My Turn

Sorry, Mac Using Suckers

What's in it for Apple or ATI to provide OS X drivers?

- 2001.12.11

From Insanely-Great Mac:


PowerBook, iBook, and Power Mac owners (yes, including iMacs) of Macs officially qualified for OS X are getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of driver support for older ATI cards in Macs built between 1997 and 1999.

A petition addressed to Apple has been started requesting drivers for the ATI Rage II and Rage Pro LT cards, millions of which were soldered into Bondi and fruity iMacs, beige G3s, original Tangerine, Blueberry and Graphite iBooks, and the Wallstreet (1998) and Lombard (1999) PowerBook G3 Series.

Lack of OS X support for these chipsets has meant sluggish graphics performance on these Macs....


As someone hoping to get a brand spankin' new off the shelf iBook in the next few weeks, I sympathize with people upset about lack of support for older ATI chipsets, because I know that I may be stuck in the same boat in a few years.

But let's look at it from another point of view. On a certain level, I've never understood the iMac computer-as-an-appliance design. As a person who primarily uses PCs, I expect to be able to pop the case and go rooting around in my computer's innards at will. There are trade offs for this, but let's not get into that whole PC vs. Mac thing right now.

The microwave in my office at work is severely underpowered. It takes about 15 minutes to cook a typical frozen meal. If we want a bigger, better, more powerful microwave, my office mates and I will have to pool our cash and buy one, because it is not as if we can buy a more powerful "microwave generation unit" and drop it in. It's an appliance. If you want newer, better performance, you have to buy a newer, better appliance.

So, with that in mind, who bought computers designed not to be opened except by a tech? ("Oh, the iMac is so easy. I just plug it in and go while you PC users have to mess around with all those cords and cables.") Who bought computers with the processors and graphics chips soldered to the motherboard, rendering them virtually non-upgradeable?

You bought an appliance, and now that decision has come back to bite you in the ass.

(As a PC user, let me say that the idea of a processor and graphics chips soldered to the motherboard with no upgrade path is anathema, except in the case of laptops, which other than being RAM expandable have no upgrade path. I can't think of a single PC laptop that is processor upgradeable.)

The minute Apple began soldering processors (and graphics chips) to motherboards, I think it became pretty clear that they wanted to make consumers have to buy a new computer every 3-5 years. (True, PC manufacturers do everything they can to make the average user think they need a new computer every two years, but if the average PC user would open up the case and learn a thing or two, they would discover they could quickly and easily make the necessary hardware upgrades to run new software, but I digress.) Yes, you iMaccies and PowerBookies are in a bind. While most PC users simply won't upgrade the hardware in their computers, you don't even have that option. Having upgradeable computers and graphics chipsets is not in Apple's or ATI's interests. Maximizing profit is.

Sure, it would certainly behoove Apple and ATI to provide drivers for those older chipsets. I think it would also behoove ATI to provide *nix drivers for their cards, but why should they take that time and expense when they know that some Alpha geek out there will do it for no payment other than the pleasure of writing a program? Generating goodwill and bonhomie is all fine and dandy, but money pays the bills.

Kwitcher bellyaching, buttercups. The iMac is a Road Apple, and newer PowerBooks are about as upgradeable as PC laptops. Either vote with your dollars and buy a PC (Apple and ATI are taking a calculated risk that you won't) or do what momma Apple (and ATI) wants you to do - buy this year's computer. The only other option is to see if these graphics chipsets are supported under BSD or Xfree86 and find some Alpha geek to port them to OS X.

Welcome to the real world. Apple and ATI are not your friends. They're not in it for your goodwill; they're in it for your money.

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