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·749 words
Andy Jackson
Andy Jackson
Fighting entropy since 1993
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Agh. My head asplode. They’ve finally done it. Apple have finally released an affordable Mac: the Mac mini. This is very good news, as !MacOS X is arguably the best personal computer operating system in existance, from both a geek’s and a user’s perspective. There have been rumours going around about this ‘headless’[1] Mac for some time, but it turns out that it was predicted by Douglas Adams 15 years ago! cough Kind of… cough

Seeing the press release info about the Mac mini nudged a memory of something I’d read in Douglas Adams’ last (posthumous) book, The Salmon Of Doubt. I dug around and found the quote:

:In order to be safe from Frank the Vandal, I have transferred this article onto my portable Mac (I know, I know, you hate me. Listen. We’ll all have one in the end. They’ll bring the price down, trust me. Or rather, don’t trust me, trust Apple. Well, yes, I see your point. … ) ::!MacUser magazine, 1989.

Well, ok, so “predict” is pushing it. Apart from anything else, he was talking about a portable, and 15 years is far too long to predict just about anything in the computer industry. But still, the quote suggests that he believed Apple would go beyond their high-end minority market, and eventually become cheap enough to be much more widely used. And look how many iPods are out there already. Admittedly, the Mac mini is not insanely cheap ($500 U.S. dollars or £339 G.B. pounds[2]), but then neither was the iPod.

Some will be quick to point out that you can get a higher specification ‘grey box’ PC for much the same money. Yes, this is indeed true, but I would argue that the only reason most users might need such high processor speeds, large amounts of memory, chunky graphics cards etc is because most of the operating system and software is hopelessly inefficiently written. I realise that if you want to do things like play the latest games, then yes, you need all the kick you can get. But for the normal things that most people want a computer for, the high-end hardware is simply not required. I consider needing a 3-4GHz chip with 256MB of RAM to surf the intarweb comfortably to be absolutely insane. It can be done perfectly well on platforms with a few tens of MB of memory using processors ten times slower than that. Hell, one of my platforms has a browser that fits in 2MB (1MB usually) and runs on a 40MHz ARM chip, and it’s still ok to use. That’s one hundredth of the resources of a modern PC!

But even this is really missing the point. Like the iPod, the Mac Mini is small, sleek and sexy, will no doubt be easy to use, and in fact will do the job far better than it’s competitors. This best example of this is the included iLife software, which makes the thing perfect for people who want to organise their burgeoning digital photo/audio/video collections. That market is not small. I’d go as far as to say that this marks the start of the end of the Microsoft monopoly. I hope so, as the personal computer market badly needs some constructive competition.

In short, a Mac is now cheap enough - I suspect many people will be willing to pay that little bit more for something which is an awful lot better.

Anj #

[1] Headless, meaning it does not come with a monitor, and can be used with a normal TV or a computer monitor.

[2] I actually expected it to be nearer £500 GBP, as seems to be the way of these things, but I went to Apple’s UK online store and was pleasantly surprised. I think the author of this Guardian article had much the same prejudices. The writer predicts the new iPod shuffle price to be around £100, when a quick visit to the website reveals the price to be £69. I hope the website was updated after the article was written, because otherwise the author is guilty of laziness in the extreme. But that’s still better that those really bad authors who let their footnotes become long enough to challenge the main text in terms of size and rambliness. If I had this much to say, why not say it in the article itself? Because I’m tired and lazy, and writing coherent paragraphs takes far too much energy. Can you tell? Gah. G’night.