YARALCAC

I love Macs. Unfortunately, I’m not paid to love Macs, so I work for the Federal Government. Working for the Government or the Military means one thing. Acronyms. Unless you are fluent in acronymic speech, you undoubtedly will have a short career working (in whatever manner) for the government. For the English as a second language or just those that don’t know (or care), an Acronym is defined as followsAHEM.

Acronym – acro·nymic or a·crony·mous adj. – A word formed from the initial letters of a name, such as WAC for Women’s Army Corps, or by combining initial letters or parts of a series of words, such as radar for radio detecting and ranging.

A quick round of applause for dictionary.com.

The government loves acronyms. The ability to reduce complicated foreign and domestic policies to single undecipherable words is an art form all its own. Why say National Aeronautic and Space Agency when you can save so much time and taxpayer money by saying “NASA”? Why say Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus when you can say “SCUBA” instead? Or everyone’s favorite, “SNAFU”, which is an acronym for Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. Feel free to replaced Fouled with one of your favorite words if you wish.

Being a child of the 70s with all the distractions therein (Sex, drugs, and Rock n Roll), plus the added double handicap of being a blonde from Florida (OUT! DARN CHADS!), the first acronym I remember was uttered by our only President that was never elected or even voted for during his term. Yes, that paragon of stair climbers, Gerald Ford. His contribution to the greatness of acronyms was “WIN!” This stood for “Whip Inflation Now”. Since high inflation continued well past his Presidency, I guess the program was less than successful.

The reason I bring this all up, besides padding this article out by ridiculous means, is because at the top of this page is the following acronym. YARALCAC. Just roooolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Don’t bother looking it up in your dictionary since I just made it up. Its meaning?

YARALCAC – yar’ rowl kakadj – A word to describe an article that will once again bash Apple Computer (see multiple business blunders) for not having a low cost, no monitor, entry level computer. This acronym stands for Yet Another Rant About Low Cost Apple Computers (see myth).

As recent as the early to mid nineties, Apple had a series of vaguely pizza box shaped computers that they sold under their regular Mac label (The LC II/ III/ III+), the consumer Performa line (The Performa 400 series), and the business Quadra line (The Quadra 605).

All of these computers had the same form factor and used Motorola 68000 series processors (68020, 68030, 68LC040, and 68040) and when taken into consideration with the prices Apple was charging for their “Professional line”, quite reasonable. Once Apple switched to the PowerPC chips, the small form factor pretty much disappeared. Were they powerhouses? No they weren’t, but they ran all the software that was available for Apple computers at the time. With the exception of the LC series, they were also failures. The reasons behind their failure had more to do with Apple’s business practices at the time than any technical issue.

Let’s look at some of those reasons and why things are different now. First off, look where the different machines were sold. The once vast fleet of Apple resellers was selling the LC line and the Quadra’s. With new models coming out every few weeks sometimes, the resellers were reluctant to order these models in bulk. Why would this matter? Well, once you ordered a system as a reseller, you were stuck with it. If you couldn’t sell it because Apple came out with a new one in the meantime, too bad. Remember as well that Apple held their dealers to selling a certain amount of equipment each fiscal quarter (a practice that continues today). If they didn’t make quota, they ran the risk of losing their dealership and the discount that Apple gave those dealers.

The Performa line was different (though the machines were almost identical). These computers were being sold by the major national retailers that Apple was doing business with at the time. These retailers included Montgomery Wards (now gone), Sears (still here, but struggling), Computer City (also gone), Circuit City, and many others. These guys bought in bulk quantities and then threw their untrained salespeople into the fray. They were not exactly motivated to sell Apple computers as they got paid the same whether inventory was cleared or not. Often you would see dead or broken machines lying in various states of disrepair. Sure makes me want to whip out that credit card.

Times have changed since then. Many of the mom and pop Apple retailers are history, along with their hands-on approach of selling you computers. This is a shame in this day of sell it as fast as you can regardless of what the customer really needs. When you buy a computer today, you are either going to get it on-line or go to a Comp-USA type store. The people who are selling you these boxes rarely (some places are better than others) are able to tell you much about it beyond how much it costs. It’s even worse when purchased from a big all-in-one retailer like Wal-Mart whose employees know little or nothing about what they are selling whether it’s computers or pet food. Unless of course you are buying a Mac and are fortunate enough to live near an Apple Store. While I have on occasion heard differently, my experiences in Apple Stores have been uniformly positive. Lots of Macs lined up connected to various peripherals and everything just works. Your mileage may vary.

The confusing line of the same computers being sold under different names is also long gone along with the CEOs who made them infamous. When you look at Macs today, you have three basic product lines. Portables (iBooks and PowerBooks), Consumer (eMacs and iMacs), and Professional (Dual G5 Towers). Educational needs are covered by the iBooks and eMacs mostly, and the Pros are digging deep for drool-worthy G5 Towers and PowerBooks. The rest of us are left with a choice. Go for everyone’s favorite lampshade, the iMac (Soon to be redesigned with a G5.maybe), the retro look eMac, or the compromises you need to make with a portable.

So what’s the problem? Don’t have a lot of money? Get an eMac with or without a SuperDrive. Only $799 with a CD-R/W – DVD combo drive or $999 with that nifty CD – DVD burner. It’s a great machine that I have recommended to the three people I have brought in from the dark side (Microsoft based PCs). When you look at what you get for this price, it really is a bargain. For the princely sum of $799/$999 you get a 1 GHz plus G4 processor, a 32 Meg graphics card, built in 10/100 Ethernet, built in 56K modem, built in Wireless Internet (Airport) capability, 256 Megs of RAM, a combo CD/DVD burner or SuperDrive, stereo sound output, a nice sized (60 gig or more) hard drive, FireWire – USB2 connectivity, a good quality keyboard, a nicely designed one-button mouse (Why only one button is a rant for another day), and a 17-inch monitor. On the software side you get that paragon of darn near uncrashability, Unix-based operating system, OS/X, Apple’s backward cousin to MS Office, the AppleWorks office suite (MS Office is really much better. Get it if you can), a few games, some productivity software that mostly works seamless with each other, and the untouched on the PC side of the world iLife suite consisting of iMovie, iDVD, iTunes, iPhoto, and the latest addition, GarageBand. All this for $799-999. When compared feature for feature with its PC brethren, Apple is not that much more expensive.

Unfortunately, it’s all about perception. Apple is perceived as being more expensive out of the box and unless there is a product to compete at the low-end (under $600), there is little that can be done to fight this. Apple needs to bring back a cheap(er) Mac. The thing that really irks me is that the hard work is already done.

I love the G5 and wish dearly that I had one. However my QuickSilver 933 G4 and 933 iBook do everything that I want painlessly and promptly. Are they as fast as a dual 2.5 GHz G5? No, and I won’t claim they are. They run all the currently available software and do it with no fuss and no muss. The G4s are still a viable processor and it’s a way to breath life into the whole cheap Mac argument.

Why not take the eMac motherboard and chop off the monitor? Sell it strictly as a beginner’s Mac with little or no upgrade path. Heck, the people who buy the cheaper machines rarely if ever upgrade the. They just want a computer solution out of the box. Take off the monitor; add an SVGA output (Along with one DVI). While excluding the monitor won’t take off $300, the $200 (cheaper box and shipping) range is feasible. Make up the price difference by selling Airport cards and base stations. Once people get their feet wet with the Macintosh experience, it’s rare that they’ll want to go back.

Next up, the education market. Apple used to have this market practically all to itself. They were the dominant force in computer education sales and now they’re what? Third? Fifth? How did this happen? Again, it’s the perception that Macs are more expensive that killed the market (Well, that and rotten timing on new product releases). Schools don’t need huge honking towers in their computer labs; they need small powerful, easy to use and safeguard computers. That ain’t Windows and Linux is still too difficult for the beginner. How’s this for small? Take off the display for the iBooks, again, add a SVGA output and you have a darn good, takes up little room, easy to network (wired or wirelessly) computer. An iBook sells for between $1100-1500. Take off the display and save a bundle. Offer them for little more than what it takes to make them (PC margins) and watch what happens. How many remember that when the eMac first came out, it was only supposed to be for the education market? Didn’t take long for the clamor of Mac users wanting one for Apple to change their minds.

You could save even more money for this little gem by removing the CD/DVD drive. Save configurations and projects to a server (Mac or PC) behind a protected firewall. Put one or two CD/DVD burners in a classroom connected to the network for output along with a printer or two. The schools save on space needed, techs required to maintain them (Apple still has a lower overall TCO), and with simple wireless networking, a bunch of money from not needed huge network cable bundles.

I think I’ve said enough. Apple can make this work with little or no cost to themselves using off the shelf equipment. Everyone wins. So the next time you’re looking at Apple CPU prices remember YARALCAC!

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