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The X Factor

(January 2003) posted on Tue Jan 14, 2003

Observations from Macworld Expo


By Jake Widman

I spent the first week of the new year at Macworld Expo. You remember Apple's Macintosh: it was the dominant platform in digital graphic arts up until about 1997, when the growing technological superiority of Windows and disappearance of Mac versions of key graphic-arts software resulted in a mass migration to the PC. Well no, actually that stuff didn't happen, though it was easy for business writers to get a column in the business sections of newspapers if they predicted it would. In reality, 1997 was the year Steve Jobs returned to Apple and Microsoft made a $150 million commitment to supporting the platform. Since then, we've had iMacs and G4s and other cool stuff, and analysts saying--out loud!--that Apple could actually increase its market share.

Chief among the cool stuff--or so Steve would like us to think--is OS X, the Unix-based, supposedly almost crash-proof, operating system that will soon be the only OS you can boot a new Mac into.

With protected memory and pre-emptive multitasking, OS X finally did enable the Mac to catch up in those areas in which Windows really was technologically superior. And based on most of what I've heard from users, OS X really is worth the hype. Some users say they don't even bother to turn off their machines any more, because they never crash--even when running the 6 or 10 applications that graphic-arts pros typically have open at the same time. (I confess, I'm not there yet--I'll be joining the modern era when I buy a new computer later this year. I've decided not to try and upgrade the perfectly fine machine I have to make it happy with OS X--or rather, OS X happy with it.)

But for all the advantages, I generally get the impression that people aren't really excited by OS X. During Jobs' Expo keynote, I couldn't help but notice how the tepid the applause was that greeted Steve's slides about how many Mac users are now using OS X and how many applications are now available for it (up to 5000). I get the impression that the Mac community regards OS X sort of like exercise--they know it's good for them, they know it'll make them stronger in the long run, but it's not something they're looking forward to in the deepest recesses of their hearts.

According to one rumor at the show, vendors couldn't have a booth unless they had an OS X version of their product--you're either on the bus or off the bus. And one vendor I spoke to said that her impression was that Apple was really pushing people to develop for it, which, in her opinion, they wouldn't have to do if people were really thrilled by the advantages of OS X.

So I think Mac users' relationship with the previous versions of their OS was like a functioning long-term marriage. Sure, maybe your spouse leaves the cap off the toothpaste or forgets to put your records back in alphabetical order; sure, maybe your OS crashes more often than you'd like. But even though you had the chance to run off with a different OS, you decided the annoyances really weren't worth getting divorced over. And when your spouse started dyeing his or her hair and going to the gym, your appreciation of these attempts to improve appearances was probably tempered by a little wariness.

Check out the parody of Apple's Mac Switch ad campaign at this website: http://www.fandango.net/switched.mov. It probably sums up the misgivings of a lot of the Mac community. (Warning: It contains a dirty word or two.)

Me? I'm looking forward to the revitalized relationship with my computer that awaits, but I'll miss the way we were.

This is the first of a series of biweekly columns I'll be writing for BigPicture.net, in which I'll be looking behind the press releases and product announcements to try and shed some light on what's really going to be shaping our work lives in the future.

The Big Picture is committed to addressing the needs of those whose livelihood depends on making digital imaging, digital printing, and digital graphic arts workflows work in the real world. Part of that mission is separating what's important from the shiny toys the product manufacturers keep dangling in front of us.

I'll be talking to the vendors to try and get the news behind the news, and I'll be helping you keep up with the massive flow of information in other ways--sometimes I'll point you to interesting reading on the Web, and sometimes I'll sort through some of the recent graphic arts books to identify the ones that are worth the time, money, and shelf space.


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