It can be difficult to think about how the rest of the world works when one's caught up in the latest and greatest software tools on a weekly (or just frequent) basis. And I'm not just tooting my own horn on this one. You, as a Maximum PC reader, are likely infused with more knowledge about the best the software world has to offer by virtue of your thirst for knowledge for all things extreme and PC-related.
In short, you know your chops.
I thus found myself a little taken aback earlier this week. I met somebody new during the course of my normal nine-to-five and, during our introductory discussion around the ol' office cube, I noticed that she was using Yahoo Messenger. No harm there, right? As I casually brought up the Greatest IM Client Ever, Pidgin, I also managed to sneak mention of good ol' Firefox and Chrome into the discussion. In fact, I think I even made it a joke: Hey, Yahoo isn't as bad as Internet Explorer, right?
As it turns out, said new colleague was a devotee of Microsoft's trusty browser. It was a labor of love that remained unchanged since she first laid hands on any kind of Internet surfing software. As far as the Web goes, ‘twas IE all the way.
It's too bad there isn't a back button for one's facial expressions, as I would have loved to have gone back to a point in time prior to my jaw hitting the ground. I exaggerate, of course, but not that much. I mean, really. Internet Explorer? Here's a fairly young, tech-cognizant, new employee to itself a tech-knowledge-demanding position... and Internet Explorer? Really?
I say that not out of spite--hey, I did buy an iPhone after all, right?--but curiosity. What is it that makes people so eager to adopt the least advantageous hardware or software solution? I quickly tried to run the scenarios through in my mind.
My first assumption was that said coworker was merely ignorant of any different browsers. It was a long shot, I realize, but you never know. My parents certainly hadn't heard of Chrome before I mentioned it on a phone call home one day. Not all of us scour the Web in search of the next, best third-party browser-even if it is talked about ad nauseum online.
But, nope, that wasn't it. Fully aware of her choices, said coworkers still stuck to her Internet Explorer guns. That also somewhat killed my second thought: the typical, anti-Microsoft response that the company's unpleasant business practices in tying the browser so lock-stepped with the operating system make it near-impossible for anyone to have anything differently.
Strike two. As it turns out, my coworker's allegiance to Internet Explorer, and Internet Explorer only, was due to her familiarity with the browser. Sure, better products might exist, but they weren't the browsers for her-she liked knowing 100 percent of IE's menus, features, and capabilities. Anything else, by virtue of its foreignness, was right out.
While this might seem like the most trivial of exchanges, one hardly worth reporting within the 700 words (or thereabouts) of an average Maximum PC column, my co-workers answer really struck at the core of what I do as a tech journalist-I suspect it affects you as well.
Think about it. A large majority of what I do involves trying to convince you to push past your boundaries: try this new program instead of your system default; check out this crazy little application that's completely different than the retail product you're used to; use a foreign Web service to emulate an offline functionality that you've grown used to.
And what about Maximum PC as a whole? Does it do the magazine any good to tell you about the newest ATI cards if you're a devout Nvidia supporter? If you know the ins and outs of your particular motherboard setup, would you ever consider scrapping it and jumping to a different processor brand? Would you ever buy an Apple product? (I keed; I keed.)
In pondering this very question, I'm struck by just how much my own personal sense of brand or technology loyalty has played into my own habits and purchasing decisions. I mean, shoot, it took me however long to jump ship from Firefox to Chrome. I suspect I'd be in for an uphill battle were I to consider a new operating system, hardware setup, or tablet device--to name a few.
After all, what's truly best? The fastest technology? The most open technology? Or... the technology that makes us most efficient as a result of its familiarity, not necessarily its features?
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. He tried Internet Explorer once; It wasn't very fun.