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Revisiting the Mac: Impressive but still quirky
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule


Revisiting the Mac: Impressive but still quirky


Technofile for May 2, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Last week I told you how a Macintosh can turn itself into a PC. This week I'll look at how well new Mac behaves doing its own thing.

The software that allows Macs to run Windows is called VirtualPC. Like the talking dog of an old fable, a Mac that runs Windows is impressive more for the fact that it can do it at all than for the way it does it. Under VirtualPC, even on a fast Mac, Windows is slow. That's OK if you need to run Windows programs now and then, but get a real PC if you want to run Windows a lot.

But a Mac should be judged on how well it behaves as a Mac. In most respects, the PowerBook G3 notebook computer that I tested showed how far Macs have come since the first models of 1984. It runs at 300 MHz instead of the dreadful 8 MHz of the first Mac, has a gorgeous color screen and does everything quickly. The new PowerBook has a nice feel. I liked it.

I could easily imagine myself using the PowerBook for my everyday tasks such as word processing, e-mail and Web browsing.

That is, I could, but I won't. That's because the PowerBook, like all Macs, is missing some essential things that Windows users have come to expect in modern computers. Without them, computing is a dismal experience.

I won't list all the things that I miss in a Mac -- the list would be too long. So I'll just thumb through my main objections.

The mouse has only one button, so there's no simple click as there is in Windows to get at the Properties of an item. The Delete key isn't a Delete key at all -- it's a Backspace key. There's no reason for Apple to make a computer with these two deficiencies.

There's no way to minimize windows. (You can turn windows into thin bars, but that's not the same at all.) There's no Taskbar or Taskbar-like object. Say what you want about the bad things in Windows, but you'll have to agree that the Taskbar is a heck of a nice idea. C'mon, Apple, get with it.

The mouse pointer is asleep. It moves so slowly you could grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee by the time it gets from one side of the screen to the other.

The display of text on the screen is unsightly. Apple uses 72 pixels per inch. Windows uses 96. Letters and numbers look like they're drawn dot by ugly dot. (And, yes, I turned on Apple's version of font smoothing, which did not change things.)

And, of course, Macs use Mac software when they're not running a Windows emulator. So that means you have all the liabilities of Mac software. It's harder to find than Windows software. You don't have as many choices. And, if you want games and entertainment software, you're going to have a dismal time finding exciting new stuff for a Mac.

Don't get me wrong. A lot of Mac software is wonderful. But where is a Mac version of Outlook 98? It's the one essential program I run on my PC, handing mail and all my personal information needs. Where is the Mac version of the ICQ personal Internet messaging system? The Mac version of the outstanding (and free) NoteTab Light text editor?

Enough. PC users aren't going to be won over to the Mac any time soon. I say that even though Macs are easier to set up and use. Mac software is easier to uninstall, too. But if Apple wants PC users to switch to Macs, it needs to switch to a real mouse, to a real Delete key, to a real multitasking operating system, to a better-looking screen display -- you get the point. It needs to make the Mac work like a modern computer.

Apple might be doing that. It's working on a new operating system, one that doesn't have all the foibles of the current one. If it can change things like the mouse and keyboard, too, it might, finally, have a winner.


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