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ATPM 18.05
May 2012





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The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

How Cool Is Your Mac?

When I began this column, the word paradigm seemed to fit what I planned to write about. Now that word has become something of a cliché. The dictionary definition is the same, but its meaning feels different. So it is with personal computing. A Mac is still a Mac, but much has changed since ATPM began. Most obvious are the changing fortunes of Apple itself. In 1995, Steve Jobs was still alive, but Apple Computer (as it was then called) was headed by Michael Spindler. The company was routinely described as “beleaguered” and near bankruptcy or for sale to Sun Microsystems (which is now part of Oracle). Its products were beloved but relatively expensive and crash-prone. In 2012, Apple, led by Tim Cook, is riding a wave of success, and a Macworld columnist recently wondered whether the B-word might now apply to Microsoft.

The business changes have been well chronicled, but I’d like to focus on how the details of the personal computing experience have changed. The first issue of ATPM included a fun feature article by Danny Novo called “How Cool Is Your Mac?”:

Do you want to know if it’s time to upgrade? Are you interested in how your computer stacks up to the competition? Use this handy scoring guide to determine how cool your computer is. First consider your current setup, the computer, what peripherals you have attached, and so on. Write down your coolness factor. If you have more than one computer, you can add their scores together to achieve a household coolness rating. Then do the same for any computer you might buy as a replacement.

Let’s see how many of these questions are still relevant today and discover what they tell us about the advancements that have been made.

Out of the Box

1 point for being a computer. They are inherently cool.

Apple still makes computers, and it still calls them Macs, but computers no longer generate the majority of the company’s revenue.

1 point if it has a colorful, rainbow-striped apple on the outside. After all, we pay for it.

The Apple logo is no longer rainbow-striped. Apple no longer sells low-end computers, and its premium products are reasonably price-competitive.

1 point if it runs the Macintosh operating system.

Mac OS X is certainly the Macintosh operating system in spirit, although most of the code is now different.

1 point if your computer is an all-in-one design.

All-in-one Macs had been mostly phased out by the mid-90s. Now the vast majority of Macs are again all-in-one.

1 point if both a keyboard and a monitor came with your computer. We want to encourage this kind of behavior on Apple’s part. Selling incomplete machines is not cool.

The Mac mini is “bring your own keyboard, mouse, and screen” by design. All other Macs now come with a keyboard and mouse or trackpad. Notebook computers, once a small minority, are now the biggest sellers, and they, of course, have integrated keyboards and trackpads.

1 point if it has an internal hard drive. I learned my “Mac SE with two 800K floppies” lesson.

All Macs now have internal mass storage, but solid-state drives (SSDs) are supplanting hard drives.

1 point if it has a pre-installed CD-ROM drive.

For many years, all Macs included CD-ROM drives (or SuperDrives). Now the MacBook Air and Mac mini no longer include optical drives, and there’s speculation that they’ll soon be removed from some MacBook Pro models. Unlike with the floppy drive, I doubt most people will even complain.

1 point if it has a PowerPC inside.

All current Macs now include Intel processors. Apple’s PowerPC emulator, Rosetta, became an optional install with Mac OS X 10.6, and it was removed entirely from Mac OS X 10.7.

1 point if you can turn your computer on from the keyboard. This is way cool.

This stopped being possible when I switched to a wireless Bluetooth keyboard.

Points for Your Stuff

1 point if you have a printer attached to your computer.

In 1996, my HP printer was connected via a PhoneNET adapter to a LocalTalk network. Today, I use a Brother printer connected via USB, although many people now connect to printers via Wi-Fi.

1 more point if your printer is a laser printer.

The resolution has improved from 600×600dpi to 2400×600dpi.

1 more point if your printer is a color printer.

I still have a black-and-white printer. I print color photos from my Mac over the Internet. A few days later, I receive an envelope of prints in the mail.

1 point for every other peripheral attached to your computer. This includes stereo speakers (not built-in speakers), external storage devices like hard drives or tape drives, modems, CD-ROMs, a coffee pot, whatever. Sorry, your mouse doesn’t count.

Computer speakers are now connected via USB or wirelessly via Bluetooth. External storage devices and modems are no longer necessary for most Mac users. After many years of poor designs, Apple once again makes excellent keyboards. Third-party mice remain popular.

1 point for every 8 MB of RAM (or fraction thereof) installed in your computer.

My Mac now has 8 gigabytes of RAM installed. Software now runs with 64-bit addressing to take advantage of large amounts of RAM.

1 point for every accelerator card installed, making your Mac faster than others of its ilk.

Believe it or not, Apple once made Macs with upgradeable processors. Now it no longer considers batteries to be user-replaceable parts.

1 point for potential coolness if your computer has empty expansion slots.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro are the only remaining Macs with expansion slots. As of this writing, it has been more than 20 months since Apple updated the Mac Pro, and there are persistent rumors that the product will be discontinued.

1 point if your computer is part of a local area network (LAN).

All Macs now ship with built-in wireless networking. Some Macs no longer have built-in connectors for wired networks.

Points for Blatant Excess

1 point for every 100 MB of unused hard disk space.

My MacBook Pro currently has about 60 GB of free space.

1 point for every extra monitor attached to your Mac.

You used to need expansion slots to attach external displays. Many Macs now have an internal display as well as a port for attaching an external one. There’s no longer a display penalty for using a portable computer, as even the lowest-end MacBook Air can now drive a 30-inch external display. It’s also possible to use an iPad as an external display.

2 points if you’ve dispensed with a modem completely and use ISDN instead.

Apple recently discontinued its modem product. DSL, cable, and FiOS have supplanted ISDN.

1 point if your computer answers your telephone.

I no longer have a landline. However, my cell phone runs a variant of Mac OS X called iOS.

1 point for each additional processor in your computer. That includes the DOS on Mac card from Reply Corp. and PowerPC upgrades that keep your original processor in place.

All Macs now include at least one dual-core processor.

1 point if you have foot-actuated rudder pedals for that complete flight simulation experience.

Accelerometers are more common today than dedicated game controllers.

1 point if your Mac actually answers when you talk to it.

Speech control of Macs hasn’t changed very much. The iPhone 4S includes Siri, which is far more advanced.

1 point if you have the Apple TV Tuner card and refuse to watch normal TV anymore.

TV tuners are no longer necessary, as Apple and many other companies make video available via the Internet.

1 point if your monitor tracks you as you walk around your room. Not that I’ve seen this, but it would be cool, no?

Most Macs have built-in iSight cameras, and there’s an app called Witness that acts as a home alarm system and has motion detection for human faces.

Points for Trying

1 point if your computer is over five years old, and yet you still use it regularly. (Keeping important papers from blowing away in a stiff breeze does not constitute regular use.)

People used to upgrade their computers multiple times to extend their useful lives. Lately, processors have been improving at a slower rate so that an un-upgraded five-year-old computer is no longer hopelessly slow. On the other hand, Apple has been more aggressive about phasing out OS support for older hardware. Mac OS X 10.7 Lion did not work with top-of-the-line Power Mac G5s that were then five years old.

1 point if you still haven’t upgraded to a color Macintosh.

The only non-color device that I now use is a Kindle.

1 point if you have resisted owning a Microsoft-compatible machine, too. It’s okay if they force you to use one at the office; we can’t punish you for the corporate nincompoops you work for.

Thanks to Intel processors and Boot Camp, all Macs can now run Windows.

1 point if you think your Newton is so good, you don’t need a computer.

Long-time Mac writer Andy Ihnatko recently discussed how his mobile computer of choice is now an iPad. And, surprisingly, I recently read about someone who was still using a Newton.

5 points if you still don’t own a computer (and you’re using someone else’s to read this). It’s getting to the point where ignoring the information superhighway (and its attendant metaphors) is retro-chic, and that’s sort of French for “cool.”

At the D8 conference, Jobs said that computers were like trucks and that in the future, many people won’t need one.

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