I’m still in California on vacation, spending a few more days here before heading home to Tucson. The San Francisco Bay Area had a profusion of billboards promoting Apple’s new iBook. It’s a great little computer, currently selling tens of thousands of units every month, and I hope it eventually sells tens of millions. If Barbara’s trouble-free PowerBook1400cs croaks tomorrow, we’ll immediately buy a basic white iBook for her.
Nemo Feels Nervy
Something has been getting on my nerves lately, and I finally was able to pin it down last night, when I was supposed to be asleep. I want to have my say while it’s fresh in my mind.
With all the huff and puff over Macworld New York and the future of OS X, the Macintosh community is in a holding pattern. We are satisfied with our current hardware, yet we long for something new and glamorous. We’re stable with OS 9.1 but we want X to be here now with a complete line of X-age software and compatible drivers.
Or, as my thoughtful collaborator Jeffrey McPheeters says:
I hadn’t actually expected a totally new iMac at MWNY. I’m betting it will be sometime next year, maybe on the 4th anniversary, and when they can put in a G4. They’ll probably wait until iDVD, burning DVDs, etc. are getting popular enough that they can then move that feature set down into the entry level consumer systems. In the PowerMac line, the SuperDrive now is available on the 867mhz middle product. For those who can’t spend the money for the $2500+ models, the entry level comes with CD-RW and it’s possible to add the DVD-R capability through companies like LaCie for under $500 in an external package. Overall, I was pleased with the modifications. Nothing earth shattering. I’d say the emphasis was on Mac OS X, DVD capabilities, and the Megahertz Myth, in that order.
I know you readers have already heard and thought all this stuff yourself, but it bears repeating. Apple is doing its best to satisfy us existing loyalists and develop new customers at the same time. I don’t envy their challenge.
Two user-experience issues remain, which is why I’m uncomfortable. Let’s deal with them one at a time.
FIRST: LEARNING CURVE
It still takes way too long for newbies and non-techies to become proficient and comfortable using their computers, and making sense of the Internet. The computer (any computer) continues to be an adversary on a years-long uphill journey with no obvious end in sight. In spite of Dummies books, user groups, and built-in help apps, when people get stuck they become angry and frustrated. They have already paid a lot of $$$ for their Macs, so why should they have to dish out more cash for tutors and commercial help desk solutions? Raw reality: computers are a pain in the ass for millions of people.
SECOND: WHY MACINTOSH?
What is the advantage of having a Mac? Most applications are now cross-platform, and they actually work a lot of the time on a PC. I just spent a couple of hours setting up and playing around with a HP photo printer and an IBM ThinkPad. The process was a cake walk and the results are splendid. If I didn’t know better, I would think “This is the way things are supposed to work.”
The overall trend is toward high-bandwidth wireless portability, which is fine and dandy but doesn’t address the fundamental issue of “How do I get this %@&!<^ thing to do what I want it to do?!” Software is rarely intuitive, and hardware is consistently unpredictable.
Why should the well-informed readers of MyMac.com care about such insignificant matters? Well, friends, nobody was born with the knowledge to apply Photoshop filters, manage Excel spreadsheets, deal with Internet spam, and a whole lot more. Persistent, repetitive experience and study are still the only ways to develop computer skills. Most people are too lazy or naive or short on time to bridge the entry-level gap.
I posed my concerns to Jeffrey McPheeters, who offers the following insightful commentary:
You ask two good questions, John, and they need asking, frequently. But here’s a little perspective to go with it.
Computers and software may be too complicated, and Macs may be only slightly less complicated than their PC cousins, but despite the decades of pundits condemning the Mac to an ignoble ending “any day now,” people continue to use personal computers, and the Mac has one of the the most loyal and satisfied user bases of any product in modern history.
In the Pink with McPheeters and Mary Kay
I just returned with my wife from a week in Dallas, Texas, attending her company’s annual convention. It’s Mary Kay Cosmetics, and last year they were ranked 4th in dollars sold over the Internet, behind the likes of Amazon. This year they are tracking at twice last year’s Internet sales, and most of their support systems are geared toward Wintel systems, but they do support Macs.
I observed that all their display/demo setups at the convention were Gateway systems, yet their new video announcement of new features always seem to have an Apple PowerBook or iBook as the item of choice on which to show their services. Again, PC’s may be ubiquitous, but when you need to make a statement with class and finesse, the Mac takes it almost every time. Also, when Mary Kay shows a computer window in their literature or media, I invariably see the Mac version of Explorer being used, not the PC version.
When driving home, I was at the wheel of her 2001 Cadillac deVille; you know, the pink ones. It’s a nice vehicle, to be sure. I had burned some cd’s of her favorite music to take along and we drove in relative comfort, each of us with our own separate interior temperature controls; and outside was a sweltering 101 degrees in the shade!
I noticed that this car is exceedingly complex compared to my first car, a 1967 Mustang. I don’t have a clue how to do much work on the Cadillac engine. Also, I am always alert when I drive, fully aware that many thousands of people will be killed or injured this year while driving.
Even after a century of automobiles, we still don’t have automated, self-repairing, vehicles to take us safely from place to place. Buses, trains, and planes are safer, but still not completely safe. Yet we still use them because they represent an improvement to the alternatives.
As with the automobile, I think the verdict is in on the personal computer: it’s a necessary part of our life and existence. It’s not as simple as it may be in the future (indeed, it may even grow more complex in many ways), but it’s better than the alternative, so people put up with the problems and complexities. The market continues to support more than one standard, perhaps in hopes that the competition will, in the future, produce some better ways of interacting with and using these tools.
One case in point is the current trend in making computers a kind of digital hub. Windows XP has some features built in for handling digital photos from a camera. They look promising. Steve Jobs included a demo of how easy it will be to hook up a digital camera to a Mac running Mac OS X — no software app to interact with, it just opens by itself and downloads all the photos into a folder.
Microsoft’s answer has more features, but is slightly less intuitive to use. Apple’s solution needs some features, but at least it’s a no-brainer. Someone will merge the two ideas successfully and it will always work more smoothly on the Mac, even if it doesn’t persuade a PC user to make the switch.
My buddy Xerxes thinks different, saying:
John: instead of focusing on what the Personal Computer isn’t or will be, let’s stay focused on what amazing things people are doing with them and, more importantly, the line between life with and without computers: they still don’t taste very good!
Well stated, Xerc, so while we’re digesting Jeffrey’s perspective, let’s look around the San Francisco Bay – Silicon Valley Area a little. A few people have figured out how to do something worthwhile with those colored boxes sitting on their desks!
Long Live the Dot.Younameit
Over 500 dot.com startups have gone out of business in the United States during the past year and a half, and more then 60 percent of them were in this region.Who remains? It turns out quite a few are in the non-profit or low-profit sector.
San Francisco Center for the Book
Barbara and I spent a fascinating afternoon at the San Francisco Center for the Book. This small, ambitious organization conducts an impressive range of classes and seminars for artists and crafts people who want to learn how to make personalized, artistic books.
Ramekins Culinary School
Last weekend I taught a bread baking workshop series at Ramekins Sonoma Valley Culinary School. What an outstanding facility, with world-class staff and student support! Highly recommended.
Jazz Rhythm on Public Radio
A few days ago I had lunch with one of my heroes. Dave Radlauer hosts the weekly “Jazz Rhythm” radio program, which features great music, commentary, and interviews covering the early years of Jazz.
LifeGarden Community Education Project
Then Barbara and I went for an astonishing walk in a redwood grove literally on top of urban Oakland, with our gardening friend Judy Adler.
Western Hills Plant Nursery
Occidental, California is way off the normal tourist route, but well worth the effort. The best breakfast and lunch joint for miles, Howard’s Cafe, is just down the road from my favorite commercial Northern California garden, Western Hills.
Stairway Walks in San Francisco
This remarkable book, by Adah Bakalinsky, was featured in a recent newspaper story, inspiring Barbara and me to put one foot in front of the other and trudge up and down thousands of urban stairs for great city and Bay Area views.
Cows on Parade in Chicago
This well-designed, humorous book chronicles the decorated cows that invaded the streets of Chicago a couple of years ago. Our S. F. hosts requested a copy, which can be ordered on the Internet.
DiRosa Art and Nature Preserve
Our hosts treated us to a very unusual experience at an unforgettable private art gallery. Reservations are essential.
OIdies But Not Moldies on 99.7 KFRC.com
This great oldies FM radio station does not stream and has a terrible web site, but is great for listening when stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. When was the last time you heard “You Are My Special Angel” or “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”?
The Yodeling Cowboy Comes to Sonoma
Last, and probably least, is the web site of Sourdough Slim, who we saw along with 99,000 of our closest friends, at the annual Sonoma County Fair. He was almost as much fun as the livestock parade, and not quite as scary as the death-defying carnival rides on the midway.
Thanks for reading, and for keeping in touch.