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The truth about the PC's and Macs and their "Openness".

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

To believe that the PC's are more "Open" than Macs, one must overlook the entire history of computers.

Computer History - 101

PC's were created by IBM and were never intended to be "Open". In fact IBM sued the first few people that made clones, and tried to prevent it at all costs. IBM's ROM's (BIOS) was intentionally copyrighted and CLOSED! Apple was just much better at writing a good system, that was much larger (more complex, and harder to copy). Apple is also the first mainstream computer company to voluntarily license it ROM and make clones.

DOS was not open, it was just so anachronistic and basic that anyone could write a DOS. And a few people did. MS kept driving the competitors out of business by NOT documenting things well, changing things subtly (when they could) and breaking the competition, and adding unusual behaviors that were difficult to duplicate. Then when someone was still beating them (DR-DOS) they went and intentionally warned users if they were running Windows on top of someone elses DOS - that it might not work, even though they knew full well that it worked just fine. See the History of DR-DOS article for more information about this.

Apple created lots of standards and was very open about many things.

  • When Apple created a keyboard bus (ADB) that allowed users to have multiple keyboards, mice and joysticks hooked up at the same time - they openly tried to make it a standard - and it is used by more than just Apple. (NeXT, SUN, SGI and others did use it). The Macs ADB connector is far superior to the PC's connectors - but it may have cost a few cents more, and PC designers don't value value, they value cheap. PC's have a proprietary keyboard connector that just happens to be popular - but is not really "open", it just was not patentable. The Macs have a more open connector, and more versatile, but used in less total machines.
  • When Apple needed to add hard drives they went out and used the SCSI "standard" for connecting drives and other devices. PC's used proprietary schemes like MFM or IDE. SCSI is much more "Open" than MFM or IDE - it is also much more powerful -- but there are more PC's (and IDE-Drives) so people think that is the same as open. So Macs also use IDE.
  • When Apple was creating an expansion card bus for the MacII's, they looked around and found a very superior BUS scheme created by TI (Texas Instruments) and used in some mini's and high-end micro computers called NuBus. Apple adopted that standard which was far more versatile AND more open than the PC's proprietary ISA or EISA slots. NuBus supported PnP from the beginning. But ISA slots are ugly (but common), so people call them "open" while ignoring the standard.
  • When Apple was looking to replace the NuBus slots with something more powerful, they created a superior Bus (PCB+ or something) but they also compared it to what else was out there. They found that PCI was nearly as good, and was going to be made a standard - so they jumped on board. They went with a standard, and helped define a standard way to deal with PCI cards. But PC's didn't use the Open-Drivers, and instead stick with their proprietary ones.
  • Apple has always used "SIMMS, DIMMS" and other standard Memory when possible. PC's used chips and less "open" memory for far longer.
  • Apple was one of the first to use RS-422 serial ports. PC's used RS-232, but then they use at least 6 different connectors - some standard.
  • Apple was one of the first companies to jump on PCMCIA cards.
  • Apple jumped on board with CORBA and SOM (DSOM) - MS made proprietary and inferior solutions like COM and DCOM.

The biggest problem with Apple and standards is that Apple is often the pioneer. So they have had to create many standards because there was nothing in existence when they started. Sometimes the industry has followed, sometimes it has not - but often Apple was being open - it was the industry that was not. Some standards Apple created, or helped to or tried to, include -

  • Apple created 1394 - FireWire. Which the rest of the industry is coming on board.
  • QuickRing - a fast secondary bus scheme used on high end cards.
  • Versit / GeoPort - the fast serial in the back of Macs
  • 66MHz PCI - Apple is on the committee
  • OpenBoot standard for PCI cards - of course PC's don't support the standard.
  • DYLAN language and environment
  • Object Pascal with Nicholas Virth
  • OpenDoc
  • TrueType
  • Bento (Cross platform document architecture)
  • A number of other committees to try to promote many other standards


So it is not Apple that has been closed - they have tried to follow when they could, and lead when they must. But it is the pioneers that take the arrows, and Apple has always been a pioneer - trying to help our industry evolve. PC's usually go with their own proprietary solutions - but because the size of the PC industry generates its own momentum, and people often follow - then they call those proprietary solutions "standards" -- but then again many Communist countries call themselves "People's Republic".

Created: 02/09/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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