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ONLINE DOCUMENT: APPLE OF MY EYE

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I love my PC. OK, so maybe I don't really, but you probably guessed that already. It isn't the kind of thing people say.

"I love my Apple Mac," though, is another thing altogether. You do hear people saying that, especially if you spend time at events like the Apple Expo UK in London recently.In part it was just another boring computer trade show, but mostly the Expo was a gathering of the faithful. Macintoshes seem to inspire more than just brand loyalty; Mac owners have a kind of religious devotion to their machine.

They're like the VW Beetle drivers of cyberspace, waving at each other as they go, confirming their membership of some kind of enlightened brotherhood. When you buy a Mac, you become MacPerson, free-thinking individual, computing creative, as opposed to just another PC clone.

Apple's global head of research and development, David Nagel, picked up on this in his keynote address to the Expo. Apple may only have 10 percent of the global operating system market (Microsoft has the other 90 percent), he admitted, but hey, it's got the best 10 percent, the really cool, cutting-edge people.

Buried in here was the hint of a suggestion that if you're not smart enough to buy a Mac, maybe we don't want your business.

MacPerson is different - so different that he or she seems prepared to pay money for T-shirts featuring the Mac Operating System logo. Across from the T-shirt stand at the Expo a man was demonstrating an early version of Copland, Apple's next operating system.

He urged us to think kind thoughts about it and maybe it would be kind back and not crash. There was so much Mac love in the house that Copland delivered a fast, glitch-free performance (and looked rather impressive).

Obviously he was joking, but try to imagine someone making a similar kind of joke about Windows 95.

Also being previewed was a new Apple internet product, a kind of easy-to-use web authoring tool codenamed "Cyberdog." The name will probably go when it reaches the market, but it seems somehow symbolic: Apple software is more than just a tool; it's a faithful, furry friend.

There is an obvious reason for Mac love. Several people at the Expo were sporting "Windows 95, Macintosh 89" badges, referring to the opinion that Windows 95 is just an attempt to catch up with what Mac has been doing for years.

They do have a point. On the whole, Macs are easier to use and faster than PCs running Windows (though also more expensive and harder to get). Macs are also the only computers that have managed to make it as desirable style objects - perhaps because they've become the choice of "creative professionals" in the media, design and advertising.

Still, Mac love goes deeper. There's something about the interface itself which encourages attachment, according to computer theorist Sherry Turkle. In her new book, "Life On The Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet," she ponders the change from DOS-driven computers to the graphic interface of Macs.

With DOS, you were still in what she calls the "modernist era of calculation," which implied that logic and reason could provide the answers. You commanded the machine to do things and if you wanted to know more you read the manual.

The Macintosh moved computing into the "post-modern era of simulation." Now you don't try to get inside the machine to rationally break things down; you're content to stay on the surface. You learn by play and exploration, and you don't issue commands to the computer - instead, it invites you to enter into a relationship with it.

As Turkle points out, though Apple lost the battle for business, it won the conceptual war. Pretty much every PC going these days runs a Macintosh-style interface.

So why is it still just Macs that inspire devotion? There's a clue from one of the Mac owners Turkel interviews. He likes his Mac, he says, "because it feels finished." PCs never feel finished. Because chip technology gets cheaper and more powerful every year, as soon as you buy one, it feels outmoded.

The business plays on this: you're always being encouraged to upgrade. The name Windows 95 says it all - it implies a Windows 96, 97 and so on. There's no point in getting attached to something you'll have to ditch in a year.

For a while, Macs seemed different. They were sold early on as computers you didn't need to tinker with. But in these days of instant obsolescence, that kind of lengthy attachment looks like nostalgic fantasy.

It would be nice to believe in a Mac love that lasts, but the pace of development has turned us all into digital serial monogamists, never really attached, forever on the lookout for a younger, racier model.