Mac Musings

Fracturing the Macintosh Market

- 1998.01.23 - Tip Jar

It had to happen sooner or later.

First, Apple dropped support for the Mac 128K and 512K. After all, with single-sided floppies, too little RAM, and no SCSI port, they could no longer be considered serious productivity machines. The last version of the Mac OS to support these computers was 4.1, introduced in 1986.

At least they could be upgraded with a Mac Plus motherboard.

Introduced in 1986 with a double-sided disk drive, 1 MB RAM (expandable to 4 MB), and a SCSI port, the Plus can run System 7.5.5 (the 7.5.5 updater came out in late 1996). Ten years of OS support has to be some kind of record.

Practically every Mac program would run, albeit slowly, on any Mac with sufficient memory and drive space. Some did require color, which the smallest Macs didn't support. A few wanted a math coprocessor, which the oldest Macs were not designed for. But even then the Plus was a viable computer. (Frankly, it still is for certain applications.)

With Mac OS 7.6, Apple dropped support for all 68000-based Macs, all 68020-based Macs, and all 68030-based Macs with "dirty" ROMs.

Still, all the other 68030-based Macs, all the 68040-based Macs, and all then-current Power Macs could run System 7.6 and 7.6.1. Still, 7.6 wasn't a significant upgrade from 7.5.5, so most users of older Macs didn't feel left out in the cold.

Then came OS 8. No more support for 68030-based Macs. Lots of neat new features, such as pop up menus, spring loaded folders, and the ability to copy in the background. A lot of nice utilities broke (Speed Doubler and Copy Doubler, to name two favorites), but many have been updated. OS 8.1 goes even further with the new file system and a snappy finder.

Now those who have pre-68040 Macs and have seen OS 8 suffer from OS envy. Sure, some accelerators support it, but Apple has fragmented the Mac market with OS 8. Apple put some very impressive technology out of reach for a significant part of the established base.

Still, I think we can live with that. Apple II may have been forever (grin), but we all realized no other computer would be forever. We can still run most applications on older versions of the OS with older CPUs.

Now Microsoft has changed everything.

Remember Word 6 and Excel 5? Great Windows programs poorly ported to the Mac, they forced Microsoft to reintroduce Word 5.1a to the market. Even on a Power Mac, they were doggy. With patches, performance became acceptable, but Word 6 and Office 4.2 scarred Microsoft's reputation for Mac software. (It was never the best in the Macintosh community, but this made it worse.)

"Office 98 Makes Up for Past Sins" is the title of a review in Macworld (March 1998, p. 67). Essentially, it praises Microsoft for making Word, Excel, and PowerPoint true Macintosh applications. It applauds Outlook Express, the new email manager. It loves the fact that Office 98 installs no extensions and that it can fix itself if you remove a necessary component. Installation is drag-and-drop - you don't even need to double-click an installer.

Microsoft learned a lot from the Word 6/Excel 5 fiasco. It is to be applauded for revisioning for the Macintosh market.

However, they have further fractured the Mac market: Office 98 only runs on a Power Macintosh.

Now there are three classes of Mac users: pre-OS 8 users (mostly System 7.x, although some still use System 6.0.x), OS 8 68040 users, and the Office 98 cognoscenti - those who have Power Macs, CD-ROM drives, and enough RAM and drive space to install the beasty.

So, Microsoft, thanks for hearing our pleas and creating a set of applications the fit the Mac mold - and go beyond that - but why did you ignore the masses of users with 68030- and 68040-based Macs?

Maybe too many years of one-upmanship in the Wintel world, where you want users to buy newer computers with newer versions of Windows and Office have helped Microsoft forget that there's no such thing as an obsolete Mac. (See Disposable Computers? and The 68K Conundrum for more on that topic.)

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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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