I encountered this question when taking Apple's online survey:

My question is: What does the "A Mac user" mean here? Someone using OS X or someone using a MacBook?

enter image description here

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    For what definition does any of this even matter? (I.e. What's the real problem to be solved here?) – bmike Sep 3 '16 at 15:57
  • Notice that even though the options sound a bit strange, the last option is indeed applicable both to a person who exclusively run Windows on a Mac as well as to another person who use neither of them. – kasperd Sep 3 '16 at 18:24
  • @kasperd So it's basically a bad question but no one cares because it's just a survey. – owlswipe Sep 4 '16 at 13:23

Mac is the brand of computers (specifically, the hardware) made by Apple. The Macs on sale today are the MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, Mac Pro, and Mac Mini.

Mac computers run on macOS (which was called OS X up until its rebranding in mid-2016). macOS, not Mac, is the equivalent of Windows, but since Apple wouldn't ask "Are you a macOS user" (the equivalent of "Windows user") and wouldn't ask "Are you a Windows computer user" (the equivalent of "Mac user"), they use the fairly reasonable grammar found in your screenshot.

You can also use an anology to sum it up: Mac is to PC, as macOS (previously OS X) is to Windows.

TL;DR: The first line of Wikipedia's entry on macOS pretty much sums it up:

macOS is a series of graphical user interface–based operating systems developed by Apple Inc. for their Mac line of computer systems.

  • IMO if one resorts to Wikipedia for and explanation then they've lost the argument before it began! The fact is macOS, as an operating system designator, only applies to version 10.12 and later (until rebranded again) of the operating systems used on Mac(intosh) computers. Not even the almighty Apple can retroactively rename previous releases of the OS. Versions 10.8 through 10.11 will forever be OS X an 10.0 through 10.7 will forever be Mac OS X! You cannot go back and erase the past. – user3439894 Sep 4 '16 at 7:48
  • @user3439894 You make an interesting point about retroactively naming; it may well be that Apple has two names for one operating system right now (macOS and OS X), so they opt for the singular name of Mac even though it's not totally the opposite of Windows. Also, I originally did not have the wikipedia sentence in my answer; I only added it as a tldr after the fact. An edit from user Peanut moved it to the top of my answer (along with some other better edits), but I moved it back to the bottom again. – owlswipe Sep 4 '16 at 13:22

Given the context it's pretty obvious to me that it's referring to the operating system.

You wouldn't see a question like "Do you consider yourself a car driver or a coffee drinker?"

The option of "Windows" clearly binds the question as one of operating systems.

While I've not done any research here, I'd be immensely surprised if it wasn't the case that the vast majority of people who use Mac operating systems are also on Mac hardware. So any situation where the clarification is needed can be considered an irrelevant edge case for the purposes of the survey. Such cases are suitably accounted for by the last option.

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    In fact, it's impossible to legally run macOS on anything other than a Mac and pretty annoying to do it illegally. – owlswipe Sep 3 '16 at 14:06
  • If we’re being picky then it’s fine to run macOS on non-Mac computers, they’ve just got to be authorized clones that top out at macOS 9: lowendmac.com/clones – Robin Whittleton Sep 3 '16 at 14:56
  • I see both of your points, but whether or not it is legal or even possible is getting a little off topic. The OP just wanted to understand if the question meant the operating system or the hardware when it stated 'Mac'. The answer is that it means the operating system – Darren H Sep 3 '16 at 15:28
  • This should be the accepted answer. The fact that this is a survey, and given the choice between Windows vs. Mac, it is obvious that “Mac” in this context assumes an operating system. Consumer surveys aren’t designed by technophiles, lawyers or linguists who enjoy arguing these kinds of subtleties. – user11633 Sep 4 '16 at 13:31

For the canonical / proper definition of Mac, I would defer to the vendor: http://www.apple.com/legal/intellectual-property/trademark/appletmlist.html

Mac = computer

Macintosh =computer


It's both. Mac computers (also known as Macintoshes) run macOS.

Non-Mac computers cannot run macOS (at least not legally), so there is essentially no difference between being a Mac user and being a macOS user. Macs can run other operating systems (including Windows), but someone using a Mac primarily for Windows is quite unusual.

  • In fact, Windows are more popular than macOS among mac computer users around me :/ – nalzok Sep 3 '16 at 1:26
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    I guess if you do primarily run Windows on your Mac, I would probably click "a Windows user." Since it does say "Would you say..." it is open for you to interpret the question however you prefer. As much as I love Macs, the fact is that they are already more expensive than Windows machines, so to buy one and then spend additional money for a Windows license in order to not use macOS is usually not a cost-effective strategy. – SegNerd Sep 3 '16 at 1:29

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