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The Legends of 68k

68KMLA on Microsoft, Mac OS X, the Classic Mac OS, and Linux

- 2006.10.06

Bong! . . . :-) . . . Welcome to Macintosh!

Yesterday, I started my second interview in the Legends of 68K series, with the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army. Here is the conclusion of that interview:

Tommy: What's your overall opinion of Microsoft back then and now?

Coxy: Back then I was a pretty big zealot and enjoyed flame war and reasoned argument alike. In fact, on the original forums Windows was bleeped out from posts, which made it a bit hard to discuss the Finder or WindowShade!

These days I think MS has really cleaned up their act. They have an awful lot of software out there with poorly designed interfaces, but I can really get behind their efforts to rewrite their main money earners and get rid of all the legacy limitations. Many companies have in the past moved quite successfully from "bad guy" to "good guy", with IBM being the main example. In popular opinion, Microsoft might just join them.

LCGuy: Back then, considering I was 11 years old, I thought that Microsoft was an evil empire that should be boycotted, ha ha. However, today, my opinion on MS is different. In my opinion, in some ways, MS is a pretty decent company - they do make some very decent products, such as the Xbox and their peripherals, as well as some of their software. I do think they're a bit evil still, yes, but where is there such thing as a huge conglomerate that isn't even just a bit evil?

Cinemafia: I think Microsoft has become much tamer since then. Despite what anybody might say, Microsoft had a lot of good ideas and made a lot of innovation back then, but now they just seem to be floating by on relatively unnecessary updates to Windows and Office.

Tom: I've never been a huge fan of Windows, but I'm not really that much of a MS hater . . . but after using Windows for a few hours, it's such a relief to get back to the Mac OS!

Tommy: Do you think we could one day see a Microsoft and Apple merger?

Coxy: I don't think such a thing would ever happen, and I don't think it'd be a good thing if it did. Microsoft vs. Apple is the only real competition left in the software industry these days, even if you ignore the fact that it would probably ruin Apple.

LCGuy: I highly doubt it . . . I really don't think [Steve Jobs] would want to do that, and even if he did, I think the US [Department of Justice] would have something to say about MS swallowing up yet another company.

Cinemafia: The only way I could see this happening is if Steve Jobs was no longer in control of Apple. With Gates now - at least for official purposes - out of the Microsoft loop, it's certainly a possibility, but definitely not with Jobs still at Apple's helm.

Tom: I'd doubt it. They're just too different in their approaches to business.

Tommy: What do you think is different, if anything, about Apple now compared to back then?

Coxy: I think that these days Apple will tend to do things in both software and hardware without really having a good reason to do so. Jumping to ExpressCard and PCIe early, limiting the design of the Mac towers in various ways, and various complaints with the Finder are a few examples. It seems to me that "back in the day" having more hardware choices meant that transitions were easier to manage and niches were easier to fill.

LCGuy: The Apple of today is completely different to what it was back then. Under Sculley, Spindler, or Amelio, a lot of the things that have put Apple where it is today, such as the iPod, iTunes Music Store, and Mac OS X probably would not have happened, or would have ended up completely different.

It has been a bit of a bumpy ride in the past 10 years, but in my opinion, in the long run it has definitely been worth it, as while the medicine tasted terrible, the patient was in desperate need of it. In the mid 1990s, Apple was going down like the Titanic, and something had to be done about it fast.

Cinemafia: Probably the biggest shift in the Apple culture was with the iPod. Even though they have had lots of other products besides just computers in the past, the iPod very quickly became a consumer hit. That's made Apple have to change much of what it does to serve a broader customer base, much broader than the core of Mac users. I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing, but it has made Apple a lot more recognized - and sometimes Mac users actually like being part of a niche.

Tom: Steve Jobs.

Tommy: I get what you're saying there, Cinemafia! That's one of the things that I liked about the Mac to begin with was the feeling of being in a niche. Speaking of Steve Jobs, what's your opinion of Steve Jobs? Good or bad for Apple past and present?

Coxy: Obviously I can only speak about the rumors and such that we hear rather than from a properly informed standpoint, but it does seem like he's behind some dumb decisions and limitations in the various products. Apart from some odd incidents, I can't fault his performance in the original Mac project or in the present and think that he's been quite a good influence in both respects.

LCGuy: He's an excellent businessman, he really knows how to make good products that people want, and how to market them appropriately, which is very good for Apple.

Tom: Undoubtedly good. I can't say I know what it's like working with him, but he's managed to bring Apple back from self destruction and made them market leaders (in the digital music market at least). I don't think you can say that that's bad!

Tommy: What do you see looking ahead for the future of Apple and the Macintosh?

Coxy: I think they will continue to do pick up market share and remain a big consumer electronics and media distributor, but still remain as the "other" option.

LCGuy: I think the next few years are going to be very interesting. I'm not really sure what is going to happen, but I guess we'll see. For some reason though, I have this feeling that Steve Jobs is not going to stay as CEO for much longer than another couple of years. I don't know why, but for a while now I've had this feeling that he will probably either step down to a lower role within the company or leave completely.

Meanwhile, I can see the iPod retaining the lion's share of the DAP market, as long as Apple plays their cards right and keeps one step ahead of MS and their Zune player.

Cinemafia: I see Apple getting more into specialized computing. This is something that's already echoed in the computer industry as a whole, but I think (as usual) Apple will do it best (for the consumer, anyway). I can foresee them having a completely separate line of very targeted appliances that do one (or a few) things really, really well.

Tom: I hope Apple can maintain it's current position in the music market - and hopefully use that to drive more sales of Macs. However, if Vista is as bad as everyone is saying, we might not need the halo effect!

Tommy: Did you ever see the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley? If so, what did you think of it?

Coxy: I thought it was pretty entertaining, if a little melodramatic to spice up the two hours. There were quite a few interesting tidbits in there as well; I'd recommend it if you're interested in the old days but somehow haven't seen it yet.

LCGuy: I have seen the movie, and I have a copy of it myself. It is very interesting, and it always makes me wonder what would have happened if even one thing had happened differently. For example, what if HP had purchased the idea for the Apple I? What would've happened if IBM had rejected Bill Gates' offer? What would've happened if Steve Wozniak had not been in the plane crash and suffered from memory loss? It's a very interesting topic, and the movie is very good.

Cinemafia: I did see it, and I think just the fact that a film was made about Jobs and Gates is a testament to how much they (and their companies) have changed the world. It's got some great performances that really capture the unique, frontier spirit of those early days.

Tom: I saw it fairly recently. I though it was pretty good.

Tommy: I really enjoyed the movie because I thought it showed both the good and bad side of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Do you think Windows has bridged the gap between the Mac OS and itself as far as usability and user-friendliness?

Coxy: I'd say that they're getting closer and closer, but that the Mac OS moves faster and so typically includes several new ideas before Windows does. Most UI development has stagnated, though, with only really one good idea per release these days.

LCGuy: The Windows UI certainly has come a long way in the past few years, but in my opinion, the Mac OS is still streets ahead in some ways. When I teach people how to use either Windows or the Mac, I find that the reason why Windows users have such a hard time adjusting to the Mac is because they have to think in a different way to what MS has trained them to think. For new computer users, however, Windows still has a terrible interface.

A couple of months ago I was teaching my mother, who has never used any computers apart from our Macintosh LC III (running System 7) how to use a modern Windows XP PC, and it was just terrible. She just couldn't understand some parts of the interface, because of the poor design. Try explaining to someone who is completely new to computers why you need to go to the "Start" menu to shut down your computer sometime.

Cinemafia: As much as it can, yes, I suppose. Vista is already making the rounds in its RC1 form, and already there have been a lot of reactions to it as looking identical to Mac OS X. As someone who uses OS X regularly, [I know] this isn't really the case, but I think it goes to show that for the general public there will be a lot less discrepancy between the two once the full version of Vista is released.

I think this is a good thing, because on one hand it forces Apple to lead the way in OS design. On the other, it makes it easier for both the younger and older generation to enter the computing world without having to learn very different ways of getting things done.

Tom: It's getting better, but there are still quite a few things about it that make you think "what were they thinking?" Not that the Mac OS is perfect, but it's considerably more consistent!

Tommy: What do you think are some of the things that have held back Windows from an ease-of-use standpoint?

Coxy: Much of the OS and programs have been designed by whomever felt like it, or so it seems. Random interface elements are strewn all over the place, and if something was hard to program, then it was left out. I know from experience that the most usable interfaces are the ones which require an inordinate amount of work behind, but the engineers at Microsoft have not seemed to bother. I think they probably have some great usability engineers over there, but are held back by other constraints. Still, it doesn't really excuse the presentation of the final product.

LCGuy: Some parts of the Windows interface just don't make any sense to new users. For example, the Start menu to shut down your computer. For people like you and I who have been using computers for 10+ years, its fine, but for new users it can get very confusing.

Cinemafia: Probably the biggest thing is the lack of hardware integration. Windows needs to be compatible with a very wide spectrum of hardware, and this situation has in some cases forced Microsoft to spread itself too thin.

Tom: I don't know. I think a general lack of UI consistency between applications has always been a problem in Windows. While some OS X apps are nonstandard, most of them seem quite consistent in design, which helps a lot.

Tommy: What do you think about Linux and the open-source movement?

Coxy: Linux bothers me in that it is not really one entity, but a myriad of different configurations which render the moniker quite useless. There's no standards or order to what's available, but the price cannot be beat, and so it gets used.

Open source software is fine, but as a community they could really use the help of some people with skills in UI design. Unfortunately the "democratic" process of OSS leads to infighting, politics, project forks, etc. as well.

I'm also not particularly impressed by the GPL, and the way that people will release their own software under that license simply because it's the most widely spread.

LCGuy: I think its a good thing, personally. A lot of the innovations that we take for granted today have come from Linux and open source software, and had it not been for the open source movement, chances are a lot of them may never have seen the light of day.

Cinemafia: I work in the IT industry, so I have to use Linux every day. For infrastructure, it just can't be beat. It's a robust and malleable system that can accommodate just about anything you could want in a server or network. At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's also great for limited desktop use, thin clients, and mobile/embedded situations.

I think the only real failing of Linux is with the creative professional. There's just no easy way to do any serious creative work on a Linux OS, although this is largely because the software developers of the programs that creative professionals typically use have no interest in porting to Linux. The open-source community has come a long way in developing applications that fill these gaps; however you're not going to find any professionals taking the time to learn how to implement them (along with a new OS).

Tom: I've always been a fan of open-source software. The ability to grab the source code for an application and modify it for your own needs is just fantastic. Also, you can't complain with free software! I don't think Linux will ever take over the desktop market . . . but with Vista supposedly being the state that it is, hopefully more people will look into Linux.

Tommy: Do you believe Linux will ever become a major player in the OS market? The third major OS?

Coxy: I think they are already the third major OS by the primary definition, simply through the widespread use of Linux in servers, render farms, and the like. I do not believe that it will ever become a major factor in the desktop usage market, though.

LCGuy: I'm really not sure . . . it's great for servers and other backend systems, but I really can't see it gaining momentum as a desktop OS unless someone comes out with a cheap Linux distribution that is easy to use and supports all the same peripherals and software as Windows.

The main reason I run Windows on my PC instead of Linux is simply because Linux doesn't have all the same software that Windows does, and while there are alternatives, sometimes there's simply no substitute for the real thing.

Cinemafia: I think Linux kind of is the third major player right now, since it has a huge part of the enterprise market and is quickly moving into the embedded market. But I really can't see it making any further ground in the desktop field . . . Microsoft and Apple will make sure of that.

Tom: I think it still needs a lot of work before it's ready to become a major player. The ease of use and general look and feel have improved a lot over the last few years, so hopefully they'll continue to.

Tommy: Do you think the move from the classic Mac OS to OS X was a good move for Apple?

Coxy: Yes indeed, but I wish certain aspects of the UI and Finder had been kept. Instead, 10.0 and 10.1 were pretty horrible with each step towards 10.4 slowly giving us more and more of the things we enjoyed in OS 9.

LCGuy: Yes and no, really. Yes, because the Mac was in desperate need of a completely new OS, and no, because of all the compatibility issues that it introduced. While Mac OS X has gained Apple a lot of customers, I do think that it has also lost Apple a few customers who got annoyed at the fact that software and hardware which they had paid good money for would not work natively under Mac OS X, and that the only fix for those software packages and peripherals was replacement.

I can imagine that if I was, say, a musician, and I had a high end ProTools audio setup that was running under OS 9 and did not support OS X, I would be pretty annoyed at Apple, and would simply hang onto my current system for as long as I could.

Cinemafia: I think it was probably the best decision for them, next to releasing the iPod. Classic Mac OS does have a few technical point that make it better, at least for doing certain things. However, the advancements in OS X greatly outweigh those of Classic, and among other things have managed to let Apple finally break into the enterprise market.

Yet for some reason a lot of us look back at Classic with more than just nostalgia. It was for a long time the only choice on Mac hardware, and many of us even choose to use Classic as our main OS and find that despite its limitations, there's not that much that we can't do with it on a daily basis.

Tom: Although it was a bit of a pain at the time, looking back on it, I think it was a good move. OS X has given a nice, stable platform for Apple to build on. As much as I like OS 9, it was time for it to go. OS X is just so much more usable on a day to day basis.

Tommy: From a user-interface standpoint, do you think the changes that were made in OS X - such as doing away with the real Apple menu, doing away with the Application menu, adding the Dock - was a good thing or not?

Coxy: I disagree with the random limitations in OS X in which useful OS 9 features were cut out for seemingly no reason, things like the lack of the Apple menu, labels, spring loaded folders - that type of thing. Even now we don't have spring loaded folders in the Dock, although we're told that the sixth major [version] of OS X will add it! Apart from that, I do like the Dock, imperfect as it may be, and everybody likes Exposé and some of the other new ideas.

LCGuy: Yes and no, really. Some of the changes are a very good thing, such as the Dock. The Dock is excellent, and I find it to be very handy. However, I do miss some parts of the classic Mac OS, such as the real Apple menu and the Application menu - and even Apple Platinum.

Cinemafia: The Dock has been a good move and has been emulated in both Windows and Linux. As for neutering the Apple menu . . . I still kind of lament that. There was always something so simple about being able to fully customize it, and there are a lot of Windows-users who wish there was a Start Menu equivalent in the Mac OS.

Tom: Now that I've got used to OS X, I don't really find any of the things they added/took away that limiting. Sure, the old Apple menu was a bit more useful than the new one, but the Dock takes care of most of the functions that it lost. I also feel that Exposé and command-tab switching is a far better combination than the Application menu. OS X is by no means perfect, but neither was OS 9, and I think OS X is an improvement in general.

Tommy: Do you think the move to Intel was a smart move for Apple?

Coxy: I do, but at the same time it is extremely annoying and painful. Software has become a big pain now, and the lack of Classic [mode] is an annoyance as well.

LCGuy: I think that it is a very good idea. While the PowerPC has been an excellent chip, sadly, in the past few years it has started to lag behind processors offered by Intel and AMD, and this has cost Apple customers, profits, and market share. The switch to Intel, while it was a complete shock, puts them back into the race and also has a side benefit of allowing Macintosh's to boot into Windows, which will be a real benefit to those who want to switch from the PC to a shiny new Mac, as they will be able to retain software and hardware that they have paid good money for, while at the same time they can have the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful new Mac, and all the benefits that go with it.

Cinemafia: I think it was the best option given the circumstances. IBM just couldn't deliver on all fronts, [those] being speed, power consumption, and availability. AMD has too many ties to Windows, so all that really left was Intel. It has already shown that it's a great benefit, however, as Intel has come full-circle with the release of its Core 2 Duo processors.

Tom: Again, I think it's going to benefit them in the long run. Although the PPC is a fantastic family of chips, IBM/Freescale don't seem that interested in giving Apple what they really need . . . fast, efficient processors. Intel seem to have that sorted with the new Core 2 platform, so Apple should now be able to keep up the performance of the latest Macs with other OEMs . . . which is a good thing!

Tommy: Do you believe the changes Apple has made over the past few years have been good moves overall?

Coxy: Yes, making profit and increasing market share is only good news for Apple, and good news for the community of users as well.

LCGuy: Mostly, yes. While they have dome some things that I don't agree with (such as renaming iTools to .mac and requiring that you pay for it), they have done many good things, especially with the iMac, iPod, iTunes, PowerMacs, and the new Intel Macs.

Tom: I do. Apple are now in a better position overall than they have ever been!

Fun Questions

Tommy: What are your real names?

Coxy: James Cox.

LCGuy: Not telling. Sorry, I just don't like giving out that sort of stuff....

Cinemafia: Mine is Alex Wichman.

Tom: Tom Levens . . . surprising, no?

Tommy: What do you guys do for fun? Be honest now!

Coxy: The standard stuff, I would say; going out on Friday nights, parties, playing games, listening to music....

LCGuy: I'd consider myself to be a well-rounded person, and I enjoy doing all sorts of things.

My other passion, secondary to computers, is cars. I love seeing them, reading about them, driving them, and working on them. There is nothing quite like flying down the highway at 100 km/h in a beautiful car and loving every minute of it. I personally like pretty much anything with four wheels on it, but if you were to ask me what my favorite manufacturer is, I'd have to go with Holden.

They're an Australian company owned by GM, and I just love everything about their cars. There's just something about them that's just so right, so perfect, that other cars are missing - a lot like comparing the Apple Macintosh to Windows PCs.

Other than that, I enjoy watching movies, hanging out with friends, going out to parties with friends, going to concerts, working out, and traveling. Of course, I also enjoy working with computers, but you know all about that already.

Cinemafia: Besides working, helping run the 68kMLA, and being involved with my family, I also try to stay connected with my art life. I've been drawing, writing, and taking photographs for most of my life and attended CalArts as a Film Student from the late 90s until 2001. I also got very interested in audio production and making electronic music somewhere along the way, and I'm working on my eighth album, to come out some time next year.

Tom: Listen to music, play music, socialize, and tinker with old computers!

Tommy: Sounds like you guys know what a good time is!

Have any of you met each other in person?

Coxy: Unfortunately, not me personally. I know some of our members have met each other, though.

LCGuy: I can't speak for others, but I have never met any of the members of the 68kMLA in person. I hope to one day though.

Cinemafia: I've only met a couple other 68kMLA members, namely Clinton, Mathgeek, and now Stevenkan. All three were actually hardware exchanges of some kind and not really the informal, hanging-out that you might think.

Tom: Not yet! Though, if anyone happens to be passing through Glasgow....

Tommy: What jobs do you hold down besides commanding the 68kMLA?

Coxy: I'm a Software Engineer with Motorola in Perth, Australia.

LCGuy: Currently I'm unemployed, but I'm a university student, and I repair computers for neighbors and friends.

Cinemafia: I'm currently a Network Operations Center Technician for eFax.com. I've also been known to do some freelance Web and graphic design on the side.

Tom: I'm a student at the moment.

Tommy: What's the farthest you've went to rescue a Mac from certain doom - be it a trash dumpster, getting run over by a car, or some other freakish thing happening?

Coxy: Nothing quite so dramatic, I'm afraid, but I have had some tight auction wins and had to carry heavy equipment all the way home.

LCGuy: This is not really a Mac, but in April 2003, I was so desperate to rescue an AppleVision 1710 from the trash that I resorted to carrying it back to my dorm room via a wheelbarrow for roughly 800 meters. You should've seen the weird looks on everyone's faces as I pushed it back to my dorm room, ha ha ha ha.

Other than that, I'd have to say that the farthest I've gone to rescue a Mac was the day before I did that, where I carried a Power Mac 8100 and an Apple ColorPlus display for the same distance. I still have the displays, and they still work great. I also got two great years of use out of the Power Mac as well, until the motherboard died in July. A shame, as that was a great Mac, and I had plans to soup it up and turn it into a Photoshop monster. (max RAM, G3 upgrade, decent video card, a couple of big/fast hard drives, etc.)

Cinemafia: Right now this stands at about 50 miles, which is general my limit (given that I don't have a lot of free time to spend driving around for stuff).

Tom: I have to say, all my liberations have been pretty easy . . . I haven't had to risk life and limb yet!

Tommy: I remember reaching inside a dumpster to rescue a Centris 610. I don't have it now, but I had just enough spare parts to add to it (due to it being gutted) to get it going.

What's your philosophy on life?

Coxy: Stay cool!

LCGuy: I really haven't thought much about this, but I'd have to say that my main philosophy on life is to not be afraid to think outside of the box, not to be afraid to think or be different, and to never give up if you fail. Failure is merely an opportunity for a second chance.

Cinemafia: I believe very strongly in balance; that's really the only trick there is to life. The universe always comes to balance, and if you recognize and appreciate it you can do your own with your life and be a better person because of it.

Tom: I just go with what feels right at the time.

Tommy: I wanna tell you all, it was cool to get to talk with you. Thanks for the interview! Good luck and here's to the continued success of 68kMLA!

Those guys are really a great group of people. They, along with all the wonderful people on the 68kMLA, make it what it is!

Another thing that was interesting was what Cinemafia mentioned to me. He said, "A lot of the 68kMLA members are quite young." He went on to say, "I mean, there's a lot that like me actually grew up with Apple, but then we have a lot of really active members who are teens and have discovered vintage Macs after - sometimes long after - they were discontinued. I've always thought that was really interesting."

Indeed it is! I'm one of those young ones at 24. Although I came to the Mac world late (in 1999), I was thoroughly impressed by what these older Macs could do, and the Mac idea in and of itself, how brilliant it was! I wish everyone at the 68kMLA many more years of helping people with their older Macs and sharing a few laughs along the way. LEM

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