A Simple Argument for the Mac
By Peter H. Lewis
For more than a decade the Apple Macintosh personal computer has set the standard for ease of use. It is still the easiest one to set up, learn to use, operate and upgrade.
The Mac remains innovative in several technical areas and currently offers the most powerful microprocessor and the most intuitive operating system software on the market. It is an ideal platform for the multimedia and graphics-intensive software that makes personal computing so much fun these days.
Despite such advantages, Apple Computer Inc. has been unable to increase the Mac's market share significantly beyond 15 percent, which may ultimately drive away the people who create the innovative software that makes the Mac so appealing. Perhaps more important, its "mind share" among consumers appears to be eroding. Apple has lost the bold, irreverent attitude that once set it apart from the crowd.
With the expected arrival next year of Plug and Play PC technology and a significantly Mac-like Windows 95 operating system, what was once known as the I.B.M.-compatible side of the personal computer industry may finally catch up to the Macintosh ease-of-use standard. The fierce competition among dozens of PC makers has driven down prices faster and fostered more technical innovation, while Apple, as the sole maker of Macintosh computers, seems remote from such stimuli.
So, why is my next computer probably going to be a Macintosh instead of one of the more popular Windows-Intel (Wintel?) machines?
The answer is simple. I hate reading manuals and resent the time I have to spend configuring dip switches, loading device drivers, mediating IRQ conflicts and suffering other nonproductive distractions.
Snags are inevitable with any product designed by people who think in abstract code, measure distances in submicrons and feed on Jolt Cola and Twinkies. But a decade of experience suggests that such anomalies occur less frequently with Macs than with PC's.
The PC companies promise that next year I will be able to buy a CD-ROM player, plug it into my Windows computer, turn it on, load it with a disk, click a button or two and begin enjoying the software. With a Mac, I can do that now.
The Mac permits me to be oblivious to the plumbing and wiring nightmares associated with multimedia, networking and cross-platform operations, the ability to work with Windows and Macintosh programs and files on the same machine. I can add a printer, a big monitor -- two, even -- a backup drive, a modem, a scanner, a video camera and other peripherals without needing an advanced degree from the University of Saturn. Typically I never need to crack a manual.
That is not to say the Mac is foolproof, or immune to odd conflicts and cryptic error messages. Even with the Mac, a new computer user may be baffled by something as simple as plugging in a mouse.
And even a Mac can have a "bad err." My formerly trusty Macintosh Powerbook 170 had to be exorcized last week, a ceremony including a last-ditch hard disk reformat, which erased two years' worth of data, after it mysteriously went haywire during an Internet session.
Luckily, the FWB Hammer-PE 270-megabyte optical storage drive I had been testing as a backup system worked like a champ, so all I lost was time. Such freak occurrences aside, the Mac is the computer I recommend most often to friends and family, the one I see most often at gatherings of technical wizards. It is what a Windows machine dreams of when it goes into sleep mode.
The choice becomes, which Macintosh to buy? Apple has simplified its product line somewhat, offering five basic groupings -- LC, Performa, Quadra, Powerbook and Power Mac -- but there is still confusion. A Quadra 605 is the same as a Performa 475 is the same as an LC 475, for example, with minor variations.
If I had to recommend just one model as the pick of Apple's crop, it would be the Power Macintosh 7100/66. It is a low-profile, mid-range system that has the power to handle the most demanding home office tasks, while showing off family applications in style. Of all the Macs today, it offers the best balance of value, power and expandability. The PowerPC chip at its core makes it unlikely to become outdated in the next few years. By this time next year, all Macintoshes will probably be built around the PowerPC chip.
For the same reason, I would hold off from buying a new Powerbook today. The PowerPC-based portables are not expected until next year; though an upgrade is possible, I will trust the older 170 until then.
By the way, the PowerPC Macintoshes do not demonstrate their full superiority over Macs based on the more modest Motorola 68040 chip unless they are working with software specifically written for them. So, factor software purchases into your buying decision.
To achieve happiness with other Mac models, consider these guidelines:
Memory is not very sexy, but it is more important than processor speed and power for most users. More memory allows the user to take better advantage of the Mac's software prowess. Eight megabytes of system memory (8MB RAM) is the minimum standard these days, even though some Macs are still sold with four. If your budget allows, go directly to 16 megabytes and skip, or at least delay, the upgrade.
Do not think 250 megabytes is an outlandish hard-disk capacity, even though 40MB was standard just a couple of years ago. A 12-year-old of my acquaintance insists he cannot live with less than 100MB just for games, er, educational software. If you enjoy the computer as much as you expect, you will be looking to expand the hard disk anyway.
Get a CD-ROM drive. No longer a novelty, CD-ROM is becoming a standard for software delivery. It allows the Mac to show off its sound and graphics to great advantage. More than 80 percent of computers sold for the home these days have CD-ROM drives, analysts say. As programs add more multimedia features, diskettes become impractical.
Copyright 1994 The New York Times