back to article 25 years of Macintosh - the Apple Computer report card

In two short months, Apple's Macintosh will turn 25 years old. My, how tempus doth fugit. To mark the awesome inevitability of January 24, 2009 following January 24, 1984 after exactly one quarter-century, tech pundits will bloviate, Apple-bashers will execrate, and Jobsian fanboyz will venerate the munificence that flows …

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Paris Hilton

That old trope again..

All the people asserting that this or that mp3 player has obviously superior audio quality to an iPod annoy me- they're about as empirical as CNet "journalists", and have as much clue about what they're listening for.

Personally I hate Apple, they piss me off, but I do, much to my irritation, use an iPod. Despite the fact that it needs to be jailborken to use with my linux boxes, despite the fact that I wouldn't pee on St. Steve were he on fire. The problem is, they sound good. The DACs and headphone amps are decent.

The person smugly banging on about the iriver i140 is particularly amusing. Having read a load of writeups by enthusiastic amatuers and part-time crApple haters, I bought one of these players looking forward to the superlative sound quality promised. What I got was a decidedly coloured and partial frequency response, and an SNR bad enough that you could hear the hiss walking along a busy road.

Being lucky enough to be an engineer in a facility with world-class audio test gear, I put the damn thing on the bench, loaded it with uncompressed test tones and put it through its paces. Noise levels closer to a mediocre FM radio were certainly impressive stuff. When I returned it to the shop, I had this sheath of paper to share with the shop assistant, should he quibble with whether it was "of merchantable quality". He didn't. He apologised profusely. I asked if he could grab a couple more units from the back, so we could see if we'd just been sold a turkey, as I actually liked the features and build quality of the iRiver. Sadly, we tried a few, and they all sucked. I got my money back with an apology from the helpful and long-suffering chap behind the counter.

Down the years, I've tried out various players that enthusiastic amateurs or self-professed but distinctly unscientific "audiophiles" have lauded- and most of them sound like cheap computer equipment rather than audio gear. A lot of them actually have such terrible EMI supression that you could hear big changes on the display. Not really great.

Anyway, much to my irritation, I've been returning to the iPod time and again. Some have been better than others- like the models that came out after the first gen shuffle (that had a great push-pull output stage) and before the cohort that included the first touch. However, they've been more satisfactory than all but the odd alternative. Sadly, the only way to find out how good they sound is to try them, or ask someone who actually understands audio from an engineering POV (rather than the sort of person who buys 200 pound cables)- you certainly can't trust most journos.

So I'm a reluctant prisoner of Steve, but I don't like my prejudice deafen me, unlike some.

Sorry for the wall of text. Peace!

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mhj
Linux

@Ted Treen

I can beat that. My OS Is free, works very well and does everything I need.

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@Matt bryant

"Mac's were not designed for longevity, they were point consumer solutions with the hope that you would upgarde by forking out for a new model."

So how come I've so many clients using these 'short-lifed' computers?

How come I've got so many clients who ask me "can you get me a cube?"?

How come I've got so many clients who say "you can have mine when I die"?

How come I've got clients who are only now moving to Intel Macs only because they can't buy a new printer that will work with their their 10 year-old macs?

How come I'm visiting more small businesses that are replacing their windows machines with Macs?

How come I'm getting more new domestic clients who are replacing 2 year old (and younger) windows machines with Macs?

These questions need to be answered.

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Paris Hilton

@Ivan Headache

No, they really don't. A rant based on anecdote and a lack of logic smells like zealotry to me. Grown-ups realise that everything sucks, you pick the option whose flaws bother you the least.

For some people, the mediocre performance, the paid point upgrades, and the relatively restricted commercial software support in some areas is a deal-breaker, for others it isn't. To assert that one size fits all merely betrays kneejerk fanboi behaviour, and thus automatically invalidates anything you might say, as you fail at articulating a measured or balanced view.

Use what suits you folks. When you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. I have a Mac, it's a nice little machine for my half-assed digital DJing. It goes in a a sturdy bag with an external drive, an outboard M-Audio box and a Vestax VCI-100 controller. It's fine, I can turn up, get everything rigged and running in five minutes without rushing, it's all good. However, I also have a windows box for playing games on, Linux commodity servers, a nice FreeBSD firewall and other bits. They all have their flaws, but I'm taking advantage of what they do well, and I have a (mostly) stress-free time). Your mileage may, indeed almost certainly will probably vary. That's the *point*.

Fanbois are a disease. The good news is that you tend to grow out of it. Some do at puberty, some don't shake it until their 60s, but most people shrug it off at some point.

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@AC

Excuse me, where's the rant?

I'm just pointing out (after working in mac support for 15 years) that Matt's claim that macs are 'short-lifed' commodity items is patently false.

Based on personal experience with several hundred clients, all the statements made in my rhetorical questions are true.

I'm wondering what this "kneejerk fanboi behaviour, and thus automatically invalidates anything you might say" is all about.

Does the fact that someone works in a particular field make them a 'fanboi' ?(whatever they are - Oh I get it - boi - sounds like bwa - no still don't get it - must be something juvenile that us mature folks don't understand).

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Dan

@ Ivan Headache

I could be mistaken, but i'd say the answer to most (or all) of your "how come... ?" questions is fairly obvious....

"after working in mac support for 15 years"

you're hardly going to get calls from people asking to buy windows machines are you?

Perhaps experiences of vendor agnostic IT types may differ somewhat from your own.

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Alert

@AC

"Grown-ups realise that everything sucks"

Do they? Maybe bitter, cynical, pessimistic "grown-ups" do, I hope I never become one of those.

"you pick the option whose flaws bother you the least"

Funny, I pick the option whose features I like the best and don't think of my computer as "flawed" because it doesn't have a 100TB hard drive and built in coffee maker.

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Boffin

@Optymystic and @Matt Bryant

“Is there not an argument that one of its key roles was bringing the benefits of XPARC research to market through its operating systems some aeons in advance of its competitor to the north.”

It’s debatable just how much Apple was influenced by Xerox PARC, but greatly is the real answer – however…

Many state that Apple just took the work of others – and from your post, I inferred that you feel it didn’t bring anything to the table itself – but it was more of a case that the research was in the direction Apple was already moving and this has been well documented.

A very readable account is in Michael Malone’s excellent ‘Infinite Loop’ – Malone cites evidence such as patents, filed by Apple before the infamous first visit, which relate very much to the kind of the GUI work that Apple ‘took’ from the PARC. Ex-members of the PARC research group, who joined Apple to work on the Macintosh, explained that a major reason for their move was that they were fed up with working on research that didn’t see the light of day – whereas, they felt Apple was already going in the direction of their research and that the company would actually do something with the technology.

Also, Apple refined and extended the PARC research considerably – it wasn’t just the case of slapping its logo on a finished product.

One thing that’s often overlooked that it was Jef Rasin, who really wanted Apple to visit PARC – Jobs was reluctant and had already tried canceling the Macintosh project three times before the visit.

Matt,

“Ever tried to upgrade the graphics card in the over-engineered, over-priced Apple G4 Cube? Think carefully, mactard, there is a very good reason why PCs have won the war against the Mac, they just offer a better and more flexible solution.”

The Cube was, as you say, quite rightly, overpriced. But I’m afraid, you’re missing the point in how it was (badly) marketed.

The Cube wasn’t intended to be flexible, it was targeting the ‘prosumer’ (as more than one Apple exec described it to me)… people who thought nothing of burning money for a flash, classy bit of kit, whether or not they needed it. Why, even Michael Caine bought one – didn’t need a computer, he just thought it was dead cool.

As for Scully, it’s worth remembering that he didn’t get how important it is to look at market share in terms of OS – he just looked at in terms of hardware. Also, for a company headed by a marketing expert, the Newton’s pre-release hype (which led to massive disappointment when the product was actually unveiled) and advertising was amazingly shoddy.

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@Dan

A perfectly valid point - one that I can't dispute.

However, being on the Apple side of things for so long I can see that 'most' of the anti-Apple rant is pure hearsay. Yes there are things that they've done wrongly or could have done differently, Things that they've changed for no apparent reason (like why have they taken the apple symbol off the apple key on the new laptops? - now there's a non-rhetorical question that does need answering).

But Short-lifed products? No way.

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Dan

@Ivan Headache (again)

Fair enough.

I can't really comment on apple's products life span as I don't have much experience of them. I do find, in general, that life span is frequently dictated by lazy software developers rather than hardware death (xbox + rrod excluded perhaps). Software for windows platforms tend to be developed with easy ram upgrades considered more favourable than efficient code. Maybe with Macs there's more of an attitude to make it work on the kit that came out of the box.

As far as i'm aware my old Amiga 1200 still works. Not sure id try to get it to run any software from the last 10 years or so :)

Personally i'm neither pro or anti apple, I use some of their products, I don't use others. I do enjoy baiting the apple evangalists in my company though, just because I find their smug attitude irritating (the 'i'm a PC' ads really didn't help - had I been considering a mac at the time that alone would have been off putting simply for being so childish).

Regarding the missing apple key, surely there should be some sort of inquiry. Is there no governing body we can turn to to prevent such ludicrous changes?

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Alien

@Ivan Headache

Yep, smug, mendacious know-nothing kneejerk crApple fanboi. People like you make it hard to tell when the Jobs Mob release anything good or anyone else anything bad, as your witless, smug polarised and simplistic view of the world simply precludes informed debate. Now go iron your cardigan, I think Top Gear's on soon.

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@Elrond Hubbard.....Wow!

Surely your post must qualify for flame of the week. It's really well constructed and based on astute observation and reasoned argument.

FYI. Top Gear isn't on 'till Sunday. I'm going to watch QI now - it's all about being mendacious.

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bloat

"Software for windows platforms tend to be developed with easy ram upgrades considered more favourable than efficient code. Maybe with Macs there's more of an attitude to make it work on the kit that came out of the box"

I don't think it's a case of Apple trying harder to make software work on old hardware. They are primarily a hardware company. If anything making people upgrade more often would be good for their business.

Like OS X, Linux runs on old hardware. I think that's because it's well programmed.

Microsoft has always written bloated software. For example, compare the number of system calls made to serve up one static html on IIS:

http://www.devside.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/iis_425px.jpg

and the same thing done by Apache:

http://www.devside.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/apache_425px.jpg

Also consider that many applications run faster under Wine than they do in Windows, and that Samba has historically given better performance serving files than native Windows.

Åpple uses Carbon and Cocoa to build OS X . How many platforms and languages does Microsoft use? The more complicated you make things the more likely there are to be failures, and the more "workarounds" that have to be added to address faults.

One other big factor, I think, is Microsoft's staff retention. MS keeps their staff employed even when they are rubbish programmers or have barely any work to do. I've heard first hand from developers sent to coding conferences who log in at the conference, go shopping all day, then log out at the end.

This is an enlightening read:

http://moishelettvin.blogspot.com/2006/11/windows-shutdown-crapfest.html

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Thumb Up

Apple properly sliced & diced!

I have used Macs professionally since, well, 1984, and I have survived years of both Apple/Mac zealotry and repeated premature announcements of Apple's imminent demise. Very few biz-tech writers have correctly dissected Apple Computer's inner chronology (and reasons for its recent market success) as well as does this author. The article even has lovely Excel charts! :-)

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J

Really?

"Apple isn't doing as well as their marketing would have you believe"

Well, far from me defending a company, any company, let alone Apple. All I have ever bought from them is my first gen 4GB iPod nano (I like it), which I plan to retire when (if) I get a Touch. But I dislike Apples dictatorial style and all that.

That said, the article did not present marketing. Or at least not just. As far as I could see, the article presented some charts with not too shabby numbers on them. I wish I had a company doing that badly. Or are you implying those numbers are fake (marketing)? Call the SEC or whatever, then?

@AC "That old trope again.."

Well, but they do not listen with their senses+reasoning, they listen with their emotions... There's serious research about this, "the taste of brand", you know. And they have no clue what you are talking about anyway. Your reasoning is thus wasted on those you're trying to reach, really.

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