So if you’re in the market for a powerful personal computer, and you want a Mac, do you buy an iMac or a Mac Pro? Once upon a time, there was no contest. The iMac was an entry-level consumer PC, and the Mac Pro was designed for professionals, particularly creative types.
With the introduction of the late 2009 iMac, that changed, particularly with the 27-inch model. In fact, I sold a 30-inch display and a 2008 Mac Pro to get one, and I was totally satisfied. I didn’t give up any perceptible performance. I had a new Mac, and $300 change.
Obviously there are upgrade limitations with an all-in-one, but for most users, it doesn’t matter. It’s a superb combination of power and integration, with everything in one box, and it is possible to run an extra display with it.
If you look at today’s 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display, it actually outperforms a Mac Pro at most anything but multicore tasks that are only supported by a small number of apps. While third party 5K displays cost as much or more than the iMac, which includes the computer, Apple has found a way to democratize the technology. All 27-inch iMacs now feature an enhanced 5K display with a wider color gamut, and the price hasn’t changed. Nothing in the PC market comes close.
It doesn’t mean there’s no market for a Mac Pro. It has just become a more specialized tool that is indispensable for a number of content creators and scientists. Clearly Apple hasn’t given up on it, though it would be nice to see a refresh with the newest graphics chips and Intel Xeon processors. It’s nearly two years since the last revision appeared.
Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured columnist Peter Cohen, whose writings are found at iMore, Macworld and Tom’s Guide. During this session, Peter discussed Apple’s iMac refresh, and compared Apple’s all-in-one computer to the Mac Pro. Which is best for you? He also discussed his experiences with OS X El Capitan, and offered suggestions on dealing with Wi-Fi connection problems.
You’ll also heard from Kyle Wiens, of iFixit. He explained the circumstances surrounding the company’s decision to post a teardown of a preproduction Apple TV that they received through the Apple Developer program. As a result, Apple “fired” them and pulled their iOS app. He also offered information about teardowns for the new iPhones, compared them to last year’s model, and explained the difficulties in repairing recent Samsung Galaxy smartphones. You also heard about the results of iFixit’s teardown of one of the new 21.5-inch iMacs, and why it’s impossible to upgrade its RAM.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present UFO abduction researcher, Dr. David Jacobs, author of “Walking Among Us: The Alien Plan to Control Humanity.” In his 1998 book, “The Threat,” Jacobs uncovered disconcerting reports about aliens’ plans for the future of Earth. He reported that a “change” is coming; a future when very human-like hybrids would intermingle with humans in everyday life. “Soon we will all be together,” the aliens said. “Soon everyone will be happy and everyone will know his place.” So are there really human/alien hybrids among us? What are their motives? What are the implications?
The other day I read yet another suggestion that Apple needs to license OS X and allow it to be installed on personal computers not made by Apple. The logic, such as it was, was to somehow expand the market beyond premium hardware, as if Apple requires a bigger market share regardless of the impact to sales and profits.
At first glance, I wondered why the author didn’t do any research. At the same time, I read a quote from a popular history book, in which the authors (which include a highly-rated cable news host) boast about being able to do all their research online. Just go to Google Books, and they have armchair access to the largest library in the world from the comfort of their home offices.
So you’d think that, with so much information available at your beck and call, the people who are clamoring to open OS X would actually do some research and learn a few facts about Apple’s history. But facts and hit bait aren’t always the same. So most anything with “Apple” or an Apple product or service in the title is apt to get more traffic. It may not be the kind of traffic they want, but it may be enough to satisfy advertisers who pay for hits. Or at least that’s how it seems.
But let’s look at the theory about licensing OS X. It’s not that Apple hasn’t tried licensing the operating system before to allow for Mac clones. But in the early days of the Mac, there were mostly unsuccessful efforts by others to build such gear unofficially. Since key elements of the Mac OS were contained on ROMs, it was just a matter of buying up or removing the chips from old Macs and reinstalling them in a new piece of hardware. With the proper ROMs in place, you could install Mac OS and get on with your business, but that didn’t mean Apple didn’t try to put a stop to such efforts.
In one instance, however, Apple actually allowed a clone maker, Outbound Systems, to sell portable computers that contained Mac ROMs. They didn’t work so well, but they were lighter and cheaper than the original Macintosh Portable.
In 1995, Apple officially licensed the Mac ROMs and the operating system to several third-party companies, including Power Computing, a startup created by several veterans in the industry. Such companies would pay Apple a sum, first estimated at $50 for each license, to gain those rights. This misbegotten scheme was designed to put the Mac on a par with PCs, and allow lots of companies to build them, supposedly expanding the market way beyond single digits. It may have seemed a workable — or desperate — idea in a climate where the Windows onslaught threatened to bury the Mac.
So Apple would build the high-profit premium hardware and other companies would go after the volume segments of the market. Instead, such companies as Power Computing built cheap Mac OS clones that competed directly with Apple’s best, but at a lower price. It got worse when Power would buy up small quantities of more powerful PowerPC chips and beat to market Apple with the fastest hardware.
It ended up being a case of good intentions gone bad, and the cheap licensing program wasn’t much of a source of income. In those days, I bought a few computers from Power Computing instead of new Macs. They were built no better than cheap PC clones, of course, and sometimes upgrading RAM and hard drives was so hostile, my hands got bruised. If I didn’t actually look at the computer and only focused on the display, however, I was using a Mac as good as any other Mac.
Clearly damage was being done to Apple’s sales which, in those days, were mostly about Macs. So when Steve Jobs returned to the company, he realized the folly of the Mac clone prigran, and had to rein them in. Since the licenses were evidently only valid for Mac OS 7, Apple released Mac OS 8, and, with one exception, refused to license it to the clone makers. Blocking the ability of clone makers to install the new OS on their hardware effectively killed the program. Apple acquired Power Computing’s Mac clone division for $100 million, and reportedly used the assets, which included a flexible online ordering system, to establish its own online store.
The final clone contract, with Umax, expired in the summer of 1998, thus ending the Mac clone era.
Today, Apple earns most of its revenue and profits from hardware sales. Operating systems are designed to serve the hardware, and are free, even for Macs. Apple is selling the whole widget, an integrated solution. Allowing OS X, or even iOS for that matter, to be installed on third-party products would not just create additional compatibility issues that would require extra support, but would hurt sales. How could it be otherwise?
After all, if you could buy a Mac compatible computer for less money than a real Mac — even if the hardware specs weren’t compatible — I suspect many of you would take the plunge. It would merely revisit the Mac OS clone disaster of two decades ago. But since Macs and PCs mostly rely on the same or similar hardware, it is actually possible to induce OS X to work on a PC without the need for a cloning program. There are even online tutorials on how to create your own “Hacintosh,” and, aside from a few glitches along the way, they actually work pretty well. It’s not always the perfect solution, and it requires a few tricks to make things work. But it works, if that’s what you want to do.
What’s more, Apple hasn’t actually gone after individuals who choose to install OS X on someone else’s computer. They will, however, go after a company to chooses to sell PCs with OS X installed on them, since that violates the licensing agreement. But if that’s what you want to do with your own hardware, nobody will stop you. Indeed, it may be possible that some of those who experiment with OS X this way will, in the end, just decide to buy a real Mac.
The picture with iOS is far more complicated, since an iPhone and an iPad contain a number of custom-built components, beginning with Apple’s A-series processors. It’s not that you can buy those parts from a regular computer reseller and assemble them into generic smartphone case, as you can with a home-built PC.
I find it curious why tech pundits believe that Apple’s marketing plan is all wrong, and that they have workable solutions to fix the problems. Just license OS X, allow Mac clones, and all will be right in the world. It doesn’t matter if the argument has been proven to be false. They believe they know better than Apple how to run the largest and most profitable tech company on the planet.
After all, if you think what Apple is doing is wrong, take a look at the balance sheets and explain why your plans are superior to theirs. Sure, Apple isn’t always perfect and has been known to make boneheaded decisions. Take the convoluted interface of iTunes as an example of something that’s sorely in need of an overhaul. It would also be nice to clean up the ragged edges of iCloud, and make OS X and iOS more reliable.
But when people with little or no experience in running a multinational corporation believe they can tell Apple how to run their affairs, you expect that are most probably dead wrong. Besides, Mac sales continue to grow in a market with PC sales are down. Apple continues to invest in improving Macs and making them run faster and more reliably. Suggesting that it’s essential for Apple to license OS X is just plain dumb.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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