First published March 11 1997 in Business in Vancouver

Apple Computers worms itself out of the heart of longtime Mac user and software developer

Apple Computers has been in the news a lot lately as it kissed and made up with founder Steve Jobs in an effort to revitalize the company. It has a lot of lost direction to make up, however.

Barry Shell, for example, is a longtime Mac user, author, and software developer. He e-mailed:

"For me the basic idea is this: I was into Mac, because to me it was the 'bleeding edge.' Best graphics, best video, best sound, amazing voice stuff, etc. Today, this is simply not true. All the newest and coolest stuff comes out in Win95 months and even years before Mac. I would also argue that the Win95 OS has surpassed the Apple OS in many ways, though you will find many Apple diehards who would argue this point.

Win95 is sometimes a bit harder to set up, but I think on balance Win95 has more capabilities and does more things (does more things better) than the Mac. I have a big document from Apple that shows all the ways Mac is better, but it looks good on paper -- not so good in practice.

Win95 platforms are way cheaper. Here's what Apple has to compete against: One afternoon I phoned up local PC dealer Faronics Technologies Inc. and described what I wanted. Within an hour, a fax appeared with my quote. We haggled a bit and came up with a price for an Intel P133 board with all the bells and whistles. Twenty-four hours later, it was delivered to my door with all the software installed and tested and even with my name registered into Win95. All for $2,200. Talk about plug and play.

Apple can't touch that. For that price, you get next to the bottom of the line Mac that has been crippled in many ways. To get the equivalently equipped Mac to what I got, you need to pay at least $1,000 more and, to be honest, closer to $4,000. Add to this the fact that there is more and better software available for the Win95 platform in all the areas that an ordinary person would want it and the decision is a no-brainer. (Okay, I agree: if you are a high-end DTP shop or multimedia producer, then you might want a $7,000 Mac, although, at that price, SGI workstations start to look pretty tempting.)

Also, hardware upgrades and additions are cheap and easy to do on PCs. Macs are hard and expensive to upgrade. Finally, all the most desirable Macs (e.g., PowerBook 1400 and PowerMac 9500) can never be purchased. They are consistently in short supply.

The Internet is a much nicer experience on the PC. The same programs work better on the PC than Mac consistently (with the notable exception of Eudora, perhaps). For instance, Netscape 3, Real Audio, etc. all work better on the PC than on Mac. They are faster, snappier, and crash less often. More new, clever Internet applications are coming out on the PC every week. I wish I could say the same thing for the Mac, but it just ain't happening.

Also, as a longtime Mac developer (10 years) it pains me to see the shenanigans at Apple. Here's my favourite: About five years ago they paid the founder, Steve Jobs, $500 million to leave Apple. Last month they paid him $400 million to come back. Does this sound like a company that knows what it's doing? It feels like a company that doesn't know how to drive in the snow. They keep revving their engines.

They worked three years on the famous Copland OS (a.k.a. OS8) and now it's gone. Trashed. Kaput. They are now going to try to start again with five-year-old technology: NextStep, another great effort of Steve Jobs' that never really caught on. It just does not feel good.

For me as a developer, the coup de grace came last year, when on top of the US$350 annual dues (membership used to be free in the 1980s, by the way), they began charging developers US$50 for any phone calls to developer support that were not specifically to report a bug. What a nice way to alienate the few developers remaining who were working on stuff for the Mac platform. I went out and bought a PC, thank you very much.

In the meantime, I'm writing this on my Mac. The only explanation I have is inertia. Hopefully next week I'll have moved more of my stuff over to the PC."

Barry Shell is the research communications manager at the Centre For Systems Science, Simon Fraser University. He recently published Great Canadian Scientists on CD and the Web ( with the print version due later this year. You can reach him at

Next week, the case for Apple.

Follow-up 2003: In 2003, Barry Shell returned to the Mac fold. See his reasons in my follow-up column.

Search WWW Search

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