Sun, 06 Feb 2005

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mac mini

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Now, mind you, I don't have one of these myself, although I am currently saving up for it. A review of the Mac Mini entitled "The Emperor's New Computer" has been penned by Jorge Lopez, a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, which rehashes a lot of strawmen arguments about Apple Computers in general that have been circulating since the early '90's by Windows/x86 die-hards. I couldn't help wonder if this wasn't a piece of satire, since the arguments are way off base.

Some of these arguments are truly ridiculous. Take the criticism that the Mini lacks PS/2 ports, parallel ports, and (I assume, DB-9) serial ports. Seriously, what modern peripheral does not plug into a USB port? Are you really going to want to attach your circa 1995 PS/2 mouse, keyboard and Centronics parallel printer to a computer built in 2005? A decent USB optical mouse and keyboard can be had for $20-$30 total. And who really still uses 3.5" 1.44 MB floppies? A 128 MB USB Flash drive can be had for the cost of 20 floppies these days.

The lack of expansibility is perhaps a more reasonable criticism, but then again, Apple is not marketing the Mini as a full-on computer. It is marketing it as an appliance, a media center. It has the same sort of satellite relationship a gaming console (such as, for example, the XBox) has to a full desktop and/or notebook computer. These machines are not meant to replace your personal computer. And if you really want to, although it is more expensive then merely popping in a 3.5" hard drive into an open drive bay, you can daisy chain 127 external drives via Firewire, or you can connect them by USB 2.0.

I can't believe he knocks the fact that it makes no noise while operating. Isn't this what everyone wants? What kind of moron doesn't know if they turned an appliance on? Early gaming consoles didn't have fans that made noise, and 8 year old children were competent enough to know that the damn thing was on. Come on!

His mischaracterization of MacOS X is really ridiculous, though. He is trying to argue that MacOS X is not as advanced as Windows, never bringing up the fact that MacOS X is in fact a UNIX variant (techinically, more so than Linux is, but we won't get into that right now.) Meaning that it is technology that has stood the test of time, the type of OS you can depend on in mission-critical scenarios. (OK, so you might not be screwing around with a GUI when you are in truly mission-critical scenarios, but, hey this is UNIX, you can boot into a command-line if you are truly hackerish.)

And since the early 1990s, just exactly what sort of application can you run on Windows that you can't run on MacOS? There are MacOS X versions of Microsoft Office, all industry standard desktop publishing and image processing programs are available for MacOS X, many advanced video editing and audio editing programs are only available for MacOS X, and if you really need to run Minesweeper or Solitaire in all it's crashable glory, you can run WinXP on top of Virtual PC (which, by the way, is now a Microsoft product.)

Yes, I know. The argument is games. But, really, this is a marketing and economic issue. There is no techinical reason you can't play games on a Mac. The typical performance bottleneck in a first-person shooter is the video card, but Macs use the same AGP video cards that x86-based systems use. Hell, one of the first person shooters ever created (Marathon, written by Bungee, the company responsible for the wildly popular Halo series) was written exclusively for the Mac, and this was in the early '90's Sure, it's a pain in the ass to port code written for DirectX APIs to anything else, but the limitation is economic, not technical. Just look at the popular games that have been ported to Mac OS and even to Linux: Civilizations, Warcraft III, even Halo. But honestly, if you're really a die-hard gamer, and you're into more than just first-person shooters like Half-Life, you really should be getting a game console and not screwing around with your computer that is likely to BSOD at a critical juncture in the game before you even saved.

The e-mail criticism is bizarre as well. Mail.app is a really excellent mailreader, especially when you consider it comes with the OS, unlike Outlook (the full version.) And if you really want to run Microsoft software, there's nothing stopping you from installing Microsoft Entourage, which I understand is actually superior to Microsoft Outlook.

What is really laughable is the criticism of the lack of antivirus software, defragmenter, and registry cleaner. While I recognize that Macs are not immune to viruses, UNIX systems are simply more robust. Consider that the Internet is run mostly by computers running a variant of UNIX. MacOS X makes the wise choice of not allowing the newbie user to run around as root, unlike Windows, which gives the first user account admin privileges, allowing one to trash one's computer willy-nilly. Without root access/admin privileges, it is pretty difficult to spread viruses and worms. Not to say that it's not impossible, just that it's less likely.

With a modern filesystem like HFS+, what in hell do you need a defragmenter for? Sure, fragmentation happens, but it is not the performance sucking problem that it is with FAT16 or FAT32. Note that NTFS (another modern filesystem) needs far less attention to defragmentation than it's DOS-based cousins.

The lack of a registry cleaner could be a problem, although, again, access to the Netinfo Registry is limited to the admin (i.e., you need to explicity type your password if you or a program wants to make changes.) You can't just blindly mangle your registry like you can on Windows, and there are very few reasons why a newbie would want to go mucking around in Netinfo.

I do not foresee the Mini getting unstable and slow in a couple of months. I've known users who have uptimes of a couple of months—i.e., not rebooting— with very little performance loss.

I do wonder what sort of software this guy is running. If a particular package doesn't exist, I am certain there is an equivalent, hell maybe even a Free or Open Source equivalent. And if you're really missing all those performance-killing gewgaws and doodads swirling around in your web browser, go ahead an install Mozilla Firefox and it's plugins. With regards to keeping track your passwords, it's built into the OS. Keychain.app will track your web passwords, e-mail passwords, and certificates if you want it to.

This is where the article descends into what may well be a gotcha. The author makes such absurd claims that perhaps this is a subtly written piece of satire, and the last few paragraphs is the "Ha-ha, fooled you into taking me seriously." For example, take how he tries to install MS Office for Windows onto a Mac. Or the fact that he mindlessly refers to the hard drive as C:\, which means nothing to a system that is not based on MS-DOS. Who the hell wants to run IE 5.2 anyway, which is ancient, not standards compliant, and which might actually open up your Mac to serious security risks? Run Safari, run Firefox. You've got choices. IE is a piece of trash that's not going to be updated until Microsoft releases Longhorn.

And then the fact that most of the software he runs is simply stuff that keeps his computer from otherwise crashing. Sad.

Anyway, I figure anyone who is going to buy a Mini knows exactly what they're going to use it for. For a file server/media center (mp3 player, photo storage, DVD player, etc.) that can be effortlessly added to a LAN (Rendevous/Zeroconf, baby!) $499 is not a bad price at all, and you don't need to assemble it yourself or try to hunt down obscure drivers for your cut-rate no-name Taiwanese peripherals. If you really hate Mac OS, you can probably easily get Linux to run on it. What more could a real hacker ask for? Sure, the stylishness might be a minus in that regard, but hey, nothings perfect.

12:08:13 6 Feb 2005 > /computers/macosx > permalink > 0 comments

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