Tag Archives | Must Reads

Are Macs More Expensive? Let’s Do the Math Once and For All

[UPDATE: This is one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published, but with the arrival of the new MacBook on October 14th, it’s also obsolete. Read it if you like–but this new article compares the new MacBook to comparable Windows computers.]

It’s of those eternal questions of the computing world that never seems to get answered definitively: Does the “Mac Tax” really exist? Some folks are positive that Macs are overpriced compared to Windows computers; others deny it steadfastly. Almost nobody, however, bothers to do the math in any serious detail.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And since Apple manufactures multiple models, I’m going to do it one computer at a time, starting with the MacBook, the company’s consumer notebook.

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A Brief Reverse-Chronological YouTube History of Apple

The history of Apple is so long and interesting that some amazingly weighty tomes have been written about it. But I don’t think you need to pore over hundreds of pages to get the gist of the company’s journey. Actually, more than with any other computer company, its advertising tells much of the story. And thanks to YouTube, it’s all a few clicks away, and watching it is downright addictive.

I started to put together this video timeline starting in the 1970s and working my way forward to the present day. Then I realized that it’s more fun–and much bloggier–to begin with current commercials and travel backwards in time. Join me, won’t you?

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A Brief History of Internet Outages

Someday we’ll all tell our grandkids about what we were doing during the great Gmail outage of August 11th, 2008. Well, okay, probably not–Google’s e-mail service was down for only a couple of hours, which is relatively brief as Internet outages go. But when one of the world’s most popular mail systems goes missing even briefly, zillions of people are inconvenienced and want to share their frustration. In a weird way, it’s a huge compliment: If Gmail wasn’t essential, nobody would care if it went away.

For a dozen years or so now, the Internet has been a mainstream communications medium, and its history has been pockmarked with examples of big-time services choking for extended periods–often a lot longer than today’s Gmail blip. The most famous examples of unplanned downtime have a lot in common: They usually last longer than anyone expected and get blamed on cryptic technical glitches. Almost always, angry consumers announce they’re done with the service in question; almost always, the service eventually recovers.

Oh, and one more thing: The biggest and most embarrassing failures all seem to happen during the summer months. Maybe technology, like human beings, just doesn’t work quite as hard when the weather’s hot and there are distractions like baseball games, picnics, and vacations to contemplate.

Now that Gmail’s back, it’s worth recapping a few other outages that made headlines when they happened–and since the ones that follow are in alphabetical order, they begin with maybe the most famous one of all (hint: it involved a company whose initials are A.O.L.)…

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An Open Letter to Windows Vista

Dear Windows Vista,

First of all, I’m sorry it took me so long to sit down and write this letter. You’ve been an unusually busy operating system lately, starting with the official (if less than utterly final) demise of your predecessor Windows XP at the end of June. Then you spent some time helping with a Microsoft marketing experiment by pretending to be a new version Windows code-named “Mojave.” This week, however, seems to be a relatively quiet one for you–and so I wanted to take the opportunity to bend your ear.

We haven’t talked, but I’ve been watching you from afar and feeling your pain as you’ve dealt with more than your fair share of challenges. Eighteen months after your debut, you simply don’t have an aura of success about you. Worse, your aging predecessor, Windows XP, has unexpectedly gained armies of devotees who refuse to give it up. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs–your original marketing tagline may have been “The Wow Starts Now,” but many people remain steadfastly unwowed.

The idea behind Microsoft’s Mojave Experiment was to suggest that those who spurn you do so out of ignorance. It’s true that some Vista doubters base their distaste on what they’ve heard about you rather than hands-on experience. But I don’t know of anyone outside of Redmond who’d maintain that long-term exposure to you turns the average computer user into a raving fan. Sure, you’re better than you were when you first showed up, thanks to Service Pack 1 and improved compatibility with applications and peripherals. But I’ve talked to lots of people who have used you for many months, and while some of them are pleased with you there are plenty whose feelings range from ennui to anger.

Even Microsoft admits that you have a reputation as being a disappointment. The Mojave campaign sure implies that, as does the Vista site’s references to “confusion and lingering misunderstandings” about you. How often does any manufacturer of anything acknowledge unhappy customers at all?

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The First $1000 iPhone Application

iPhone developer Armin Heinrich has released an application for the iPhone with two noteworthy characteristics:

1) Its primary function is to display a handsome glowing red jewel on your iPhone’s screen:

2) It sells on Apple’s App Store for $999.99, thereby explaining its name: I Am Rich:

(Okay, it does have one other feature: If you touch the “i” in the lower right-hand corner, you get “a secret mantra…[which] may help you to stay rich, healthy, and successful.” Unless Heinrich decides to hand out reviewer’s copies of I Am Rich, I may never learn what that mantra is.)

Heinrich, incidentally, also sells an iPhone calculator app which, at $4.99, most likely appeals to a wider, less well-heeled audience.

Apple’s policy for approving or rejecting iPhone apps has been a bit fuzzy: It keeps approving and unapproving Nullriver’s NetShare tethering utility, and pulled the seemingly innocuous Box Office movie info app. It seems possible that whatever person or automated system put I Am Rich on the App Store was asleep at the proverbial wheel. But if I it stays up–and I have to confess that the jokester in me kinda-sorta hopes it does–one thing’s clear: Practical jokes are acceptable.

At first, all this reminded me of the days when lots of wiseacres put stuff on eBay ranging from babies to kidneys to pieces of space station Mir to their own souls. The auctions sometimes got bids in the thousands, tens of thousands, or millions of dollars; eBay tended to look askance at such hijinks, and shut down the sales as quickly as it could. But those auctions differed from Heinrich’s offering in at least two crucial ways: The items in question were usually illegal or impossible to sell, and  “bids” were clearly pranks that eBay would never have enforced.

Heinrich’s app. on the other hand, is real and seemingly clearly explained, and the App Store presumably automatically charges your credit card once you agree to buy it. Wonder if anyone who isn’t rich has been silly and/or bold enough to make the purchase?

(Via Daring Fireball’s John Gruber on Twitter.)

Further thought: Other than me, most of the people who are blogging about this seem to think it’s an obnoxious travesty, and possibly insulting to iPhone developers who are trying to sell real apps. The non-jokester in me see the point. Betcha it gets pulled down–if nothing else, the hassle of dealing with anyone who “accidentally” buys it isn’t worth the pain for Apple…and neither is the distraction from all the useful, worth-the-money iPhone apps out there.

Further further thought @ 8:19pm: Hey, let’s conduct a poll!

Further further thought @ 4:26pm on 8/6: I Am Rich is now missing from the App Store. Big surprise!


Goners! 10 Websites That Didn’t Deserve to Die

The World Wide Web is such a young medium that many of the best sites from its earliest days are still very much still with us, such as Yahoo (founded in 1994), Amazon.com (1994), CNET (1994), eBay (1995). and Salon.com (1995). It’s a little as if I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Milton Berle Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Huntley/Brinkley were all on the air in 2008.

But for every site that’s been lucky enough to have a long and happy existence, there have been countless ones whose lives were cut short. Sometimes their deaths were huge stories; sometimes they quietly fizzled away. And even though many of their untimely passings were self-inflicted, it’s still worth celebrating the fact that they existed at all.

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13 Ways I’d Change the iPhone’s Interface…if I Could

For a year now, an amazing number of people have assumed I own an iPhone. Until last week, I had to politely correct them. (My phone of late has been an AT&T Tilt.) I hadn’t bought a first-generation iPhone for three big reasons. Which were:

1) I worked for a large company that used Lotus Notes–as large companies are wont to do–and there was no good way to get Notes on an iPhone;

2) Every time I tried Mobile Safari, I got depressed by how hobbled such an excellent piece of software was by the slow AT&T EDGE data network;

3) I didn’t want to buy a phone that could only run the applications that Apple itself decided to produce.

Problem one went away when I departed the corporate world to start Technologizer. (Side note: I’ve been using Gmail and Google Calendar to do the stuff I used to do in Notes.) The iPhone 3G solved the second one. And with the advent of the Apple 2.0 software, the iPhone can run third-party applications, of which there are already hundreds in the iTunes Store. So last Friday, I got myself up at 2:30am and braved the lines to buy an iPhone 3G–and a week later, I’m mostly extremely pleased with it. Continue Reading →