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Shooting Fish in a Barrel
ZDTV Puts a Flimsy Foot Forward


By: Neil Thorne
thorne@magibox.net

ZDTV totally changed the content of the article that was up there (this article responds to the original). A little correction (or editing of history?) -- I like the new article far better than the previous one (in tone and content), and I'm glad they so quickly corrected the errors.

As Apple's demise has become radically less likely, it's become the new standard in the Mac-indifferent press to merely dismiss Macintosh as uncompelling. This despite all sales evidence to the contrary.

Nonetheless, this ZDTV "Answers & Tips" column, "Will Macs make a comeback because of the iMac's success?," was the first dis-informed article I've ever read that literally stunned me with its negligence.


ZDTV,

Regarding "http://www.zdnet.com/zdtv/callforhelp/answerstips/story/0,3650,2189339,00.html", I wanted to clear up some points of reasoning and information.

Differing from the title of your article, you start out your essay by asking,

"Will the Macintosh ever be a mainstream computer again?"

This is misleading from the start. The Macintosh is a mainstream computer now. It is not the majority platform, true, but a Macintosh can be purchased "over the counter" at numerous outlets (unlike the half-dozen "non-mainstream" platforms), Mac software is widely available (just not as widely available as Windows software), and at any given gathering of "average" people, realistically a tenth of them would be Macintosh users and at least half of the computer users would have used or tried a Mac at least once in their lives. Furthermore, an entire industry that affects most Americans every day (prepress/publishing) is strongly Macintosh-dominated (not to mention education), insuring that Macs will continue to affect millions of people who might not use computers at all. The only interpretation of "mainstream" that would not include Macintosh is "mainstream = dominant," but that is far too narrow a definition.

One obstacle to the Mac's rise in popularity is the lack of Mac-compatible software and hardware...

As so many others in the press, you criticize the platform based on software and hardware availability. And yet like these others, you totally fail to mention that VirtualPC from Connectix allows Macs to run all Windows software, most of it effortlessly. Furthermore, the new Virtual Game Station from Connectix allows Macs to run PlayStation cd's. So now the Mac can runs Windows software (while Windows cannot run Mac software), and the Mac can run PlayStation cd's (which Windows cannot). If you want the widest possible selection of software to choose from, the Mac becomes the most compelling choice.

From a hardware point of view, Macs have always included built-in Ethernet and (until recently) SCSI, have in the last several years allowed for PCI cards and IDE drives, and lately have championed the USB and FireWire standards. There is virtually no hardware solution that cannot be found for a Macintosh.

It is very tough to compete against the "Wintel" juggernaut...

Competing against the Wintel juggernaut is a dubious standard for success. If Macs continue to be purchased and used by educators, creators, professionals, and ordinary consumers, Macintosh is a successful platform, regardless of Wintel quantities or price points.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, says that an innovation has to be ten times better than the existing product before people decide to change brands... But Wintel machines are so universally used that it is really hard for a company like Apple to overtake them without making a major innovation.

The choice of the Tom Peters quote is ironic and over-simplistic. "An innovation has to be ten times better than the existing product before people decide to change brands" is dramatically over-generalized. If one brand of battery clearly lasts 20% longer than another brand of battery, people will switch brands casually, esp. if all other factors remain equal (price, purchase location, etc.).

Brand loyalty fluctuates wildly between different markets. Soda and cigarette loyalties are quite high, for instance, but kitchen cleanser and light bulb loyalties are probably quite low. In the case of computers, though loyalty is probably quite high on some fronts, one cannot overlook that many Windows users are frustrated as all hell at the irritation their platform brings them (probably somewhat corresponding to mixed loyalty in the automobile industry). There's no simple brand-loyalty paradigm that explains how well OS X will fare, least of all Tom Peters.

Finally, if hanging an time-tested elegant user-friendly interface over the power of a Unix kernel isn't "a major innovation," I don't know what is.

I read your whole article with an air of detached concern over the misleading and shortsighted observations within it, but it was not until the final paragraph that I became angry at the ignorance within...

Apple also suffers from the fact that little is being done to improve the PowerPC chip that runs Power Macs...

To suggest that Apple is not innovating within the PowerPC chip design is absolute uninformed nonsense. The RISC-based PowerPC chips are already technically superior to the archaic CISC chips of the Wintel family in numerous ways, and the upcoming AltiVec processing functions of PowerPC G4's threaten to completely smoke MMX's wobbly inroads into vector processing. Leading Pentium chips are approaching the size of shoeboxes while G3's remain comparable to a matchbook and yet still provide at least as much power (if not, of course, dramatically more).

Read up on your casual assertions before spreading them like typhoid. May I suggest "http://www.MacKiDo.com/Hardware/AltiVecVsKNI.html" and its embedded links for an informed assessment of chip design innovations in the big two camps? Not to mention the manufacturing side where PowerPC's are the first with Copper Interconnects (lower power and increasing speed), and soon to be the first with IBM's SOI (Silicon on Insulator) -- again many years (and generations) ahead of Intel.

I've tried to remain polite here (at least until your staggering finale) to reinforce a bigger point. Misinformation harms the community and the readers who consume it by fostering ignorance. Become part of the solution rather than the core of the problem. Don't write about what you don't know.

I actually like ZDnet a great deal, and cannot believe that such nonsense came spewing forth from it. I would really like at least some kind of reply that lets me know that someone read this and that it might possibly have made a difference.

I would expect to be thanked for pointing out such horrendous factual blunders.
 

Neil Thorne


Created: 01/22/99
Updated: 11/09/02


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