Things Macintosh

Megahertz Really Does Matter (Outside the Mac Community)

Rodney O. Lain - 1999.12.08

Michael Faraday, a pioneer in the field of electricity, was demonstrating the tremendous potential of his new invention, the dynamo, to the British Royal Scientific Society. A young politician in the audience, William Gladstone, grew bored, finally saying, "I'm sure this is all very interesting, Mr. Faraday, but what in God's earth good is it?"

"Someday," replied the brilliant inventor dryly, "you politicians will be able to tax it."
  - Anonymous

My wife laughs at me.

This isn't anything new, if you know my wife. She laughs at the way I rhapsodize about my PowerBook. She laughs at how easy it is to get me to laugh: just pop into the VCR any episode of the "Three Stooges" and stand back (only the episodes with Curly, mind you; Shep just doesn't cut it with me). She laughs at the way I love to rant about anything - I'm practicing to be a curmudgeon, I tell her.

Today, f'rinstance, I opined that David Letterman was much funnier when his show was a cult classic shtick show on NBC. A few weeks before that, I raved that that Adam Sandler was a comic genius.

Ever since we've been married, though, she's also had other reasons to laugh at me: I continuously have a mantra du jour (of the day) that reflects some emphatic opinion of mine.

Depending upon what I've recently read or have seen, I usually will have gleaned some idea that I latch onto as a pseudo life principle or teaching. For example, I, like many others, believe that "Married With Children" and "The Simpsons" sometimes reflects American family life more accurately than any documentary. I can use myself as an example: I am often doing my Homer Simpson impression: "Mmmmmm - PowerBooks." One week, it was "It's good to be the king," after viewing Mel Brooks' "History of the World;" another, it was "Yeah, baby!" after laughing my way through "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery."

This habit of using mantras has carried over to other areas of my life. One particular mantra I've come across, I think, should be part of the average Mac user's life, also.

Humble Pie

One of the hardest things right now is to hear PC users talk about the megahertz advantage that PCs presently have over Macs.

For a brief period, we had bragging rights after the introduction of the Power Mac G4. Remember the "Secret Weapon" commercial? We incessantly reminded PC users about it. It seemed Apple could do no wrong.

Then Apple did wrong.

I don't want to recap the G4 dilemma. You've heard about it enough; but I will recap for those new to the Macintosh fold: Apple hyped the 500 MHz G4, then we found out that it won't ship until some time next year. So, meanwhile, we are to make due with bragging about the 350-, 400- and 450 MHz G4s. But that's okay, because we all know that megahertz doesn't mean much, don't we? We know that a RISC processor will eat a CISC processor for lunch, right?

Well, I don't know that personally. I just trust the opinion of those more well-versed in such technological esoterica than I. I do, however, believe that when combined with other aspects of the computing experience (like RAM, Operating System, hardware, etc.), the Mac should be the computer of choice for the discriminating user.

Even if megahertz does mean anything, we don't have to worry, because Motorola is currently testing and hyping a 780 MHz G4, and the G5 processor is rumored to have a projected speed of 2 gigahertz (that's 2,000 megahertz for mathematically challenged people like me).

That is great. That is big news. It will once again give the Mac the advantage. It will....

Stop the press.

We shouldn't be talking about products that haven't shipped. We have no reason to brag about the Mac, speedwise (raw computational power, however, is another thing) I almost bought into the same mentality that we constantly accuse the PC manufacturers of whenever we try to corner PC users into admitting that the Mac is superior to the PC.

How to Lose Friends and Intimidate People

You've probably done it yourself. You get into an argument with a PC user. You know your argument cold: emphasize RISC versus CISC. Argue the superiority of the Mac OS over Windows. And be sure to smirk cynically when they try to counter any of these points, especially when they begin to talk about some future version of Windows or the Pentium that is on the horizon (Intel's forthcoming "Itanium," for example).

I have one smart-alecky reply that I like to use: if they begin to talk about things that aren't on the market, I like to counter with my mantra (or, pat answer), "If it ain't shipping, then it's vaporware."*

I love using that one. Coupled with my well-practiced Mac user's sneer, it usually shuts them up. Try it yourself. If a PC user wants to talk about the Athlon that's rumored to run at fill-in-the-blank megahertz, sneer and tell them it's vaporware. Ditto for Windows 2000 (heck, if you want to really be pompous about it - and what Mac user doesn't? - you can tell them that all versions of Windows are vaporware . . . if you know what I mean, and I think you do).

What goes around, comes around

But now the shoe's on the other foot. We have a Power Mac that runs up to a measly 450 MHz. Who cares about gigaflops? All the average customer knows is that a PC's megahertz is numerically greater than the Mac's (a lot greater!). What do you do? You do nothing, because no argument works there.

This prompts a major news flash for us Mac bigots: megahertz really does matter - outside the Mac community. Wintel has won the marketing game in that regard. I'm confident that Apple will change the rules of that game, but until then, you and I are stuck on the losing end of our perennial argument.

In a way, it's good that this G4 thing happened. We Mac users needed to get knocked down a peg or two. We have gotten into the habit of bragging about things that don't even exist yet:

  • OS X: Who cares what it will be able to do? It isn't shipping.
  • PowerBook G4: Ditto.
  • Flat screen iMac: So, what?
  • Apple-branded handheld: But I can get a Palm today.
  • Apple's internet strategy: Sounds good, but can you show it to me?

Such speculation is so . . . so Microsoft. However, there are things we can talk about:

  • iMac DV: Now I'm listening.
  • Apple's stock trading in triple digits: Now you're talking.
  • The whole industry copying the iMac: Imagine that.

Talk about what you have, not about what you desire. This isn't hard to do, even if it may take some practice.

I know it's fun to speculate and to talk about the rumors that we hear. But that's not dealing in reality. Reality is the touch, see, and feel aspect of life. Oh, sure, I'm into rumor-mongering as much as the next guy, but I'm feeling more and more inclined not to partake as much as in the past. It's intoxicating, and I don't like being intoxicated.

And think about how it looks to the people who are not intoxicated, yet are witness to us when we are.

That's something for us all to think about.

I hope this puts future Apple products into perspective. And just to make sure, I want to say it one more time: "if it ain't shipping, then it's vaporware."

Now you try it. Repeat after me....

*Note: I know that "ain't" is ungrammatical, but I'm invoking my writer's license here. BTW, some dictionaries now include entries for the word "ain't," to the chagrin of English teaches everywhere

Rodney O. Lain (1968-2002) called himself a fashion victim: He liked wearing socks with his sandals. When he wasn't dispensing fashion advice, Rodney wrote for Low End Mac, The Mac Observer, Applelinks, and many other websites. Rodney lived in Minnesota. His own website was, and we have collected as much of his writing that has since disappeared from the Web as possible in The Rodney O. Lain Archive.

The most widely read Things Macintosh columns:

  1. Apple is a company, 10/4/1999
  2. The main difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, 1/17/2000
  3. The $600 iMac, 12/24/1999
  4. Apple will rule the computer world, 11/17/1999
  5. I'm not paying $20 for my OS X upgrade, 2001.07.25.
  6. A Mac is like Prozac, 10/13/1999
  7. I'm a drop the funk bomb on ya: Milking the Macintosh for all it's worth, 2001.03.20.
  8. More links and links to memorial articles in the Things Macintosh index.

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