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ATPM 11.07
July 2005



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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Angus Wong,

Hit Me Again

Mac OS on Intel. Great. Wonderful. And no sarcasm either.

The Mac has, for me, always been about the user interface. Aside from the GUI, what I love about being a Mac user is the great software I can use. There must be a special kind of mentality to people who use the Mac and people who create products for it. Things on the Mac just seem more elegant in solving problems, whereas stuff on that other ubiquitous platform feels kinda jerry-rigged. Features really aren’t much more than additional menu items and buttons, for the world’s most prevalent desktop operating system, and no matter how much lipstick they paint onto the elephant, or what they append to the end of the word “Windows,” it’s pretty much the same old, same old, year after year.

Maybe it’s just statistics. Maybe the vast majority of people either can’t appreciate or don’t need a more refined computing experience. Maybe good enough is good enough. Which is perhaps why the third most important thing I like about being a Mac user is being part of the Mac community. We’re what the media call “Macintosh fanatics” or “the Cult of Mac.” Whatever. I simply prefer being more productive with my time, spending less on effort and total cost of ownership, and having fun while working. If the rest of the world is satisfied to aggravate daily on their PC, I say live and let live, but you just don’t get the same thrill popping open the Start menu, as when you press the hot key for Exposé or Dashboard.

So that’s why, when Steve hit us with the bombshell of a keynote, I knew we were in for even better days. I know some of us in the community don’t feel the same way (assuming, of course, that the negative commentary is from real Mac users rather than paid shills) with some people even saying they’ll never buy a Mac again. So, what, they’d rather use a Windows PC? It just doesn’t make sense. Desktop Linux is not refined enough yet, either.

Let’s put aside all the emotional angst. This sure as heck ain’t the first time Apple dangled low-hanging breakthrough fruit in front of us, before quietly kicking it under the carpet. Old timers will remember a slew of trademarks, including Game Sprockets, PowerTalk, Publish & Subscribe, OpenDoc, AV features, and, let’s not forget, e-frickin’-World and the Newton. Leaving aside the litter of false starts over the years, the Mac has, generally speaking, remained the best computing choice in the world. And since Steve returned to the captain’s chair, Apple has been just insanely great.

This latest megashift in technology, arguably the most significant yet for the Macintosh, is not occurring in a vacuum. A phase change was “instantiated” in the Apple universe when the iMac launched. Forget “Switch.” The consumer line of iMacs and iBooks captured an important market segment, and paved the way for the incredibly successful iPod campaign. In a market monopolized by the office applications of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Apple expertly fielded the iLife suite. Hell froze over, and iTunes for Windows was made available for the world to experience. And I haven’t even mentioned Mac OS X, the most advanced, innovative, powerful, and elegant operating system yet created by humanity.

I don’t know who’s behind Apple marketing. Steve gets all the credit, but the brains behind some of the best ideas in the industry don’t always get due credit. But at least Steve gave his permission to go ahead with the strategies, and kudos to him for that. While Mac folk see the wisdom in his decisions, not everyone is so tuned in. I remember reading an article from one of the more mainstream news outlets that said Apple was “quirky.” That’s kinda like living in a totalitarian society and saying democracy is “unpredictable.” These are conservative Wall Street types talking about a West-coast technology powerhouse.

People who don’t understand the passion behind the Mac community, or say they don’t like the Mac OS, most likely have never actually used it (or secretly love it but hate not being able to afford it). Tapping on a few keys in the computer showroom, or spending five minutes watching over the shoulder of a Mac user, is no more experiencing the Macintosh than is sitting in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari in an auto show and saying you’ve driven one. The vast majority of people continue to use Windows probably not because they’ve consciously made a decision to choose Windows, but because they’ve never had the chance to use a Mac. It’s like thinking a Windows CE (or whatever it’s called this week) PDA represents all the PDAs in the world. The “test drive” campaign of the mid-1980s tried to address this issue, but it wasn’t very successful. The only thing that’s going to work is having more people show their friends what a Mac is. It’s probably always been that way. And Mac on Intel is going to help, tremendously.

Forget the arguments about PowerPC architecture versus the Pentium roadmap. Let’s not get stuck in a quagmire of speculative details. The fact is, we don’t really know how the Intel chips are going to be implemented, but what we do know is that basically they are going to be the same chips that run Windows. And this means, what? This means that, very likely, we will be able to run Windows applications at near native speeds.

VirtualPC was extremely innovative in translating CPU instructions on the fly, but, as many of us know, real world performance on VirtualPC pretty much sucks, even on a top-end machine. I think Connectix did more to help Mac sales by removing a major hurdle for new buyers (the fear of completely leaving the Windows apps they grew up with) than actually provide a realistic Windows solution. Yes, VirtualPC is a far, far cry from that yesteryear product SoftWindows, but if I wanted to run Windows apps, I’d do so on a cheap PC.

But with a real Pentium chip on board (and not one of those doppleganger wannabe NuBus cards like we had on the first Power Mac AV systems) we can look forward to better Windows provisioning. However it’s implemented, it will be the best solution to date for running hosted operating systems on Mac OS, and it will be critical to bridging the “fear gap” for old Windows junkies to find enlightenment on the Macintosh, as well as opening up the case-hardened numbskulls of CIOs hitherto fearful of choosing an alien hardware platform for their organization.

I just wonder whether Microsoft will continue to deliver VirtualPC or, for that matter, even continue making such a great Office suite for Macintosh. OS X on Intel has actually obviated the need for VirtualPC’s translation engine, and we may see new products on the market provide Windows support. It will be interesting to see how this plays out because now Redmond will really feel the squeeze, between Linux on the backend, and Mac OS X on the desktop.

With Mac OS X soon to proliferate on x86 architecture, some people speculate whether any generic PC box could become a Macintosh. Here, again, I think only good things will happen. The same reason why the original “Star Trek” project (to port “Classic” Mac OS to x86) was canned will prevail, and ensure Apple’s fat hardware margins will not be cannibalized by generic hardware compatibility. Apple would likely never support an OS that runs generically. So the only Mac OS that will run wild will be a hacked, unsupported version. This hacked OS would do fine to flourish in the hacker community. All the hard-core techies that now swear by Linux (or swear at Windows) will be able to experiment with Mac OS. This will have the effect of introducing the fantastic user experience to all these people who would otherwise have no opportunity to know the Mac, and a certain portion of these folks will end up buying a Mac from Apple, to get full support and all the features with no hassles. With the Mac mini product line being so affordable, that will be an easy decision.

Corporations who decide to go Mac (probably in stages, starting with the marketing department) will have to buy legal Apple hardware. And when Apple is able to enjoy better economies of scale prices will drop, especially when Apple’s channel dealers negotiate large volume purchases to fit out entire companies. Channel guys love pushing high-margin stuff.

Naysayers might opine that we’re forgetting something in this utopia of expanding market share: Windows still has more device driver support than the Mac. But since when should platform vendors bend over backwards for peripheral vendors? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? More likely than not, vendors with compatible device drivers for Intel-based OS X will advertise that feature like crazy and be in a position to capture market niches. The peripheral product guys are always competing in a bloody commoditized battlefield anyway, and if there’s a slim chance they can differentiate then you can bet they will. Microsoft has always boasted about its enormous driver database, but general devices such as printers, keyboards, mouses, and external storage usually have industry standard interfaces, if not outright Mac compatibility, and x86-based Mac OS may not even pose a problem, depending on how deep in the architecture the various components of a driver need to go. More esoteric devices will likely make the jump to x86-based Mac support when the momentum is there.

As for the resistance to Intel that some of us feel (and I’ll avoid the overused Borg mention) let us remember this is not the first time Intel has been inside our Macs. Or are we forgetting the transition from NuBus to PCI, or the gradual end-of-lifing of FireWire in favor of USB 2.0? Heck, Intel even invented D-RAM.

I have a friend who said he’s not going to buy a new Mac this year and will wait for the Intel Macs in 2006. Well, that’s not fundamentally different from how it’s always been; otherwise we wouldn’t be hitting the Mac rumor sites to check when the next iteration of stuff will hit the stores. I’m sure Apple knows the huge market risk to this transition, so we might be in for a whole host of super features in the next batch of G4 Macs, especially the laptops, to justify our continued purchases. (I know I’m looking forward to a 1.67 GHz 12" PowerBook with backlit keyboard.) I have another friend considering a Mac mini. It’s so cheap that he’ll just relegate it to a poor man’s Xserve when he buys his next Mac in 2007. If you’re in the market for a new Mac in 2005, I say go for it, and then buy your next Mac in 2007 or 2008, when whatever kinks they have in the new Intel machines have been ironed out.

This is the best possible time, ever, for Apple to be doing this transition. This extremely difficult and risky chasm must be crossed now, while iPod, iTunes, and Mac sales are hot. The short-term effects of Mac users who feel disenfranchised will be balanced out by new Mac switchers, and the old guard will come around sooner or later, even if it takes them a couple of years. We are on the verge of a great new era of Macintosh. Starting next year you may find increasing numbers of friends asking you for advice on buying their new Mac. Apple is again shaking up the industry, as it always has.

Nobody really bought a Ferrari because of the engine. Both the PowerPC and Pentium are sophisticated processing units, and it looks like the Pentium roadmap is going to give us what the PowerPC can’t. So let’s not hassle over what’s inside. What counts is who’s on top, and that would be one hot feline.

After all, it’s the big cats that eat longhorns for lunch.

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Reader Comments (10)

Matt · July 22, 2005 - 05:36 EST #1
Blimey, you do come across as a bit of a zealot don't you? I tried to read the whole article but I had to stop. I've owned Mac's since January 2001 and have been interested enough to acquire an old Powerbook Duo 230 (+Dock and external CD-ROM) and have fun with a machine of such vintage too.

I've been reading APTM since 2001 and go through all the back issues also, but do you really think a normal common or garden PC is that much of a handicap? It isn't. PC's are reasonably friendly, I don't find them a problem at all. I'd say they're just as easy to use. If Windows didn't amass the market share that it did, Steve and Co. would be screwing the public just as tightly, if not more so.

If I'd have chosen a PC on that day four years ago I'm sure I would be just as happy. What I like about the mac has nothing to do with the operating system or the machine in general. What I like about the mac is the support you get from the installed user base who offer free and insightful information (and fun comments) on Apple discussion boards and websites and magazines like this. If not for the friendly people, I would have no attachment whatsoever.

The question is, are these friendly people those that have grown up with the Mac, from the 80's onward? If someone were to come to the Mac right now, how different would they percieve it? Is there really such a big gap between Mac and PC today? I don't think so, which is why they're both easy to use. The usuability gap must have been far wider in the past. Not now.
Angus · July 22, 2005 - 06:01 EST #2
Hi. Thanks for your comments. Am I a zealot? I suppose so. I do claim to be one of the "Mac fanatics" and consider that patting myself on the back :-)

Windows is much easier to use now (especially when equipped with 3rd party add-ons such as Google's Desktop Search and the Firefox browser), but at the same time the Mac OS has come a long way as well.

I won't debate with you on the usability issue. Personally I still think my Mac is way easier to use than my Windows machine, but there are many other factors to consider when deciding on a computing platform, and security is one of them.

I also know that I am able to work better, more efficiently, in OS X than in XP. But this is my own experience. If you are happy with your PC, as I wrote in the article, good for you.

The significance of Windows' market share, and how it was acquired, is also a controversial issue, and effective business "strategies" do not necessarily mean good technology has correspondingly been promoted.

Matt · July 26, 2005 - 08:37 EST #3
No problem :-)

I would like to point out though, that I don't own a PC. I did acquire my brothers PC back in late 80's (Amstrad PC1512 for anyone interested), but I didn't get on with it very well. It used the GEM operating system which I understand was the OS shipped with the Atari ST.

This may be rather pointless banter on my part but I thought I'd tell you; I went from this machine to a Commodore Amiga. In the mid 90's my friend had a P75 and a P90. Trying to get these things to run doom without a hitch was a nightmare, but we managed it. Sometimes the soundcard wouldn't register, or the machines wouldn't talk to each other etc. As cool as these machines were I felt they were more trouble than they were worth. I stuck with my Amiga until 2001 and the guy in the shop just happened to be a Mac fan and sold us on an iMac DV+.

So I stick with Mac's through habit now. The difference between PC's of today and those from '96-96 is massive, now they are much more Mac-like.

Nevertheless I do agree with you on the safety of the PC i.e. personal details getting hijacked etc. And places like ATPM and Low End Mac (among others) mean I am always scouring eBay for cool old Macs. I came so close last christmas to acquiring two Mac SE's and a Classic. Just missed out.


One day... :-)
Angus · July 26, 2005 - 22:10 EST #4
Instead of hunting down an old Mac, I suggest you hunt down a Tiger pre-installed on the latest version of either the iBook G4 or the Mac mini. Both got upgraded this week and are super value for money. Built-in Airport Extreme and Bluetooth. You'll need to up the RAM a bit though.

FWIW, around the time you had an Amiga, I had an Atari. Back then, Apple was the enemy because both the Atari and the Amiga had superior technology. I think Amiga even gave Electronic Arts its first major graphics platform to justify the company's breakthrough business model and marketing strategy.
Matt · July 28, 2005 - 04:43 EST #5
Oh yeah, that was Deluxe Paint wasn't it? I had Deluxe Paint III that featured the animation module. That was good. I remember picking up Photon Paint in a car boot sale in 1996, complete with weighty manual.

I remember in '88 seeing a screenshot of the Apple II version of Dondra and being very impressed, and Apple's prices were beyond belief at the time. An Amiga would cost £399 (sans monitor), whilst an Apple SE with black & white 9" monitor would set you back something like £2,000!!!

I don't think I saw an Apple in real life until 1998 when my University's art department bought in a load of iMac's. I remember looking out the library window seeing a bunch of guys hefting pretty looking iMac boxes across the car park.

At the moment I just don't have the money for a new machine. A new mac mini is still way out of my price range, and I'm not bothered about the bleeding edge. I've been there and while its nice, it doesn't last long. I'm happier with an older Mac.
Angus · July 28, 2005 - 05:29 EST #6
Hi Matt,

Well, that's great. Good to see you appreciate the old Macs. I've a few old computers myself although they are mostly relegated to server tasks.

I have a Dell laptop that's providing rudimentary file server and printer server functions, while an old PowerBook G3 "Pismo" delivers a more reliable network RAID solution for online backup (its dual FireWire ports are awesome; the Pismo is one of the best machines ever made) via the OS X built-in RAID feature and SharePoints (an OS X freeware which easily allows users to share external volumes, with user and group permissions). The Pismo also handles my incoming faxes. I would just use the Pismo except that it only has meagre RAM (and not worth it to upgrade, since the new Macs are so affordable) and so the Dell does the network print server functions.

The older machines are on their own Ethernet LAN while my main computer (an iBook G4) is on wireless.

(I've also a stash of other old Macs, mostly G3 laptops, that I often lend to people -- especially friends who finally get fed up with email viruses on their Windows PCs -- and they're often returned within a week when my friends end up buying a new Mac!)

Anyway, I hope you'll be able to get your hands on a new Mac mini soon. At only $499, you get everything you need (except monitor, keyboard, and mouse, which you already have):

1.25GHz PowerPC G4
ATI Radeon 9200
32MB DDR video memory
40GB Ultra ATA hard drive
Combo drive (DVD/CD-RW)
DVI or VGA video output
Optional AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth
Built-in 56k Internal Modem

Plus it comes with OS X Tiger (the catalyst for my zealotry ;-) and iLife.

Add an Internet connection and you've got the best personal computing experience on the planet ;-)
Ed Williams · July 29, 2005 - 16:11 EST #7
Super article, very smart!

Except for the anti-Italian knock on Ferrari engines of course. (I own one, not the car, just the engine. For showy display, ya know.)

Angus · July 31, 2005 - 22:41 EST #8
Hi Ed,

Thanks, and also I didn't quite say Ferrari engines aren't good or weren't part of the appeal of the whole car. But it's not the only consideration.

Definitely I would love a Ferrari and admit I can't afford one.

Now, I remember an analogy about the evolution of computers compared to that of cars... if only Ferrari did what Apple achieved with the Mac mini... hmmm...


Matt · August 1, 2005 - 06:23 EST #9
Hi Angus,

I would love an Mac Mini, but more important to me is a digital camera at the moment. I'm fed up with the cost of film development of traditional cameras so I am going to purchase a Fuji E550 (I think). It came out September 2004 but is selling at a very reasonable price on Amazon right now. I saw one yesterday and it runs on MacOs9.2.2 (my OS of choice, because I've got so much old software), and will use it with my iBook 466 Clamshell and 3rd hand Bondi Blue iMac (hot rodded with a 333MHz processor, 6Mb VRAM, 256Mb ram and 30Gb HDD). The Bondi is so cool, I just hope it doesn't die on me yet.
Angus · August 1, 2005 - 23:15 EST #10
Boy, this is starting to organically morph into a forum of sorts. (Do we have a word for accidentally-created haphazard blogs written by more than one person? And I don't mean the Win32 API. Har!)

The Fuji E550 you indicated seems to use xD memory cards, which is somewhat esoteric. I suggest looking for a model using SD cards because they will probably be the more widely-used form factor going forward. You definitely do not want to be stuck with an obsolete memory card format or end up with a disparate array of devices all using different cards, especially when you are budget sensitive. 3 or 4 cards with 16 MB each are not as useful as one 64 MB card, and you really should consider 256 MB and up, if you're shooting hi-res digital photos.

You can maximize offline storage with an iPod card reader (it downloads the digital photos onto the iPod's hard disk so you can clear the card and continue shooting) but it's much better when you can swap cards between your digital camera, your Palm PDA (and even the Windows CE PDAs use SD nowadays), and your mobile phone.

Just as an FYI, I have a Canon digital camera that uses SD cards:

They keep coming out with new models, so you're probably able to pick up an older one that is just as functional. The only real difference is the newer ones have higher "megapixel" ratings, but if you need super hi-res you're better off with a regular 35mm camera, a tripod, and a decent slide scanner.

The Canon cameras (especialy the older ones) almost all have Mac OS 8/9.x drivers, but you can forego the driver business and just pop your SD card into a card reader (or a Palm with Missing Sync) and load the /DCIM folder directly into your Mac as a USB device.

When you eventually run OS X, you'll be able to enjoy iPhoto, which directly imports /DCIM photos from either your card reader, your digital camera, or from the iPod's hard disk.

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