Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Are You a Mac or a PC ? Computer Curmudgeon 11/09

In some circles, this question will launch a spirited discussion which may occasionally progress to fisticuffs. In other settings, observers may wonder just what sort of mental derangement makes people think they are electronic devices.  This question is regularly posed as part of a long series of attention seeking advertisements painstakingly crafted by TBWA Chiat Day of Los Angeles for Apple.

When computers were larger than refrigerators and owned by government agencies, the notion that a single individual could possess a computer was often dismissed as a pipe dream. The Altair minicomputer kit, introduced in 1975 for only $400, was the first commercially successful home based computer. IBM duly noted the growing success of home computers from Apple, Commodore, Tandy and others in this new market. The IBM PC (for “Personal Computer”) debuted in 1981. Their projected goal of 500,000 sales over ten years was exceeded in a mere 6 months, immediately spawning a host of imitators. Microsoft had been retained to write an operating system for IBM, but cunningly reserved the right to market the software to all comers.

IBM had chosen to use off the shelf parts, easily obtained by anyone wanting to assemble an IBM PC “clone”.  The relentless PC clone competition led to the extinction of dozens of alternative computer systems and finally to the withdrawal of IBM from the personal computer market it had created near the end of 2004.  Eventually, any computer compatible with the original IBM operating system  was deemed to be a “PC”. Since the current generation of Macintosh computers easily passes this simple test — a Mac now is a PC.

“We have met the enemy and he is us” (Walt Kelly’s Pogo, 1970)

In 1983, after more than $150 million expended over 4 years of development, Apple introduced the Lisa, the first mass market computer with a mouse and graphical interface. Patterned after the experimental and innovative Xerox Star, the $10,000 Lisa was a major commercial failure, with much of the production being shipped to the landfill. The Macintosh was introduced a year later at a mere $2500; the new graphical interface was quickly acclaimed as a powerful, user-friendly development and soon became especially popular in the publishing and graphic arts communities. Fortune magazine named Apple the most admired company in the world in 2009. Apple software licensing firmly prohibits installation of the Mac operating system on any non-Apple computer.

Microsoft had visited Xerox in Palo Alto as well. Their cleverly named “Interface Manager” project was introduced in 1985 as “Windows 1.0” and quickly faded away due to disappointing sales, but not before Apple had extracted an agreement that Apple technology was not to be used in Windows 1.0. Since that agreement did not apply to later versions, Windows 3.0 eventually gained widespread support; sales reached 3 million copies in the first year and Windows 3.1 sold 3 million copies in just 2 months. Multiple versions of Windows software are now installed on 93% of the world’s computers.

Both Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple MAC OS X Snow Leopard have matured and reached a level of sophistication unimagined in their formative years; both systems support a full array of software, both operate on a broad assortment of hardware, and both resemble each other as much as redneck cousins. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then there should enough sincerity for all concerned.

In our SaddleBrooke Computer Club, our continuing choice is to offer classes for both systems. As for myself … either system would look especially nice under our Christmas tree!