posted by alcibiades on Wed 10th May 2006 19:40 UTC
IconI started out as a Mac user in about 1985 in a world which will be totally unfamiliar to almost all readers of OSNews. You wrote out your stuff by longhand, and a secretary typed it on a word processor. If you were lucky and able to manage it, you could dictate it. But you did not dictate into a dictating machine, because these were big heavy and expensive. You dictated it directly to someone who could 'take shorthand'. If you had a PC, it ran DOS. You looked for your files, and moved them around, started applications, one at a time, from the command line, and the command line was not pretty, it was green on black.

On one long term assignment, our department computerized. The guy we had put in charge fought IT over the issue, and won, and we got Macs. After a trial of competitive packages, we bought Microsoft Word. I had come from the old mini-computer world, and it took me a few days to find the gui something more than a pointless obstruction that stopped me seeing what was really going on. But I did, and became a committed Mac user.

I returned to home office, and insisted on having one. It was the early days of Windows, though most people were on DOS. I said to IT that I wanted to be able to cut and paste between applications. They scratched their heads and said that probably they could arrange that in Windows...and then gave up. I used the Mac they agreed to buy for me, and I was happy and productive. During those years, there was never a problem on a Mac that I couldn't fix myself, and I could claim to know the function of pretty much every file on the system. It was a real end user manageable and controllable platform. And of course, it had Hypercard. Hypercard was an enormous liberation. With Hypercard, anyone with intelligence and persistence could learn to program, and produce things they and their friends could use, as they learned.

The years went by, and while Macs never had huge market share, they had enough to remain a viable choice. Office became the standard, and the Mac and the PC versions were interchangeable. Windows arrived at 3.1; MacOS was still far more stable, and far easier to use. Mac users were enthusiastic, but not fanatical, and the two main issues between them and IT were price, and closed source. IT wanted to be able to buy hardware from where they liked, and they wanted to have a lot of suppliers of parts. In a single source, closed environment, where everything was proprietary from the keyboard and mouse connectors on up, they felt deprived of any bargaining power. It was take or leave it, and they couldn't tolerate having the company infrastructure dependent to such an extent on one supplier. Like most Apple users at the time, I did not really understand the objection. I really didn't care where my machines came from, or how much they cost. What interested me was how usable they were. But keep this thought in mind, because I found that you have to care.

Macs had always been more expensive, and the gap widened with time. By the time I bought an LC and then a Centris for my partner's small office, and a Centris for a writer friend, Macs probably cost twice as much for comparable speed and disk capacity. But as long as Windows was 3.1, the usability advantage more than outweighed the speed and price problems. And as long as it was 3.1, Apple had enough market share to ensure availability of applications. In addition, in those days, there was something to the quality hardware argument. Apple machines had scsi drives and nubus cards. It really was higher quality stuff. The built in networking worked flawlessly, was fast enough, and was super easy to set up.

However, when we arrived at Win95 amd then Win98; it was clear that the world had started to change. Apple hardware was now steadily moving to standard PC hardware - pci cards, ide drives. The hardware quality argument had vanished. We had the disastrous Performas, the 4400. Mac market share fell year on year, and the supply of software was drying up. My business planning tools were no longer being updated or were becoming unavailable in Mac versions. In addition, with OS 8 and 9, stablity fell behind. Win98 was a great advance in stability over 3.1, but OS8 and 9 were a step back compared to 7.6.1.

What about ease of use? By now I had acquired a Windows laptop with Win 95, and also had a Mac laptop. The Windows laptop was smaller, lighter, faster, and had much longer battery life. I still have it and still use it, in fact. The Mac laptop fell by the wayside years ago. So much for long lives. The ease of use gap appeared to be narrowing. Win 95 looked a lot better than 3.1, felt a lot better, was a lot easier to navigate and manage. With Win 98, I felt we were at parity. Different, but parity.

I bought one of the new pastel iMacs, but with some irritation. You noticed that the disk was smaller and the memory less than would have come with a PC. The one button mouse was a constant irritant, as was the lack of the right click facilities. It occurred to me that there would be no upgrade path for this one. It would be throw out the whole thing and buy another one. You couldn't reuse the screen. I began to wonder whether the reason that Mac people kept their machines for so long had less to do with durability, than cost. But it was familiar.

By now, I was using Windows 2000 at work, and this seemed to be better than parity. You had a genuine multi-user capability. It was fast, it almost never crashed. It looked perfectly acceptable. Increasingly, OS 8 and 9 were starting to look dated and hobbyist.

It was around 2001 or 2002. I bought a beige tower. I paid well under half what a new tower Mac of equivalent performance would have cost. My friends muttered darkly about component quality. I checked. It came with components that were, if anything, higher end than those that Apple was using. I told them. They looked dubious, but couldn't refute it.

Table of contents
  1. "Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac, 1/5"
  2. "Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac, 2/5"
  3. "Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac, 3/5"
  4. "Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac, 4/5"
  5. "Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac, 5/5"
e p (40)    295 Comment(s)

Technology White Papers

See More