My Turn

Low End Mac or OS X?

Tim Baxter

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Over the years, it seems a lot of Mac owners have really taken the "Think Different" slogan to heart. We pride ourselves on approaching the computing experience and appreciating it in the crazy onesways that the zillions of PC-clone drones just don't get. We revel in the cult of Macintosh.

But in some ways, the whole thing reminds me of the old Steve Martin "nonconformist oath" shtick. Back when Martin was still doing standup in the 70s, he would have the crowd repeat after him:

"I promise to be different."

"I promise to be unique."

"I promise not to repeat things other people say."

Midway through the third statement, most of the crowd would trail off, slowly grasping that they were the joke.

Pretty soon, Apple is going to ask all of us to really think differently, and some longtime Mac owners are going to wonder if they are the punch line in some cosmic joke.

Yup, low-end Mac users are coming to a big fork in their computer-owning road, and either path they choose will require stretching the old noodle in all kinds of new and different ways. Get ready to really Think Different.

We're soon going to face two options: Forget about anything that could possibly be called a low-end Mac and embrace the future, OS X, or prepare to be orphaned.

OS X, at least in the foreseeable future, has ridiculously steep hardware requirements, geeky Unix underpinnings, and about half the refinement we've come to expect from a Mac - even a Mac running System 7. And that's not even getting into security issues, a lack of software, and other assorted weirdness that will take awhile for Apple to sort out.

On the other hand, I do believe Apple will eventually sort these things out, and OS X really is where the Mac is going, with or without you and me.

If we choose to ignore OS X, we become orphans.

I don't mean to sound melodramatic. The old Macs and the operating system we know and love will certainly soldier on. Some folks, perfectly content with their current Mac setup, could care less about OS X and won't worry about it at all until it comes preloaded on some future computer.

Apple will probably continue to throw us old dogs a bone every now and then. Rumors are already floating around of a planned Mac OS 9.2 update, and the chances of millions of existing machines being completely abandoned by Apple or independent developers is fairly small, at least in the short term.

But it will happen eventually. If you haven't noticed, Apple's already lost much of it's interest in beige machines and isn't supporting 68Ks at all.

Apple II owners have already gone through this. They started dozens of owner groups and soldiered on for years after the rest of the world had all but forgotten their favorite machines.

I suspect "classic" Mac OS users will band together and keep things working for years to come, but expect to be increasingly marginalized. It will be up to us to create our own support network, because Apple will have its hands full with the new Aqua wunderkind.

Either way, for a long time we've been thinking different, but not too different.

That's about to change.

Tim Baxter has been a reporter, graphic artist, webmaster and Mac fan since 1993.

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