Let Them Eat Cake: A Floppy Feeding Frenzy

As anyone knows who reads the monthly AppleCarts, I write fluff. Impassioned fluff, it’s true. But fluff all the same. So I was surprised to get several serious responses to a guest editorial I did in May for MacTimes‘ Thinking Different. “Let Them Eat Cake” was a typical lightweight piece extolling my enthusiasm (and concern) over the newest Mac.

When I first saw the iMac on the Apple site, it was all I could do to keep from leaping through a time warp and dragging one home. Sure there was no SCSI. Adios scanner, both Zips and four-count’em four-APS drives. And, okay, there wasn’t any serial port. So long QuickCam, Wacom and my new banner-making printer. You will be surely missed.

But, I remind myself, this beauty is for the entry level consumer. For all those folks wanting to get their feet wet in the world of computers. They don’t have a desk cluttered with all sorts of legacy peripherals… Wait just a minute! ‘Legacy’! Isn’t that one of those PC euphemisms for stuff that won’t work right after you ‘upgrade to the next level? And I always thought we were the compatibility guys.

By now the time warp is looking a little less urgent, though I still salivate at the thought of a whole school full of these translucent beauties next fall. With their larger hard drives, all we really need at school is a good old floppy drive. (There’s no central server for the lab. We aren’t even on the five year list.)

Then I remember. The iMac hasn’t got a floppy. Zilch for backing up, moving, sharing and storage.Even the growing number of teachers with Macs at home are going to have to hang around burning the midnight oil. Right off, I can see where this is going to be a hard sell. There I’ll be, begging for 25 new iMacs, complete with 25 external never-before-tested USB floppy drives and, by the way, a half dozen or so new (USB) printers. Oh, and a new (USB) scanner or two as well…

The cause was lost before it started. When our administrators call for ‘technology’ they don’t mean ‘innovation’. They mean databases. Spreadsheets. Test scores. Backwards compatibility. And so I poured out my heart for MacTimes in ‘Let Them Eat Cake’.

The universal excitement of the new iMac has brought us together like nothing else. With one voice we cry, “Save one for me!”. No matter that in the end some of us will find it doesn’t meet our needs, or that baby needs new shoes more than we need another Mac. We are, for the moment, in love.

But where there is passion, there can be a heady collision of opinions. It’s partly a generation gap thing. The young and the restless have been computing for a large chunk of their lives. More and more of today’s Mac mainstays weren’t yet born when Apple first put together a computer for the rest of us.

For this younger set of users, mostly male, bright and very committed, the Internet is a second home and networking often only a computer click away. A floppy is a bit like Uncle Olaf’s Volvo. A holdover from the dark ages. Many of us, however, still have one foot firmly on both sides of the timeline. Backwards compatibility is a must.

Strangely, it’s as if, by not embracing the iMac 100% in it’s virgin state, we are somehow disloyal to the Mac tradition. But the Mac tradition requires us to speak up. To disagree. To care passionately. Bet Big Bill doesn’t get passionate letters of support and advice from his users. They certainly don’t feel a compulsion to sell his products for him. That’s a Mac thing.

The flap over floppies seems to raise a red flag-right up there next to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. And, since I believe each Mac faithful should speak his mind, I’ll share some of the feedback I’ve gotten. I’ve obviously not convinced the dissenters, anymore than they have convinced me. But I love the way we care enough to get involved.

Jesse M. (Apple Orchard) writes: “No real hardware? What doesn’t it have, excluding the floppy drive, that all Macs do? All they left out is a floppy (replaceable by USB drives), SCSI (ditto), and PCI slots (which most people in the consumer market will never use anyway). They’re selling this machine to small businesses, schools, and homes with networks. There is no problem transferring files in those environments, is there?” My answer would be ‘only if they really understand the floppy vs network thing before they buy.’

David B. writes: “A lot of computers don’t come with a monitor, yet nobody seems to mind that they are lacking a critical piece of hardware. As far as simplicity, I agree that it will take away from it a little, but the iMac also doesn’t have a printer or scanner built in and a lot of people are going to want those, and other peripheral devices. These will detract from the simplicity as well.”

Jim D. sums things up with typical Mac passion: “The iMac also does not include a punched card reader. Are you as upset about that omission? Both punched cards and floppy disks are storage and transfer media which will probably not see widespread use as we enter the 21st century.” He ends with: “I’m ready right now to plunk down my $1300 for the first iMac that hits my area! I don’t want to pay for a kludged-in floppy drive that I don’t want or need!”

Others such as George H., a Unix System Administrator, point out sensibly that without a floppy to bring in viruses and such, managing the network is simplified. “As for the missing floppies, it holds the cost down and may be seen as an asset for those managing machines in public or semi-public environments, such as libraries and school labs. Makes it harder to introduce viruses and install or copy software.”

Or Mark, The MAC Man, who writes: “Well, your story was a bit like the first reader reaction to the iMac… However, there are many things that are happening now and that will happen before iMac ships that will make you forget all about your floppy nightmares. 3rd party developers are already working on Mac USB SuperDrives, and USB adapters to SCSI and serial are on the way. Not to mention the whole other world of peripherals that USB opens the Mac up to!”

Mark and George are right, of course. But say, doesn’t that open up another set of nightmares for the entry level folks! (Not to mention another story for the old AppleCart. See “Aunt Bertie Was a Beta Tester” in this month’s ‘Churning the AppleCart.’) The Mac world is never dull.

And by the way, for all of you who wrote to say: ‘Marie never said that!’ Don’t sweat it. As far as I know, George Washington never felled any cherry trees and Davy Crockett didn’t ‘kill’m a bear’ when he was only three. But like Paul Bunyan, Pocahontas, and Aesop’s’ fables, they have found their way into our modern mythology to make a common reference point for the rest of us.


Let Them Eat Cake
First printed 5/11/98 MTN ‘Thinking Different’Like everyone else, I was blown away by my first glimpse of the iMac. There it was, spinning slowly in cyberspace, a luscious little Apple just waiting to be plucked. I liked the size, the shape, the speed and even the color. For the first time since Apple killed the clones, I was in love.

Was it just me? I’m a pretty low tech sort. And, ok, blue’s always been my color. But, no. Every site I checked seemed to be in love as well. Real computer folks, the sort that understand a blue box from a yellow box, that have been Mac-ing around since day one, seemed to agree. This time Apple got it right.

I surfed the Web with a smile on my face as site after site extolled the new Mac. And went to bed with visions of iMacs dancing in my head. So what if I had no need, no space and no disposable income. I wanted that baby.

Next morning that old sinking feeling, the feeling that says, ” Oh Apple, what have you done to me now”, started in again. No SCSI drive? No printer port? No floppy??? But, what about all those glowing reports I’d read. Surely, there must be something I’d missed. I leaped out of bed and onto the Web… only to find I wasn’t the only one with second thoughts. Once again, we seemed to agree.

In our first euphoria, some of us missed the missing floppy altogether. I mean it’s not the sort of thing you check for, is it. Slow, dull and reliable, floppies are just there. Gonna leave it out? Put it in bold ‘Think Different’ letters on the front of the box and across every ad.

Jump to September. Dad comes home with a floppy in his pocket from his boring PC at work. What is one of the all-time great features of the Mac? Macs can read those boring PC floppies. Piece a cake, right. Why do you think Dad agreed to the Mac in the first place. Poor Dad. He pushes and shoves. He turns red and says things he doesn’t want Junior to hear. But nowhere will that floppy fit. Dad’s in hot hogwash!

And Junior? His school buys a bushel of the things. They don’t read the fine print either. It’s an awful surprise when the printers won’t print and the Zips won’t zip. But when the floppies flop, there is consternation in the halls. And not a little anti-Apple sentiment in the IT department.

Kids line up for the Web connection in the Library. It’s actually a pretty short line, only a hundred kids or so. Would be a lot longer, of course, but only about 20% of the kids are even online at home. And this is a pretty affluent bunch.

Mom now. She’s a teacher. She’s why they got a Mac in the first place. Burning the midnight oil, she finishes tomorrow’s HyperStudio stack with all the student’s pictures. Ready for Open House. Whew! A lot of graphics here. It barely fits on one floppy. But wait. There is no floppy. She can’t even save the file for backup.

Mom’s savvy, right. After all, she bought a Mac. Quick, she checks the Web and, sure enough, finds a friend also burning the midnight oil. Friend gives her the bad news. The only way in and out of her perky new Mac is online. That on again /off again Internet madhouse.

What??? Send a megabyte of email to the Principal’s PC and try to download it before school tomorrow! This, assuming the school browser can even handle such a file.What were they thinking of up in that Ivory Apple Tower?

I’m afraid they thought we all lived in Cupertino. Or maybe they thought this was the year 2010. Maybe they thought the great unwashed ran to high speed lines and huge servers for storage. Maybe they didn’t bother to think. They obviously didn’t do real grassroots research on their entry level consumer market.

But, then, maybe they didn’t need to. Maybe it was 1984 all over again, this time with Steve dancing around shouting things like ‘No More Floppies Forever!’ and overriding those few voices daring enough to think different. In ’84, we got a wildly innovative, but crippled, Mac. Great size. Great shape. Great little ‘Hello’ to welcome us. But over priced, underpowered and no real software.

And now, have we fallen for another crippled Mac? Wildly innovative. Great size. Great shape. Even a great “Hello’. But again, over priced, overpowered (now there’s a surprise) and no real hardware.

Oh Steve! You came so close! But, like Marie Antoinette, who meant no disrespect, you’re way out of touch with the peasants. And the rest of us are almost all peasants. Don’t you care how your I(nternet)Mac functions out here in the real world? It’s the 90’s, Steve. No one ought to have to depend on the vagaries of the Internet to move, save, share or, God Forbid, back up. And all at 33.6Kbps?

We know you meant well. We love what you did. But, please, before this new beauty ships, get it right! Let the ‘I’ in iMac stand for Intriguing, Innovative, even Illuminated. Better yet, find a place to poke in one of the new LS-120 Drives and let the ‘I’ stand for Imation. But give us back our floppy.

Because Steve, look what happened when Marie, out of touch with her public and misunderstanding their needs, cried “Let them eat cake”.

Susan Howerter


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