Cult Watch 2007: Who's Drinking the Kool-Aid?

Many tech tribes – Windows, Linux, Apple, and others – have a deeply tribal status. Which tribes are losing and which are gaining?


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Posted November 28, 2007

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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As we wind down another year in technology, it's a good time to check in on the cults and see how they’re doing.

For companies who inspire them, user cults are nice because they motivate customers to overlook strategic blunders, exaggerate product successes and -- most importantly -- walk the earth “virally” marketing products without pay.

Cult members themselves get an enhanced feeling of self-worth through group association. "I'm better than you! I have an iPhone!" Consumers can become one of the “chosen people” for $399, plus a two-year contract.

Let's have a look at the major tech cults, and see how they're doing.

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The biggest and most religiously zealous of the cults, of course, is Apple. The company and cult had a banner year, highlighted by the shipment of the iPhone and a new version of OS X, among other things. On balance, longtime devotees are just as faithful as always, but the iPhone phenomenon and Mac conversion from Windows brought new members into the fold. They've made missteps (Apple TV, security issues, iPhone "bricking" controversy, etc.) But the iPhone and Leopard are so sublimely transcendent that such minor problems pale in comparison.

• In 2007, Apple moved from 4 1/2 to 4 and 3/4 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid on the cult scale (from zero to five cups, five being maximum).


It's hard to inspire a cult when you're an uncharismatic market share leader. Nonetheless, a Microsoft cult does exist. In 2007, however, the group lost a lot of members, and those who remain have lost faith. Why? In a word: Vista. This false prophet of an operating system is slow, buggy, confusing and problematic. Vista's main benefit to the cult is that it makes members realize how much they liked XP. Microsoft has been slowly improving its Windows Mobile OS, and various online offerings, but these incremental gains mean little when Apple and Google are dominating the cultosphere so thoroughly with their respective products and services. The cult got a minor revelation in the form of the new Zunes, which turned out to be surprisingly nice. Unfortunately, Apple preemptively PWNED this whole line with its new iPods.

• The Microsoft cult plummets this year from two Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to just one.


Success is hurting the Linux cult. As Linux grows more respectable in enterprises, its cult value wanes. Huge companies like IBM, HP and others now dominate public enthusiasm for the platform, which erodes its outlaw image and makes it harder to enlist new cult members. On the consumer desktop, it seems, pretty much everyone who is going to embrace it already has. So the faithful remain so, but their numbers are at best remaining constant and at worse, declining.

• The Linux cult moved this year from 4 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to 3 1/2.


The Cult of Google was pulled in both directions in 2007. On the one hand, Google keeps hitting grand slams by increasing Gmail storage capacity, offering super great mobile applications, providing a near perfect platform for maps mashups, and continuing to deliver great search without bloated UI. They've also unveiled a staggering number of promising new initiatives, such as OpenSocial and Android. On the other hand, Google is becoming so big, so rich and so powerful that it's hard to be too devoted to the cause. Their stated desire and actual practice of gathering and retaining as much private user data further erodes religious support.

• On balance, however, they're up. Google moved this year from 3 Dixie cups of Kool-Aid to 3 1/2.

Continued: More Kool-Aid drinkers - or not

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