October 25, 2003

The Tribe of Macintosh

Robert Waldmann (in email) muses about the peculiar behavior of Macintosh users who look forward to (and buy!) software upgrades:

I click on your site.... I miss and get carried to www.apple.com. There I see an add for Mac OS 10.3 Panther (it's like getting a whole new Mac).

I assume this is hype, but, hey, they are still megahits away from the competition.

If one were so foolish as to "upgrade" to a newer version of Windows XPain--well, it is like getting not a brand-new but a ten-year-old computer (it would be as slow as frozen molasses).

Yes, Robert, it is true. Macintosh users do pay to update their system software. And we do expect to get better performance on the same machine with each update.

I've already figured out that the Expose tool is going to make me much happier...

Posted by DeLong at October 25, 2003 09:09 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Among my fellow cultees locally, this sort of thing is also referred to as "paying your Apple tax." Surely there is no greater tribute to the difference between peoples' expectations of system upgrades from M$ and Apple than the fact that we line up to volunteer to pay our Apple tax, while an M$ upgrade is viewed as an imposition to be put off for as long as possible (not least so that they can figure out the first 50 security flaws that need patching before you take your precious PC and expose it, naked and vulnerable, to the big bad world).

Posted by: Mike G on October 25, 2003 11:51 AM

Not only do Mac users line up to purchase OS upgrades (my copy of Panther arrives next week), but they bitch and moan (and mount letter-writing campaings) when Apple drops support for older hardware in their latest OS release.

Of course, Apple is a hardware company too, so they have a certain incentive to coax their users into upgrading their hardware every 4 or 5 years.

There was a big jump in hardware requirements from MacOS 9 to MacOSX (the main jump being vastly greater RAM requirements). But each subsequent revision -- 10.1, 10.2 (Jaguar) and 10.3 (Panther) -- brought significant speed and performance inprovements, in addition to the panoply of new features. Which is what Mac user have come to expect, and what makes them eager to pony up the $129.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on October 25, 2003 12:08 PM

I am one of the original Apple Mac users--around since 512 K--and have found that I pay the Apple tax willingly but belatedly. Since Apple, as well as all other software companies as far as I can tell, use its purchasers to beta test the products rather than pay for internal quality control, I tend to wait a bit and let the bugs get worked out before forking over my $129 so Steve J. can buy more cool but oh so expensive new sweaters.

Posted by: dmh on October 25, 2003 01:26 PM

DMH-- I think it's more than just Apple, although they're no exception. You should never buy Version 1.0 of ANYTHING. 1.1 will give you more for the money (see the iPod) and get rid of a bunch of the bugs (see any X.0 version of any Microsoft product).

As far as the upgrades go, though, I find that by the time Apple has made your old machine incompatible (more than just 5 years, surely, though I grant not much more) you're finding lots of other things you wish your machine could do that it can't; the Apple-induced system incompatibilities are merely a side issue by that point. I bought my current G3 in 1999 because, though it ran the latest system fine, my Quadra couldn't even use Real Audio. A brain transplant has kept my G3 current (by turning it into a G4) enough to do video editing and DVD burning, but I don't doubt that there will be cool G5-only things I'll want to do very soon.

Posted by: Mike G on October 25, 2003 09:21 PM

Yeah, I'm probably gonna wait for 10.3.1 or 10.3.2 before jumping. My system works pretty well right now, and 10.2 made OS X solid and speedy enough that I'm not really itching for a major upgrade. The new features are tempting, that's for sure.

And now, some flamebait: Anil Dash calls Mark Pilgrim's summary "a nice page of features Panther stole from Windows." Man, WIndows has been one incredible OS all this time and nobody told me.

(Anil's just indulging in a little provocative hyperbole, as he does. Some of them really are stolen from Windows; Fast User Switching was a genuinely admirable Microsoft innovation, and for years Apple has been filching little desktop UI tweaks from Windows where applicable. But it looks to me like they lifted others from Classic Mac OS and from Unix desktop environments like KDE (I dig that new activity viewer), and some are genuinely new.)

Posted by: Matthew McIrvin on October 26, 2003 07:20 AM

Not to be snarky, but do you do your own statistical modeling/simulations/ etc., or is there some grad students on windows using the latest version of the statistical/mathematical software for you? This is the basic problem, if you need one machine to do ordinary office stuff + technical work macintosh just doesn't keep up with windows.

Posted by: CalDem on October 26, 2003 11:12 AM

Not to be snarky, but: Virtual PC. If you absolutely have to. In all these years I have bought precisely one thing to run on my wife's PC: the complete Mad magazine on CD-ROM. I recognize that there are certain specialized categories of software that are Windows-only (such as the legal software that necessitates my wife having a PC), but one could say the same about so many design-oriented programs-- yes, even if they have PC equivalents, you're just asking for hassles doing design work with PC programs and fonts and then sending what you've made off to a mainly Mac graphics and printing world. It doesn't prove much, especially since we all knew all that anyway.

Posted by: Mike G on October 26, 2003 11:32 AM

Also in the interest of fairness, we ought to add that we only expect faster performance from each upgrade because the first release of Mac OS X was extraordinarily sluggish compared to the classic OS. They've been optimizing it in various ways ever since and giving some of that speed back.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on October 26, 2003 12:47 PM

Emulation? On anything technical? It would be too slow and I wouldn't trust the results.

Posted by: CalDem on October 26, 2003 01:48 PM

Strange... Nobody even notices that OS/X is not a MacOS 10; it's an X Window GUI (hence, X rather than 10) built on top of good old FreeBSD... The proper topic to discuss in this context, therefore, is not the triumph of MacOS over Windows, but rather, the triumph of Unix over MacOS...

Posted by: Nikolai Chuvakhin on October 26, 2003 02:07 PM

"Also in the interest of fairness, we ought to add that we only expect faster performance from each upgrade because the first release of Mac OS X was extraordinarily sluggish compared to the classic OS."

Many people have said this, but in my experience (starting with 10.0.4), it just wasn't true. The difference, I think, is that I never tried running MacOSX on a system with less than 512MB of RAM.

I found 10.0.4 as fast as MacOS9 in that situation. And -- conversely -- MacOSX (up to and including 10.2.8) seems to have a memory leak that I have never been able to track down. If you stay logged in at the console for a week or more, the system starts to get sluggish. Logging out and logging back in cures the problem.

As FastUserSwitching provides yet another incentive to never log out, I hope Panther has licked this little meomry leak ...

Posted by: Jacques Distler on October 26, 2003 03:28 PM

"Not to be snarky, but do you do your own statistical modeling/simulations/ etc., or is there some grad students on windows using the latest version of the statistical/mathematical software for you? This is the basic problem, if you need one machine to do ordinary office stuff + technical work macintosh just doesn't keep up with windows."

To be snarky, the reality is that there is no shortage of statistical modeling and mathematical software available for UNIX machines, and OS X is indeed a UNIX-variant. For instance, installation of R (a sort of freeware S-PLUS) should require nothing more than downloading and decompressing a tarball, hitting ./configure, then "make", "make test", and finally, "make install." For mathematicians (whose needs I'm more familiar with), there is Singular (commutative algebra), PARI/GP (number theory), Octave (a Matlab compatible system for numerical computations), Mathematica 4.1 and Maple 9, and these are just the applications I can think of off the top of my head. Mathematical and scientific software simply isn't an issue any longer for Macintosh users.

It is always a mistake to think of software availability for OS X without keeping in mind that it is a flavor of UNIX. Pretty much anything that can be compiled to run on a Linux or FreeBSD machine will be usable on OS X, and that amounts to a *lot* of software.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on October 26, 2003 04:11 PM

"For instance, installation of R (a sort of freeware S-PLUS) should require nothing more than downloading and decompressing a tarball, hitting ./configure, then 'make', 'make test', and finally, 'make install.'"

Actually, anyone with an interest in such things should have the Fink package management system (based on Debian) installed, in which case, installing R is as simply as typing: "fink install r-base".

Posted by: Jacques Distler on October 26, 2003 06:32 PM

OK, here are a couple of late replies to a couple of people. These are technical points, and I have spared no abbreviations. :-)

Abiola Lapite writes:
>
> For mathematicians (whose needs I'm more familiar with),
> there is Singular (commutative algebra), PARI/GP
> (number theory), Octave (a Matlab compatible system for
> numerical computations), Mathematica 4.1 and Maple 9,
> and these are just the applications I can think of off the
> top of my head.

One word: Matlab. Now available for Mac OS X. At this point, you are correct; math on the Mac takes a backseat to nobody.

Nicholai Chuvakhin writes:

> Strange... Nobody even notices that OS/X is not a MacOS
> 10; it's an X Window GUI (hence, X rather than 10) built
> on top of good old FreeBSD...

The reason nobody notices this is that THIS ISN'T TRUE. Mac OS X has had ZERO to do with X11 until first interested amateurs and now Apple itself have offered and X server for the platform. (Seamlessly integrated X11 now ships with Panther!) The Mac OS X GUI is based on ideas (and code) from NeXTStep, which was the widely lauded system used by NeXT that is a crude contemporary of X11. (Started later, but at a time when it was still plausible to wonder what the real GUI for Unix-based systems would be.)

Two big important differences between Aqua and X11 are network transparency and the imaging model. X11 has *always* worked remotely, by design; for most OSes you can get the spirit of this via something like VNC. Aqua, which is now based on PDF after DisplayPostscript got orphaned, has a rather stompingly better graphics model (in my opinion). As far as programming environments go, X11 (and the dozens of subsequently developed toolkits for it) has probably driven more people insane than anything else I can think of in the non-MS world. Apple has gotten rave reviews for their equivalent (Cocoa) and for the development environment. I'm only an incidental user of the latter stuff, but I could *conceive* of doing more, while the only way I could get anything done with X11 was through Tk.

Posted by: Jonathan King on October 26, 2003 08:17 PM

Well, ya'll have convinced me to take a second look at Mac. I do get tired of my simulation crashing.

Posted by: CalDem on October 26, 2003 08:48 PM

Thanks Brad for posting every little e-mail I send you. I love the attention. I am a Windows user. One of the features I hate most is fast user switching which reliably makes my computer crash. Windows does have nice features in theory but they often don't work.

I have never "upgraded" windows. I don't do it late and reluctantly. I don't do it at all. My view is that it is never a good idea to "upgrade" windows because one always needs a new computer to run the new version of windows at faster than glacial speed.

Now that I think of it, I am amazed that Apple a hardware company does not force users to buy a new computer to run the new software while Microsoft does. As the old old Avis add said number 2 tries harder.

Posted by: Robert on October 27, 2003 04:43 AM

Jacques: Yeah, hardware was probably part of it. 10.0.x was unusably slow if you had less than about 256 MB, much better at 384 or so. But I was also running it for a while on a beige G3 machine that had old and primitive video hardware, and that made all the fancy UI stuff pretty slow. User interface sluggishness is mostly what I was talking about; at some other things, for instance networking or anything involving cooperation between multiple processes (which benefits from preemptive multitasking), OS X always blew the doors off OS 9. I used it mostly because I liked to use SSH tunneling, and there was just no comparison.

10.1 helped a lot, and switching to a dual G4 helped tremendously. As of Jaguar on the same G4, I certainly have no complaints, and I've heard Panther is even speedier. I chalk it up to Apple putting performance optimization after stability, as they ought.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on October 27, 2003 07:04 PM

Let me also second the recommendation for Fink. If you want to play around with Unix stuff on a Macintosh, that's the way.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on October 27, 2003 07:10 PM
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