Mac 2000 Revisited, Part 1

1998 – Back in March 1992, MacUser magazine ran an article comparing past and then-current Macs. One comparison was the original Macintosh with the Quadra 900: 8 MHz 68000 vs. 25 MHz 68040, 128 KB RAM vs. 4 MB to 256 MB, no SCSI or hard drive vs. several internal drive bays and an external SCSI bus, etc.

The next question: What would the Macintosh be like in another eight years. Following are Henry Bortman’s speculations, followed by my comments (indented).

Mac 2000

What will tomorrow’s Macs be like? Well, for one thing, they won’t be Macs. By the turn of the century, the Mac will be a museum piece. And so will the Mac operating system.

It’s almost seven years since Bortman wrote this. The Macintosh and the Mac OS have been through a lot of changes, especially moving to PowerPC. For a while, lot’s of people thought Apple would be history by 2000. But the cat came back and set everything right. (Thanks, Steve!)

Will there be Macs at the turn of the century? Most definitely. They’ll all be running variants of the PowerPC G4 processor, probably at speeds of 500 MHz and up. And they’re likely to be running Mac OS XI, a union of the Mac look-and-feel with the power of a Unix-like kernel.

Those of us who stop using our old Macs may create display cases, personal museums for the Macs we knew and loved, but only because the new Macs will be so much more powerful.

Not that there won’t be some familiar leftovers. You’ll still have icons on your computer screen, for those occasions when you insist on manipulating data manually. But voice commands will be more common. For graphics work, you’ll have a pressure sensitive pen.

Voice commands may be fine in a private office, but when I experimented with them on a Quadra 660av some years back, people in adjoining cubicles voiced their complaints. Voice technology is promising, it’s even well developed on Wintel, but it is likely to remain a niche input method until the computer can distinguish your voice from other voices and sounds.

As for pressure sensitive pens, they really haven’t made inroads yet. The Newton and some other handheld computers do a good job with handwritten input, but it hasn’t quite gone mainstream. There are rumors that Apple’s consumer portable will reintroduce some of this Newton technology, but married to the PowerPC and Mac OS instead of a completely separate system.

Until we have affordable high resolution workslate screens, pressure sensitive pens will remain the domain of the graphics professional with a touch tablet. But given a few more years, it could become a reality for the rest of us.

So far, these technologies remain promising but are unlikely to be implemented on Mac 2000.

Networks will be pervasive, but wires will be antiques. Future Macs will communicate by radio waves, so you’ll be connected wherever you go. Your computer will also function as a telephone, fax machine, pager, mailbox, and interactive cable-ready television. Vast quantities of useful information will be instantly available on The Net – a universal hookup to the world’s libraries and databases.

Networking remains pervasive in the Mac world, but it’s still an extra-cost option for most Wintel computers. Radio waves are used in some locations where the cost of wiring is prohibitive but have not caught on in general. Likewise, infrared communication remains a promising technology that is more widely implemented in hardware than used in the real world.

On the other hand, there are cellular modems, allowing connection to the Internet from anywhere with cellular phone service. It’s far from cheap, but it is a real option for some users.

The whole issue of the computer as telephone has become tied in with use of the Internet to make free (or minimal cost) phone calls anywhere in the world. It’s become a regulator’s nightmare as the phone companies try to control a technology they never anticipated.

The computer as fax machine is a reality. At work, I send most faxes from my Power Mac to a LaserWriter 16/600 with a built-in fax card. It dials the phone and sends the fax, which frequently goes right to another computer, where it is only printed out if a hard copy is needed for billing purposes (most of my faxing is purchase orders). It sure beats printing, grabbing a sheet of paper, and then walking to the fax machine.

Fax modems allow most computer users to do this, so score one for Bortman.

Computer as pager? Not the Mac, for the most part, but the Palm Pilot and Windows CE machines can do this. Expect it to be normal on portable computers in another year or two, so two more points for Bortman.

The computer really hasn’t shown itself a strong contender to replace the television. There are TV cards, AV inputs, and DVD players, but television does a much better job of displaying TV programs than the computer – and at a for more realistic price. As computers increase in power, this will become more viable, but they will still be less practical than regular TVs for regular television watching.

Finally, score a big one for Bortman on predicting the widespread deployment of the Internet. It’s not quite what anyone envisioned in 1992, but the World Wide Web has become so pervasive in the past three years that we look askance at people without email or businesses without websites.

By the way, an article on the Internet in the February 1992 issue of BYTE mentions email, Anarchie, FTP, and a few other things – but the World Wide Web didn’t even exist when Bortman made his predictions.

Continued in part 2.

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