'PC User' Doesn't Mean 'Windows User'

It's all too common in the popular press to see the assumption made that "PC" means "Windows PC."

Most mainstream discussions of Windows malware, for example, refer to it as "PC malware" and therefore an industry problem--conveniently sparing Microsoft any direct blame.

PC, however, is short for "personal computer"--a term that includes not just Windows computers but Macs and Linux computers as well. It may seem like a semantic quibble, but it has significant repercussions.

'Computer-Savvy Gearheads'?

To wit: Decision-making site Hunch last week published in an infographic the results of its most recent study on the personality differences between Mac and PC users. Implicit in that analysis, once again, was that "PC users" are on Windows--there's even a Windows icon used to represent them.

The study is full of all kinds of interesting and provocative results, such as that Mac users are younger, more liberal, more urban, more educated and generally more interesting than PC users are. Particularly bizarre, too, is that Mac users were found to consider themselves as "computer-savvy gearheads" more often than PC users were; Macs, in fact, are most notable for their attempt to protect users from the inner working of their machines.

In any case, the Hunch study shines a direct spotlight on many misperceptions and misunderstandings about computers and the operating systems that run them. Let's look at just a few of them.

1. 'PC' != Windows

First off, the term "PC" includes Macs, so that's a poor term to use for distinction.

Second, given the diversity of computing environments today, it is no longer accurate to assume that someone on a non-Mac PC is using Windows. Linux users are growing rapidly in number, and I doubt most would categorize themselves in the same group as Windows users.

That, indeed, is probably at least part of the reason a full 23 percent of respondents to the Hunch study didn't classify themselves in either the PC (Windows) or Mac camps: the two camps are neither well-defined nor comprehensive, since they leave out Linux users altogether.

Hunch also didn't specify, as far as I can tell, whether it was including mobile technologies such as tablet PCs. If it was, that opens up a whole other can of worms--not to mention Linux-based Android.

2. Few Choose Windows

Another assumption implicit in the Hunch study is that those who do use Windows do so by choice.

It certainly seems true that Mac users choose their platform, by and large, and it may be true in some cases for Windows users, too. Microsoft still holds such a monopoly over non-Mac PCs, however, that most people get Windows on their machine whether they want it or not. Windows is everywhere, unfortunately, and so Windows users are too, simply by default.

That situation is improving, to be sure--just recently, in fact, it's become clear that Microsoft is getting its operating system onto fewer and fewer of the new computers that ship. Most recently, more than a third are shipping without it.

Still, it's mistaken to assume that Windows users are Windows users by choice. Most simply go with what comes on their hardware. That being the case, I'm not sure you can draw many conclusions about personalities based on the fact that they use Windows.

3. What About Linux?

Most notable of all about the Hunch data, however, is that it completely ignores the third big contender in the operating-system arena: Linux.

Certainly, Linux users are still a minority--if you're not counting Android, especially. They are a growing contingent, however--as recent Wikipedia visitor data can attest--and I think Hunch's 23 percent non-response group underscores that fact.

What's had me thinking over the past few days is how Linux users would compare, had they been recognized by Hunch and allowed to respond as a group. Would they say that "talking about computers is akin to struggling with a foreign language," the way "PC" users did? I don't think so.

How do you think Linux users' responses would compare? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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