Apple’s Fall

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I’m a longtime Apple fan.

My first Apple was a IIC, purchased in 1988 … My first Mac was an LC III+, purchased in 1993. I’d used PCs in the Air Force, beginning with DOS-based Zeniths (the Z-100, specifically), moving up to early windows 2 and 3 models. The OS of these machines was clunky, unintuitive, and seemed calculated to give the user as much confusion as possible. By contrast, the Mac’s OS was elegant, intuitive, simple to use for even the least technically savvy person out there!

I eventually became an Interface Programmer, and later a technical consultant at a major university. I endured YEARS of PC users smugly informing me that they wanted a real computer … that the Mac’s video bus was too slow, the rest of its hardware too expensive, that there weren’t enough games available for it, and that it was just a matter of time before Apple was out of business – predictions that only got worse as Steve Jobs was ousted and one incompetent CEO after another took the helm.

The last of those had a brilliant idea: “let’s license the Mac OS – our only real claim to uniqueness – so that other people can build computers better than ours, that run our software!”

Power Computing, Inc. nearly put the last nail in Apple’s coffin – to the point where the only way to stop them was to pull their license!  I remember Power Computing’s farewell ad-campaign:  it showed a morose-looking teen and had the caption “We lost our license for speeding …”

Apple’s stock continued to plunge anyway, down to $13 a share, as of Christmas Eve, 1997 – it’s lowest price since 2 years before the introduction of the Macintosh! Every pundit and forecaster was saying that either Apple was doomed, or that it needed a miracle to avoid being doomed!

They got their miracle:  Steve Jobs came back.

By all accounts he was a tyrant. He had his nose and hands in everything … demanded the most unique and elegant designs, insisted the OS be rewritten from the ground up based on a fast modern OS, got rid of the incredibly expensive SCSI bus, in favor of the much less expensive ATA – and while he was at it, he began to look at new Microprocessor designs …

First the iMac:  compact, all-in-one, low-footprint – and looking nothing at all like any PC. The engineers began a wierd evolution: outward elegance of form, married to rapidly improving inward elegance of design.  Things were still too expensive, the computer’s too slow – and with the advent of the G5, heat was a problem as it had never been before – and Motorola was getting ready to stop making computer processors!

Jobs demanded of the engineers what it would take to replace the PowerPC chips with Intel processors – and the answer, after some head scratching and calculations was, about 12 lines of code …

New designs began to pour out, based on cheap but effective technologies, Intel Core Duo processors, SATA hard drives, USB 2, DVI video, digital sound, and Firewire – a collaborative effort between Apple and Sony. The new shapes appealed to young people, the increased power and compatibility appealed to gamers and enthusiasts, and the price was beginning to appeal to everyone.  Still, market-share remained low … inertia is a terribly difficult thing to overcome – especially inertia of thought among computer-users, be they business, or private ones.  It just wasn’t enough for Apple to have cool designs, and powerful hardware, and a bulletproof OS … something would have to happen to jolt Business owners, and Government Agencies into paying the price of migration to the Mac – it was a truism that once they had Macs at work, people would want them at home, too …

The required Jolt came in two parts:  9/11, and a few years later, Windows Vista.

Apple was already a heavy favorite at NASA, the US Department of Energy, the US Army, RAND, and the FBI. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was formed. From the beginning, it was clear they be a target of intrusion, hacking, espionage, and viruses – they were going to need computers that were naturally resistant to such things. Windows machines were out: pretty much every virus, every bit of malware, and most of the known hacks in the wild, had been designed to attack windows! Consideration was given to Unix and Linux boxes, but the new Macs were just as tough to hack (the MacOS being based on Unix), but also had that elegant desktop GUI, the inherent ease of use that had always been the hallmark or the Macintosh. While the extent of Apple’s sales aren’t known with precision, the perception began to be that Homeland Security had standardized on Mac computers.

Of course, pointed out professional doom-sayers, that only meant that the MacOS would have a BIG target painted on it’s back, in the minds of Hackers and virus-creators.  It certainly did – and it didn’t matter: a quarter of a million very high-end programmers had spent the last 30 years making Unix bulletproof – and at it’s heart, the MacOS was still a FreeBSD Unix!

Nearly 15 years later, there are still no significant virus threats to the Macintosh, there is little in the way of spyware, and most Macs don’t even have anti-virus software installed.

The other big catalyst of change was Microsoft – to be more accurate their botched Windows Vista:  the software required significant hardware upgrades, was expensive, clunky, had an intrusive security system – and was STILL the major focus of every new virus and bit of malware, as well as being the target of virtually all hacking exploits. Not only that, once you’d spent the money on upgrading your computers, you’d have to buy all new software to run on them!

If you had to buy upgraded hardware, or new hardware, and all new applications, why on Earth buy something so reviled that most businesses and educational customers didn’t want it on their systems? If the money had to be spent, most businesses and schools decided, they might just as well make the switch to Macintosh.  Here at the university I work at, our IT Lab manager refused to have Vista on his computers – but also didn’t have the budget to replace all his machines with Macs (and, in fact, didn’t want to: whatever his preference,the students he was looking out for still expected to have Windows PCs to use.) He ended up with the same compromise many small business owners had to make:  buy new PCs, but insist that they run Windows XP, rather than Vista.

The movement began to pick up inertia, though: at this school, there is a program to update every faculty-member’s computer every 3 or 4 years. The faculty members would always be given the choice between a high-end PC or an equally high-end Mac. For years we’d give out about 40-50 PCs, and maybe 10-12 Macs. Then it was maybe 30 PCs and 20 Macs … one year the numbers were almost exactly equal. Then more Macs than PCs. Virtually our entire IT department switched over to Macs, including my boss, and his boss, and his boss – all of them previously diehard Windows-users, and each of them, at one point or another had made some comment about only wanting a real computer …

A lot of PC myths began to be seen as marketing spin, or flat-out misconceptions ( I won’t use the word lie, as it’s a very harsh word – but it’s a fact that people were invested in believing that what they were using was the best around, and they were not being stupid by failing to take up Macs! )

Take the age-old: ‘Macs are WAY pricier than PCs’ myth … our purchasing agent tossed that one off at me, when it became clear that there’d be more Macs than PCs given away that year.  This was an educated guy, knowledgable about every aspect of the technology business – as it was his job to be!  The comment made me mad … I’d heard it for so long and was so sick of it!

I started drawing figures on the whiteboard, in the room where I was orienting PC-users to their new Macs:  On one side the high-end Dell Optiplex computer we were giving PC users, and on the other side the 27” iMac we were giving to the Mac users … I compare Processors (at the price Dell or Apple charged to upgrade, or discounted to downgrade), Video Card or Processor, same thing, Hard Drive, same thing, Display (the dell display was only 24” and nowhere NEAR the quality of the iMac’s 27” display, but I went out and showed what it WOULD have cost if we’d bought a display roughly equivalent to the iMac’s) … when all was done, the two Machines were within $100 of each other in price. I demanded that he take a good look and prove me wrong if he could …

He never got back to me.

As the number of PC-Mac transfers became greater, I began to notice a pattern among those who’d used PCs all their working lives … upon switching to the Mac, they went through a very predictable first month:

  • Week one, there would be a LOT of cursing and profanity (even among normally sweet ladies.) Questions, when asked, were asked with exasperation.
  • Week two, they would fall strangely silent. When they had questions, they’d be asked quietly, with genuine curiosity.
  • Week three the obscenity would be back – nearly ALL of it directed at Windows! The biggest question I heard asked was almost always “why did I put up with all that for all those years?!?!?

Right about this time, though, as the tide seemed to be turning irresistibly in Apple’s favor, I began to notice some annoying little things cropping up in the MacOS – very Windows-like features.  It started with hiding (by default) the disks on the desktop; one of the sensible things about the Mac had always been when you inserted a floppy, a CD, or an External Drive, it would always appear on your desktop, right near where your internal drive showed up … it made simple sense:  you’d put the disk in to get something done, why not have it right there where you could work with it at once, instead of making you go hunting for it? Now Apple was hiding them all, just like Windows always had, and it got worse: the next thing to be hidden was the user’s Libraries folder – the folder that held your Mail, your preferences, your iTunes and iPhoto databases, your web-sites, etc …

I couldn’t think of a single good reason to hide it! Most Mac users knew that folders present at different levels of the hard drive shouldn’t be touched, unless to open or manipulate files – and end users had no reason to manipulate the files and folders within the Libraries folder! It made MY work vastly more difficult:  I did data recoveries, and was responsible for migrating people’s data – and this was made vastly more difficult when some of the most critical data had to be hunted down in a hidden folder! It was exactly the kind of obnoxious thing Windows had been doing for years!

The OS began to take longer to boot. Like windows. Apple began funneling everything through the App Store:  you either bought from them, or it wouldn’t run on your Mac:  there was a Security setting that wouldn’t allow products acquired anywhere else to run – and no way to put in an exception list, for software manufacturers you trusted – your only choice was to acquire the software through the Apple Store, or disable the setting (and many people had no idea where to find it.)  Use of the Apple Store required everyone to have an AppleID … AppleID’s didn’t have to be associated with a credit card – but if you didn’t give them one, they continually bugged you about it. At an educational institution, like the one I work at, or a business, computers are paid for by the institution, as is much of their software … if you used such Apple software as Pages, you had to put in an AppleID to get updates – the department that owned the computer couldn’t give out their AppleID, because it was associated with a purchasing card, and they’d have to give away the password, as well – this would give employees the ability to buy anything they wished, and it couldn’t be traced back to them! On the other side of the coin, a faculty member would be reluctant to use their OWN AppleID, because it was a state-owned machine that could be reclaimed at any time …

When asked about this, the Apple Representative shrugged and said it sounded to him like our problem, not Apple’s.

Machines began to come without DVD drives. Apple said it was to eliminate unnecessary weight  and thickness – but it wasn’t just the laptops, they were doing it to the desktops as well! The idea was basically to force you to do one of two things:  buy an external drive – or buy all of your software through the App Store, and iTunes store. Laptops then began to come out without ethernet ports – again, ostensibly to save weight and thickness … but ethernet is 5 times faster than wireless – and many users didn’t have wireless!

When I put this to our Apple rep he laughed (actually laughed ) and said “Oh, everyone has wireless!”  I replied that no, they damned-well did not! Even leaving faculty members and student’s homes out of it, we have many scientific and research teams out in the field, in places like the Yucatan, where they might be able to find an ethernet local network, but wouldn’t be able to access it with new Apple Laptops! He said, in a soothing voice that one might use with a spoiled child, that people could buy a thunderbolt to ethernet adapter – for only $30! Just as they could buy an external DVD (just $100!) and many other external devices, including USB hubs (since a current model Macbook Pro has only ONE USB 3 Port … )

“So,” I said, with some heat, “Let me get this straight:  your laptops have fewer and fewer ports, require the user to buy more and more devices, have less and less hard drive space (due to the use of VERY expensive Solid State Drives), and yet these computers cost more than they used to, is that about it?”

He made no answer and left.

And that seems to be Apple’s new corporate attitude, since the death of Steve Jobs: force people to deal ONLY with the App Store and the iTunes store, make it impossible to service computers in the field, so they MUST bring it to an Apple Store for service, give people less and less for their hard-earned dollars, and squeeze yet more of their money out of them if they need the capabilities that Apple has deleted from their computers – oh, and carrying around all those extra devices more than off-sets the lighter weight of the laptops!

Everything is smaller and lighter … Macbooks, iMacs, iPods, iPads, iPhones … yet smaller and lighter, in many ways, equates to harder to use, less capable, and more fragile

I love Macs – but everything Apple does these days smacks more and more of the Microsoft business model: screw every nickel out of your customers, and pay no heed to what they NEED, only to what’s good for Apple!

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~ by dourscot on April 2, 2015.

4 Responses to “Apple’s Fall”

  1. I love apple. But my family jokes that it’s gone to shit since Steve Jobs died. Oh but this (today) was good:

    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/san-bernardino-shooting/full-text-apple-ceo-tim-cook-s-open-letter-fbi-n519886

    • Your family is correct! But I’m proud of them for this stand as well.

      • I was proud of them for this stand also. I did however laugh (to myself) that they said for the first time in a long time sales were down. I wanted to scream, “Well you MORONS, sales are down because your new iPad costs more than a computer!” I have purchased each iPad, (we have a family of 9) and we all have iPhones, iPods, iPads, and apple TV’s. I have a iMac and my husband and I both have MacBooks. I went to upgrade my macbook and the new one, (like you said) only has one port so I have to decide if I want to charge or use for example a flash drive because I can’t use both unless, (like again, you said) I buy other cords etc. Stupid. I left discouraged. I feel like Steve Jobs had this vision of things working smoothly and not killing your customers. Yes things were higher dollar but well worth every penny. Now I question what I want. We assume the technologies that have been there will always be there. A CD drive on my new iMac I had no idea wasn’t included. I didn’t know until I went to use it. I WAS PISSED. My sister asked, “Did you ask Apple if it had one?” (WTF would I ask if it had a CD drive? Isn’t that common sense. Now where I use to have a laptop sleeve, I have to have a bag to carry all these stupid cords and accessories. Lame! Great news for HP! I went to a board meeting recently and pulled out my new macbook, one of my fellow board members looked at me and said why did you buy apples smallest laptop, it costs the most and you get the least? Funny. Not sure how they do it. #apple #stevejobshaditright #howfastcanweruinacompany.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I have a friend who specifically bought a laptop so he could watch DVDs during long, boring business flights – only to find it had no optical drive!

    It’s not stupid, though: rather, it’s highly cunning! The whole thrust of Apple’s recent design policies has been to make it impossible to buy software or movies in disk form, and to force people to purchase only from the Apple Store and iTunes!

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