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  • Can You Survive Without a Desktop Mac?

    December 1st, 2009

    I first started using desktop Macs in the 1980s, not long after Apple first released the Macintosh, but it took several years before I could afford to bring one into my home. Well, actually it was a matter of necessity, to earn a living, but low-cost equipment leases were readily available to finance the $15,000 purchase price that included a IIcx, a color display, laser printer and a selection of the key software I needed for my work, which included FileMaker, Microsoft Word and, of course, QuarkXPress.

    On the other hand, I didn’t adapt to the note-book revolution right off the bat. That came out of necessity. My wife was getting surgery in another state, and taking my Mac with all the accessories seemed a daunting task for a hotel-based existence. However, I worked out a deal with a relative to borrow their PowerBook and inkjet printer during the week I was away from the home office. I also brought a modem with which to stay online. Remember these were the days before broadband was readily available at such establishments.

    In those days, in the 1990s, an Apple note-book used a trackball, not a trackpad, and that was the sort of input device to which I was never successful at fully adapting. But I managed to actually get some work done, with time left to take my son, Grayson, on a few sightseeing tours. Fortunately this trip occurred during the summer, so Grayson didn’t miss any classes.

    I only acquired a portable Mac a few years later, after Apple had migrated to trackpads, but it took what seemed almost forever for me to become sufficiently comfortable with its unique style of cursor movement, and the short-travel keyboards were an acquired taste. These days, of course, all Apple keyboards are note-book inspired, perhaps to lessen the difficulties of adapting from desktops and back again. It’s not my cup of tea, but I’ve become reasonably flexible with this alternative.

    If anyone cares, my desktop keyboard right now is the Logitech diNovo Edge, Mac Edition, which remains one of the most comfortable keyboards I’ve ever used. I never for a moment considered using a note-book computer for all my work, even though it’s a trivial matter to hook up a separate display.

    On the other hand, the Mac market is moving in a different direction. With three quarters of Apple’s sales going to its portable lineup, you can certainly feel that desktops might be an endangered species. But that 25% or so percent is still a sizable figure, and with Apple’s increased sales, comes extremely close to the total number of units in all categories that Apple managed to sell just a few years ago. It’s not a trivial figure.

    However, you can’t ignore the public’s changing tastes, although Apple certainly made a credible attempt to beef up desktops in October. The Mac mini received a decent speed bump, and the server version is going to be surprisingly popular to many small businesses and educational institutions.

    The iMac appears to be a home run. As I write this article, it remains the top seller at Apple’s online store, and the quad-core versions remain backordered, with waits increasing to seven to ten business days. Then again, there may be some production problems at the core of this delay, considering that there are reports online of some people receiving their units with cracked screens. I wouldn’t assume that’s because Apple is using thinner and thinner boxes these days. It may be just one of those things, and one hopes the issue will be resolved soon and build quantities will reach a normal level.

    Or maybe Apple just underestimated demand for the top-end product, particularly from customers who might have considered a Mac Pro instead under normal circumstances.

    Long term trends, though, indicate that desktop computers will continue to be abandoned by customers in favor of note-books. As more powerful chips come on line from Intel, there may be a time when a MacBook Pro, with a quad-core mobile chip, would be quite as powerful as a top-of-the-line iMac. That, and a perhaps new lineup of big screen displays from Apple, may encourage this wholesale move to the portable segment.

    Although I’m sure many of you are quite ready to write the epitaph for the Mac Pro and give it a decent burial, I rather think it may a few more years for that to actually happen. There are still tens of thousands of potential customers each quarter who require state-of-the-art performance and easy expandability. One day, in the not too distant future, we may all acquire small personal computers, perhaps not much larger than an iPhone with the option to hook up to a larger display and a regular keyboard for the appropriate tasks. If you need more computing power, incredibly fast wireless networks will lot you connect to a computer network “in the cloud” to perform the complicated rendering tasks that are reserved for a regular desktop workstation. When that happens — and I think it will — the Mac Pro will truly become a part of PC history.

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