Mac 2000 Revisited, Part 2

1998 – Back in March 1992, MacUser magazine ran an article comparing past and then-current Macs. One comparison was the original Macintosh with the Quadra 900: 8 MHz 68000 vs. 25 MHz 68040, 128 KB RAM vs. 4 MB to 256 MB, no SCSI or hard drive vs. several internal drive bays and an external SCSI bus, etc.

The next question: What would the Macintosh be like in another eight years. This is Part 2 with Henry Bortman’s speculations, followed by my comments (indented).

If you missed Part 1, read it now.

You won’t buy applications for your Mac either. You’ll buy functional modules. You’ll be able to assemble them as you do Lego building blocks, to perform precisely the tasks you require. You will train them by performing a task once and telling your Mac to remember how you did it. Of course, all documentation will be on-line, including interactive video tutorials.

Apple and Microsoft invested years and millions of dollars in this idea. Apple’s OpenDoc never really cut it (but don’t tell CyberDog lovers). Microsoft’s OLE didn’t fare much better. We still use the same of paradigm of documents being tied to programs.

Microsoft Office is probably the most successful family of programs to provide tight integration, allowing users to paste an Excel spreadsheet into a Word document and use it live, just as if they were running it in Excel.

On the Mac side, I and many others have been spoiled by the program that dethroned Microsoft Works. ClarisWorks (now AppleWorks, which was the name of a similar program for the Apple IIe) brought a new level of integration to word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics modules. In fact, ClarisWorks 1.0 was reviewed in the same issue of MacUser as Bortman’s Mac 2000 article.

For better or worse, software is coming with skimpier manuals and better online help. As one who likes to sit down with a manual, a highlighter, and PostIt notes for use as bookmarks, I don’t see it as a step in the right direction. On the other hand, for those comfortable with online documentation, it means never misplacing your manual. (And it provides a natural market for third-party books, such as the ubiquitous Dummies series.)

Software is more integrated than it used to be, but not as modular as Bortman predicted. I don’t foresee that changing soon, if at all.

However, there is one huge exception: the browser. Growing from early programs that could simply display HTML properly and send email replies, they have grown into behemoths – and each browser grows in functionality with each additional plug-in.

Perhaps this isn’t quite the way Bortman envisioned modular programming, but that’s really what Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator have become. So with that and online documentation, score two more for the prognosticator.

You won’t have to worry about document formats either. Format translators, when necessary, will automatically ensure that the information you need will be presented properly, regardless of how it was created.

Again, there have been some solid attempts in this direction, but we’re still a ways off. Apple and Claris pushed XTND – until programs started using features it didn’t support. Apple bundled MacLink converters with the OS, and Claris did with some programs, but that was generally not transparent. The program would usually ask which converter you wanted to use.

Still, thanks to XTND and MacLink, documents are more easily shared between programs and across platforms.

Microsoft is working toward HTML as a universal document format, allowing users to save (or perhaps export) Excel spreadsheets and Word documents in the language of the Web. How this will work out remains to be seen, but it has strong potential.

And Adobe’s PDF has become the format of choice for documents that have to look a certain way. The files tend to be large, you need a memory hungry (but free) program to view or print them, and you can’t edit the files without a special program, but PDF is rapidly becoming the second language of the internet (still way behind HTML).

By 2000, Apple will be supporting PDF from the Mac OS, Microsoft will have discovered whether HTML is a viable document interchange format, and MacLink may see less need to create new translators as there are less competing programs on the market.

You’ll still need to consider document formats, but much less than in the past. I’ll give Bortman one point here.

“Out of memory” errors will become a thing of the past. Base configurations will contain 128 megabytes of RAM. For additional storage, you’ll use removable solid-state RAM cartridges, the size of credit cards, that will hold as much as a gigabyte of data each.

Well, yes and no. Yes, the typical Year 2000 computer will have 128 MB of system memory (probably with a 20 GB hard drive and DVD). Moore’s Law made that a pretty safe prediction, along with 500 MHz to 1000 MHz CPUs.

No, we won’t eliminate out of memory errors. As computers grow more powerful with more memory and more storage space, software has done its best to keep pace. I can run a lot of programs in 128 MB, but it doesn’t prevent out of memory errors.

That would require a new memory model.

Especially since the Power Mac first shipped, virtual memory (VM) has become a practical way to expand the memory inside a Macintosh. Apple recommends turning VM on and setting it to 1 MB over installed RAM. Not only does this provide a bit more memory for you to work with, but through some magic I don’t quite understand, it allows a Power Mac to run the same programs using less memory – sometimes a lot less memory.

It isn’t magic, but it seems that way. There is a performance penalty, but it’s usually small if you’re not pushing the limits of your physical memory. The downside is that a few programs, and even some fonts, don’t work well with VM. My personal solution is to install more RAM and turn VM off. Another option is to use RAM Doubler, which emulates VM without using the hard disk. (On the other hand, with troublesome programs, RAM Doubler can suffer a worse performance hit than VM.)

The solution to out of memory errors it twofold. On the one hand, Apple needs a more robust VM implementation, which it should get with Mac OS X. By using a Unix-like core, Apple should be able to create VM as large as your hard drive.

Hand-in-hand with improved VM is improved memory management. A clever program from Jump Development, RAM Charger, adds dynamic memory allocation to the Mac OS. In layman’s terms, RAM Charger launches a program with just the amount of memory it needs to run (and it tracks this each time you launch the program, learning as it goes). Then, as the program needs memory to open, modify, or create documents, RAM Charger gives the program that much additional memory. Clever, very clever. (And smart enough that you can tell it not to RAM Charge programs like Photoshop or Netscape, which will grab all your memory if they have the chance.)

So two more points for Bortman, one for 128 MB standard RAM, and the other for the impending end of out of memory errors.

But what about solid-state RAM cards? They exist, but they haven’t caught on with mainstream computers. They are common in handheld computers and digital cameras. And most laptops have PC Card slots, allowing them to accept the same RAM cards as handheld devices and digicams.

But will they hit a gigabyte and become affordable within two years? It doesn’t look like it right now, but I’m not willing to say it won’t happen. A definite maybe for Bortman on this one.

On the other hand, we’ve had some real storage breakthroughs that Bortman didn’t discuss in the Mac 2000 article. Floppies are almost obsolete, CD-ROM is standard on every computer that doesn’t have DVD, 100 MB Zip drives are the second most popular removable media drive (only floppies have a larger installed base), and 1 GB to 2 GB cartridges look to be the next hot area.

No, they aren’t solid state RAM cartridges, but I do use a Zip drive to transfer files between work and home, just as I might use a solid state RAM cartridge if they had become the norm.

Bortman saw higher capacity transportable media ahead, he just predicted the wrong medium.

Continued in part 3.

Keywords: #mac2000

Short link: