"simplicity comes from distinguishing between the essential and the inessential"

"iMac Packs Lot of Punch for Consumer Machine" --| Why I Macintosh? A Year Later |--- q: are you a happy user a year after purchasing a macintosh? a: yes! for those tired of fiddling with their PC just to keep it running, there is an alternative that provides lots of software, good value, and ease-of-use without sacrificing customisability. macs are often disregarded at the outset of the decision process. we take a second look at a consumer, and if they're happy with 'going mac'. when buying a computer, it is important to have good reasons to substantiate your purchase. many people just buy what is most popular. but if you're not of the opinion that macdonalds is the best food in the world because a lot of people eat there, then understand that a system must justify itself on its merits, and not just by a popularity contest. but there are a lot of prejudices against this. most of them are variations of the "but its not as good because there's not as much software, or it costs more." these are simply not true for reasons i will elucidate below. if your time is worth anything, then you will know that time spent "fixing" or upgrading your computer is time spent not doing useful work. after starting my computing experience over nineteen years ago (1982) with PC-DOS on an 8086 and dBase scripting, i have since used the unix environment (sgi irix), and windows 95 (doing technical support for an architectural CAD software firm), and of course also macintosh. after having used all three systems in daily use to accomplish present work, i am venturing to make some observations and comparisons between them. i think this is important, as i find a lot of users that are simply too inexperienced to have used anything other than a microsoft operating system in the course of their computing career. there are many so-called "pc experts" who have never actually used anything BUT a microsoft operating system. i question their validity in being able to talk about any operating system other than the one they have used. how can they even claim to understand the merits of one system over another when they haven't even been "users" enough to produce work in a given operating system? after using all three systems, i have found that it is the mac that allows me to get my work done faster, and lets me do so in a highly-customisable environment that is also elegantly implemented and a joy to use. there is a reason mac users are so fiercely loyal to their platform, and it lies in an appreciation for good operating system design oriented towards a good end-user experience. if you like the details sweated over and done right, then the mac is for you. --| availability of software |----- my current machine is now an imac. this "consumer" machine packs a lot of power in a simple form-factor that really has been well thought-out. after owning this imac for about a year (since last aug.15), i have absolutely no regrets -- i am so happy with my decision to have got it, that i'm replacing a silicon graphics r5000 workstation (i've been running irix unix for the last four years on it) with an one. this will bring me a significant speed boost (mips r5000 200Mhz -> g3 333Mhz), and broaden the amount of software available to me significantly. i have over 300 pieces of application software for the mac, but i only use a fraction of it regularly. although i would consider myself a power user, i run at most 5-10 core applications per day. to give you an idea of the applications that i use routinely on the macintosh, i list them here: - netscape 4.5 - for web and mail; the first and the best. - bbedit 5.1 - professional text editor for pragrammers (with file "grep"). i also use this to hand-code a lot of my html for which it is great. - adobe photoshop 5.0 -- defacto standard for image editing - framemaker 5.5 - long document processing - adobe illustrator 5.5 - the best illustration package for designers. - dreamweaver2 and pagemill 3.0 - two excellent web authoring tools. - quark xpress 3.5 and 4.0 - the best apps for high quality colour layouts. - filemaker pro 4.0 - for database and invoicing stuff. - stuffit 5.1 - for zip, tar, sit, etc. files. - transmit 1.2 - a really elegant and fast FTP programme. - finder 8.5 - the macintosh finder is really fast for navigating through windows with keyboard shortcuts. i'd never it up. only unix "spy" utility comes close to the speed & utility. - omnipage 5.1 - to OCR text documents so i can text search later. - toast USB 3.8 - for making my own CDs. - macamp 1.0.7 - for playing mp3 files with "skins". - soundedit 16 - pro level audio editing. - studio vision pro 3.5 - professional MIDI and audio sequencer. (this, and logic + cubase = is preferred system for what most professional muscians use). - finale 3.2 - professional music scoring software with high-quality postscript output. - script editor 8.5 - think of it as unix batch scripting built into the macintosh gui from the start instead of tacked-on after. - resedit & kaleidoscope - allows more useful customisation of applications and interface than any other utility ever seen. - snapz pro 2.0 - excellent quality screen capture utility. - norton utilities 4.0 - who hasn't ever needed them? - adobe postscript fonts - for highest pro quality, nothing beats the mac for inventing the easiest to manage font system for postscript and truetype fonts. i have several hundred of them. - adobe acrobat 4.0 - pdf files provide the highest quality output with the greatest guarantee of fidelity to the original document possible. to deliver online 2000+ pages of docs, we can do it with one pdf file, or 5000 bits of html stuff linked all over the place. which would you rather like to manage? - macromind director 6.0 - this is better than any presentation package. - excel 4.0 - when i need to use a spreadsheet, i will say that this is quite possibly the best microsoft product they've ever made. after that, the number of features got too bloated and less useful. - fontographer 4.0 - i can create my own custom postscript and truetype fonts using this pro font editing package. i used it to create a custom keyboard font for our documentation that is used on both our mac and unix machines. - futurebasic 2.3, perl, java, metrowerks c++ i like programming in my spare time. i use futurebasic when i need to code something fast. perl for its superlative text and string manipulation, and c++ when i have lots of time. - macmame 0.33 & macchess 5.0 - i don't play many games, but i still love a game of "defender" and chess here and there. - cuseeme 2.2 - for videoconferencing with usb quickcam (rarely). - pandocal - a small but elegant calendaring utility - always up. - sunclock 1.1 - graphical display of sun shadow on globe - always up. - stickies 1.5 - actual posty-notes for my mac. permanently on F12. - popchar 2.6 - a pop-up virtual keyboard with all the é ö û shortcuts. - typeit4me 4.3 - a global keyboard macro utility. - now menus 6.7 - i can globally reassign ANY menu keyboard shortcut command ON-THE-FLY. i would never never give it up, and it is not possible on unix or windows, because of lack of standardisation and consistency to the same degree as the mac interface. - quicktime 4.0 & realplayer g3 - for watching video over the web. - virtual PC - i don't really use this much, because i already have more software than i could ever use on the mac. if you need more software than that, there's plenty. there have been over 5000 new hardware and software packages released for the mac in the last year (98-99). i couldn't imagine ever using them all--ontop of what i have already!? --| microsoft office -- when you can settle for less |----- as to the question about microsoft office. if you want it, there is that option (as microsoft office 98 came out first for the mac before it came out on windows). but i myself have foregone it for practical reasons. i work producing documentation for a software company. if you will ask any major software vendor which software they use to produce their reams of technical documentation, you will find that one of the most preferred (by the writers themselves, and not their IT departments) is adobe framemaker. i use framemaker instead of word because framemaker is far superiour to microsoft word for long document processing. it is a fraction of the size in memory, sports a significantly more elegant interface, and all in all more capable. our manuals are over 2000 pages in length, and i could never produce a set as complete or of as high quality with microsoft word as i can with framemaker. compared with framemaker's elegance, microsoft word is simply a clunkier product and not as capable. i would be wasting my companies' money if i had to use word instead. --| what's going on in there? |----- organising project directories are an inevitable part of writing documentation, and so i spend a lot of my time filing things. i like access to the filsystem to be a clear and direct one. the macintosh takes advantage of the human spatial memory - icons and windows always stay where you left them. the metaphor of the finder desktop is a direct reflection of the filesystem - files on the desktop are actually in a directory /Desktop. the windows system "hides" the real goings-on of what is happening to your filesystem with little icons on your desktop. the mac actually gets you closer to the filesystem so that it doesn't need "wizards" to simplify it for you, because the filestructure is logical and clear down to the system level. when you see an icon on a mac desktop, you know you're actually looking at a file whose directory path is: hard-disk/desktop folder/myfile. with windows, this is an illusion created by a shortcut somewhere on your hard disk. likewise, on the mac, you have an "Apple Menu Items" subdirectory. you put a file in there, and it shows up in the apple menu. what you see in the apple menu (microsoft ripped this off with the "start" menu several years later), is actually a listing of files in that directory. it is fundamentally elegant. with the start menu, your system is hiding more complex goings on because it isn't directly tied to something like what is actually in a file-directory. this creates a disparity between what the user does and what actually goes on in the system, giving the user a false sense of simplicity when the underlying mechanism is actually too complex for most users to figure out, thus requiring "wizards" to do basic housekeeping. the mac file system is simply more humanly comprhensible from the outset. --| who wants an uninstaller? |----- another thing i like about a mac is i don't need an "uninstall". it is an absurd notion on a mac, because all the stuff the programme needs is neatly filed into the application itself through user-customisable "resources". this lets me change menu keyboard shortcuts, dialogue texts, and any resource an application might use. if i drag over an application from one disk to another, i have all the resources RIGHT THERE, and they can't get seperated or lost from the programme like with windows (because you'de probably be missing a few critical DLL type files). with the mac, i copy exactly ONE file to a disk, move it to another directory on a different computer, click it, and it still runs every time. this is not possible with windows, because you have all these niggly "DLL" files that are seperated into different files all over the hard disk, and to track them down for all your applications is so complex that they had to invent an "uninstaller" to find and get rid of them all. this is simply because the system was badly designed in the first place. because of resources, all the cryptic files that belong to applications are rendered obsolete, and also made more standardised. it also means that macs don't need ".txt" or ".doc" on the end of filenames just to figure out what they are. if you take these almighty important letters off the end of your filename in windows, the system is screwed, and can't even figure out what kind of file it is. is it a tiff image? a microsoft word document or an html file? the system just can't live without that little extension stuck on the end of it. and all these little filename extensions are kept track of in a "registry file". and god help you if your registry gets screwed up. on the mac, the need for a registry is eliminated through better initial file system design. the type and creator are embedded as part of the directory information, so they can never become decoupled from the "registry" info, because its part of the file's entry in the file system's directory structure itself--which means its is impossible to get lost. never, ever even once on any mac anywhere has there ever been a problem with a registry file. this is because there has never been a need for one since it was done right in the first place. and the archaic disk-centric filenaming conventions of C: and A: and legacy dos 8.3 filenaming conventions will still plague windows users for years to come. it is illogical and innefficient to cludge a disk-centric C:\ filesystem to adapt to a networked filesystem. microsoft has had to make their whole OS stand on its head in order to make it work properly in a networked environment because C:\ is concieved of from a disk-centric point of view. furthermore, microsoft have had long filenames since windows 95, but they still have convoluted filenames like: win.ini, autoexec.bat, and nddend.dll, and they always will. something you just don't ever have to worry about with a mac. i have better things to do with my time. --| one menubar is simpler than five |----- "Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) i believe that simplicity and elegance of design count for something in a computer operating system. one of the fundamental aspects of gui design presented to a user is how they handle menus. on windows, you have a seperate menubar in every single application window that you're running. this is a cludge. instead of having five menubars in five windows, the mac simplies this by consolidating them into a single menubar along the top of the screen. this makes it faster and easier to hit (no mouse overshoot to slow things down), eliminates clutter in the interface, and reduces ambiguity, as it changes context intelligently to eliminate sources of user error. this can of course be configured in some up-and coming linux offerings (such at GTK) -- but only apple has gone ahead and made it a default option. see Why Single Menubar? --| the next generation produces architectural simplicity |----- Evolution isn't a progression to ever greater and greater differentiation but...is first an ascent to a higher point, and after having reached this point is then a descent to more and more simple forms. (Rudolf Steiner) a few notes on the imac hardware. the imac is really the next step in the evolution of computer hardware. before, i had one plug for my keyboard, another plug for my mouse, a third plug for my modem, a fourth type of plug for my printer, a fifth plug for my zip drive and scanner--all of them incompatible and different types of connectors. if you value simplicity, you will appreciate the fact that all five of these connectors have been eliminated and replaced with a single plug. i now have: a mouse, keyboard, scanner, videocam, zip drive, and printer all hooked up to one standard interface. this makes things simple. they have gotten rid of the clutter of ports on the back and replaced it with one universal peripheral plug. it makes too much sense, but some people still prefer to have a bunch of incompatible ports and fiddle with IRQs and bulky 25pin connectors for their printer. on PCs, these legacy ports will take several years to phase out. on the mac its a done deal. mac users are already over that hump and live in a world where they don't have to worry about it. it already just works. furthemore fast (100baseT) networking is built into every mac. this is an option on most PCs. the imac moves away from the backwards thinking disk-centric model of a computer to a network-centric model. in five years it will be clearly evident how important it has been to include a fast network connection as standard equipment on every machine. one standard port for local peripherals, and one standard port to hook into the network. the engineers at apple have made everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. this is the definition of elegant engineering. the imac's hardware design simplifies the peripheral and hardware I/O with a modern network-centric design, and provides a plug-and-play that works. for those that need more performance, add a fast firewire bus as standard to the motherboard if you get a G3 pro tower. this provides a superb interface for high-bandwidth high-storage applications like video-editing. --| engine efficiency |----- the imac contains a G3 processor. if you actually poke your nose into the box to look at the "engine" -- you will be struck immediately by the size differential between an intel pentium and a G3 chip. the pentium is almost quadruple the size of the g3 to do the same function. how is it that that a g3 chip can go faster than a pentium chip, be a fourth the size, and run cooler? well, it has to do with better design. the pentium chip uses a "complex" instruction set (cisc) -- it contains a lot of legacy work-arounds to accomodate archaic instructions going back to the first 8088 microprocessor used in the first PC in 1982. this was a 16bit architecture (think lanes in a highway). now the motorola series of processors started out life with a simplified 32bit instruction set (risc). this allowed you to get more horsepower out of the chip with less parts. less parts means smaller size, and uses less power. when intel wanted to go to the pentium, in order to remain compatible, they had to keep the old 16bit stuff in there even for newer generations of chips. this means they need more parts just to make a pentium work around the old legacy stuff than motorla needs to make their whole g3 chip. because it has a less convoluted architecture to move data around in, a 250Mhz risc chip does the same amount of work as a 400Mhz cisc chip, and is smaller and produces less heat to boot. this is why manufacturers have so much trouble making pentium notebooks as fast as desktop machines -- the pentiums need more power and produce more heat than the risc chips. that is also why you cannot buy a pentium notebook that is as fast as apple's g3 notebook at any price. it comes back to the quality of the engineering of the central processor. the g3 is a very good and fast processor. it gives you more speed per Mhz than a pentium. therefore an imac will always be faster than a comparable Mhz-speed of pentium class machine, and the benchmark tests bear this out. to get the same speed, you need a pentium processor of a higher Mhz than a given g3 chip. --| what y2K problem? - oh, you mean an upgrade!? |----- last, but not least. the mac doesn't have a y2k problem. neither does any variant of unix. the only machines that really have a y2k problem (aside from some old cobol mainframes) are windows machines. every mac made since 1986 has been able to handle dates until the year 29,940AD. that's because apple thought ahead when they made their date routines. in contrast microsoft windows 98 is not guaranteed to be y2k compliant without a service patch. this is not a bug -- it is a feature. it means that microsoft can sell lots of upgrades to windows 2000. hey, it's your money... but bill gates isn't the world's richest man for nothing. if he can convince several million windows users that they need to upgrade because of y2k problems when no other major operating system has a y2k problem, then more power to him. --| the 80/20 rule |------ all in all, i can heartily recommend the macintosh computers for: i) their excellent price/performance, ii) fast speed, iii) good selection of quality software, and iv) the elegance of system implementation. for people whose objective is to get useful work done instead of fiddling with system maintainence, i would highly recomend the macintosh over any windows system. there are some niche vertical market application situations where windows may be the only and best choice. but for 80% of real-world usage -- for microsoft office applications, browsing the web, email, scientific and technical publishing applications, music, and graphic design, the macintosh just can't be beat. if on the other hand, you enjoy tinkering, i would suggest the mac is still a great machine to hack. any user with a copy of resedit can alter final binaries, down to the text in menus and dialogues because of resources. the mac provides a better hack for most average users than is possible for the average users of unix. the ability to run linux (natively), windows (via fast emulation), and sony playstation games is an added bonus. i would challenge any windows-only user to consider how much their time is worth, and if they really value this percentage of their time they use just to do basic system maintainence instead of productive work. --- BACK TO STORM'S JOURNAL

to qualify a submission for the storm's journal,
send eMail to: johnrpenner@earthlink.net


this page last updated: august 25, 1999