A Dozen Years of Low End Mac

2009-04-07: Dan Knight, Low End Mac’s publisher, informs us that today marks 12 years since he first posted some old Mac profiles on his personal website and started building Low End Mac.

Fizzled Mac Sites

That’s quite an accomplishment on the Mac Web, where there have been dozens – if not hundreds – of Mac aficionado sites launched over the past dozen years, most of which burned brightly (or, in some cases, not so brightly) and quickly fizzled out as initial enthusiasm for the venture waned or economic reality bit.

That dozen years encompasses the collapse of the dot.com bubble and, of course, the current recession. I’ve written for a fair few now-defunct Mac websites myself – the MacTimes Network, Mac OS Daily, MacSimple, and MacJunkie come to mind off the top of my head – all worthy efforts that I enjoyed but now departed from the scene.

It was working for the MacTimes Network (MTN) that introduced me to Dan and Low End Mac (LEM), which was affiliated with the MTN back in the day. When MTN sort of imploded, I moved to LEM in September 1999, and I’ve been here ever since.

Miscellaneous Ramblings

My first feature for LEM was posted September 9, 1999 as a Miscellaneous Ramblings column. It focused on issues some WallStreet PowerBook owners were having with their 13.3″ displays. The Miscellaneous Ramblings (MR) feature actually originated on MacOpinion (which is still around, and to which I still contribute),* but that site was going through an organizational transition that would lead to a change in ownership, and MR found a new home on LEM.

Then as now, the Miscellaneous Ramblings name was descriptive of the eclectic topical matter the column addresses, from hardware and software reviews to subjects like my juxtaposition of the new Tata Nano paradigm-buster car with Apple’s nano-monikered products that was posted yesterday.

Disagreeing with the Editor

WallStreet PowerBook G3I actually began my first Miscellaneous Ramblings entry on Low End Mac by disagreeing (mildly :-) ) with the publisher, Dan Knight, who had designated the early 233 MHz L2 cacheless “MainStreet” version of the WallStreet a Road Apple. I had tried one of these machines out as my daily driver for a couple of months and quite liked it; indeed, I liked it enough that I bought one of its successor models in January 1999, although by that time the base 233 MHz unit had a 12.1″ active matrix display (as opposed to the MainStreet’s 12.1″ passive matrix screen) and 512 KB of backside cache.

I nominated the 13.3″ display versions of the first generation WallStreet, which had ribbon cable connector issues, as a more appropriate Road Apple candidate. Incidentally, as I noted here last week, my old WallStreet is still in service – now into its second decade, with my daughter having just installed OS X 10.4.11 Tiger on it last week.

More Miscellany

Other MR topics I riffed on over the balance of 1999 included the iCab Preview version 1.7 (I remain a fan of iCab and still use it), AirPort support for older Macs, PowerBook upgrades, CardBus USB support for older PowerBooks, legacy Macs and the professional wedding photographer, Time magazine’s take on Steve Jobs, and backup software. Hmmmm – definitely a lit of “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” vibe in that sampling!

Pismo PowerBookSince I subsequently became a Pismo PowerBook owner and avid Pismo enthusiast, my column speculating about the as-yet unannounced but widely anticipated Pismo “thin” PowerBook is fun to revisit. Then, as I am these days over netbooks, I was chiding Apple for a gaping hole in its notebook lineup through which it was bleeding sales to the PC side, where there was, again as today, a delicious selection of light and thin portable laptops – a form factor I advised Apple to shoot for with its hoped for thin PowerBook.

They didn’t. In the 1999 column, I cited rumor predictions that Pismo would shed about a pound of weight and a quarter inch of thickness compared with the then-current Lombard PowerBook, but it didn’t happen. The Pismo, when it arrived at Macworld Tokyo in March 2000, turned out to be a dead ringer for the Lombard with a virtually identical form factor, although internally it was radically reengineered.

Late 2008 Aluminum MacBookThe Pismo seems positively porky today compared with my Unibody MacBook, but it was certainly no disappointment. I’m typing this column on one right now (albeit upgraded several times), and in retrospect I’m glad Apple didn’t compromise it for the sake of thinness as they have with subsequent Mac laptops.

I should also mention that Dan Knight’s Pismo predictions, which I cited in that column, were uncannily dead-on – that Pismo would likely be largely an upgrade and bug fix of the Lombard PowerBook G3 “bronze keyboard” model with a faster 100 MHz internal bus, a speed bump of its G3 processor (but no G4), and probably more RAM and bigger hard drives, as well as having FireWire ports superseding the time-honored PowerBook HDI-30 SCSI port, and internal AirPort support. Dan batted 1,000 with those prognostications.

Dogs, Cats, and Computers

More whimsically, my Miscellaneous Ramblings column for 10 Dec. 1999 was entitled Cat-lovers, Dog-lovers, and Computer Platforms, which I began by saying:

“A topic of enduring fascination for me is trying to analyze why people form polarized opinions and affinities about things. Why are some people liberals and others conservative? Why do some people like Chevies and others prefer Fords? Why do some like the toilet paper to unroll from the top while others adamantly insist that it should emerge from the bottom?

“Then there are cat people, dog people, and a small minority who are both. I am definitely in the first category, as is MacOpinion columnist John Martellaro (John is still with us on the Mac Web, now writing for The Mac Observer), who affirms . . . ‘I’m a cat person. Totally, thoroughly, and completely smitten by cats.'”

“Like me, John admires cats largely ‘because they are so darned independent.’ He notes, for instance, than no cat would stay put in the back of a pickup truck stopped at a red light.”

John went on at some length to analyze scientifically why some folks prefer cats to dogs and vice-versa and noting that his deductions could help explain why many PC people think Mac people are arrogant. “We aren’t really,” John argued, “we’re just annoyingly independent. . . . Like cats'”

I agreed, observing that cats are quiet, tend to ignore and avoid strangers, never chase cars, discreetly bury their poop, keep themselves clean, don’t have significant body odor, usually don’t drool unless they are sick (which they rarely are), and take themselves for walks, thank you. More like a Mac, while John concluded that he couldn’t help feeling when he watched a dog in the back of a pickup truck jumping around but never, never jumping out, that “there may be something about human nature that either leads us towards following the madding crowd . . . or sailing off beyond the sunset. – that Mac users don’t simply choose to Think Different,” but are different. Fundamentally.

A decade on, I still like Macs and cats – and here’s to Low End Mac’s second dozen years.

* MacOpinion fizzled out in June 2009, and it now exists only on the Internet Archive.

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