Friday, January 07, 2005

As Promised

Thoughts on Apple’s Macintosh: (follow up from yesterday)

I had my first computer experience somewhere around 1986-1987 at my grandmother’s house. It was a “state of the art” Macintosh with two disk drives, and a tiny nine-inch grayscale screen. I was introduced to this fun little program called “mac paint” and on nearly every trip to grandma’s house, I would spend a few minutes in front of that machine making my own little digital drawings. It was a wonderful introduction to the world of computers.

A couple of years later, my family purchased its first computer. I must have been in second or third grade, and Santa Claus brought it for Christmas. A brand new Macintosh SE, we had progressed since the era of dual disk drives, this wonder of a machine had two megabits of RAM and a whopping 10-megabyte hard drive. There were games based in a program called “hyper card”, and I particularly remember a game called “the manhole”, I think.

The Macintosh SE was upgraded so that it later had a 100-megabyte hard drive, 4 megabytes of RAM and a hardware accelerator. Our family used that machine for everything - Desktop publishing, early Internet exploring (back in the days of 1200 bps connections to CompuServe), and even experiences with early photo manipulation with a hand held scanner.

The Macintosh made sense. I used it for all of my schoolwork, and all of the family was pleased with its ease of use. The Mac SE was eventually replaced, (again by Santa) and we were brought into world of the Macintosh PowerPC. Here we continued with desktop publishing, early photo editing, dialup Internet (though which we saw one of the first mozilla web browsers through this machine), and even a bit of audio editing. We received that machine early in my high school days, and though the Macintosh did everything I needed scholastically, I was beginning to want a windows machine, because the Macintosh just didn’t support the games, as I desired to play. All of my friends were off playing Doom, and other such games of the era, and I could only play Warcraft.

I think somewhere in my junior year of high school the family purchased another Macintosh. This again was of the PowerPC type, but it was of course more updated, faster, with a bigger hard drive, and more ram. We had that machine for four or five years. I spent two years in California, and when I got home the family computer situation was in sad shape.

The problem with every computer is that it has to be maintained. Simple stuff like keeping the software up to date, keeping the hard drive clean. This kind of fell by the wayside while I was in California. When I got home, there was major cleaning and re-habilitating to do. This is my greatest gripe with Apple. There is little to no backwards support. When they get rolling on a new operating system if you don’t upgrade, you are going to be gone in the dust. Also, the hardware isn’t easily upgradeable. This means that when you buy Apple, you are basically agreeing that every 3-5 years (depending on how behind the technology you are willing to be) you will purchase a new Mac.

Anyway, when I got home, the family found its self in this position. Older Macintosh, no longer supported by Apple, and the only option (at that time) was to upgrade. Again, it had been 10-15 years that we were solid Apple fans, but this time around the pressure from my siblings and I to join the Windows world was heard and the family purchased a Dell.

I think that Mom and Dad both love Apple, and given the next opportunity to buy a home computing solution will return home to the Apple camp. I don’t know where my siblings stand on the issue themselves. I think that we are all getting old enough that most of us would rather have our own laptops that we can take with us wherever we happen to go. The Dell has been a good machine, but like every windows box, it has had its problems.

SO, kid grows up on Apple, switches to Windows, and is now majoring in computer science. I have two desktop computers at home that both run Windows. This is all fine and dandy. My computer will play all the games in the world, and does a fine job of anything that I ask it to do. The problem is this: I am at the point again in school where I would really like to purchase a laptop computer. The idea of having the computer with me everywhere I go would be a great convenience. BUT, now that I am computer shopping, what do I want to buy, yet another Windows machine, or a sleek small beautiful Macintosh? Macintosh is more expensive, but the Mac laptops look SO much better than their Windows counterparts. I am having the hardest time making a decision. How is one to decide? Should I return to my Apple roots, or continue in the Window’s world?

I will give Apple that they create a wonderful product, it is easy to use and looks good. Style is a big deal in this day, and Apple is doing a great job at design. As a CS student, what will be the best platform on which to learn? The argument could be made that I have a Windows machine; so getting a Mac would round things out very nicely. That is what I am leaning toward at this time. The Apple salesmen that I have spoken with have been very patient and helpful. However, no one has been able to make a case that I in which there was no doubt as to what platform I should use for a laptop. We will see what happens.

What prompted this personal essay?
The rumor that Apple is designing a low cost system that will sell without a monitor for under $600.00, and will be previewing it to the world at MacExpo. I think this could really be a great turning point for Apple. I think that one thing that has kept people out of the Macintosh realm has been the price tag. If they produce a reasonably priced computer, there is little reason that a fence sitter wouldn’t just give it a try. It is exciting to see Apple make its way into the hearts and lives of every day Windows users; a price break will certainly help. It doesn’t solve my laptop dilemma, but is interesting news nonetheless.

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