average when it comes to convincing people to get a Mac. One reason they cite for sticking to PCs is that they’re power users, and that Macs just wouldn’t satisfy their need to control just about everything that goes under the hood, in terms of hardware.

They reason that while Macs today can run Windows (which gamers would require, since most popular games today are Windows-only), one would be limited when it comes to having a choice of processors, hard drives, graphics adaptors, sound cards, and even the motherboard itself. You have a plethora of manufacturers and parts to choose from when you’re building, upgrading or modifying a PC. With a Mac, you generally have to stick with Apple-provided or approved hardware.

Defining the Mac “Power User”

So does this mean that Macs are, indeed, not suited for the power users?

macpro.pngI wouldn’t exactly say so. This is because in general, Mac and PC users have different definitions of what it is to be a power user. Here’s something I found on LEM that’s been up for a few years now, but which I think still hits it right on the mark when it comes to defining the “power user” from a Mac and PC perspective.

We tend to define “power users” differently in the PC and Mac camps. In the Mac world, we consider power users to be the people who do a lot of Photoshop or video editing, and sometimes the serious gamers with tweaked out systems. We define power users by their applications more than their hardware.

In the PC world, power users run fast Pentium and Athlon processors, which are overclocked more often than not. They choose their hard drives, video cards, and other components based on performance. The goal seems to be having the best hardware, not productivity.

Using cars as an analogy, PC hardware users build tricked out hot rods while Mac users buy production cars and trucks to get the job done.

(Emphases are mine.)

It’s all about the applications, and it always has been so. It’s in how you use your computer, and not how powerful it is, that makes you a power user. You can have a top-of-the-line four-core Mac Pro, but if all you use it for is some web mail and document editing, then I doubt if you can be called a power user. In the same light, you can own a G4 Mac Mini, but if you use it to edit videos, manipulate photos, and even manage your servers using the command line, you would be considered a power user.

Dumbed-Down Computers?

dosprompt.pngAlso, there’s this argument that Macs are for dummies because Apple computers through history have been comparatively easier to use than PCs (what an understatement, huh?). When PC users were running programs through a DOS command line in the 1980’s, Macheads were already using point-and-click graphical user interfaces with mice! When Windows users had to learn to tweak their registries and use DOS commands to fix their computers when they screwed up, Mac users could still count on the GUI to do all that.

However, with the introduction of OS X, this changed because of the UNIX-like nature of the operating system. Mac users thus began to enjoy the best of both worlds–the cool, intuitive graphical interface on top of a BSD core. And if ever there’s a need to tweak the innards of OS X, then there’s always the command line. Now beginners won’t have to deal with tweaking registry keys, and advanced users have that familiar command line to play and hack with.

It’s All About the Person

ferrari.pngI would say that being a power user is also about the productivity. If you can get the most out of your computer in terms of work done, no matter the specs and the speed of the machine, then I would say you’re a power user. But if you have the fastest and most powerful machine in the world, but don’t know how to make heads nor tails out of it, then sorry–your computer is just another white elephant.

Still, command-line or not, Windows or Mac, I would say the definition of a power user should always be based on the person and not the computer. To expand on LEM’s car analogy, a power user would be like a race between Michael Schumacher driving a Volvo station wagon and an inexperienced driver on a Ferrari. Schumey has the driving prowess and skills to finish the race and get pole position at that (all while enjoying the view), while the newbie will most likely crash his speedster less than halfway through the race.

So who’s the power user? Look not under the hood, but behind the wheel!

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Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

7 thoughts on “Defining the Apple “Power User”

  1. Who cares about “power” users? They constitute 2% of the market.
    The money is in the “majority”.
    The way to grow th Mac market is too concentrate on “average” consumers who just want a better computing experience and are not focused on “always the low price”.


  2. I think you’re setting up a bit of a false dichotomy by decoupling hardware power users from software power users here.

    Sure, there are people who will buy a tricked-out high end system and then do nothing but read their e-mail on it, but by and large I think you’ll find that people with high-end PC boxes are using those boxes for gaming, or Photoshop, or coding, or what-have-you just as often as Mac power users are.

    In addition, that fact that Mac users are blocked from being able to tweak out much of their hardware the way PC users can means that there’s no way to tell whether they would behave the same way if they were able to. In other words — if Mac owners could build their own boxes, do you think that this ‘difference’ would continue as is, or would Mac users start acting more like PC users in this area?

  3. A power user is an individual who knows the ins and outs of his or her system. He or she is privy to knowledge that ordinary users find occult or hard to understand.

    A power user on a PC, for instance, is comfortable with the registry. He or she knows how the operating system and applications function and can get the OS and apps to do things normal users can’t. Power users know all about the directory structure Windows uses, which processes normally run and which do what. They probably know how the NTFS file system works, etc. They can probably tell very easily if a virus is running on someone’s system and may even be able to remove it manually with a little investigation. They know where to look and what to do.

    A PC power user doesn’t necessarily have to have the most recent and fastest hardware. It isn’t what someone owns that makes them a power user, its what they know how to do and how they use their system.

    If someone knows a hell of a lot about how to use Photoshop, lets say, but doesn’t know diddley about the OS, then I wouldn’t call them a power user. Maybe in terms of that one app, sure, but not in general. I’d say, so-and-so is a power user when it comes to Photoshop.

    If a OS X user could do tons of stuff with the OS but wasn’t an expert with any particular app, I’d still consider that person a power user. Knowing what it takes to master using the OS means you know how to user a computer very well, period. This skill can easily generalize to any app if necessary. However, a lot of people know how to use apps but strangely are completely lost when they are required to mess with the Operating System. I find that strange.

  4. I would define a “Power User” on any system as someone who is always finding the quickest way to complete any task:

    -Drag and drop
    -Keyboard shortcuts
    -Automated tasks
    -Sleep, not shut down

    Anything to be more efficient. It has nothing to do with what hardware you use, nothing to do with what software you use but it has EVERYTHING to do with HOW you use them.

  5. I would define a Mac power user as someone who not only uses the the major apps (and hand-picked share and freeware gems), they also script and automate repetitive tasks, and customize and extend their application’s capabilities for maximum efficiency. They’re comfortable with AppleScript, terminal commands and macros, and may have even dabbled in RealBasic or XCode. They use every feature of every application in order to squeeze precious time out of the work day. Power users are able to utilize virtually any piece of Mac technology in the best possible way to get work done, and they have the wisdom to know which technology is the best fit for the job at hand.

  6. the key word in this whole discussion thus far is ‘use’, as in ‘user’, as in ‘one who uses’.

    you can apply old, boring, slow and outdated hardware in ways which produce more actual ‘use’ than bleeding-edge, not-quite-working, hard-core hardware. the reference between these realms is, of course ‘use’.

    what is meant by a ‘power user’? it is, simply, one who uses the power of the computer in front of them. it doesn’t have to be fast, new, bleeding edge, or even expensive. a power user doesn’t have any hardware requirement; they are, simply, just using the thing, powerfully. usually in exciting and interesting, but always -productive- ways. a power-user applies a computer for whatever actual ‘use’ is intended: game-playing, databases, internet, music, development, whatever.

    so .. my point of view is that as a long-time “bleeding-edge software guy” with a partiality to Unix ways of life, i don’t really care what hardware is running, as long as its: a) On, and b) In Use. my personal measure of investment in computing power has always “how is it being used”.

    By way of example for what I mean, I switched to the Powerbook Elite (as in, always try to have the latest powerbook) the day the first lovely (and still useful) tiBooks were available.

    Dumping beige-box shrine-building and tempestuous cult-like hardware behaviour from about 17 too-many trips on the weekend to SoCal computer college swap-marts, and after I decided personally that the only thing that mattered was that the computer I use actually fit with any stack of books worth carrying. That was the principle requirement: form-factor compatible with books.

    Its only the form-factor of the Mac way that matters to me as a Powerbook User .. if someone can show me a Unix workstation I can easily slide on the shelf, and use comfortably on the train, I’ll switch to it. So far, the Powerbook owns the ‘strictly book form-factor’ realm; it is designed for that.

    Sure, I’d love to have a very fast computer around, but as I get older, and perhaps a little wiser, I realize that the latest and greatest isn’t always the best. Sometimes, having 3 or 4 little computers in active use is as good as, or better than, having 1 or 2 super-duper machines running instead.

    So I’d just like to point out that Power is just one aspect of how you could measure ‘User’ in the “Power User” equation .. 😉

  7. Funny, how tech people now have their own definition of “Power User”. It’s hard to define now what is “Subjective” and “Relative”.

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