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Be proud of the Mac legacy

By Claude Filimenti (, September 10, 2002

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If you are a Macintosh consultant or technician, a sizable chunk of your time is devoted to keeping up with all the new versions of Mac related products and gizmos. All the fun new Macs, OS X, Xserve, and iDigital everything are just so, so extremely appealing. They bring us closer to Apple’s concept of the Knowledge Navigator that was barely a presentation in the mid-eighties.

But, let’s face reality: many of your clients are still using legacy Macs with an older system with older software versions, and there is nothing wrong with that. That’s precisely why the Mac is designed the way it is, backwards and forwards compatible with most well designed products. True, Apple’s more recent hardware and software offerings aren’t quite as backwards compatible as those of old, but they’re more solid than their Wintel counterparts.

If you live in and support clients from the world of unlimited high-end Mac budgets, where a 10 second faster rendering time means gazillions in extra revenues, this column is not really for you. But, if like the rest of us, you and your clients live in the real world of tight budgets, having to “do more with less,” and under media and peer pressure to conform to Wintel standards, then we are on the same wavelength.

The History Channel buffs will understand this point of view – we can better understand who, what and where we are if we understand our past, or at least some of it. There are crucial reasons for an individual or an organization to first purchase a Macintosh computer. These reasons do not vanish when their Mac hardware and software is rendered obsolete by the passage of time. A Mac is not a silly pop tune to be replaced next week by the latest teen fancy to appear on a magazine cover.

Value the Apple logo

The Macintosh computer may be cute, colorful and well designed, it may also be relatively easy to learn and to operate, but contrary to some so-called technical journalists and overpaid IT managers, the Mac is not a toy. It is a serious multi-purpose tool that yields little or nothing to other micro-computer platforms. Many Wintel manufacturers, who must be disciples of the Barnum & Bailey’s school of economics, fool the public by dressing their old boxes in colorful and rounded plastic enclosures to simulate the novelty of Mac design. Therefore any of your clients using a Mac, as new or as old as it is, deserve respect for seeing through their ruse.

A Mac purchaser tends to be smarter than average: capable of recognizing that a better tool will produce better results over a longer period of time, that the cost of ownership is not just the initial price of the hardware and software and that the sum of all the parts are worth much more in the overall picture than what an accountant can recognize on an invoice. In fact, buying Macintosh is a long term investment in higher productivity, increased quality, improved peace of mind, and why not factor into it the sheer enjoyment and pleasure of usage? It’s cool to use a Mac. Unfortunately you cannot measure cool on a spreadsheet. Add to the injury the fact that our lives are increasingly being evaluated by spreadsheet junkies...

Mac enthusiasts are oftentimes denigrated as pseudo-religious fanatics because of statements like those above. If you were a mason building a cathedral in the Middle ages, you would always treat and talk of your tools with great respect. Those tools, as simple or complex as they may have been, combined with your knowledge and experience, allowed you to build some of the greatest monuments ever erected. Only a fool would have then entertained the idea of laughing at your respect for and enthusiasm towards your tools.

Think different

If you wish to drive a nail through a plank, you use a hammer, a tool as old as humankind. For your clients, this makes sense – if it’s not broken why fix it? Our high tech society has not yet invented a tool that exceeds the capacity, purpose and functionality of three most powerful tools ever invented: the cheap and widely used sheet of paper, the affordable all-purpose pencil, and the ever practical self-inked pen.

We live in the disposable society, were everything aging is cast away as a soiled napkin. While the enthusiasm of youth for constant renewal is commendable, you cannot buy nor replace experience and quality. As an example, one of my clients had five 14" Apple monitors to replace in a hurry. They needed multi-sync 15" monitors to accommodate the new screen size of their 4th Dimension database (just updated of course). The new monitors and adapters were inexpensive at about half the cost of the original Apple monitors (even less if you factor in the increased cost of living for that twelve-year period). Being a one-off expense, the budget was not sufficient to purchase current Apple flat panels with adapters.

The problem with this switch will be evident in the future. Those new monitors are not qualitatively capable to handle the use and abuse that the twelve-year-old solidly built Apple monitors had endured. They probably will need replacement in three to four years, therefore my client is likely to pay two to three times for monitors for the same time period in addition to suffer for the whole time a slight decline in visual quality and crispness.

Not built like they used to be

The worst part of my client’s situation is that these now obsolete Apple monitors still offered a bright and crisp color image. For days, we tried to give them away, but found nobody interested. When placed outside on the sidewalk with a sign stating that there were Mac monitors fully functional to give away, they literally disappeared in minutes.

Another client just retired their venerable Apple LaserWriter NT they had bought second hand in 1992 (they could not find parts to repair it and needed a printer in a hurry.) They are a small law firm that do not create or use graphics. They create and print text, tons of text. While their brand new printer is much faster; which is good, and offers significantly better output (which to them has a zero impact on desirability), will it ever resist ten years of continuous output from eighteen lawyers and four secretaries? Not to mention its flimsy plastic enclosure.

Many clients are running fairly recent software on legacy Macs that often predate the software by many years. For instance Mac OS 9.0 and compatible software runs just fine on a 1994 PowerMac 7100/66 with a G3 processor upgrade. They are not running as quickly as they would on a new G4, but they are getting the job done just the same. Their Macs are also now amply paid and entirely depreciated for tax purposes. Those Macs have been faithfully operating for more than four years at virtually no cost save for added memory, larger hard disks and occasional technical maintenance; and this makes good business sense. Ask your PC vendor if his lower priced clone can guarantee an equal value over time.

In most organizations, nobody in their right mind would dream of trying to extend the life of a three to four year old Wintel box. It makes more cynical sense to just trash them and get new ones. It’s part of the planned obsolescence strategy heavily pushed by the Seattle corporation and its supporters around the world, and many are buying into it. This strategy is even creeping into Apple’s mindset (albeit not yet as deeply entrenched).

What’s good for sales and marketing types is not necessarily to the advantage of your client. Most people and companies tend to keep using their Mac well past five or six years; just like the average lifespan of 18 years for a Volvo in Sweden. Better made is better value.

Tell your clients

Of course if you are due for a new Mac, or a first computer, or if your task requirements demand additional functions and power your old Mac or aged PC can no longer provide, by all means, get yourself a brand new Mac. You can also shop around for a great bargain on an older upgradeable model – either way, you will come out a winner. Just remember, never underestimate the task of file transfers from the old Mac to the new one, the cost of unavoidable software upgrades and potential retraining time and expense involved (multiplied by the number of users and workstations involved.) There is no such thing as an entirely free or totally painless upgrade. Like most important steps in life, it is worth doing and some prior planning always pays off. If you’re out of your depth, get help and hire a knowledgeable consultant.

Apple must be respected for its generally greater responsibility and commitment towards quality products. Apple must also be pressured to maintain it, and even to improve on it, lest its corporate components forget why we have selected the Macintosh. We that support this different way of thinking must encourage our clients to persevere. Every new and better Mac, and even more so, every performing legacy Mac is an enduring testimony to the wisdom of our common decision to support this tool. Let’s start the movement for pride in the Mac legacy; let’s share our legacy Macs’ current success stories.

Claude Filimenti is a Macintosh consultant in Montreal since 1988, and also a freelance writer. He translates texts and authors articles in both English and French.

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