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  • The Plain Fact: Mac Users Love to Complain

    March 9th, 2009

    I know that when Apple moved from the PowerPC to Intel processors, you could hear and feel the groans around the world. How could Apple possibly abandon the processor platform that made their products the fastest PCs on the planet?

    How indeed!

    Well, as it turned out, the PowerPC roadmap didn’t favor Apple. When Steve Jobs first demonstrated the original Power Mac G5, he promised there would be a 3GHz version within a year. It never arrived, nor did a mobile version of the chip that didn’t fry the case or soak up battery life in minutes rather than hours.

    Apple did the logical thing: They had parallel projects developing Mac OS X for both PowerPC and X86 processors. So if the former didn’t suit their needs, they could switch to the latter without a serious delay. Indeed, the Intel transition began in January 2006 and concluded just eight months later, way ahead of schedule. The main reason for that was that “secret” Mac OS X for Intel project, first revealed the previous summer, although the rumor sites had talked about it for years.

    Even now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is working on different versions of Mac OS X for multiple platforms in case another processor transition is required. But at least they have choices in x86 land. If Intel’s extremely promising development roadmap peters out, and AMD ends up with superior parts, it wouldn’t represent a huge engineering hurdle to make the appropriate switch. Indeed, our main Web server uses a pair of quad-core AMD Opteron processors, and the very same software runs just as well on the Intel Core 2 Duo installed on our backup server.

    Back to the complaints: Remember when Apple ragged on PC makers for using integrated graphics for so many of their lower-cost models? No wonder lots of Mac users were upset when the Intel version of the Mac mini and MacBook replacement for the iBook had the very same components inside.

    Now I should point out that, if you don’t care about gaming or heavy-duty 3D rendering, you probably aren’t going to see much of a difference. However, this didn’t stop Apple from seeking a better solution, which arrived with the installation of the NVIDIA 9400M integrated graphics chip on many Macs. Benchmarks confirm it’s roughly seven times faster than the Intel chips it replaced. Indeed, performance can match some discrete graphics processors, so this is a gain all around. But the dreadful term “integrated” is still apt to have a depressing ring to it, even though the key is how well it works, right?

    When it comes to software, you just know that Mac OS X didn’t exactly receive raves from day one. Instead, we all fretted about the features that were missing. With 10.0, you couldn’t even burn a CD. What was Apple thinking?

    Well, it’s pretty clear that the original Mac OS X release was meant for early adopters and developers to help them test the product and see what they needed to do in order to be compatible. But the main reason for a premature release of Mac OS X was no doubt to quell the naysayers who insisted it would never be released.

    It’s not as if Apple’s history provided much encouragement. Before the acquisition of NeXT in 1996, efforts to create an industrial-strength operating system failed. Even after NeXT was brought into the fold, there had to be a major change of direction. Originally, there was Rhapsody, which was basically a reskinned NeXT operating system giving it a Mac-look. When major Mac developers, such as Adobe, complained about the difficulties in porting their software, Apple came up with Carbon to ease the way. All that no doubt added a couple of years, at the very least, to Mac OS X’s timetable.

    Even after Mac OS X slowly gained traction, in addition to improved performance and reliability, Mac users remained unsatisfied. What about the features from the Classic Mac OS that were evidently neglected.

    To be sure, inventive third parties began to fill in the gaps. So you had a way to easily customize the Apple menu, and there was even a Mac OS X version of Launcher for folks who couldn’t tolerate the Dock.

    Nowadays, there are millions and millions of Mac users who never heard of Classic, and, in fact, their previous operating system was probably Windows. So they probably have fewer things to complain about. Those of us who stayed with Apple through thick and thin want everything to be perfect, however, and that’ll never happen. For people like me, Apple will never fully meet our expectations.

    Then again, it probably doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Although the sales of new Macs will probably not wow anyone this quarter, in light of the world’s financial crisis, it’s also clear that Apple is not giving up its innovative ways.

    If anything, I think Safari 4, even in a flawed beta form, demonstrates that Apple is definitely not out of ideas. What’s more, if what the rumor sites are reporting turns out to be accurate, Snow Leopard may be more than just a collection of under-the-hood changes.

    And that, my friends, will simply give us more to complain about.



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