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Apple Overextended?

In all the discussions about what the new Macintosh computers will have in terms of hardware, it seems that much of the original simplicity of the Mac has been lost. Two sources bring this problem to the forefront, an article in Usenet by Philip Machanick and a column in MacUser by John Dvorak.

Machanick presents a list of the various changes in the Macintosh line from the Plus to the IIfx, including the location of screen memory, which is part of the main RAM on the Plus and SE, and somewhat similar on the IIci. The SE/30 has special video RAM and well as a Processor Direct Slot, and the Mac II line all use NuBus cards, although IIfx can also take a video card in its special slot.

Slots are the worst offenders as far as variability goes, considering the that Plus has none, the SE, SE/30, IIfx, and Portable all have different types of incompatible slots, and the Mac II line supports NuBus. The result of this variation is that any developer must develop the same card for several different slot types, which significantly increases development cost.

Machanick mentions the difference between the Mac Plus method of handling the keyboard/mouse versus the ADB keyboard/mouse, but in this instance Apple has been trying to phase out the old style in favor of ADB on every machine.

The upshot of the problem is that all development work, be it hardware or system software, must deal with a great many exceptions. Unless Apple can condense the product line variations to prevent these exceptions, the Macintosh line will start to have the same problems that affect the world of supposedly-compatible PC-clones. It’s nice to say that everything there is compatible, but the reality says otherwise.

This brings us to Dvorak’s column. He claims that Macs have a true marketing edge over PC-clones and will for some time to come-as long as the Macintosh line stays simple. This edge is the Mac’s ease of installation. We recently installed an SE/30 with 5 meg of memory on a TOPS network in place of a Plus with an external 60 meg drive. The entire process took about an hour, including the lengthy process of cutting through Apple’s packaging, adding the SIMMs, and moving the old Plus out of the way. In contrast, setting up a new PC-clone with extra memory can take hours while you try to get your CONFIG.SYS file using the proper device drivers to handle the extra memory, and did you want extended or expanded memory? And you want to network it too? This week?

Sarcasm aside, Apple would do well to push the Mac’s ease of installation. Apple would also do well to keep the installation process easy. The packaging people go all out with their shrink-wrap machine, but they do include good basic instructions on how to get up and running. The hardware might become the sticky point as it becomes more difficult to match computers and peripherals. So Apple, keep it simple!

Information from:
Philip Machanick — [email protected]
John Dvorak, MacUser — Jul-90, pg. 302

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