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RE: Win98 Catches the Mac
Yeah, right

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999


NOTE: I made some mistakes in this article, I respond and correct them in Mea Culpa

James Coates wrote an article titled, "Win98 Catches the Mac" for Sunday, May 17th issue of the Chicago Tribune. I've had serious questions about his understanding of technical issues in the past, and this article is no exception. I seriously have to wonder if he realizes that Microsoft's Advertising Budget is responsible for his paycheck (and so he is just biased), if he is succumbing to peer pressure by IS or friends in the press, if he just doesn't care about the facts, or worse -- he doesn't know them. Either way, it does not seem to reflect well on him.

"With Windows 98 on the verge of reaching store shelves, it becomes ever more clear that Bill Gates is building a whole lot more than just the ultimate Wintel (Microsoft running on Intel chips) computer. Gates is building the ultimate Macintosh."

Ultimate Mac? How is a poor rip-off of the Mac "the Ultimate"? I mean, Apple could say that it is making the Ultimate Windows machine -- but for Win98 to be the "Ultimate Mac", Apple would first need to make it's plug and play not work right about half the time, then they would have to cruddy up their superior User Experience (whether people like Coates understand UI or not). Then Apple would have to add something like 55,000 known bugs (I heard that was the bug count for Win95 -- 11,000 were fixed for Win98, but I question how many new bugs were introduced). I mean for Win98 to be the ultimate Mac, Apple would have to halve their performance, introduce bugs, increase complexity, torture users, make it install wrong 1/2 the time, make it incompatible (to some degree) with most hardware, and so on.

So his whole premise, or at least wording, is flawed. The point that Microsoft is doing a poor job of ripping off the Mac, is correct -- but please, call a spade a spade. Don't imply that it is "the Ultimate" Mac -- that is like saying a Volkswagen Beetle is the "Ultimate Porsche". Sure it is -- as long as you only value one variable (cost) in a complex equation of things that make a good car!

But that is picking nits compared to his major gaff.

With Windows 98 Gates is closing in on a dream revealed to Apple Computer Inc.'s founder Steve Jobs during the now fabled Epiphany of Palo Alto back in December of 1979....The PARC device displayed its stuff by drawing pictures instead of typing input and output in the text... Using a heretofore unknown trick called bit-mapped graphics, the PARC machine was the first to use icons instead of words to point to files.

Man, is this guy off by a mile.

Steve Jobs did have the epiphany about UI in December '79. The Mac and Lisa projects had been in the works for a while before that. All the other implications (or statements) are wrong. They are subtle mistakes, that make it seem like Xerox did all the work, and Apple just copied Xerox. I just makes me believe that Coates hasn't really researched the issue, and is just parroting PC-Appologists myths.

The biggest mistakes, that show the error of this whole section, is in the last sentence, "Using a heretofore unknown trick called bit-mapped graphics, the PARC machine was the first to use icons instead of words to point to files."

  1. Bitmapped Graphics were used well before Xerox PARC. They were planning on being used by Apple in the Mac and Lisa before Jobs went to see Xerox. They were used in the Apple ][ years earlier (just not as the primary display). So the statement that Bitmaps were new, is wrong. But the error doesn't stop there.
  2. The PARC machines were probably the first machines to use Icons as "Icons" -- though, even that is hard to say. Icons in life were not new, they may have been a little new to computers. But the PARC machines used Icons to represent actions, not objects. In other words, they were "Verbs", not "Nouns". In fact the metaphor of making objects (icons) that users interact with (like real world objects), may have been the single largest contribution to UI that came from Apple. The whole desktop metaphor -- files, drives, printers, folders and so on, was from Apple -- not Xerox. Which kind of shows how little Coates understands about the issue of UI.

Coates implies that Apple learned all this stuff from Xerox -- but quite the opposite is true. Apple learned a few foundations and concepts, and furthered them and created what we know as the GUI. Apple did not just rip-off Xerox -- that is the point. Xerox had gotten that information from many sources and researchers, and much of the information had existed before and outside of Xerox -- they just put much of it together in new ways, just like Apple did. Both innovated and furthered our whole concept and paradigm about UI.

For more on this read, Microsoft, Apple and Xerox: the History of the UI.

Later in the article when Coates is implying that MS just ripped off Apple's theft of Xerox (somehow trying to justify Microsoft's theft by falsely implying Apple's), he is displaying a lack of understanding of User Interface, or computer history -- which is what he is supposed to be an expert of. <sigh>

Microsoft brought us Windows 95, which did, indeed, capture much of the Mac look and feel with files given unique icons and with directories now displayed as folders exactly as they were in Mac.

I wish Authors wouldn't say "exact". This is like saying that a Volkswagen Beetle is an "Exact" copy of a 911 Porsche. It is a small spin (distortion) -- but it spins things in ways that they don't need to be spun. The truth is that MS did steal many things poorly, and while they work similarly, they are still inferior (in too many ways to list). Most people's knowledge is too slim to be able to express the differences (as Coates demonstrates). Of course many people can't tell the difference between Porsche's oil cooled opposed 6 cylinder engine, and VW's air cooled flat-4 -- until they've actually driven both. Sure many will say it is just "preference", and in that they are correct -- I prefer double the horsepower, but that's just me (and most people that actually drive both). And most people will prefer the Mac too, without knowing why. But obviously they are not exact, even if Coates can't tell the difference.

Mac fanatics fumed that Windows 95 was far inferior to their beloved machine, but it certainly was close enough to utterly destroy Macintosh as a competitor.

Words mean things. Especially charged words like "fanatics" and "fumed". This sentence could be more accurately worded as;

Mac advocates are annoyed that Windows 95, which is far inferior to the Mac, has received more market acceptance. They are also annoyed that while Macs don't have the market share, they realize that quantity has never been the same thing as quality -- even if the press seems to unable to differentiate the two, and writes articles accordingly.

Of course the truth is not as much fun to read as a good spin, and it doesn't sell as much copy. So we are subjected to Coates-Tales. What can you say to phrases like "utterly destroy the Mac as a competitor"? The Mac is not a competitor to Windows -- or more likely, Windows just can't compete with the Mac. They are different machines, with different markets. Compare them in Macs areas, like publishing, content creation, the internet, or places that have to be self-supporting, and the Mac "utterly destroys" Windows -- not only in performance and usability, but in marketshare as well. But the press (or at least Coates) can't seem to differentiate between markets.

So once again you can say that, "Volkswagen has utterly destroyed Porsche" -- if the only thing you care about is cost. But for driving experience there is still no comparison, in certain markets (sports car market) there is no comparison -- but why point the facts or represent things clearly and fairly?! Why deal with the truth and balance in an argument, when you can write a one-sided inflammatory article?! These must be the questions Coates asked himself, consciously or not. Too bad he failed these questions.

The article goes on;

With Apple now scrambling for crumbs in a marketplace where Windows controls 90 percent-plus of all sales, Windows 98 closes the circle and brings to Wintel the rest of the stuff that Microsoft had been reluctant to appropriate from Mac earlier.

Again, with the inflammatory words... all subtly thrown in to spin things. Not completely wrong, but the worst possible spin on things, and not completely correct either.

So what "rest of the stuff" is he talking about?

  1. Coates goes on to talk about USB copying ADB. True -- but how well will it work on Windows? We don't know yet! Bill Gates demonstrated on stage that he can crash a Win98 machine trying to mimic the Mac -- but that is hardly "bringing the rest of the stuff" to the masses. Remember, on the Mac that "stuff" is behaving well, and works right. Gates himself demonstrates that "Plug&Play" isn't. So quality doesn't seem to matter to Coates and his ilk -- or they would express it.
  2. A video player? Yawn. Mac has basically taken over MultiMedia on both the Mac and on Windows with Quicktime. Microsofts attempts have all been flops. But no need to mention one of Microsofts many flops. Far easier to spin things.
  3. Several Monitors? Puhlease. Coates obviously doesn't understand how the two systems vary in their implementations.

The Mac, you can plug in multiple monitors with multiple resolutions, multiple bit-depths, multiple vendors cards, and things just work. In Windows ('98 or NT), you can plug in cards if the vendor supports the special calls with their drivers (few do), they all have to be run at the same bit-depth (lowest-common-denominator), and I think they have to run similar resolutions. It can be a nightmare to set up -- for those few who've tried. Also when you do so, on Windows your dialogs get centered between the screens (meaning split and hard to use) -- on the Mac they center in your main screen. On the Mac when you zoom a window, it opens to fill as much area as it needs, only on the best Monitor for its task. (If it is an image editing package that wants millions of colors, it will open on the screen with that bit depth. If it needs lots of space, it will open to the largest screen, and so on). On Windows a zoomed window will fill ALL the screens, when it doesn't need all that room, and it will obstruct all your other work. You don't have multiple monitor support on Windows-- you have the behavior of one big monitor, with a line down the center. On the Mac, you can support as many monitors as you want. On Windows I've never seen anyone support more than two, and am not convinced it will actually work.

So multiple monitor support is the perfect example of how Microsoft, and some technology writers, think. They offer a cheap-shit rip-off that works 1/10th as well, and pretend that it is the same thing. Users will try it and think, "That sucks -- must be as bad on the Mac", and never understand what the hoopla was about, or why users would care for such an inane feature. Never realizing that it was only their implementation that was bad. They will then assume that their piss-poor implementation is as "good as a Mac", and write about it like they are experts. This will deceive the public further about Windows, making them believe it is the same as a Mac.,The users then value the lack-of-a-qaulity-implementation, and think that they were give some "New" and "productivity enhancing" feature -- when the Mac had the implementation working better (and working properly) for over a decade before. And all this exemplifies why Mac users get so pissed off at the press for their incompetence, ignorance or deception -- and so Mac users complain -- for which the press labels them as "Zealots" and "Fanatics".


Despite all the negative spin, errors, ignorance and misinformation. At least Coates ends on an semi-accurate note -- and the best quote in the article;

And what does Gates call copying the Apple Menu with the Start button, the Mac folders with Windows folders, the mouse/keyboard wiring, the video display and all these other features revealed to St. Steve on the road to Palo Alto? He calls it innovation.

He is correct in his basic point about Gates calling the theft of Macintosh (or others) "innovation". But even then, everything else in the sentance was wrong. The Alto (the Machine Jobs saw at PARC) did not have an Apple Menu, it did not have Folders, it did not have Mouse-Keyboard wiring like ADB, it did not have Multiple Monitor support (and in fact did not support color), and so on. So the comment "revealed to St. Steve on the road to Palo Alto" is incorrect -- all those came from Apple's research not PARC. <sigh> But I guess that would show Apple in a good light, and couldn't allow that.

I wrote a follow up to this article. Read Mea Culpa.

Created: 05/20/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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