Back in the 1980s, when I wanted to transition from traditional typography to desktop publishing, I chose QuarkXPress. One reason was that this application offered a level of precision that closely matched what I was accustomed to with the typesetting systems I had been using. Although PageMaker is regarded as the progenitor of desktop page layout software, it was geared more to the graphic artist accustomed to assembling the printed page from separate elements that were placed on a layout board.
The original developers of PageMaker, to my way of thinking, made some bad design decisions, such as the inability to open more than a single publication at a time (not addressed until years later), which helped QuarkXPress ride the wave to ascendency in that market. However, in recent years, Adobe’s InDesign, which I regard as a 21st century version of PageMaker, has gotten the buzz among graphic designers. While XPress is still widely used by publishers, that, too, may be changing.
So on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent held forth on QuarkXPress 8, the newest version of Quark’s flagship desktop publishing application. Now David doesn’t like the company, for various reasons he’s explained a number of times on the show. He was also not terribly impressed with the newest version, which seems to have more in the way of interface changes — bringing it closer to Adobe’s way of doing things — than actual feature enhancements.
That is a subject, however, that we’ll cover in future shows, and you’ll certainly hear Quark’s own viewpoint on the subject. David also talked about the iPhone, the future of the Mac OS and other subjects.
In another segment, Macworld writer and commentator Kirk McElhearn brought us up to date on a compelling alternative to Apple’s Time Capsule and the latest round of security issues and how they might affect Macs.
In addition, you met James Rea, President of ProVUE Development, who detailed the history of their well-known database application, Panorama. And when you click on that name, by the way, you’ll get a special deal if you decide to buy a copy!
Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, you’ll hear from investigative journalist Leslie Kean of The Coalition for Freedom of Information, an organization seeking to unearth government information about UFOs. During this wide-ranging discussion, Leslie will talk about media coverage of the subjectand her efforts to spearhead creation of a new U.S. government agency to investigate sightings and report the details to the public.
In recent months, I’ve come to believe that most people finally understand that Macs and PCs are comparably priced when comparably equipped. That is, until I read some more of that silly fiction that attempts to convey precisely the reverse, that Apple is the BMW, and the PC is the Ford, and that the former is priced accordingly when compared to the latter.
I suppose this is a highly frustrating argument that will never end, because a simple change of the terms and conditions is enough to deliver different results. Indeed, I know some of you will argue that I’m wrong and provide very detailed reasons why. So let me put my cards on the table: Take a Mac and a PC from a brand name company and not a home-built model. Equip both with the same options in terms of equipment as much as possible. Then make sure that the software bundle is also similar, which means that Windows Vista Basic isn’t part of the picture.. Only Ultimate is the proper equivalent to Mac OS X, and that can represent a fairly stiff price hike on what’s otherwise a low-cost computer.
Indeed, it appears that recent articles from CNET and editor/writer Joe Wilcox have implied they are going on fair shopping excursions, but they repeat the long-voiced fiction that you can buy a regular Windows computer for hundreds less than the competing Apple product.
Now I have to tell you that I am quickly losing patience over such shenanigans, because I can see a great degree of intellectual dishonesty in these comparisons. More to the point, when I do match-ups using the criteria I’ve mentioned over and over again, the results I achieve continue to verify my statement that the Mac and PC, when comparably equipped, are closely priced. On the high-end, the Mac Pro, in reality a workstation and not a simple personal computer, comes out way ahead.
One big problem with doing this sort of thing is that PC makers do not always have consistent price policies or configuration options. What’s more, if you perform a Google search, you might find some unadvertised discount coupons. As a result, picking a model at random may not always yield accurate results, and what’s accurate today will be inaccurate tomorrow.
Once again, I selected Dell, simply because the company is at or near the top of the charts worldwide, and has an online ordering system that’s fairly flexible. In contrast, Acer, which now owns the eMachines and Gateway brands, has essentially given up on online sales and now only offers prebuilt models at retail stores.
So I visited Dell’s confusing online store, and customized an Inspiron 1525 to match, say, a black MacBook. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, since not all the options are identical. I got to $1,525 (including the $140 rebate) without actually locating any software that came close to Apple’s iLife, which is free with the purchase of any new Mac. Besides, the Inspiron had a 15.4-inch screen, and the MacBook is 13.3 inches.
When it came to an All-In-One computer, which also appears in Dell’s lineup, the former starts at $1,299, while the cheapest 20-inch iMac is $100 less. At this point, I didn’t bother to customize either, as it wasn’t worth the effort.
I realize these are casual comparisons, and that a more detailed study might yield a wider price gulf between the Mac and the PC, and perhaps put the latter in a more competitive advantage to some extent. At this point, however, unless you are really on a tight budget and can’t really afford more than an entry-level box, you have to focus on value.
Will your PC, for example, be able to run the latest and greatest Microsoft operating systems and software four or five years hence? More to the point, will it even survive long enough for you to invest in upgrades of that sort?
Understand that Mac OS 10.5 can be installed on most four-year-old Macs, whereas you will be in serious trouble getting a full Windows Vista experience — which includes the resource-hogging Aero interface — on most normally-configured PC boxes that were purchased more than a year or two back.
That’s one reason, among many, why businesses have been slow to embrace Vista. They have already achieved a decent level of performance, compatibility and security with Windows XP, and they would be forced to buy new computers to upgrade to Vista. Even then, many are sticking with the tried and true, and are sitting out Vista, hoping, perhaps, that Windows 7 will be a better alternative. And that remains to be seen, even assuming it’s out in early 2010 as Microsoft promises.
Remember, too, that MIcrosoft is notorious for shipping products late without all the promised features. Imagine if Apple tried to get away with schemes of that sort.
In any case, I continue to maintain my position on the Mac versus PC price issue. They are very close. Sometimes the Mac comes out ahead, and sometimes the Windows PC. But the differences are seldom significant and there is a serious value equation you have to consider as well.
When it comes to the low-cost bundles you see at the local consumer electronics stores, Apple won’t enter that market segment. There’s little or no profit in it, and the products you buy are generally under-equipped and simply won’t deliver a fully-realized user experience for most of you. You do indeed get what you pay for, and it’s unfortunate that the folks at CNET and some other tech sites haven’t gotten the message.
I know. You like to think that the best quality gear might also be the stuff that will hold up over the long haul of regular use and abuse. Well, I suppose that might be true, but it’s not always the case. Unfortunately, unless a manufacturer has a history to consult in message boards and in magazine reviews, it’s hard to know.
When it comes to cheap stuff, of course, if something breaks, it’s usually best to just send it to the recycling plant when the warranty is up. The cost of repairs does not make sense, and extended warranties usually don’t either. They generally just enrich the dealer and the company who provides the coverage.
If you’re talking about an expensive product, such as a flat panel TV, you have a right to be concerned. When you spend upwards of a grand, and possibly several times that amount, you hope it’ll provide years of faithful service, and certainly it should.
While there may be some problems involving the imaging engines of projection TVs, you expect that the LCD or plasma model you bought should hold up pretty well. And, in fact, they do. Just about all of these products contain components sourced from the same handful of companies, so they are quite often more similar than different. There may be variations in terms of support circuitry, such as picture enhancement gimmicks and so on and so forth, but it’s hard to find a bad product in the bunch.
One company that has almost always gotten extremely favorable marks for reliability — and often ranks at the top or near the top in terms of quality — is Panasonic. They also tend to make mainstream and highly affordable gear, so you’re not paying a premium price for what you get.
That’s the reason, for example, that I had Panasonic on my short list when I was looking over 1080p plasma TVs recently. Yes, some products rate higher, but the differences are quite often only detectible in test patterns, and may otherwise be almost impossible to distinguish unless you look over every nuance of a picture for a long long time under ideal conditions.
In the real world, such conditions don’t really exist. You don’t, for example, sit one foot from your TV to discern DVD or high definition encoding artifacts. Where visible, they won’t be of much importance unless they are readily visible at normal viewing distances. Even then, they may not be of sufficient magnitude to impair enjoyment of a show.
When it comes to Panasonic, I’ve had pretty good experiences with their gear. I’m quite pleased with my Panasonic KX-TG6500 two-line portable phone system, and the original 5-disc CD changer bearing that company’s label, which I bought years ago, is still purring away in its new owners home. Sorry, I forget its model number. As with most other consumer electronics companies, such things are seldom memorable.
Next week, I’ll be making my first foray into Blu-ray. That’s the high definition DVD format that emerged as the standard against HD-DVD earlier this year. Whether it’ll sustain itself on the long haul against online downloads and streaming has yet to be resolved. But I’ll be checking out Panasonic’s mid-range DMP-BD30K Blu-ray player to see whether the fuss was all worth it.
Right, it’s a Panasonic again.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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