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Is it Easy to Tire of Your Mac?

There are some people who have Mac hardware collections that almost remind you of mini museums. I recall visiting a client some years back, a plumbing contractor, who was utterly immersed in vintage Macs. When I checked out his storage garage, it’s perfectly true that most of the storage shelves contained the expected pipes, washers and other accouterments of that business.

However, one wide storage cabinet, several rows deep, contained nothing but Macs, all carefully preserved in a clear plastic wrap. As I traversed the collection, I saw a selection of early models, the compact versions that included the original Macintosh 128K that debuted in 1984.

More to the point, their owner said each had been delicately cleaned and restored to full operation, almost as if they were essentially brand new. Certainly getting spare parts was no great chore, as you can generally acquire them online fairly easily and inexpensively, but it’s not as if I felt the need to put those claims to the test. I was willing to take him at his word.

Now it’s also true that not all those ancient Macs are consigned to permanent shelf duty. Some actually continue to run in homes and businesses. During the time when all my Macs had long-since migrated to Mac OS X in 2002, I visited one client, a semi-retired interior decorator, who still depended on her IIci, bought new in 1990, to run her business. No she didn’t go online, nor see the need to do so. Her phone and her fax machine were sufficient for her particular workflow.

Finally, she bought an old iMac from me, a 1999 pear-shaped model, but only used it as the second computer. To her the IIci remained a trusted friend. With careful maintenance, it seemed as good as new.

She might seem an anomaly in an era where you will pass off an electronics device after a couple of years to a child, a religious institution or perhaps the recycling plant. But certainly keeping aging gear on hand is common for car enthusiasts. Some of you have exquisitely-maintained Studebakers and even Ford Edsels in your garage, and I see them purring along the highways from time to time.

But maintaining an old car and keeping it driveable is not always a simple or affordable task, and if you’re not mechanically inclined, you have to have an up close and personal relationship with a reliable repair shop to keep the engine, transmission and other components efficiently purring away after the warranty is ancient history.

When it comes to a personal computer, keeping the internals dust free, and perhaps replacing  a hard drive or an errant power supply every few years ought to be sufficient as far as the hardware goes. Drives can always be wiped and software reinstalled, to convey a like-new veneer.

However, the typical Windows PC, unless situated in a carefully maintained business environment, is pretty much ready for the trash heap in two or three years. Besides, the new one you buy looks pretty much like the old model, only with speedier electronics and perhaps Windows Vista. Even then, an extraordinary number of PC users are simply downgrading to XP, which was first released in late 2001. Talk about new not being better.

With Macs, Apple’s product lines have historically undergone major design changes at least every few years, and each design iteration is distinctive and readily identified from its predecessor. Yes, there may be updates within a model family with only minor color and/or exterior changes — such as the endless array of G4 desktops — but you surely know what a Power Mac 9500 looks like; no question about it.

More to the point, a Mac isn’t so easy to retire. My son, for example, will likely see a replacement for his four-year-old PowerBook G4 when he graduates in May. Well, maybe I shouldn’t mention that in public, but he has the general idea. However, despite getting rough use over the years, and having a couple of surface dents to show for it, it runs like a fine-tuned watch.

So he will be left to consider whether he wants to just keep it as a spare, sell it, or just have it join the family network for occasional server duty. On the other hand, I’m not really married to my older Macs. Yes, I’m a pack rat in some ways, but I don’t have the space to store outdated (never obsolete) gear, nor the time to set them up for auxiliary duty of one sort or another.

When I buy a new Mac, however, I do look with some regret upon retiring the older model. I can understand how so many of you become attached to them and are loathe to cast them out. That’s something Microsoft and its PC partners — with a precious few high-end exceptions such as Alienware — have never figured out.