Is the Macintosh on the Way Out?

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in INPUT, June 1992

Windows 3.x has made the Mac an endangered species.

Don't get me wrong... I like the Mac. In a lot of ways, it's technically superior to the horde of PC's and clones surrounding it out there, and has been since its debut. Nevertheless, its days are numbered.

I've used Windows at home and at since version 2.x. (I even  toyed with Windows 1.x on a 512k monochrome CGA machine with floppy drives only... and found it a nice way to display a full-screen clock, but I sure didn't want to try to do any work on it.) And all the time, it was clear that this was a cheap knock-off of the Mac's way of doing things. Microsoft even worked out a license deal with Apple, way back in the version 1 days. Yeah, Windows had, er, Windows, and it used a mouse, and it kind-of had (ugly) icons... but it certainly didn't threaten the Mac on its home turf of consistency across applications, well-thought out file-management, and all-around graphical look. Even though it sometimes crossed the line to cutesy, the Mac generally looked classy. Too much of the time, Windows just looked tacky by comparison.

Even with the new 3.1 upgrade, Windows doesn't quite make it in comparison to the Mac. There are nowhere near as many applications. There's nothing to compare to the Mac's Finder for everyday file management and starting applications. You can go to the trouble of creating an icon for a document, and placing it in a Program Manager group in Windows, and using it to start an application... on the Mac, it just appears. Windows goes beyond the limitations of DOS in many ways; the old 640k memory limitation simply doesn't exist for Windows anymore. But Windows users are still stuck with old 8+3 character filenames, and segmented memory. Decent sound means buying an add-in card, and then having to deal with trying to convert incompatible file formats, or with programs that don't quite believe in the existence of the sound card.

Despite the Mac's clear superiority technologically, there is no question that Windows is superior in the one area where it counts the most--- marketing.

-- In the just under two years since Windows 3.0's debut, Microsoft sold more copies of Windows than Apple has sold Macs since 1984.

-- Apple has been forced to drastically cut MacIntosh prices. This has led to a dramatic upsurge in sales, but Apple is in the awkward position of making less money selling more machines.

-- Apple is having to play defensive ball in a number of areas. System 7 found Apple playing catch up, bringing MacIntosh users a number of improvements, such as virtual memory support that had been available to Windows 3.0 (and in some cases, like Dynamic Data Exchange, even to WIndows 2.x users). With Windows 2.1, Apple finally saw Windows as a threat rather than a joke, and filed a lawsuit against Microsoft and Hewlett Packard (for their New Wave add-on to Windows) that ultimately was claiming hundred of millions of dollars in damages. In April, virtually all their claims were dismissed by the trial judge. Apple's long term startegy of getting in bed with former arch-rival IBM to create a new, post-Mac operating system doesn't leave many Mac users feeling comfortable.

-- MacIntosh software creators are putting more and more effort into porting their software to the Windows environment, rather than producing new products for the Mac. Even Claris, Apple's wholly-owned software division, is joining the crowd. Apple has even announced that its QuickTime video-playing software will be made available for Windows.

-- Even the software areas that have been strong Mac selling-points are getting tough Windows competition. And not just one strong program per area, often three or four. For instance, the past few months have seen 24-bit colour paint programs, all with full grey-scale, scanner, and 'photo-studio' features appearing from Z-Soft, Aldus, and Microgrfx... all in Windows-only versions.

It seems a little funny to see programs on the shelves with names like MacDraw for Windows or MacInTax for Windows. But MacIntosh software developers are going where the potential market is, and many seem to feel that getting on a small percentage of 100 million MS-DOS computers can be more profitable than being on a large percentage of 8 million Macs. And that's the biggest problem for Apple... users can get about as much done running PageMaker or Excel or FreeHand under Windows as on a Mac, and even with Apple's price cuts, they can do it for half the cost on a clone running Windows. (And according to PCMag's recent comparison (yes, they're probably biased), they can do it faster on the clone).

Windows isn't as good as the Mac, in a lot of fundamental ways. Nevertheless, for many users, it's good enough. Mac users have always been ferociously loyal to their computing standard, but I suspect that in two years time or so, the Mac will just seem like a quirky, expensive way to run Windows-compatible programs.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan