Peter M Howard ::

White vs Beige, Round 4

06March2006 /06March2006 [wishlist]
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On Switching

Put the White vs Beige fight on hiatus, it having become somewhat academic as I have no money, nor any immediate signs of paid work. But I came across an interesting article on switching over at Daring Fireball (Familiarity Breeds a User Base 5March2006). John Gruber is one of those rare Mac users (and writers) who is actually somewhat rational about Apple’s product. He has some interesting things to say.

I don’t think there’s any easy way for Apple to overcome this familiarity factor, and I think it’s the single biggest impediment to would-be-switchers. However, I do think this — those who are aware of the Mac and suspect it might be a better choice, but who are reluctant to try because they’re so familiar with Windows — is one group of people who are perhaps likely to switch because of the so-called “iPod halo effect”. Through their iPods, they become familiar with Apple hardware and software (iTunes), and, in many cases, familiar with Apple retail stores. I think in some cases they just need to see existence proof that Apple kit isn’t “weird”.

OK, so we’ve kinda always known this, but sometimes it’s good to have the obvious pointed out…

This too is a succinct summary of a commonly-held knock against the Mac: that because the Mac is controlled by Apple, that switching to it is risky because it puts your computing future in the hands of just one company. I.e. that PCs are open and Macs are closed, and open is somehow safer.

But while PC hardware in and of itself constitutes an ostensibly open platform, somewhere around 90-95 percent of all PCs sold are, in fact, Windows PCs. And while, yes, Apple controls the entirety of each Macintosh, both software and hardware, Microsoft controls Windows every bit as much as Apple does Mac OS X.

This however, I don’t really agree with… It’s true that Microsoft controls Windows just as much as Apple controls OS X. But the difference is in the hardware: some of it is only perception, but Apple controls the box in ways Microsoft simply cannot. That isn’t to say that one’s computing future is in Apple’s hands, but well, if I want to upgrade my beige box, I can go to any computer store and pick up a new component. If I want to upgrade a white box, in many cases I have to do so through Apple. …And worse, oft-times I would have to buy a completely new box.

I’ll admit, however, that this is a huge generalisation, and has changed somewhat in recent years. I recently tried upgrading our Dell box and found that screwless entry was rather limited, opting for a firewire card and external drives instead. And it was our fault when we made the original purchase, but there’s no AGP slot, so I can’t stick a video card in there… And while the iMac is something of a closed box, the PowerMacs are more open, at least coming with available PCI slots and room for an extra hard drive.

The perception is there though, and I don’t expect Apple to change it. What I’ve realised is that people coming from a Wintel background expect that they will, at some stage, need to open the box up and tinker, because they’re used to boxes wearing out for no apparent reason… But I get the impression that Apple’s control over the hardware is actually a Good Thing, with the result that one doesn’t actually need to tinker anywhere near as often…

So I’m still aiming towards White; I’ll just keep an old beige box around (running Linux of course) for when I feel like tinkering…

Oh and with the release of the new Intel-based iMacs, I’m very tempted to get a 17” iMac — configured with 2GB of RAM it’s of similar power to the old G5 PowerMacs, at half the price… (Thanks to an Educational discount of course) That closed-box-ness is annoying, but it’s far more affordable, and should be capable of the video tasks I want to throw at it. I’ve just gotta wait and see how long it takes to get Final Cut Pro converted to a native Intel app, and see how performance compares… In the meantime, I can try find some sort of paid work. Edit: I said 21”, it’s the 17” that was half the price, not the 20”