If It Ain't Broke We'll Fix It

How is it that we collectively choose to forsake something we're very fond of, that is rather expensive, and has nothing wrong with it?

Some years ago I was working desktop support on a team of about twelve techs. To be candid, most of them really didn't have all that much knowledge or experience but then that sort of thing has traditionally been negotiable in a large corporation. After all, the folks making the decisions in IT aren't usually hired for their knowledge or skill. Very often their position is a gift offered up by some friend who has an even higher position. One of my team was a guy named Rick. Rick was OK in spite of the fact that he was a peecee kinda guy. He saw that the Mac was clearly superior but he also had a keen understanding for the fact that the good Mister Gates had crafted the greatest tech support opportunity imaginable, and Rick was bound and determined to take advantage of the situation.

Rick and I worked together when the PPC 7500's and 8500's were all the rage in the Mac world. To briefly review the technology I'm talking about, the PowerMacintosh 7500 shipped with a 100 mhz PPC601 processor and a 50 mhz system bus. Yes, I bought one. I was very proud to have done so at the time too. Where I'm heading with this little tale is that one day Rick and I were having a chat about his workstation. I don't recall what I was using at work back then but he had one of the fast PPC 7100's. That would be the one with an 80 mhz processor, not the 66 mhz chip. He commented on just how slow the 7100's had gotten. I remember pointing out to him that the machine was just as fast on that day as it had been on the day it rolled off of the assembly line.

As I suggested to Rick that day, so many years ago, what had changed was what we asked of the Mac, not the Mac itself. Apple has gotten very good at convincing us that we not only want whatever it is that they've cooked up for the iSteve's latest keynote, we need it. Take their current fare in the realm of portable computing as an example. The Big AlBook is undoubtedly the bestest of the best. I saw some guy's peecee laptop at work today. Talk about contrast! His is a black, plast-icky looking THING. The only way you could relate class to his laptop is if he were looking the word up on Google or something. The AlBooks exude class, sophistication and sheer computing sex-appeal. But the lust doesn't stop there. The thing runs as good as it looks and, for now, its in a class by itself. As little as five years ago a box like this was unheard of.

Here's where I step up to the plate and fess up.

The spouse has an iBook. She bought it brand new about a year and a half ago. Its of the 600 mhz vintage and has a DVD-ROM player, not a combo drive. Its a perfectly serviceable little laptop and she finds that it fits her needs perfectly. My opinion was a little less charitable, but not by much. I'd used it a few times but being a true geek I lusted for something with, dare I say, more of everything. Its kind of like the way that the folks who are into firearms feel about hand guns. If the first number in the caliber isn't equal to or greater than 4, they aren't interested. With my Macs, the processor model has to end in the number 4, or very soon, surpass it.

That was then, this is now.

I'm getting REALLY used to this bad boy on the computing block. The display is of course the centerpiece of this fine piece of hardware. Its the biggest reason I decided on it a couple of weeks ago. Now that I'm used to it, I find myself looking down on the wife's iBook more than I would have before. There just isn't any comparison between the two laptops.

This all brings me back to where I started. We're so busy getting the latest and greatest. That philosophy is what keeps Apple afloat, and it doesn't do any harm to what's left of our economy. But the bottom line is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the iBook. Its just been surpassed by a vastly superior machine. Do I really NEED this much Macintosh? Of course not. I'm not spending a great deal of time editing digital video. I'm not a Photoshop aficionado. I don't work at mixing digital audio on a regular basis. So, the good news is, there isn't much I'm going to demand of this PowerBook that it won't be able to deliver. The bad news is that my having it is almost a waste of money. It really is the computing equivalent of splurging on a BMW or Mercedes. Still, it is a wonderful little machine.

So, all that said, how much of what we have do we really need? There can be no debate that MacOS X is about as bloated as an operating system can get when it comes to eye candy. But is that really a waste of resources? OS X really does make using a computer a more pleasurable experience, which isn't saying much in comparison to windows. There can be no real answer to the question about us needing all that appeal. With as much time as most of us spend on our workstations I'm sure we all appreciated Apple's efforts in that area.

But here's the question, and only you can answer it. How much of what you really use your latest and greatest Mac for couldn't be done by, say, an 840av? Don't answer that. After all, none of us would want to go back to something that's gotten to be that slow and decrepit. Right?