"Can I Switch?" Helper
A Marketing Opportunity for Apple

Goal: Help a user determine if the sort of applications used exist under Mac OS X by collecting and reporting on actual usage

Motivation: I'm more than a little tempted to get a mac. But, could I get by in with a mac in my non-mac work world? There are two ways to answer this question. I could just jump in and see, or I could identify all programs I'm now using at my job and do the appropriate web research to see what's available for the mac. I don't have the time or patience to do the research nor do I have the time just to jump in and try it now either.

How "Can I Switch?" would work:

  1. Download:
    User visits Apple's Switch page and downloads the "Can I Switch" program to install on the Windows computer which would be replaced by a mac. (No, you won't find this program on that site yet, this is just a proposal.)

  2. Install:
    During installation, the user specifies exactly how long the trial data collection period will last (e.g. give options of 7 days, 14 days, 30 days). This is important as this will reinforce that Apple is not trying to install spyware, but merely helping the user come to the conclusion that they can live in a Mac world.

  3. Collect Data:
    During this data collection period, the "Can I Switch" program starts when Windows does and runs quietly in the background. It records which programs are launched, how long each program runs, and perhaps how long each program spends in the foreground.

    Alternately, the program could tap into the data used by WinXP's "Remove Programs" control panel which shows how often and how recently each program has been used. Depending on the granularity of this information, this may eliminate the need to run this for an extended period of time. (Thanks to Pierre for this suggestion)

  4. Report:
    At the end of the data collection period, the program reports to the user how many of his or her programs are available under Mac OS X. More on the details of the report later.
In order for this to be a successful marketing tool, there are some important things it must do.

It must be honest. A Mac may run Outlook just fine, but if a travelling consultant can only access the Exchange server by connecting over a VPN using a protocol that only exists under Windows the tool must report to the best of its abilities of possible issues with the VPN client. The alternative is that the consultant buys the Mac and feels cheated and tricked by Apple.

It must uninstall itself cleanly. At the end of the trial period, the user should be given a clear option to uninstall the program. With the growth of spyware, everything this program does must be no more invasive than necessary.

It must be open source. This builds on the last point. In order for users to trust that Apple's primary intention is to help the users decide and not to gather data from suckers who download the program, everything must be completely transparent.


The summary report would look like this:

During the past 14 days, you ran 77 different programs.

68 (88%) of the programs you use are available on a Macintosh

  • 25% are built into or distributed with every copy of Mac OS X (link to list)
  • 45% have native Mac OS X versions available (link to list)
  • 18% have equivalent programs available (link to list)
Furthermore, 98% of your time was spent in these 68 programs.
From this summary report, the user can click on the links to get more details on the applications in each category.

For each application listed, the tool shows the status of the application on the Mac. If it's available in native form say so, but then go one step further -- show what alternatives exists.

This is also where the honesty clause from above comes into play. If a user is spending 75% of his or her time in a program that isn't completely functional to what he or she uses under Windows, explain this. Tell what functions exist and what are missing.

Here's one more feature to help the marketroids fearing the effect of the honesty clause. Give the users an option to sent their statistics to Apple to let Apple know what program they need before they can switch. This can only work if the source for this tool is available as users need to be confident that only statistics from this tool are being sent.

Final Words

I really like the ideas behind the Mac, I like Mac OS X, but I have real requirements for interoperability in my office. Help me find out if I can switch.

Doug Harris - Cognitive Overflow