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Hot Spiced Apples

According to some possibly fallacious statistics I saw recently, we at TidBITS moved from the number two apple state, New York, to the number one apple state, Washington. In sheer dollar value, that may be true, but we aren't terribly impressed yet with Washington apples. Why am I blathering about apples? It's fall of course, and fall is both apple season and Apple season.

You've all heard about the new machines that Apple has on tap for this fall, and we've heard some more details about those. Today Apple announced the new Performas. In some respects I think the Performas have a good deal of importance for Apple, and in other respects I think they're incredibly dull.

I can dispatch the Performa 200 and 400 with a single sentence. Think of the Classic II and LC II with a software bundle. Neat, eh?

Performa 600 -- When the Performa 600 ships later in the fall it will carry more interesting specs because it mimics the rumored IIvi and IIvx. It has a 32 MHz (strange number, no?) 68030, will ship with either 4 MB or 5 MB of RAM, and include a 160 MB hard disk standard. The 600 will also support an multiple-speed internal CD-ROM drive which will read multiple-session PhotoCD discs, not that anyone has many of those yet. Along with three NuBus slots, the 600 will have a processor direct slot (oh no, not another different one!) called the Accelerator Slot. Although 512K of VRAM (enough for 8-bit color on a 13", and, one assumes, a 14" monitor) for the internal video comes with the 600, it will have only an empty socket for a math coprocessor, unlike the IIvx which supposedly will have both the coprocessor and the cache memory included. Finally, Apple encased the 600 in a metal case with screws, like a PC-clone, instead of Apple's normal snap-together plastic cases. The metal case will save money, and it will certainly reduce electromagnetic emissions, but it will also weigh more.

New monitors -- You'll have to buy a monitor separately with the 600, but Apple has two new ones as well, the Performa Display and the Performa Display Plus. Both are 14" color monitors with 640 x 480 resolution. As far as we can tell, the main differences are the dot pitch (essentially a measure of how close the dots are together, the smaller the better), the price, and the emission levels. The Performa Display will cost less and have a larger 0.39 mm dot pitch, whereas the Performa Display Plus will have a thoroughly respectable 0.29 mm dot pitch and will meet the most stringent international guidelines for magnetic field emissions. That will cost you, of course, but we don't have prices yet. Interestingly, the fact that Apple quoted dot pitch measurements implies that they don't use the Sony Trinitron tubes, which, as I understand, use different method of drawing pixels that simply doesn't jive with the dot pitch measurements. That's why you seldom hear about dot pitches in the Mac world. They're much more common in the PC world.

Bundled software -- Software-wise, the Performas will include a special version of System 7 that will supposedly make the Performas easier to use for new users. As far as we can tell, though, the new versions of System 7.0.1P (for the 200 and 400) and System 7.1P (for the 600) lack only the DAL extension and network printer drivers, no great help or loss. Apple will also include Launcher, a new program for finding and launching pre-installed applications, At Ease, which provides a simpler and more secure interface than the Finder for launching applications and documents, and some sort of integrated software, probably ClarisWorks, GreatWorks, or Quicken. I wonder if BeagleWorks or Microsoft Works 3.0 will ever make it into any of those bundles? The Performa 600 CD will also ship with between eight and ten CD-ROMs, depending on where you buy it.

Waffling analysis -- I like the Performas in the sense that they indicate that Apple means business and means to compete. I'm sure Apple doesn't make much on the profit margins for the Performas, but if they sell as Apple has projected into the elusive seven million family home market, the overall Macintosh hardware and software markets will feel the beneficial results.

On the other hand, the Performas concern me as well. The name, which appeared soon after Compaq's Prolinea line, doesn't impress me, and I worry a bit about the recycling of technology into a new product line via the Classic II and LC II. It shows too that the Performa line is primarily a marketing move, although new users will welcome some of the new software. As the Macintosh line expands, technical support becomes all that much harder due to the number of models, especially when utter novices get into programs they stand no chance of understanding, like Microsoft Word 5.0 or PageMaker 4.2. I also wonder if the Performas will differ enough, at least in consumer perceptions, from the current Macintosh line to become truly popular.

Technical support policies for Performa owners will differ, however, so third parties and dealers won't get hit with the majority of the problems. Apple will offer toll-free support for a year after purchase, and will optionally do warranty service for the first year in the buyer's home. In-home service is stranger than in-office service because most people don't stay home all day, but users can also return the Mac to the store, which will presumably have it fixed there.

[Nonetheless, I expect that technical support people, whether they work at small consulting firms or do phone support for large software companies will soon be learning some new tricks. I can just hear it now: "Hi, my parents bought me a Performa, but my roommate put JumboCalc on and it crashes whenever I try to print." Still at least we'll be troubleshooting with clueless users on 68030 machines and not on 68000s. -Tonya]

Prices will vary greatly since Apple has no suggested retail prices for the Performas. Instead each retailer will choose what software and peripherals to bundle with the machines and will set the price based on those configurations. Apple said they expect prices to range from $1,250 for the basic Performa 200 to $2,500 for a 600 CD without monitor. Nonetheless, these machines will not undercut their existing equivalents, so a Classic II or LC II at a dealer should cost less than a Performa 200 or 400 at Sears.

I hate to waffle, but I simply don't know enough to predict much more about the Performas. I don't believe that anyone really knows how they'll do, although I'm sure Apple has researched the issue thoroughly. These machines make the IBM PCjr and the PS/1 look sick by combining ease of use with a fair amount of real power and complete compatibility with existing Mac software. But is that enough?

Information from:
Apple propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 14-Sep-92, Vol. 6, #32, pg. 1, 26


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