Programmers embrace Apple’s Mac platform – again

“All the best hackers I know are gradually switching to Macs. My friend Robert said his whole research group at MIT recently bought themselves Powerbooks. These guys are not the graphic designers and grandmas who were buying Macs at Apple’s low point in the mid 1990s. They’re about as hardcore OS hackers as you can get,” Paul Graham writes for “The reason, of course, is OS X. Powerbooks are beautifully designed and run FreeBSD. What more do you need to know?”

“I got a Powerbook at the end of last year. When my IBM Thinkpad’s hard disk died soon after, it became my only laptop. And when my friend Trevor showed up at my house recently, he was carrying a Powerbook identical to mine,” Graham writes. “For most of us, it’s not a switch to Apple, but a return. Hard as this was to believe in the mid 90s, the Mac was in its time the canonical hacker’s computer.”

“With OS X, the hackers are back. When I walked into the Apple store in Cambridge, it was like coming home. Much was changed, but there was still that Apple coolness in the air, that feeling that the show was being run by someone who really cared, instead of random corporate deal-makers,” Graham writes. “So what, the business world may say. Who cares if hackers like Apple again? How big is the hacker market, after all? Quite small, but important out of proportion to its size. When it comes to computers, what hackers are doing now, everyone will be doing in ten years. Almost all technology, from Unix to bitmapped displays to the Web, became popular first within CS departments and research labs, and gradually spread to the rest of the world.”

“If you want to attract hackers to write software that will sell your hardware, you have to make it something that they themselves use. It’s not enough to make it ‘open.’ It has to be open and good,” Graham writes. “And open and good is what Macs are again, finally. The intervening years have created a situation that is, as far as I know, without precedent: Apple is popular at the low end and the high end, but not in the middle. My seventy year old mother has a Mac laptop. My friends with PhDs in computer science have Mac laptops. And yet Apple’s overall market share is still small. Though unprecedented, I predict this situation is also temporary.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: Paul Graham is an essayist, programmer, and programming language designer. In 1995 he developed with Robert Morris the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. In 2002 he described a simple Bayesian spam filter that inspired most current filters. He is currently working on a new programming language called Arc. He has an AB from Cornell and a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
IBM Fellow dumps Microsoft Windows XP, switches to Apple’s Mac OS X – September 02, 2004


  1. Similar experience.

    Meeting rooms and workshops are full of colleagues with Powerbooks. An amazing view for someone who – like me – just few years ago – was the lone star in the hall and defy weird looks from colleagues.

    It is now almost a reversed situation. Colleagues with PC laptops (any brand) are actually asked when they’ll drop it and switch: “What? still with that <Dell, ThinkPad, Sony, Compaq, you-name-it>”

  2. Hackers do not write viruses. They are mostly busy with OpenSource developments and – on the contrary – provide patches to whatever weaknesses are found on whatever Unix tool.

  3. There it is: “VisiCalc.” The most famous, IMHO, of the early hacker developed applications. Apple needs to buy the name rights of VisiCalc and bring an updated version as part of the iWork suite. Sweet.

    Long live mac hackers ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”excaim” style=”border:0;” />

  4. good article…makes sense too. Hackers, not your local IT department, are the real innovators. Hackers, in general, seem to share the same creativity and passion that they admire so much in Apple. Not to condone what some hackers do, but they can point to the future of the computing world – “When it comes to computers, what hackers are doing now, everyone will be doing in ten years”.

  5. Apparently, there’s a huge difference between a ‘hacker’ and a ‘cracker'(the following is from


    n. [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

    2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.

    3. A person capable of appreciating hack value.

    4. A person who is good at programming quickly.

    5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)

    6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.

    7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.

    8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker’, `network hacker’. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

    The term `hacker’ also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and
    It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see <a ]hacker ethic[/url]).

    It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you’ll quickly be labeled bogus). See also wannabee.

    This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry’s by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

    Source: Jargon File 4.2.0

  6. This article describes what I imagined in early 2003 when I bought a large amount of AAPL at $14. I based my decision then on the single fact that Apple was now running Unix. I continue to chant my mantra, “It’s the OS [X], Stupid!”

  7. I believe Paul Graham is using the original meaning of the word “hacker”. Back in the 70s and early 80s the term almost exclusively meant programmers who were not analysts in any shape or form. Hackers were people who “hacked” away at a software problem and got the software running.

    Often hackers tried things the formally educated software people would never have tried. They thought of innovative ways to do things. They just got the job done. A great hacker or two on the staff was critical to any software organization.

    Many old time programmers tried to differentiate between “hackers” and “crackers” (people bent on creating viruses, worms, trojans, breaking into servers, etc.). The differentiation never caught on.

  8. shadowself is right, the author was using ‘hacker’ in it’s original context, not in it’s current most common useage. Developers make applications and applications drive hardware sales. The news is very good.

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