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© 2004 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Address your hate mail to Mr. Poopy Pants.
I've been an ardent supporter of the Macintosh practically since its debut. I was a longtime user of DOS-based systems in the mid-1980s when a neighbor brought home this funny little box with a "mouse" attached. Sure, the lack of a hard disk seemed to be a shortcoming, but after playing The Ancient Art of War a few times, the Macintosh's graphic superiority was clear.

Still though, I didn't buy one myself, because none of my database or word processing applications -- or even a diskette from a PC -- would work on it. But it was cool.

Yes, let's look at those diskettes. The Macintosh arrived using an odd diskette, looking like something out of Star Trek. At the time, a PC diskette was 5.25" square, nearly paper-thin, and -- yes -- actually floppy. You could bend it every which way, throw it like a Frisbee, and copy-protect it with a sticker. Some had a front side and a back side. The media was exposed, and there was a large hole in the middle for the drive spindle. To protect it, each diskette came with its own paper sleeve. Lose the sleeve, and the diskette would have a short lifespan indeed.

In contrast, these new Macintosh diskettes weren't floppy at all, made of hard plastic. They were only 3.5" square and came with a little metal door that the computer opened to read the data. They were compact, durable, and -- once people got used to the idea -- lacked those annoying sleeves. Once the Macintosh diskette reached 1.44 megs, it blew away the PC floppies for storage, and didn't even need to be flipped over. That was very cool.

Less cool was the annoying disk drive. The Macintosh was very protective of its diskettes, and, once caught in the bowels of the machine, the diskette could not escape without the Macintosh's permission. Tis wouldn't be so bad, except that the drives were prone to jamming, and the all-too-frequent system crashes (complete with cutesy bomb graphic) also prevented diskette ejection. The Macintosh power user kept an assortment of straightened paperclips at the ready to poke into the diminutive emergency-eject hole.

As the 1980s wore on, the Macintosh made up some ground. First it was dual diskette drives to allow for separate system and data disks -- this spared users from endlessly swapping diskettes while working. Later, the Macintosh finally caught up with the PC in the use of a hard disk. This was when the Macintosh really became useful at a professional level.

These newer Macintoshes changed the way we operated in the newspaper field. Where before we would painstakingly create columns of text, manually apply lines, and paste it up as a collective of individual pieces, the Macintosh let us prepare most of the layout in advance electronically. The Mac was not yet up to the task of handling large graphics like photographs, but even so, the labor savings from pasting two tiles of print plus a couple of photos -- rather than a dozen individual objects -- was considerable.

And yet, I still didn't buy a Macintosh for my home, because it wasn't compatible with anything I already had on my DOS machines.

It wasn't until PCs were switching to Windows 3.1 that I seriously considered going Macintosh. By that time, the early 1990s, MacOS had PC-compatibility built in, which significantly reduced the amount of conversion loss in switching systems. But it was less the Mac side and more the PC side that encouraged the defection. Windows 3.1 was quite possibly the worst operating system ever released to the mass market. It cleverly combined the worst aspects of prompt-based MS-DOS with the worst aspects of GUI-based Windows, to arrive at a shockingly ineffective operating system that left most of us exiting to DOS for anything other than running Windows-only programs.

I hated Windows 3.1 with a passion I'd never before had for an operating system. How could Microsoft offer such a miserable system in the face of Macintosh's domination of the GUI-system market? Adding to Microsoft's troubles, Windows 3.1 introduced the world to the Blue Screen of Death, locking up systems and dumping data with such frequency that Macintosh's own "Sorry -- a system error has occurred" message suddenly appeared positively reliable by comparison. Bluescreening continued to haunt Windows operating systems for years.

But at least they finally switched to 3.5" diskettes.

When the time came to replace my Windows 3.1 machine, I was ready to buy a Macintosh. The two systems were as close to parity as I'd ever seen them. The new Windows 98 was far more stable than its predecessors, and was a fairly robust GUI environment nearly the equal of Macintosh's system. PC processors were marginally faster, but Macintoshes were functionally comparable through other efficiencies. Most critical business software was available on both platforms. Both also had improved their graphics abilities tremendously; the Windows machines lagged slightly, but the gap had narrowed to near-insignificance. It was the ideal time to switch -- but I didn't. It came down to hardware: though a basic Macintosh cost less than a basic PC, the PCs came equipped with several devices standard that were optional extras on the Macintosh. Other hardware -- scanners, printers, and the like -- were significantly more expensive for the Macintosh. No matter how I ran the numbers the Macintosh ended 20% to 30% more expensive -- a four-digit sum. I bought another PC.

Eventually, I did end up buying a Macintosh. An old Powerbook, its purpose was for taking notes in the garage while writing technical articles. It ran MacOS 7.1, predating the ability to read PC diskettes. To transfer files from the Macintosh to the PC, I found a program called MacDrive by MediaFour that allows PCs to read Macintosh-formatted media. This program works quite well, neutralizing Macintosh's long-held edge in platform compatibility.

With my entire LAN built on PCs, and Windows software now equally capable of handling publishing tasks, I paid little attention to the state of Macintoshes. It wasn't until I was trying to build a Mac-compatible CD-ROM that I was thrust back into the world of the underdog operating system, and my sympathies evaporated as my frustrations mounted.

First off, there's the issue of this one-button mouse. Surely, by now, the people at Apple have seen a two-button mouse. Perhaps even a two-button wheel mouse. And yet they persist with this one-button mouse foolishness! Sure, they look cool, but just a few minutes of serious design work without that right button or the wheel demonstrates just how limiting and frustrating a solo button really is. Oh sure, we were all impressed in 1984 when no one had seen a mouse before, but it's the 21st century now and time to get with the program.

But that's just an annoyance.

The problems really began when trying to code hypertext to work on a Macintosh. I soon discovered that the Macintosh handles relative links differently than Windows -- in other words, a CD coded to work on Windows is filled with dead links on MacOS. The only solution is to re-code the entire CD for the Macintosh. Had Apple addressed this one minor inconsistency, their computers could have run any number of Windows discs. Macintosh fans complain about a lack of MacOS development? To some extent, they've brought it on themselves.

After reprogramming the CD sufficiently to work on Mac OS9, I tested it on a Mac OSX machine just to be safe. Good thing I did! OSX, it seems, is case sensitive, including when following hypertext links. This played havoc on the CD, which was designed for Windows and then Mac OS9, neither of which are case sensitive. There is no fix for this; Apple's knowledge base does not acknowledge the problem, and other industry sources summarized the problem with: "You're screwed." There is no patch. Apparently, a lot of OS9 programs won't work on OSX.

Now, okay, it's one thing to have compatibility issues with other architectures, but to abandon your own users is just irresponsible! Even Windows manages to support the previous version or two, and Microsoft certainly has never been noted for its care with legacy systems.

Eventually I did get the CD to work, but they made it a lot harder than it needed to be.

It's difficult to imagine why anyone would buy a Macintosh today. They're more expensive, they're slower, theyre' no more stable, they're no better at any task I've encountered, software is hard to come by, and they still have compatibility issues with other architectures and -- a new, bonus quirk -- even with its own legacy software. Plus there's that damned one-button mouse.

No doubt there will always be a holdout cadre of hardcore Macintosh users who refuse to particiapte in the "evil empire" -- as if computer systems are some sort of ideology. And that's okay; there are those who still love the Amiga platform, too. But those looking for a robust, effective, and inexpensive computer will find it difficult to make a case for the poor Macintosh.

Goodbye, old friend.