Mac fanatic

Self-confessed Mac fan Jason Arber immerses himself in the ultimate in Apple worship - and discovers he's not quite as dedicated as he thought.

I'm a Mac user, and proud of it. I've used Macs for over 15 years and generally consider the Mac OS to be the best around. I'll mock Windows users, despite my grudging admiration for certain aspects of Microsoft's XP operating system, and will admit that elements of the continually delayed Longhorn look pretty interesting.

In short, I'm probably like most Mac users - happy to work in an environment that's free of the debilitating viruses and blue screens of death that plague our less fortunate Windows users.

But I'm no Mac zealot, the kind of fanatic who engages in vicious debates concerning the merits of Apple over Windows or Linux. I don't burst into tears when Steve Jobs goes into hospital, and I'm not the sort of person who waits 24 hours in the rain to be the first in line at the Apple Store opening. Or am I?

The opening of Apple's first European store in London last month gave me a rare opportunity to test my mettle, to see what kind of Mac user I really was. I thought to myself, in the interests of journalism, I'll embed myself among the Mac loons who wait to be the first through the door.

And so, after work on the evening of Friday 19 November 2004, I made my way to Regent Street. The massive double glass doors of the new store beckoned and a scattering of folk peered inside. None of them looked like they had any intention of staying the night and it occurred to me that I might be first in the queue! Obviously, I reasoned, since nobody was queuing, there was something different about the European mentality, some sense of reality that prevented us from acting like Apple fans across the Atlantic.

One look around the corner, however, proved me wrong. British Apple fans, it seems, are just as mad as our American brethren - there were already 20 or 30 encampments with tents and sleeping bags stretching down Princes Street. They all looked prepared for a mountain trek, apart from two head-banging mad men who jumped around playing air guitar to their iPods...

It was very cold, the kind of cold that makes you think twice about sleeping on the street. So, realising there was no chance of being first in the queue, I thought, "Bugger this" and went home.

Early next morning, I followed the queue back down Princes Street, around Hanover Square, down and back up George Street until I reached the end somewhere around Brook Street. The police later put the number of people waiting at around 5,000.

So I randomly interviewed some of them. It soon became clear that there was a hardcore of people towards the front who had braved the London winter. The majority had turned up between 6.30am and 9.30am. But first in the queue was an American named Stormy from Dallas, Texas, who'd escaped the rubber room to camp out since Thursday!

As the grand opening crawled closer, a party atmosphere took hold, helped by the store staff, who travelled the line whooping and clapping. After chanting, "Five minutes to go! Five minutes to go!", they cut the ribbon and the queue surged forwards...

I didn't actually make it inside the store until the Monday - being one of the first 100 people to enter the store didn't appeal in the cold. But for most, it seems, we're not so very different from folk in the US when it comes to turning an Apple Store opening into an event bordering on the religious.

PC users may outnumber Mac users by over 95 per cent, but if Microsoft ever opened a new store of its own, it would never be able to stage anything like this. So chalk one up to the crazy Apple asylum escapees.