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Steve Jobs

01/11/2001

Mailbag:

My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive

It’s that time of year again. MacWorld time. I work with Macs way too much, so of course I have opinions. If you expect me to withhold them, you don’t know me very well.

Let’s face it: Apple’s in serious trouble. Serious trouble. They can’t move inventory. The Cube is a bust–unexpandable, defect-ridden, and overpriced. The low-end G4 tower costs less than the Cube but offers better expandability.  Buying a Cube is like marrying a gorgeous airhead. After the looks fade in a few years, you’re permanently attached to an airhead. So people buy a G4 tower, which has better expandability, or they get an iMac, which costs less.

Unfortunately, that gorgeous airhead metaphor goes a long way with Apple. The Mac’s current product line is more about aesthetics than anything else. So they’ve got glitzy, glamorous cases (not everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, I hear some people lust after Britney Spears too), but they’re saddled with underpowered processors dragged down by an operating system less sophisticated under the hood than the OS Commodore shipped with the first Amiga in 1985. I don’t care if your PowerPC is more efficient than an equivalently-clocked Pentium IV (so’s a VIA Cyrix III but no one’s talking about it), because if your OS can’t keep that CPU fed with a steady stream of tasks, it just lost its real-world advantage.

But let’s set technical merit aside. Let’s just look at pure practicalities. You can buy an iMac for $799. Or, if you’re content with a low-end computer, for the same amount of money you can buy a low-end eMachine and pair it up with a 19-inch NEC monitor and still have a hundred bucks left over to put towards your printer. Yeah, so the eMachine doesn’t have the iMac’s glitzy looks. I’ll trade glitz for a 19-inch monitor. Try working with a 19-inch and then switch to a 15-inch like the iMac has. You’ll notice a difference.

So the eMachine will be obsolete in a year? So will the iMac. You can spend $399 for an accelerator board for your iMac. Or you can spend $399 for a replacement eMachine (the 19-inch monitor will still be nice for several years) and get a hard drive and memory upgrade while you’re at it.

On the high end, you’ve got the PowerMac G4 tower. For $3499, you get a 733 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, a DVD-R/CD-R combo drive, internal 56K modem, gigabit Ethernet you won’t use, and an nVidia GeForce 2 MX card. And no monitor. Software? Just the OS and iMovie, which is a fun toy. You can order one of these glitzy new Macs today, but Apple won’t ship it for a couple of months.

Still, nice specs. For thirty-five hundred bucks they’d better be nice! Gimme thirty-five hundred smackers and I can build you something fantabulous.

But I’m not in the PC biz, so let’s see what Micron might give me for $3500. For $3514, I configured a Micron ClientPro DX5000. It has dual 800 MHz Pentium III CPUs (and an operating system that actually uses both CPUs!), 256 MB of RDRAM, a 7200 RPM 60 GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM and CD-RW (Micron doesn’t offer DVD-R, but you can get it third-party if you must have one), a fabulous Sound Blaster Live! card, a 64 MB nVidia GeForce 2 MX, and in keeping with Apple tradition, no monitor. I skipped the modem because Micron lets me do that. If you must have a modem and stay under budget, you can throttle back to dual 766 MHz CPUs and add a 56K modem for $79. The computer also includes Intel 10/100 Ethernet, Windows 2000, and Office 2000.

And you can have it next week, if not sooner.

I went back to try to configure a 1.2 GHz AMD Athlon-based system, and I couldn’t get it over $2500. So just figure you can get a machine with about the same specs, plus a 19-inch monitor and a bunch more memory.

Cut-throat competition in PC land means you get a whole lot more bang for your buck with a PC. And PC upgrades are cheap. A Mac upgrade typically costs $400. With PCs you can often just replace a CPU for one or two hundred bucks down the road. And switching out a motherboard is no ordeal–they’re pretty much standardized at this point, and PC motherboards are cheap. No matter what you want, you’re looking at $100-$150. Apple makes it really hard to get motherboard upgrades before the machines are obsolete.

It’s no surprise at all to me that the Mac OS is now the third most-common OS on the desktop (fourth if you count Windows 9x and Windows NT/2000 as separate platforms), behind Microsoft’s offerings and Linux. The hardware is more powerful (don’t talk to me about the Pentium 4–we all know it’s a dog, that’s why only one percent of us are buying it), if only by brute force, and it’s cheaper to buy and far cheaper to maintain.

Apple’s just gonna have to abandon the glitz and get their prices down. Or go back to multiple product lines–one glitzy line for people who like that kind of thing, and one back-to-basics line that uses standard ATX cases and costs $100 less off the top just because of it. Apple will never get its motherboard price down to Intel’s range, unless they can get Motorola to license the Alpha processor bus so they can use the same chipsets AMD uses. I seriously doubt they’ll do any of those things.

OS X will finally start to address the technical deficiencies, but an awful lot of Mac veterans aren’t happy with X.

Frankly, it’s going to take a lot to turn Apple around and make it the force it once was. I don’t think Steve Jobs has it in him, and I’m not sure the rest of the company does either, even if they were to get new leadership overnight. (There’s pressure to bring back the legendary Steve Wozniak, the mastermind behind the Apple II who made Apple great in the 1970s and 1980s.)

I don’t think they’ll turn around because I don’t think they care. They’ll probably always exist as a niche player, selling high-priced overdesigned machines to people who like that sort of thing, just as Jaguar exists as a niche player, selling high-priced swanky cars to people who like that sort of thing. And I think the company as a whole realizes that and is content with it. But Jaguar’s not an independent company anymore, nor is it a dominant force in the auto industry. I think the same fate is waiting for Apple.

Mailbag:

My docs; Apple; Lost cd rom drive

Praying about depression, and a common Mac no-no

Sorry, not thinking much about computers tonight. Short version of the story: I was at church Wednesday night, and I sat near the front. I never do that–that’s the last remnant of “Good Lutheran” in me. (I’m a very, very bad Lutheran, partly because I believe a guitar’s proper place is near the altar.) I was staring off into space before the service when I happened to turn around, and there was a lady my age sitting behind me. I’d seen her at Wednesday services a couple of times before but we’d never been introduced.
I’m usually one of two twentysomething males present. The other plays keys for the praise team and isn’t very accessible because he’s always busy. She seemed to want to talk to a twentysomething male. More on that in a second.

We ended up in the same prayer team. We break into groups of about seven to talk about what’s going on in our lives and pray as a group for those individual needs, for pastor, and for the church. Her big concern: Her brother. He’s depressed. OK, what twentysomething male isn’t sometimes? He’s not very receptive to God. Again, what twentysomething male isn’t? So after we prayed, I asked her a little more about her brother. From what she told me and others, I got a bit of a picture. Twenty-one, depressed, doesn’t have a girlfriend and thinks that means there’s something horribly wrong with him.

I know a certain someone who was in that very same boat, right down to the age. He was deathly afraid to tell anyone about it. So he wrote a column about it and published it in the student newspaper at the University of Missouri-Columbia where potentially 20,000 people could read all about it. He’s a good friend of mine. His name’s Dave.

I didn’t get to talk to her a whole lot more about it because I had to go put together a slideshow after the service, but that’s just as well because I think it’s good that I’ve thought about it some. I need to think the situation over a little bit more.

Some things are more important than computers, after all.

Yes, some things are more important. Let’s fast-forward to when I was 23. Maybe as you read this, you think, “Dave just found himself a target.” Well, you know, when I was 23 and not very different from how I was at 21, some people saw me as a target, and they did just that. They messed me up even more. But there were a couple of guys who were different: an ex-Marine named Cannon, and a guitar player named Mark, and an artist/guitarist/anthropologist named Charlie. They saw a guy who needed a friend. Cool guys. All Christian, but they weren’t fake. Their approach worked pretty well.

So of course I have to change it. What I needed most at that time was to know that someone had been there before. All the rest could come later. In Mark and Cannon, I saw two guys, one of them a couple of years older than me, who’d kinda sorta been there before.

So. This could be my chance to give something back.

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From: Dan Bowman

Subject: FWIW (Macintosh maintenance)

Mac Buyer’s Tip: On our new dual-processor G4, the cruddy DHTML animation at Happy Cog runs as smoothly as a Flash movie. And our crisp, new, widescreen Cinema display reveals the terrible imperfections of the artwork we’ve foisted on the public for years. One freelance gig can pay for this system. We recommend it highly. But don’t buy the latest versions of Norton Utilities and Tech Tool Pro yet. They won’t boot the dual-processor G4. And Norton has actually caused hard drive problems we were only able to repair with Apple’s built-in Disk First Aid app. Installing these two power-user must-have programs was the cause of most of our installation woes.

via Zeldman: http://www.zeldman.com/coming.html October 17 post.

dan

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Amen, brother!

Rule #1: Never, ever, ever, EVER install Norton Utilities and Tech Tool Pro. Not even if Steve Jobs holds a gun to your head. Boot off them in emergencies in order to fix or defrag your hard drive. You have to boot off the CD to do that anyway (the OS won’t let you fix or defrag the drive you booted from), and those tools cause more problems than they solve when they’re installed. Installing serves no useful purpose. Buy them and store them away except for that one day a month when you do disk maintenance.

Rule #2: Don’t rely only on NU and TTP. Also get DiskWarrior, from Alsoft. When something goes wrong, run DiskWarrior. Then run TTP. Then run NU. Then run Apple’s Disk First Aid. Why? All of them fix a lot of disk problems. None of them fix all of them. DW and TTP catch things NU won’t. NU catches minor things they don’t. And Disk First Aid fixes what NU breaks.

To get around the dual G4 boot problem, partition the drive and install just a minimal Mac OS 9 to it. When maintenance calls, boot off that partition, then run your disk tools off their respective CDs (or copy the CDs’ contents to that partition if you have the space).

This problem occurs every time Apple changes their architecture.

Mac “superiority” and cheap PC hardware sources

Dave flying solo. Sorry about not getting the post up there yesterday. So here’s two days’ worth, divvied up however I want.
Inherent Mac superiority… or something. When Steve Jobs unveiled the new dual G4s, he loaded up Photoshop 5.5 on a 1 GHz P3, a 500 MHz G4, and a dual G4 and applied a filter. The 500 MHz G4 finished faster than the P3, and the dual G4 finished in less than half the time. The dual G4 is faster than a 2 GHz P3, not that you can buy one, Jobs boasted.

OK Steve, let’s try a real-world test here. What’s more common, Photoshop or MS Office? The rest of us use Office more frequently. So let’s rumble. The objective: A 700-record mail merge, using Excel and Word. The contenders: A 350 MHz G3 with 192 MB RAM, a 266 MHz G3 with 256 MB RAM, and a 333 MHz P2 with 64 MB RAM.

On record #596, both Macs abort with out of memory errors, even if I crank up the amount of memory both apps can have beyond 32 MB. (Macs don’t have dynamic memory allocation.) Time elapsed: 5 minutes on the 350, 6 minutes on the 266. (I tried it on the second Mac in case there was something wrong with the first one.)

The PC zips through the job in 30 seconds without errors. (Oh yeah, and I had two Internet Exploiter windows in the background, and an extra Excel spreadsheet loaded, mostly because I was too lazy to close everything extraneous down on the PC in order to make the test fair.)

So I guess by Jobs’ logic, my 333 MHz P2, which isn’t even made anymore, is faster than a dual 2 GHz G4, not that you can buy one…

Not that I’m a Microsoft zealot by any stretch of the imagination, but I just found this amusing. It turned out the fastest and most reliable way for one of my Mac users at work to do a mail merge on her Mac is to save the Excel “database” to an NT share, then go log onto a neighbor’s NT box to do the job.

A place for potential bargains. I found a source for surplus computer gear that pretty consistently has good deals advertised at www.softwareandstuff.com. Caveat emptor: I haven’t ordered anything from them myself yet, and they have a 5.1 rating on resellerratings.com but only four evaluations. Given that, I’d say they’re somewhat promising but I’m not going to explicitly recommend either for or against them based on just that.

A sampler: They have an Athlon 550 (Slot A, non-Thunderbird) on a Soyo KT133 mobo for $150. Soyo’s not my motherboard maker of choice but that’s not a bad deal for an inexpensive system with some kick. IDE CD-ROM drives are in the $25 range. WinChip 200 CPUs (outstanding for upgrading Socket 5 systems cheaply–the 1.5X multiplier becomes a 4X multiplier with the WinChip, so a Winnie-200 is a drop-in instant replacement for a P75, and you can get it running at 200 MHz on a 66 MHz system bus if your board supports a 3x multiplier) are $30. Plextor 12X/20X CD-ROM drives are $60. If you want a cheap speed boost for your Win9x box, Fix-It Utilities 99 is $10. Norton Utilities 2000 is $20. Nuts & Bolts Platinum is $15.

Certainly an intriguing vendor. That Athlon bundle has me thinking, and that Winnie would be nice in my P120.

From: Robert Bruce Thompson

Yep. I understand that even a lot of younger hams have never built anything. That’s sad. And probably not good news.

—–

Agreed. But I don’t know what anyone can really do about it.

“Apple lost,” Steve Jobs says

Apple obsession continues. See if you can guess who said the following:

The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That’s over. Apple lost.

ArsTechnica readers may already know the answer. The answer (drum roll) is, none other than Steve Jobs, in an interview that appeared in the Feb. 1996 issue of Wired. Jobs was, at the time, CEO of NeXT, maker of overstyled and overpriced Unix boxes (though by then they were out of the hardware business and just selling NeXTStep, their Unix variant). Apple, of course, bought NeXT a few months after Jobs said this, and in a strange turn of events, Jobs ended up becoming Apple’s CEO.

It was an interesting interview. In it, Jobs said he didn’t think there was any way Microsoft could seize control of the Web (they’ve tried, and they’ve succeeded far more than Jobs probably anticipated–exhibit the large number of sites that only look right in Internet Explorer), but I found I agreed with a surprisingly large percentage of the things he said–particularly when he talked about things other than computers.

Here’s the link if you’re interested.

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From: Scott Vogt

Subject: Win2k On A Maxtor..

Dave,

I am running Windows 2000 with SP1 on a Maxtor 40gig 7200rpm drive with no troubles at all.

Great site, Glad to see you back!

Scott

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Thanks, both for the answer and the compliment.