Why I Gave up on Apple
A tale of unrequited love
I bought my first Macintosh in 1987. I had been working in a Mac shop,
I was leaving for a PC shop, and I wanted a Mac of my own.
It was an
I paid $3200 for it, which was a lot of money. I had a friend who
actually knew what it cost to build this kind of hardware, and he
assured me that not only was it a lot of money, but that you could get
substantially equivalent hardware in the the PC world for a lot less.
- 8 MHz 68000
- 1 MB RAM
- 20MB hard drive
- 800K floppy drive
- 512x342 1-bit monochrome screen
I didn't care. I didn't want a PC. I didn't want to spend my life programming
the 8086 and fighting with DOS. I wanted a Mac. I had a Mac. I was
I bought my second Macintosh in 1994. I wanted
It was a
Power Mac 6100 with
- a bigger screen
- a faster processor
- more RAM
I paid $2250 for it, which was still a lot of money. By then, even I
had figured out that PCs were cheaper, but I didn't want a PC. I
didn't want an 80386, or Windows 3.1. I wanted a Mac. I had a Mac. I
- 60 MHz PowerPC processor
- 8 MB RAM
- 640x480 16-bit color screen
- 160 MB hard drive
- 1.44 MB floppy disk
Decline and Fall
Sometime in the late '90s, it started to go downhill for me. For example
But most depressingly—crushingly—the Wintel world
caught up. I was working in a Windows shop, running NT on Pentiums.
WindowsNT is a protected operating system with preemptive
multitasking. The Pentium has a flat address space. The Mac still had
a more elegant user interface, but NT surpassed it on raw
- My SE20 failed. I was foolish enough to take it to the Macintosh
dealer for service, where it took 2 weeks and cost
$292 to replace the analog board.
- I started to appreciate not just how much I was paying for my
Macs, but how little I was getting for my money. How
marginal the hardware was.
How unfinished the OS was.
In 1984, the Mac was a fundamentally superior technology. For 15
years, I had waited and hoped for the Macintosh to gain
market share—to take over the world. Instead, it became irrelevant.
Neal Stephenson's words
In The Beginning Was The Command Line rang in my head
If Microsoft sells goods that are aesthetically unappealing, or that
don't work very well, it does not mean that they are (respectively)
philistines or half-wits. It is because Microsoft's excellent
management has figured out that they can make more money for their
stockholders by releasing stuff with obvious, known imperfections than
they can by making it beautiful or bug-free. This is annoying, but (in
the end) not half so annoying as watching Apple inscrutably and
relentlessly destroy itself.
Finally, I gave up. It was taking too much out of me to keep hoping. I
dropped my subscription to TidBITS. I stopped caring.
Sometime after the iMac shipped, I got a telephone call from an Apple
sale rep. She said she was calling because I had bought Macs in the
past, and thought I might be interested in a new iMac.
I'll admit, I was flattered. Apple knew who I was! They wanted my
custom. They were willing to invest a phone call in the relationship.
But the fact is, I wasn't going to buy an iMac. I sighed, and
explained to the sales rep that I had made a considered decision to
never again pay money for Apple hardware or software. She was
disappointed, of course, and asked why.
And...I couldn't tell her. The thing is, I really had stopped
caring. I had stopped thinking about Apple. Apple spent 15 years
squandering the Mac's technological and market lead, but at the
instant, I couldn't bring to mind any simple, compelling example of
that. I couldn't explain to this sales rep why I wasn't buying her
I mumbled something about how expensive Macs were, and she came right
back, telling me that the iMacs were down to $1000. In the end, I was
reduced to asking, "Do you read your own trade press?" The point of
the question is that the trade press is full of articles about the
Macintosh, mourning lost opportunities, decrying current problems, and
hoping against hope for a better future. Anyone who follows this press
would have a pretty good idea why people give up on the Macintosh. But
I couldn't explain any of this on the phone, and I don't know what the
sales rep made of my question.
Afterwards, I tried to remember why I had given up on the Macintosh.
What could I tell someone who wanted to know why I did this? After 15
years, what finally pushed me over the edge? I settled on two examples
The clone vendors
In 1997, Apple paid $100 million to buy out the clone vendors. That
money could have gone into product development: it could have built
better products for me to buy. Instead, it went to protect Apple's
hardware monopoly: to ensure higher prices for me to pay.
Apple is a business; like all businesses, it serves its shareholders,
not its customers, and like all businesses, it is entitled to spend
its money to advance the interests of its shareholders over its
customers. But as a customer, I get to decide if I am getting enough
out of the deal to keep doing business with them. And I decided I
Apple redesigned the mouse for the iMac: they made it round. Earlier designs were oval or rectangular.
Apple didn't do this because the older designs were wanting, or because
the new one worked better. It was strictly an aesthetic change: they
thought it looked stylish.
In fact, the round mouse works worse. It works terribly. When you set
your hand on the round mouse, there is no tactile indication of which
way is up. If the mouse isn't oriented the way you think it is, then
the cursor doesn't move in the direction that you intend: it goes
slewing off at an angle.
This problem is both subtle and profound. Subtle, because sometimes
the mouse is pointing the way you think, and most of the time it's
pretty close. The mouse isn't obviously broken—it just doesn't always
go quite where you want.
And profound, because this isn't a cognitive problem, it is a
kinesthetic problem: it breaks your eye-hand coordination. Moving the
mouse in one direction and seeing the cursor drift off in another is
both frustrating and disturbing.
As soon as Apple shipped the round mouse, users howled. The
discussed and analyzed.
After-market workarounds appeared. Apple was unmoved. Rather than
admit their mistake, they continued to ship the round mouse for
over two years.
In 1984, the Macintosh brought a new, innovative, and superior
technology to computer users. It wasn't the hardware, which was over-priced and under-powered. It wasn't the software, which was limited
and unstable. It was the human interface. It was the idea that you
could leverage the power of the human perceptual system to make
computers accessible to people in a natural and intuitive way.
By shipping a round mouse, Apple demonstrated that they no longer
understand this, and by continuing to ship a round mouse in the face
of user protests, Apple demonstrated that they no longer care.
Without the commitment to human interface and usability, there
isn't anything left of the Macintosh but some stylish hardware and
some unfinished software. And if Apple doesn't care, then neither do I.
- two weeks
- There was some kind of glitch in the dealer's order-inventory
system, so that they though the part had been ordered when it hadn't.
I wrote to Apple complaining of this, and they replied that Apple
dealers were independent businesses, and that if I was unhappy with
their customer service, I should take it up directly with the dealer.
- cost $292
- I estimate the manufacturing cost of this part at less than $30.
- Meaning that Apple keeps the old one. If I had kept the old board,
it would have cost me an additional $150.
- marginal hardware
- I did hardware engineering on the original Mac 128K. The power
supply and cooling were just barely adequate.
- In order to save a few dollars per machine, Apple puts a DB25 SCSI
connector on the Mac instead of the standard Centronics 50-pin connector, and
foists the resulting cost, confusion and cabling problems onto their users.
- unfinished OS
- My experience over many years is that the first step in writing a
Mac application is to finish writing the Mac OS. The Thread Manager is
a good example of this.
- like a hockey puck
- frustrating and disturbing
- I often found the cursor arcing around the target as I tried to
compensate for the misalignment between my hand and the mouse. The
effect is somewhat like the way the space ship in the arcade game
Asteroids orbits when you press both "turn" and "thrust" at the same
Steven W. McDougall /
2002 Mar 15