Mac Musings

Where Apple and ATI Have Gone Before

Daniel Knight - 2001.12.27

Both ATI and Apple have given up on the old Rage II+, IIc, Pro, Pro Turbo, LT Pro, and Rage Mobility used in the beige Power Mac G3, drawer-loading iMacs, WallStreet and Lombard PowerBooks, and the first iBook and iBook SE.

By today's standards, these are primitive, slow, outdated, obsolete graphics sets. That wasn't true when these models were introduced between 1997 and 1999. And those who own these computers and have used Mac OS 9 know that the OS X drivers do not allow these chips to live up to their full potential.

By my estimate, somewhere between 4 and 6 million Macs that can run Mac OS X are negatively impacted by ATI's and Apple's decisions to offer no more OS X driver support.

Gene Steinberg tries to put a different spin on the situation on Mac Night Owl. His thought is that maybe there isn't much more performance Apple can wring out of these chips, so it's not worth the effort. It's plausible, but an email from Remy Davison of Insanely Great Mac got me to thinking a step or two further.

Point One: These chips are capable of better performance - noticeably better performance, according to those who have seen the graphics acceleration at its best under Mac OS 7.x-9.x. There is a lot more potential here. For the sake of millions of Mac users, better drivers would be justified.

Point Two: Davison points out that Apple needs to do everything they can to keep those old beige G3s and iMacs from being replaced by Wintel boxen. Pathetic graphics performance under Apple's great new OS will be just one more argument for the Wintel proponents to use in undermining Apple's presence in the workplace and in schools.

Despite this, neither Apple nor ATI want to invest another cent in creating better accelerated drivers for these old chips. That speaks very poorly of both companies, but their bottom line is the bottom line. As Rodney O. Lain loves to remind us, Apple is in the business to make money, not friends.

On the other hand, making friends and making money need not be mutually exclusive. And there is one way for Apple to make friends without spending much money at all (the same goes for ATI): Release all the information necessary for others to create accelerated drivers for the old ATI Rage chipsets.

For the right individual or business, there's potential gold in creating the accelerated drivers that Apple and ATI don't want to create. If 10% of those Macs afflicted with abandoned Rage chips go OS X, there's a potential market of a half-million buyers off the bat. Long term, several million of these older Macs may end up running OS X.

The person making these drivers and selling them for $10 could pull in millions of dollars over a few years as more and more Mac users embrace OS X.

But Apple and ATI need to facilitate that by releasing the information necessary for someone to do this.

We know these chips have more potential than the current drivers enable. We know that the Mac with these chips are sorry examples of how good Mac OS X is. We believe the only solution to this problem is enabling the free market to create and benefit from drivers that will solve a problem neither Apple nor ATI are willing to tackle.

Apple and ATI have delivered good drivers for these graphics chips in the past. If they won't develop them for OS X, the least they can do is allow someone else to do it.