|the soapbox @ benturner.com|
"The Magic of Jobs", an Essay
Have you seen the new iMac computer from Apple? What it is is a slick, futuristic cube with a turquoise and transparent plastic case, the newest computer from Apple, geared towards the Internet. The iMac boasts some nice features and pretty good Internet support inside. The thing looks like the Volkswagen Bug that everyone wants and has the advertising similar to the techno/minimalist/trendy VW Bug commercials that all the marketers wish they made.
This, along with the superspy-appearance of the G3 laptop, signals a comeback from Apple, no doubt spearheaded by Mr. Steve Jobs, a man I tend to admire more and more as I learn more about the computer industry.
This Soapbox is not a lengthy rant against either Macs or PCs, so if you're looking for a somewhat level-headed approach to the age-old controversy, keep reading. I do not claim to be an expert on this stuff, however, but I have a really sharp nose for detecting what's going to succeed.
Apple looks very promising right now. It's pushed away from advertising only to educational institutions and is moving more towards the general base of computer users. It's going for the Cool Factor, putting its computers in blockbuster movies. Apple's acknowledging the Internet, which in my opinion, it completely ignored as the Internet grew up near solely in the PC market. Apple's CPUs have caught up with Intel's and their performances are relatively the same. Apple's OS is still Apple's OS, an OS I really can't stand, but which many prefer. Apple overall's just been slowly improving.
And then comes the marketing ploy by Apple which shows its G3 processor outperforming the Pentium 2 chip by nearly twice the speed.
Marketing distorts truths, and I don't really think this put Apple in a better light in the PC crowd. I've been doing some light research on the G3 vs. P2 debate using Usenet as my main resource. The G3 was tested as being twice as fast on Byte Magazine's ByteMark benchmarking program, as it says in fine print on the commercial. Supposedly, this ByteMark thing is an industry standard, but apparently very few companies consider it a standard because it only tests raw processor power, and not a more comprehensive memory & CPU combination.
Other benchmarks vary in their results, but the thorough ones put the two different processors at a negligible difference, at least in my mind. Apple's processors may get better results, but the architecture behind the Apple system gets bogged down as a running program goes through input/output, RAM, etc. and so forth. The PC architecture is much better designed altogether. The end result is that the two chips end up with about the same overall power.
Okay, so Apple was lying. People are still buying their numbers. Apple's still making steps in the right direction. I'm glad it's finally openly releasing computers for the Internet. I'm glad it's bringing back the old creativity that it had in the past. I've seen some of the concept computers that Apple was considering, and that sort of thing is very cool. I wish computer makers made more original computer cases, really. The enthusiasm seems to be back in Apple, and Jobs definitely has a hand in it.
Apple deserves to fail just because of the huge mistake it made in getting rid of Jobs. If Apple didn't toss Jobs, I have no doubt that it'd be a much bigger player in the industry than it is.
There's a common misconception among PC users about Apple and where it stands in relation to PCs. I really tried to find a lot of dirt against Apple, since I'm primarily a PC person. But it seems to be getting more difficult.
Speed and power... Well, all the benchmarks from Pentium and G3 are hardly different enough for people like me to consider one better than another. And for a computer user who barely taps into the full potential of a computer, that smidgeon of extra power for either system won't even be noticeable.
Apple is supposedly better than PCs at multimedia -- sound, video, graphic production -- and I can't contest that. I think PCs have made huge strides in improving their software and processing power to suit developers. I use a PC and I've used Photoshop lightly on a Mac (seemed to scan images faster on a Mac, but that could just be my fault), but in the future I don't see switching to Mac, even if multimedia is what I'll be doing the rest of my life, probably.
Cost: Apples have been notoriously overpriced in the past. You barely got any of the bang for your buck that you did with PCs. But that's changing. People compare all sorts of systems, but it seems to me as if equally-fitted Macs and PCs cost about the same. No knockout punch. Besides, the PC industry builds faster and faster components all the time, and you can upgrade a PC very quickly -- and cheaply. Upgrading a Mac isn't quite so easy.
Gaming. I think this is by far Apple's weakest point. Apple advocates harp on about how even though PCs get far more games than Apple does, that Apple only gets the software ported for GOOD games. What this means is that although PC users have thousands of games to choose from, Apple users get the cream of the crop, games like Duke Nukem and Quake and so on. Some very big computer games like Unreal and Diablo will be playable on the Mac. Macs even have games that PCs don't have, like Marathon. From what I hear, Marathon's pretty impressive. I was amazed to find out that Macs have 3dfx as well as PCs, and the FPS seem to be about the same.
Okay, so maybe Apple ain't so bad after all, right? Well, not quite.
First of all, if Apple was ever in the position Microsoft is, it would be extremely dangerous for the industry. I really don't consider Microsoft as monopolistic as Apple and Intel are. Good thing Intel's finally being brought to court for retaliating against uncooperative (read, subservient) companies. One thing I really love about the PC industry is that it's extremely open and there's a lot of competition. There are plenty of PC clones to purchase from, like Gateway and Dell and Micron. This leads to fierce price dropping and wonderful deals for consumers who want to buy packaged systems. It's really amazing how cheap you can get a really good computer these days, even through big companies. Apple doesn't have that. Apple has a tight hold on not ONLY the hardware side, but ALSO the OS aspect. Apple has destroyed attempts of other companies to release Mac clones. It controls not only the computer you use but the OS that runs on the computer. Microsoft does not have this much control -- it only handles the OS and the software. Dozens of companies handle hardware, and even more handle selling PC cables and cases and whatever you want. You're not forced to go to one place, the Apple Store, to buy your goods. I think what Apple did with that is stupid and extremely hurtful to the industry. Reduce the competitors, suffer a loss in quality and accessibility.
And accessibility's what it's all about. As far as games go, yes, Apple does get very good games on its system, but those games come out MONTHS to YEARS after they come out for the PC. That's completely inexcusable for a major computer brand. Apple gets the hardware late, as well -- the 3dfx industry considers its 3dfx cards an afterthought to production for PCs. There are thousands of games for the PC, yes, and many of them are shitty, but that is not a bad thing. It means there is easy access for programmers to release games, and it also gives consumers plenty of variety to work with. You're not stuck with the five good games and the rest of the bargain bin games that you find in the backroom at a computer software store. Apple is so far behind in the gaming industry that its effect is virtually nil. I admire companies for going back and porting games to Apple, and I think it's healthy in that it gives users more of a choice on which sort of computer to use, but still... The name of the game is accessibility!
And the Internet. The Internet is primarily a UNIX and Windows thang. Where was Apple when the Internet hit it big? Microsoft responded and Apple didn't -- which do you think is a smarter company? Most of the users are and always will be non-Apple users. Most consumers use Windows for the Internet. Plenty of software to choose from, for whatever you want. And a lot of it is free or shareware, created by individuals. This is healthy. Internet gaming is still mainly for Windows users, hands-down. There aren't many Mac Quakers. That's because 1) no one uses Macs and 2) Quake for the PC came out a year before Mac Quake did. Porting a game a year after it comes out is stupid. People on Windows systems on the Internet never have to think about whether the software will be compatible with their systems -- sure they may run into space problems, but it won't ever be, "Hmm, do they have a version that works on a PC?"
It's possible to use a Mac, but it ain't easy.
Mac users can use the Internet, but they have to be patient and they have to stomach a lot in order to get what they want. If you can wait around for a few months in an industry that makes gains every single game, then that's fine. But people like me want to be on top of things, and want to use a system which people are programming for. Simple as that.
Games come out for Windows first. It's a miracle if they're ported for Apple. The buzz on the Internet is created by and for Windows gamers. Hell, any kind of software comes out for the PC first. Web browsers, particularly. When did Apple get a version of MSIE? A long, long time after it appeared for the PC. Navigator wasn't very different. Even hardware is created for the PC first. When will Apple get its Voodoo2 that PCs have had for quite a while now? The peripherals available for a PC far outnumber the peripherals for the Mac. You know the Apple stranglehold has something to do with it.
And what more is that Apple boasts a very limited gaming selection. As I said before, it is picking up steam with 3d shooters, but it lacks good RPG games and flight sims. It is losing support from action/adventure companies like Sierra On-Line.
So maybe you're saying, "What's so big about games and in particular, games like Quake? Grown adults have better things to do than play games."
Apparently, grown adults don't. The gaming industry is huge, and you need to do your research if you haven't realized the impact of the gaming industry on the computer industry as a whole. Quake is actually quite a good benchmarking program to use across platforms, and if it weren't for gaming, there'd be nowhere near the development in 3dfx graphics that there is now. When 3dfx begins to make it into graphics and 3d rendering programs, that's when the gaming will pay off. The creativity of game programmers pushes computers to the maximum, keeping consumers upgrading their equipment, putting money into the industry and keeping the prices lower and systems faster. If there wasn't as much stress in upping power to play games, people would have much slower computers than they do now. The gaming industry is turning into an effective backbone of the industry, and it has forged a helpful, knowledgeable, and fun-loving community on the Internet. The Internet grew alongside the multiplayer gaming community. No surprise.
Apple users sound more and more like Amiga users. They refuse to die, and they're pissed off at PC users because of lack of recognition, while PC users are pissed off at THEM because they keep hanging around.
Hehe. More power to Apple, though. Come on -- it's good to have competing OSs (Right? Maybe?).
So the bottom line is that what PCs have in their favor over Apple is accessibility. The PC industry encourages plenty of competition and Apple doesn't. That's why the PC industry is making large gains every single day, while Apple's success is only moderate. I hope Steve Jobs identifies this and frees up his industry to encourage third-party development. I hope Jobs doesn't move his educational empire only so far as to cater it more for developers. Jobs has made very smart moves like keeping Quicken and Macromedia interested in Apple, two big players in Apple's credibility. Jobs is the man. He has creativity and always impresses. If only the PC industry had someone as creative as him.
Macs and PCs are very evenly matched spec-wise, but I don't think I'll ever get a Mac again, unless there's a big turn-around. I think the majority of consumers in the PC market signifies that people don't want to have to think about choosing incompatible OSs. Case in point: storage devices. Iomega's Zip sucks in comparison to SyQuest, but people want a quick and easy way to store things, using a technology that other people use. I know I dislike it if I have a big file to give to someone and they don't have a Zip drive. Maybe what we should give people is one OS, so that their software works no matter what system they buy. Maybe this would actually be healthier for the industry.
But all that aside, I am going to keep buying PCs, and I'll tell you why. I'm at the point where I'm comfortable putting together a system for myself by myself, and PCs allow me to look online at the thousands of different stores in the country so I can buy the best components at the best prices. I don't have to buy what Apple gives me -- I can get some excellent Micron RAM from a store in California, and an ASUS motherboard from downtown. I have a choice. I can easily find the software I want, and buy games like Unreal as soon as they come out, using the latest 3dfx card and surround-sound speaker system to experience it with. I can log onto the Internet using the latest version of my favorite web browser and download whatever I want without concern for which OS I'm using. I can go to Usenet or the Web or ICQ (it's finally available for Mac, ain't it?) to find people to talk about PC-related issues with, something I actually do.
I don't want to have to worry about whether something's available for my OS or not. And Apple's machines are not so mindblowing that they destroy PCs. In fact, it could just be that PCs also have more power and reliability than Macs. It's a close call, much too close and technical to make my decision.
All I know is that Apple is not all that far off from being a major player again. Thanks to Jobs. Apple primarily needs to get people to port their software over to Apple. It needs to get more different, competing people in to work on it. And PCs will continue to succeed since there's plenty of competition (yes, it's true) and easy access for the millions of technodweebs out there.
Give us consumers plenty of choices, guys. Please. We're not so dumb anymore (and thankfully Apple doesn't actively market its OS as the simple man's OS anymore) and we know what we're doing.
And finally... I acknowledge that there is good software for most tasks on the Macintosh, and I acknowledge that it excels in areas that PCs don't. But come on, you can't deny the importance of quick response and immediate access to the latest and greatest in technology. That's partially what the whole computer buzz of the 90's is about. You can't deny that everyone from consumers to programmers prefer to work on PCs, for whatever reason. You can't deny that PCs are more competitive than Apple.
At this point, I think it's unhealthy to deny either PCs OR Apple. Sorry to take a less controversial stance on this, but that's how I feel. Two fiercely competing OSs obviously each have their strengths and weaknesses. The victor will learn from the opponent and improve its own product.
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