• The Tiger Report: Are System Requirements Too Stiff?

    May 7th, 2005

    A few days before Tiger was released, I got a call from a local physician asking if his early generation iMac could run 10.4. “Does it have built-in FireWire,” I asked, and he had to check. “No,” he said sadly, understanding the implications, that it was time to retire that faithful computer.

    Sure, that doctor had more than enough money to buy any new Mac he wants, but he had grown accustomed to his aging Mac; it was, well, a little like an old shoe. I gather that an iMac G5 is on his shopping list, and with the new models coming preloaded with Tiger, his upgrade process won’t be much to talk about.

    Tiger’s basic requirements are indeed quite hefty compared to previous versions of Mac OS X. The first requirement, a Mac that shipped with a G3, G4 and, of course, a G5, remains unchanged. A minimum requirement of 256MB may not seem a stretch, but when you consider that previous Mac OS X versions specified 128MB, you may have to consider a fast memory upgrade. You also need at least 3GB storage space for the actual installation, plus at least 2GB more if you opt for an Archive & Install. That may not seem much in a universe where 80GB hard drives are plentiful, but when the drive has a capacity of 10MB or less, you begin to feel you’ve outgrown your environment. Well, you have to expect that those 220 new features mean a lot more files, and they have to go somewhere. Worse, it doesn’t include the XCode developer tools, which add still another gigabyte to the storage requirements.

    Sad to say, that FireWire requirement means shuts the door on many of the original iMacs, PowerBook G3’s and clamshell iBooks. Why did Apple do that? Could a way be found to support those older models? Is Apple just assuming its usual greedy posture, hoping Tiger drives sales of new Macs? Of course, third party developers might develop some hacks to get around that, and I hope that Ryan Rempel is even now building an update to XPostFacto. That’s the utility that allows older Macs to run Mac OS X with pretty decent performance and reliability.

    In any case, now consider the fact that the powerful core image technology requires only recent and super-powerful graphics chips. Not even the Mac mini supports it, which will lessen some of the visual effects you’ll experience, such as the water-like ripples that accompany the opening of a new Dashboard widget. You want to host an iChat four-person video conference, the one Steve Jobs gleefully demonstrated at the last Macworld Expo keynote? Prepare to have Power Mac G4 with dual 1GB processors or a G5 and that’s the minimum requirement. And don’t forget the broadband Internet hookup.

    But having stiffer needs for new operating systems isn’t new for Apple. If you go back through its history, you’ll find that any model more than five years old is pretty much eliminated from the competition, and window of opportunity was even less with the earliest Macs. In saying that, Tiger will actually run on some Macs that are now six years old, such as the Blue and White PowerMac G3. Is that so bad?

    Sure, Apple wants to sell as many Macs as it can, and if it can’t sell you new hardware, the profit margin on an operating system is quite high, once you get past the R&D of course. You and I want Apple to live long and prosper, so you want to stand up and cheer when the quarterly financials are healthy.

    At the same time, Apple has to be forward-looking, forever challenging the frontiers of personal computer technology. You want the eye candy, full screen HD video and all the rest, you have to pay the piper and get as powerful a Mac as you can afford. And don’t think for a moment that the Dark Side fares any better. The requirements for Longhorn, the oft-delayed successor to Windows XP, are even stiffer. Many of today’s PC boxes will barely keep up. Five years old? Don’t even think about it! So is Microsoft in league with the hardware makers? Well, the more computing boxes sold, the more copies of Windows come along for the ride.

    To think that Mac OS 1.0 would fit on a single floppy, and you could even count the number of files it contained in just a few minutes. Don’t even think about how many files ar required for Tiger, which is actually based on an operating system that predates the original Mac. Consider for your approval the fact that my startup drive, which isn’t near as fully packed as some, has over half a million files on it. The mind boggles.

    Such is progress. You want Mac OS X to take on more and more capabilities, not just to beat Microsoft, but to maximize your computing experience. If you have a Mac with a G5, you want to know that the operating system and applications are taking advantage of 64-bit computing.

    And even if you don’t have G5, you want to know that your Mac’s processor is being appropriately challenged. And if need be, would you really feel so unhappy buying a brand new Mac (assuming you can afford it of course)?

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