Famous Myths Revisited
Aug 3, 1998
The following is a response to the article Apple introduces iMac, a fast and potent PC with a sleek look, which was written by Walter Mossberg, a technology columnist with The Wall Street Journal, and published on July 30, 1998 in the Contra Costa Times.
On the whole, I thought the article was a fairly balanced account of Mr Mossberg's first-hand experience with the iMac. Still, I felt compelled to rebut some of the opinions he voiced particularly in the final few paragraphs of his article that might otherwise be misread as statements of fact by the unsuspecting reader.
That one glaring design mistake in the iMac is that Apple decided to build it without a floppy-disk drive -- indeed without any removable storage medium at all. That makes it very hard to transfer files between the iMac and any other computer.
Too many of us fall victims to the mindset that we still need those 3.5" floppies. Apple could have very conveniently included the floppy drive to satisfy those who are so inclined - even perhaps to the detriment of the whole idea of the iMac's forward-looking industrial design and technology. But thankfully, it didn't. Or else, five years down the road (maybe even earlier, who knows?), the iMac wouldn't be looked back as the definitive personal computer that heralded the beginning of the end of the floppy. Be grateful that Apple has the daring foresight to change things, so that we can move forward.
Apple argues that the floppy disk is a dying product, ... But I strongly disagree. Many families today still rely on plain old floppies to back up or share small word-processing and graphics files with co-workers or schoolmates.
That's a generalised opinion. But assuming it were true, these are the very people I'm talking about; the ones who are not prepared to venture forward; to embrace new and more effective ways to store, transfer, and retrieve their tiny bits of data. Heard of the Internet? If it hasn't happened already, it's only a matter of time before we all get wired up at home, at school, or at work, or all of the above. And Apple didn't simply cut you off from viable alternatives to the floppy. It just decided that these would best be left to users' choice. And besides, it is inconceivable to include any of these higher-capacity storage options in the iMac without jacking up its price considerably. Don't let that overrated floppy get in the way of progress.
So now these folks will have to purchase a special iMac add-on floppy drive, such as one being planned by Newer Technologies of Wichita, Kan., scheduled to be made available in October at around $90. That makes the iMac a $1,389 purchase, not a $1,299 one. Others will spend even more to buy higher-capacity drives, such as the Imation SuperDisk for the iMac, which can use both regular floppies or new 120-megabyte disks, and will cost around $180 when it ships next month.
Once again, I would have to argue that at US$1299, the iMac is good value, even without that floppy drive. Which other option do you know of available now that offers you all of the built-in connectivity, like USB, fast Ethernet, IrDA, and a V.90 compliant modem, that the iMac includes at this price? How many consumer-priced computers are there in the market that do offer the abovementioned higher-capacity storage options built-in? Trouble is, sometimes when we're presented with a product that is so revolutionary and controversial as the iMac, we begin to attack its apparent shortcomings even more critically, judging it on the new standards it has set for itself, rather than that of the play-by-the-rules mainstream.
Speaking of price, the iMac is a good, but not a great, value. For the same $1,299 base price, you can buy a boring-looking Compaq Presario 5020 with Windows 98 and a 15-inch monitor. Its Intel Celeron processor is slower than the iMac's hot new PowerPC G3 chip. But the Compaq has double the iMac's memory and hard-disk capacity, and of course includes a floppy drive.
It is erroneous to make a price comparison based on the assumption that both 15" displays are of equal standing; that Windows 98 is comparable to the Mac OS; that the presence of more memory or hard-disk capacity in the Compaq Presario outweighs the much-vaunted superiority of the iMac's G3 chip; that a cheap floppy drive makes a world of difference. Shall I go on?
Another potential problem for iMac buyers, at least in the short term, will be hooking up printers and other peripherals, like scanners. ... when the iMac goes on sale next month, there will be relatively few USB devices with Mac drivers ready.
"Relatively few" hardly characterizes the enthusiastic response of the many third-party manufacturers of USB peripheral devices for the iMac. If you don't believe me, look up my iMac Resources page, or that of any of the iMac Ring websites, or Apple's own iMac website. There are sufficient, and more will surface. More importantly, most if not all of these products are from reputable companies in the computer-related industry. That alone should assure you of the quality of these products. So don't for a second let the notion of quantity cloud your judgment.
Then there's software. The Macintosh suffers from a relative paucity of great consumer programs. But Apple has begun to turn that around. Since the iMac was unveiled in May, Apple says new Mac versions of more than 175 consumer-oriented software titles have been announced.
There's that myth again. In case you're wondering, Mossberg is referring to the software titles that run into the thousands for both the Mac and Windows platforms; so many thousands for the Mac versus so many more thousands for Windows, well beyond the capacity of even the most voracious of software users in a lifetime! But he mistakenly - or conveniently - adds the disputable qualifier "great consumer programs" to describe the lack of software for the Mac. I wrote a short article previously (Four Great Programs?) about this issue, and hope you'll take the time to read it, if you haven't already done so. It deals with the software myth.
Then, without skipping a beat, Mossberg immediately contradicts himself with the assertion that the introduction of the hundred-odd new titles coinciding with the iMac's launch would be a sufficient boost to turn things around for Apple. Sure, 175 would be truly significant if the Mac only had a couple of hundred good software titles to begin with. But that isn't the case, is it? If Mossberg's talking about numbers, then in absolute terms, the Mac's got more than enough software than you could realistically use; Windows' just got more. And if he's talking about quality software, well... that's really just a matter of opinion again, isn't it?
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