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Mac Musings

OS X and the econoMac

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- 25 May 1999 - Tip Jar

Our friends at the Macintosh Broadcasting Company (MacBC) are thinking different.

In the article Is it time for a cheaper Mac?, they propose that Apple wait to release a new inexpensive modular Mac until it can ship with OS X Client installed.

I think it's brilliant. Once OS X Client ships (I'm guessing at or shortly after the Macworld Expo on January 2000), a lot of Mac owners are going to be left out in the cold.

My Mac Plus, SE, and Portable can't run Mac OS 7.6. Neither can my more powerful Mac II or IIcx. The IIci, IIfx, and PowerBook 150 won't do OS 8. The Centrises and Quadras (610, 650, 660av) don't run OS 8.5.

Umax J700And neither the SuperMac J700 nor the SuperMac S900 are expected to run Mac OS X Client, although they will probably run Sonata (expected to be released as OS 8.7).

Out of over a dozen Macs in the house, not a single one will run Mac OS X, the operating system for the 21st century.

Not a single one.

Which leads MacBC to propose Apple ship a less expensive Mac when OS X ships.

The idea has great merit. I already have monitors, a network, and more. If I could swap out a Quadra or SuperMac for a new inexpensive G3 model running OS X, it would be a very natural upgrade.

I wouldn't mind doing it today, but the only options are the US$1,200 iMac 333 and the US$1,600 Blue and White Power Mac G3. Both are out of my price range. Besides, the iMac's 15" monitor is too small for me - working with a 21" screen at work, I even find the 17" monitor at home small (see Living Large for a discussion of huge screens).

The release of Mac OS X Client should be a compelling reason for a lot of longtime Mac users to upgrade from our antiques. We love them, but they'll be left behind by the new system architecture. (We'll keep the old Macs. Count on that. We haven't surrendered them yet - and we'll do our best to use them until they can no longer display the proper date.)

I think MacBC is on to something important here. OS X Client can create a hardware market such as Apple has never seen before as every pre-G3 Power Mac is suddenly outdated (at least as far as the current OS is concerned).

Still, I'd rather see Apple release an economical Power Mac before January. It could share almost all its components with the iMac, Blue and White Power Mac G3, and even the PowerBook G3. Here's what I'd like to see:

  • 350 MHz or faster G3 CPU
  • 64 MB RAM, one memory expansion slot
  • accelerated motherboard video with 8 MB VRAM
  • 10/100 ethernet
  • USB and FireWire ports
  • at least one PCI slot
  • 4 GB or larger IDE hard drive
  • 24x or faster ATAPI CD-ROM

I'm guessing Apple could leverage current designs and parts inventory to offer this for $600-750 in an attractive case and still maintain their usual margin.

But to go a step beyond what MacBC proposes, what if Apple released this econoMac in August with a free upgrade to OS X Client - instead of waiting until January to ship both the new inexpensive Mac and the new OS?

At a price that's a reasonable alternative to a 400 MHz daughter card for my old SuperMac (currently $800 and up), a computer that may never run OS X Client, the econoMac (or cMac) at under $800 could be a very attractive option.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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