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View Full Version : Aside from commercial greed, why NOT universal computers?


Rainbowcsr
12-03-1999, 05:47 PM
I've followed computers since the first laptop came out and I bought TANDY from radio shack, which I thought was BOSS, but then discovered that only IBM compatible programs would work in it. I used to own a Commodore 64, which was a real pain in the ass and used large disks and two floppy drives that I never could manage to get to work in tandem.

It did have one cool aspect though, it enabled me to open up any disk and see what was stamped on it and I found so many of the damn things separately marked 'IBM,' ATARI, TANDY, APPLE and so on.

So, Microsoft came up with a good universal operating system, that confused the crap out of me for about two years, after I had already gotten headaches from trying to figure out STAR and DOS and WordPro and whatever the hell else various businesses used in their custom systems.

Eventually it dawned on me that all computers were basically the same, but the shitwad makers designed programs with systems that were keyed ONLY to work on their computers. (Nothing like free enterprise greed.) I celebrated WINDOWS, especially when other programs started becoming WINDOWS compatible and now, anything will work on my system.

Would it not have been better for ALL of us if the damn computer makers had made things interchangeable at the beginning? I mean, the WEB is getting to be a pain in the ass as it is because some sites use REALPLAYER, some use WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER, some need MP3, and others use ADOBE READER. DAMN! I only got a small hard drive and if I load all of those damn things in, I won't have room for anything else!

Why can't they make everything compatible? I'm on AOL, which automatically upgrades my program or provides me with one -- but they don't provide me with all of the damn new programs needed to listen to or watch some websites and I have to go through the damn complicated process of downloading, setting up and activating one -- which gets to be a real pain in the ass and often takes several tries.

Anyone think the computer industry MIGHT ACTUALLY GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER and all make everything interactive?

I mean, crap, I got a print program with the print commands for like 100 DIFFERENT PRINTERS, when each printer does basically the same damn thing! Talk about clogging up the hard drive! You buy a new printer and you got to search for the right program to run it or instal one! They could make a universal print program to work on all printers because you buy a printer depending upon what you need it for and the price -- not for the selective programming.

What do you think? Will the computer guys ever get it together and cooperate with each other or what?

Padeye
12-03-1999, 06:02 PM
[QOTE]Eventually it dawned on me that all computers were basically the same[/QUOTE]

If you believe that you have a lot to learn about computers. No, I'm not happy with the state of affairs we have now but trying to bring every computer down to a single lowest common deniminator of software would be much worse.

You aren't the first one to suggest this though so don't feel bad. Back in the olden days when the PC hadn't become fully dominant over the established CP/M machines there was an attempt to make universal software called the UCSD P-system. Software was all complied to a universal intermediate code that was run by a machine specific interpreter. It was horribly slow and inefficient in a day when computers were not terribly powerful. The fact that most people have never heard of it is the best testimonial.

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It's your fault that I have no one to blame but myself.

Yarster
12-03-1999, 06:49 PM
I like you, am continuously pissed off technology changes and forces me to spend money just to keep up, but that's exactly it. TECHNOLOGY CHANGES. While you may think all computers, printers, etc. are all the same, I'd argue each is designed with certain features emphasized over others that distinguish them in the marketplace. Yeah, some is just stupid marketing, but some of it really is different.

Not being a computer guy myself I can't speak to the technical difference between a Pentium III and your old Tandy Piece-o-Crap, but I can assure you they are quite vast and if we had all switched to a common standard years ago, no one would ever be able to advance it. And if you are going to argue that the common standard would be expandable, I'd ask, who's standard would it be? Bill Gates is already richer than God and even he sweats when you say "Linux" because he doesn't quite own the whole OS world.

It sounds to me like you're asking why we don't just have the computer world (and maybe everything else) be a big monopoly so there is only one choice. And while in theory that sounds cool (I certainly thank God I don't have to drive around looking for a gas station that sells gas that is 'compatible' with my car). For most things, I think it destroys the quality of the product. Competition is what ultimately leads to technological advance. That, and lawyers I suppose.

TheNerd
12-03-1999, 06:56 PM
Actually, all computers pretty much are the same, theoretically speaking. That is, they can all compute the same things. This is Turing's famous theorem.

However, instituting an overarching interoperability standard that everything must comply to (if it would even be possible to have something universal and simple enough) would make for a world of software I wouldn't want. Things that need to be interoperable become so by necessity (Macs, Unix, Windows can all access the web), and things that don't need to be remain seperate. There are distinct advantages to various file formats such as RealPlayer vs MP3 vs Wav etc. You have to make tradeoffs.

handy
12-03-1999, 07:14 PM
If there was only ONE computer type who would own it? If they owned it, then there would be a monopoly. Which is a no-no.

Hey, go to your video store & rent Pirates of Silicon Valley, says it all pretty much.

hansel
12-03-1999, 07:23 PM
On the one hand, I want to say that you just need to be patient: we're headed in the direction of total interoperability, with a combination of open standards and software layers like jini. On the other hand, I'm confused by parts of your post.

Software isn't "keyed" to work only on some systems, it's built to work on top a particular system. Software isn't interchangeable for the same reason that parts of your car's engine aren't interchangeable with your neighbour's, unless he owns the same model. The design is different, the engineering is different, the whole machine is ultimately different in the details.

In fact, you're wrong in saying that all computers are basically the same. They're all basically different, starting at the chip. The motorala powering a Mac is fundamentally different from the intel in your pc. Your complaint is really that, because of corporate greed, software and OS manufacturers chose to capture their own markets based on hardware differences, rather than cover those differences in a universal software platform that handles each chip differently, but is treated by all software as the same.

Microsoft came up with a good universal operating system.

You're confusing monopoly power with universality. The reason you can get any program you want on your pc is that developers write programs for Windows first, since it means selling to the largest market for software. Porting that software to other platforms is an afterthought, if it occurs at all.

Software manufacturers will never agree on a universal computer because it means giving up advantages they use to sell their products. Mac's entire commercial philosophy is based on the motorola chip: we've got it, you don't, our OS works best on it, so no clones.

Like I said at the beginning, though, take heart: the direction all software makers are moving in is interoperability. Open standards for data and file formats means that programmers can easily support those standards, and as those standards grow in popularity, programmers risk marginalizing themselves in the market by failing to support them. We're also finally seeing things like java and jini, which are platform independent software layers for programming and handling hardware, so programmers can develop apps for all computers, not just for particular operating systems.

This isn't a sign of the computer industry getting it's act together; companies like Microsoft and Apple and the rest were caught in the headlights of the internet, which demanded that different computers talk to each other in the same language. That layer of software and protocols that will make for a truly universal OS for the user is coming because companies can no longer afford to use the differences in their systems to maintain a closed market share.

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Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Satan
12-03-1999, 07:59 PM
I'd also like to point out that different innovations to the same product is hardly something that happened as recently as when computers were invented.

The reason phonographs had several different speeds on them back in the day was because one company made their discs for one speed, and another a different way. Naturally, both companies sold phonograph players customized for their discs.

Also I think anyone above the age of 18 remembers the war between BETA and VHS. More recently there was the not-really war between DVD and DIVX.

The concept in all of these examples is the same - If you make a product, make things available to use on or in conjunction with that product. Eventually, either a compromise is reached (turntables made with varying speed control), an inferrior product is classed out of the marketplace (DIVX sucked compared to DVD) and even the inferrior product will win sometimes (BETA was better than VHS but they didn't have enough software - movies - compared to VHS and they marketed it poorly).

In the case of computers, it's even more interesting. Because IIRC, Macintosh held on to their patents furiously and kept all software in-house, whereas PC-technology was freely allowed (free as in anyone could do it, I don't think it was "free" per se, but I may be wrong) to anyone to design software that would be compatible with their systems.

The result is that PCs have a lion's share of the market. And this was before someone came along and made an operating system that was also flexible in terms of what systems could use it.

I don't think you can ever see two thought processes get anty more different in big business history than the disparate philosophies the two competitors employed.

It really is fascinating...

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Yer pal,
Satan

Doctordec
12-03-1999, 09:02 PM
Actually the day of the "universal" computer is not that far off. The big word in the industry now is "appliance" as in data appliance or network appliance. You'll have a fibre optic data port into your house so you won't need a disc drive. There will still be differences in platforms just like a Sony VCR is not like a Panasonic VCR but they both play videotapes pretty much the same. A lot of appliances that are in your house today have an operating system buried inside somewhere, you just don't see it. The data appliance will be the same way, just a display device for stuff from somewhere else.
You won't buy new software at the store, you'll just pay for it every time you use it just like pay per view. It will be as standard as your telephone jacks are today.

hansel
12-03-1999, 09:12 PM
You know, I just can't bring myself to believe in that vision of the future. It reeks of marketing hype, just like push media, the network computer, and banking by television. If computer companies have displayed one consistent ability, it's the ability to describes futures that never happen.


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Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Rainbowcsr
12-04-1999, 03:31 AM
I agree with all of you and thanks. It still burns me up because I downloaded REALPLAYER -- which was FREE, then accessed netsites to find that REALPLAYER had UPGRADED and the UPGRADE was not free. The I incorporated WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER, and discovered that sites with Real Player or MP3 wouldn't work on it. In the meantime, I'm watching the available space on my tiny hard disk diminish rapidly.

I got really fried when I entered a government site and discovered that all of their information required an ADOBE reader. That sucked because I figured if they could print the requirements in a language I could read without the reader, then why write the rest of their crap in stuff that needed one?

I'm pretty satisfied with WINDOWS, using mainly the word processing functions, after I managed to get to know how to use it all, but I'm not happy with not being able to safely dump all of the crap it contains that I don't need and just takes up needed space. Windows, I found out, will use parts of one program to operate other programs with and if I remove something like, say MATHPRO, then SPREADSHEET might not work. Once I dumped the WINDOWS browser, having AOL's to use and figured it was redundant and found I could not automatically boot up. I had to reinstall the damn thing and clog up more vital hard drive space. Darn!

hansel
12-04-1999, 11:07 AM
Ah, bloatware! That's another valid complaint, and it's actually Microsoft who is one of the worst for it. Internet Explorer is at 20 MBs to download; you can get a browser called Opera that's only 5% as big.

Say to yourself a few times until it sounds sane: my OS takes up more room on my hard drive than all my other applications taken together.

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Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Sam Stone
12-04-1999, 03:26 PM
On the other hand, who really cares if their major application (a browser) takes up 20 MB on the hard drive, when hard drives are selling for a penny a meg? That represents 20 cents worth of space on your hard drive. Big deal.

I was really choked because the C++ compiler in the new Visual Studio takes up close to 400 MB, and I currently only have a couple of gigs left on my hard drive. I was thinking about how bloated it is, and how annoying that is, until I realized that I can buy a 27 GB hard drive for $300, and fit 70 copies of C++ on it. Since the Visual Studio package was something like $700, using up $4 worth of hard drive space just shouldn't be an issue.

Mr. Sheepshead
12-04-1999, 03:35 PM
Complaining about incompatability of file-formats isn't really fair, because each format is generally designed for a specific purpose (MPEG Layer 3 is designed to compress a sound file as well as possible and maintain quality, whereas RealMedia files are basically griny video and tinny audio, but are small enough to be streamed across the Internet.)

Besides there are plenty of programs around which convert between different formats.

hansel
12-04-1999, 03:38 PM
It's not the relative real estate on your hard drive that's upsetting: it's the fact that bloatware runs slower and is more of a burden on your computer. You upgrade your computer to keep up with software, and new software comes out to bloat that. It's a vicious circle of upgrades.

Perhaps it's more upsetting in principle, when a browser like Opera can come along and outperform I.E. and Netscape at less than a tenth the size. That's when you realize that the stuff you're buying is the rule because of platform dominance and not quality. I could have installed a couple hundred megs of Visual J++; instead, I downloaded Kawa, and have as good a java IDE in less than 5 megs.

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Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

Sam Stone
12-04-1999, 03:57 PM
Visual J++ only takes up something like 30 megs. C++ is huge because of the MFC and a lot of other support stuff.

And just because a browser installs in 20 megs doesn't mean it uses up a lot of runtime resources. It may, but the 20 megs may have a lot more to do with support files and DLL's to handle things like DES, XML, CSS, and about a million other technologies that IE5.0 supports. I haven't looked at Opera, so I don't know exactly what it supports, but IE5.0 is very comprehensive.

hansel
12-05-1999, 03:05 AM
IE5.0 is very comprehensive

That's just it: it's pointlessly comprehensive. It's trying to be a kitchen sink, when what it should be is a browser. Microsoft Office is the same way: I look in the help file and see a hundred things I'll never do, nor want to do once I read about it.

The bloat comes from features that Microsoft (and others: Microsoft isn't the only one guilty of this) adds in to make a single application all things to all people, at the expense of creating quality software. Remember Adobe Photoshop 3.0? Illustrator 8.0 has everything it had and more, and it's supposed to complement, not replace, Photoshop.

The difference is software written by computer users who perceive a functional need, versus software written by directors of marketing asking "what feature will make a selling point?"

That IE 5.0 is 20 megs, when Opera or Amaya is less than 5, tells me that Microsoft has been packing in bells and whistles with little or no attempt to improve the core functionality of the browser. I downloaded Mozilla (milestone 11) and it was only 5 megs, and it does everything IE does except the Microsoft specific things, like VBScript.

Ultimately, what offends me isn't Microsoft: they're a company trying to make moeny, and what they do is always done in light of that objective. It's important to me, though, that I be careful not to simply accept what's handed to me, and rationalize it by saying things like "a new hard drive is only $300." I find the idea distasteful that I might actually swallow some of the marketing hype, and enjoy the taste.


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Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

JoeyBlades
12-06-1999, 02:15 PM
Rainbowcsr postulates:


Eventually it dawned on me that all computers were basically the same, but the shitwad makers designed programs with systems that were keyed ONLY to work on their computers.


Computer manufacturers are not conspiring to keep things different... well, actually they are, but not for the reasons that you suspect. With each new advancement in technology, there's some incremental benefit. Each computer manufacturer wants to protect their competitive advantage and are not inclined to share it with others... though, in actual fact, the lagging competitors are not always interested in change. Take the difference between Wintel machines and Macintosh. Back in 1985, both Intel and Motorola shared similar architectures in their computer chips, known as CISC - Complex Instruction Set Computer. Intel chose to hold onto that architecture and push it's technological limits in terms of speed. Motorola decided that another architecture held more promise for the future. It is know as RISC - Reduced Instruction Set Computer. Don't let the names fool you, there are a lot more differences than just the instruction set complexity between these two architectures. So the Wintel world stuck with CISC and their machines gained ever faster clock rates, but Apple, and Sun Microsystems, and others switched architectures. It was tough at first, but it is starting to pay off. The software to drive RISC architectures tends to be significantly smaller and the pipelining results in much faster actual performance with slower clock rates... That's why the 500MHz Macintosh G4 is considered the fasted personal computer available, even though there are 750MHz Celeron computers available from AMD...

As for open systems, this merely simplifies things at the medium to high level. In the nitty gritty, the differences between the Wintel architecture and others still exist, so how you arive at that "open systems solution" is very different on each architecture and their respective performances and compatibilities will also differ.

JoeyBlades
12-06-1999, 04:25 PM
Oops! That should be 750MHz 'Athlon' processors from AMD, not 'Celeron'. I think the 'Celeron' processors are from Intel and they max out at 700MHz.

Nevertheless, someone wake me when the Wintel processors reach 1.8GHz... that's the point that some experts are saying the Wintel machines will match the 500MHz G4 benchmarks. dig... dig...

In case you haven't noticed, I'm pro Mac. I use a Wintel machine at work (not my choice), but when it comes to spending my own money I've got two Macs at home.

TheNerd
12-06-1999, 05:33 PM
Like most Mac zealots, you have taken the biased (and often blatently false) claims of Apple and other mac zealots as truth. In fact, the 750Mhz Athlon is the fastest single-processor computer available today (with the possible exception of an Alpha based system, but I'm not sure about that). The benchmarks provided for the G4 systems are highly inflated, and even worse, the comparison benchmarks that these sources give for the other machines are horribly crippled.

I just want to warn you to in the future, take any numbers that you see from Apple with a chunk of salt.

But, that isn't the reason I don't own a mac. The reason I don't own a mac is because you cannot build one yourself. I can and have built all three of my machines, and have upgraded each a significant number of times. Macs are computers for people who don't like computers. I'm not one of those people.

Now that this thread is headed for cuba, I'll just take this parachute and a self-inflating liferaft and go skydiving. Geronimo!

JoeyBlades
12-07-1999, 12:48 AM
Yeah. I used to be like you. Then my employer forced me to switch from a PC to a Macintosh. I went kicking and screaming, but eventually I adjusted, and after a while I came to appreciate the Macs. Then in a strange twist of fate, my employer did a 180 and switched back to PCs. I didn't think it was a good idea, but I figured, "well, PCs are nearly as good as Macs now that they have Windows..."
I tried to give them a fair shake, but after switching back to PCs I've become a Mac Evangelist. I'd love to share with you all my thoughts on this subject, but it belongs in the Great Debates Forum... If you'd like to 'challenge' me there???

spankboy
12-11-1999, 05:03 PM
You can't say 'bloatware' without saying 'Microsoft'. Want to know why Microsoft Excel is so huge? There's a Flight Simulator easter egg in it! If you perform a series of commands (put value x in cell y, etc.) you are taken to a Flight Simulator, where you can fly around and see the names of the coders and testers on a big, black pyramid. Lord knows what else the other Office apps have.
I have to agree on the previous posts: do I want to embed video movies in Word? Who comes up with ideas for these 'features' anyway???

-dd

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From Hell's heart, I stab at thee-

DougC
12-12-1999, 08:59 AM
- - - I am informed that much of the "bloatware" aspect of the Windows op systems and Internet Explorer is that they contain significant amounts of programming to account for, and work around many types of errors. I usually use Netscape for surfing, but if a site won't load with Netscape I try visiting the same site with Internet Explorer and often it will show a "this page contains scripts errors" notice, and then show the page with some small aspect nonfunctional or missing. Netscape will load the HTML but won't show you any image; if I had to choose between the two I'd take Internet Explorer any day. - I find this kind of interesting; it's programmer geeks that seem to do the most bitching about MS software being top-heavy but the reason that software is top-heavy is to continue functioning with the programmers' mistakes. - MC

JoeyBlades
12-13-1999, 09:02 AM
MC writes:


I usually use Netscape for surfing, but if a site won't load with Netscape I try visiting the same site with Internet Explorer and often it will show a "this page contains scripts errors" notice, and then show the page with some small aspect nonfunctional or missing. Netscape will load the HTML but won't show you any image; if I had to choose between the two I'd take Internet Explorer any day.


You've completely missed the point. Except for really gross errors, you want the errors to be invisible to the average browser user. I suspect, in this case, Netscape is behaving right. I write some pretty tricky HTML code and tend to favor Netscape's browser, though there are one or two nifty things that IE (Internet Explorer) can do that I envy. For the most part, I've found IE a bigger problem. A proper browser is supposed to ignore tags it doesn't understand, but IE either reports script errors or does very strange things to the display. I sometimes have to put in special traps or create entire separate web structures to support IE. I also worry about IE's non-standard java implentation and Active-X support. It's no wonder the Wintel platform has so many viruses, MicroSoft makes it too easy.

Finagle
12-15-1999, 12:53 AM
First, the OP:

Why don't all computers run the same software? Well, they can't, because the instruction sets -- the primitive operations of the chips -- are different for different chips. Why not have everyone use the same chips? Well, because there are lots of ways to design chips and their accompanying instruction sets. A well-designed chip and instruction set has a lot of advantages -- fast execution, fewer operations to accomplish certain tasks, simplicity of compilers, etc...

Problem is, once you settle on an instruction set, you have to stick with it so your legacy programs still run. Meanwhile, someone else has an idea for a better architecture and implements it. If it's good enough, people start writing code for that architecture. As someone said, you can emulate one architecture's instruction set on another chip, but you lose a lot in speed, partly because of the overhead in translation, but also because the program was likely compiled to take advantage of the original architecture's strengths.

For example, without getting into a Mac/PC flamewar, here are the facts: Intel's architecture is widely recognized to be outdated and it speaks volumes for their engineers that they have managed to push the clock rates up to the levels that they have. But their chips are huge, relatively expensive, consume *massive* amounts of power, and run hot.

The PowerPC chips are a relatively new architecture. Yes, Apple's benchmarks are inflated, but it is true that a 500 Mhz PowerPC is more or less equivalent to a 750 Mhz Pentium/Athlon. (Some operations are faster, some not so. The vector processing stuff is *very* fast. They're not wrong about that.) The PowerPC chips, because of the architectural innovations are smaller, cheaper, take less power, and run cooler. Being newer, there's more room for the architecture to grow in terms of speed.

So here you have a case where the basic processing elements of two computers are not equivalent for some very good reasons. They can't run the same programs because part of the architectural differences is the choice of instruction sets.


Now, why so many different standards for, say, media players or publishing programs?

Sort of the same process as with chips. You propose a standard and it is accepted. Later, when available bandwidth increases or memory becomes more available or new compression algorithms get invented, new standards are developed and adopted. Often these are incompatible. Manufacturers often develop competing standards simultaneously.
Here, corporate greed does play a role. If you control the standards, you control the associated revenue stream. Software can be copyrighted and patented.

Finally, if your major income is, just as an example, selling an operating system, you don't really want to see the advent of the "run on any architecture in a browser" universal software. So there *is* resistance to the idea of universal software.
Which is why we won't see it soon.

Finagle
12-15-1999, 01:06 AM
Oh, can't resist respond to theNerd's:

>But, that isn't the reason I don't own a mac. The reason I don't own a mac is because you cannot build one yourself. I can and have built all three of my machines, and have upgraded each a significant number of times. Macs are computers for people who don't like computers. I'm not one of those people.

I've got a PhD in computer science. You can assume I like computers. I've got a Mac.
Thing is, once you've proven that you can learn six or seven editors, compilers, languages, and so on, it gets old. The Macs were the first machines on which you didn't have to learn and remember esoteric incantations just to use a word processor. Even now, there's just less fiddling around with the computer and more just using it.

To return to the OP, this illustrates that you can't have a "universal" operating system, because what people value in an operating system differs. Some people value raw power and the ability to customize the environment (Unix). Some people value ease of administration, security, and robustness (VMS). Some people value the user-interface (which is not necessarily mutually exclusive of any of the above).

Cooper
12-15-1999, 10:47 AM
Finagle -
Are you pretending the G4 does not maintain backwards compatability to the 68000 chipset? Sure thats not as old as the 8086 and it was more advanced to begin with but your point is irrelevant. Both processors have the legacy issue.

Finagle
12-15-1999, 11:52 AM
There is absolutely no compatibility between the PowerPC and the 68xxx family. Completely different architecture.

Apple solved the legacy issue by developing emulator software that ran their old software on the new chips until manufacturers could recompile code for the new chips. They could get away with this because the PowerPC chips were just under an order of magnitude faster than the 68xxx family. Even so, the emulated code was notoriously slower than native code. That's why, for several years, Mac software was delivered as "fat" binaries. This was code that was compiled both for the 68xxx family and the PowerPC family. The operating system executed the appropriate code.

This emulation software, btw, was a major tour de force of technology -- PowerPC-based Macs could run *almost* all legacy software with great reliability.

Apple is one of the few (only) companies ever to change architectures in mid-stream and survive.

Note that Intel is rapidly approaching just such a "flag" day. Their new generation of chips, due in 2000 or 20001, are going to be more RISC-like, and they will probably have to employ some kind of emulation to support current software.

Cooper
12-18-1999, 12:21 AM
Well, learn something new everyday I guess. Care to speculate why PCs won, and Macs still survive while vastly superior platforms (for their time) such as NeXT and Amiga bit the dust?

DougC
12-18-1999, 08:41 AM
You've completely missed the point. Except for really gross errors, you want the errors to be invisible to the average browser user. I suspect, in this case, Netscape is behaving right. I write some pretty tricky HTML code and tend to favor Netscape's browser, though there are one or two nifty things that IE (Internet Explorer) can do that I envy. For the most part, I've found IE a bigger problem. A proper browser is supposed to ignore tags it doesn't understand, but IE either reports script errors or does very strange things to the display. I sometimes have to put in special traps or create entire separate web structures to support IE. I also worry about IE's non-standard java implentation and Active-X support. It's no wonder the Wintel platform has so many viruses, MicroSoft makes it too easy. - JoeyBlades
- - - And you're completely missing my point. And that is, Netscape seems to load pages a bit faster, but IE will show pages with errors more often. Netscape will load (some, at least) of the HTML, but often doesn't try to resolve it into any sort of image. I don't want to sift through one or two hundred lines of HTML code to try to figure out what went wrong; I just want to see the page. IE says "there's an error" and then will often show most of what the page is supposed to look like, when Netscape will not show anything. If an error causes the browser to ignore the entire page, it's not a very useful browser.
- I don't know enough to get technical; I just know what works more often. If IE is more of a hassle to write script for, I don't really care - that's not my job. I'd guess most other people feel the same way. - MC

Finagle
12-18-1999, 09:46 AM
posted 12-17-1999 11:21 PM
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>Well, learn something new everyday I guess. Care to speculate why PCs won, and Macs still survive while vastly superior platforms (for their time) such as NeXT and Amiga bit the dust?


Well, as long as you realize it's just speculation and has possibly no relation to the reality of the situation.

1. Why PCs "won". You know that commercial of Apple's that pissed everyone off about business-suited Lemmings flinging themselves off a cliff? Well...people didn't like it because the truth hurts. PCs bore the IBM imprimateur. The saying was, "No one ever got fired for buying an IBM machine.". A significant factor was the reverse engineering of the BIOS chip, which let everyone and their brother make cheap clones. Economies of scale rule.
(Note, Apple is criticized for not allowing cloning of their machines. Cloning keeps the architecture popular, but not any particular manufacturer. IBM for a long time and regularly took a bath on their PC division.

2. Apple survived probably because they had a sizeable war chest from their years of selling Apple II's, some truly creative engineers and software designers, and, until '95 an incontestably better user interface. Since '95, an arguably better and more consistent interface. And enough of an entrenched user-base with a software investment and a (possibly irrational) fondness for the company to keep them alive.
Their problems in the '90s were mostly management related.

3. NEXT was simply ahead of their time -- a superior operating system on very expensive hardware.

4. Amiga, I'm not as familiar with. I think its story is summed up by: superior hardware and software, and inferior marketing and management.

Cooper
12-18-1999, 02:19 PM
1. Why PCs "won". You know that commercial of Apple's that pissed everyone off about business-suited Lemmings flinging themselves off a cliff? Well...people didn't like it because the truth hurts. PCs bore the IBM imprimateur. The saying was, "No one ever got fired for buying an IBM machine.". A significant factor was the reverse engineering of the BIOS chip, which let everyone and their brother make cheap clones. Economies of scale rule.
(Note, Apple is criticized for not allowing cloning of their machines. Cloning keeps the architecture popular, but not any particular manufacturer. IBM for a long time and regularly took a bath on their PC division.


I would agree with this, but also point out something else: most every business already had a very significant relationship with IBM. The IBM selectric was the typewriter of typewriters, and I doubt if hardly anyone had a Mainframe that was not an IBM and did not run MVS,VTAM, CICS,IMS and DB/2. It was only natural that when users started asking for desktop machines that the IT division looked to IBM first. For many people, buying a computer at home was for work first, education/gaming second. If you used a PC at work, you wanted to have the same thing at home (also so you could copy all the software at work!).


2. Apple survived probably because they had a sizeable war chest from their years of selling Apple II's, some truly creative engineers and software designers, and, until '95 an incontestably better user interface. Since '95, an arguably better and more consistent interface. And enough of an entrenched user-base with a software investment and a (possibly irrational) fondness for the company to keep them alive.
Their problems in the '90s were mostly management related.

I would agree with this too, except I'd point out that I don't think you can argue that OS 7 is better than 95 - with OS 8 you have a decent argument. OS 7 had way to many annoying problems such as trying to force the user to insert a disk that the last user had been using (if I had a dollar for everytime I told a user how to do the command-period thing or whatever to get rid of that dialog I could buy Bill Gates). Of course, there are different kinds of users - my experience with Macs was purely from supporting them in a campus computer center - we had a third as many Macs as PCs and they generated more problems. I'm sure someone who was familiar with the OS would not have these types of problems. My biggest interface gripe is the lack of a command line - there are many things that it is faster to do from a DOS prompt or with a batch file you write on the fly.

AHunter3
12-18-1999, 03:25 PM
Along similar lines: What things could IBM have done (or not done) that would have resulted in OS/2 being the dominant platform today? I'm not a PC user of either the Windows or the OS/2 persuasion, but I'm under the impression that OS/2 was thoroughly more advanced than the Windows that was its competition at the time of its release and initial marketing (Win 3.1?); in fact, I gather that its devotees still say it is superior to Windows NT and blows away Win98 and Win95 (and Mac, and AIX, and Linux, and AmigaOS, etc). In what ways is the failure of OS/2 similar to the failure of MacOS or AmigaOS to become the dominant personal computer platform? In what ways (in addition to the obvious, that MacOS and AmigaOS were not compatible with x86/PC architecture) is OS/2's failure to rule as dominant OS different?



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Cooper
12-18-1999, 09:15 PM
OS/2 is, from an architectural stand-point superior to windows 9x, and probably comparable to NT. From the interface standpoint however, it is horrible. I've been using and supporting OS/2 warp four for the last year and a half, and I have nothing good to say about it. Let me give you an example: if you install any service release that affects networking protocls, you cannot later install other packages from the installation CD. Basically, you have to manually extract and copy the files to the hard drive, then you can download and run the service release for them. I have never had this problem with NT - the worst that can happen there is you install the service, then reinstall the SP and it all works.

Also, even at version Four I think the GUI itself is not really superior to Windows 3.1. When it was released, it required more memory, faster hardware in order to run at a decent speed. For all this, you got an interface that was questionable and incompatability with many of your existing progams - the programs that you could run sometimes required extensive tweaking of your VDM in order to get them to work.

The adherents of this OS are, in my opinion the most ludicrous of the entire OS controversy. It is not surprising at all that this OS has failed, the only surprise is that IBM continues to dump good money after bad (although not much money, judging by the quality of the product).

Sam Stone
12-18-1999, 10:50 PM
Windows NT (and Windows 2000), has a hardware abstraction layer that will allow the operating system to run on any architecture, as long as someone writes a kernel for it.

Mac people don't like to admit it, but the IBM PC had a lot of advantages. First, it had an open architecture. There were clones, which brought the cost down. You could buy high-performance graphics cards and big monitors (and the original Macs were saddled with small, B&W monitors). The Mac's biggest advantage was its operating system, but that didn't matter to the average PC user of the time, who simply wanted to pop in his Lotus 1-2-3 disk and start spreadsheeting away.

A better question is why did the Amiga and machines like the Atari ST die? The ST had most of the advantages of the Mac, more memory, was faster, had a larger monitor, and cost 1/3 of what a Mac did (I was selling computers back then here in Canada, and the 520ST was $999, while the 512K Mac was $3495). The Amiga was similar in price/performance to the ST, with arguably a better architecture and better graphics.

Cooper
12-18-1999, 11:19 PM
I think Finagle must be right that the demise of the Amiga was due to poor marketing and management. There might be something else at play here, but I cannot think what. I think part of the marketing problem was that it really was sold as a kind of toy - great for playing games, making pretty pictures and music. Most people at the time were really buying computers as tools - at least ostensibly. The fact that the Amiga was great at doing all the things PCs and Macs were already doing is kind of irrelevant when that is not how the public perceives it. When the Nintendo came along at 1/10th the price and met many of the desires of the Amiga market, it simply had no chance.

bantmof
12-19-1999, 12:03 AM
in addition to the obvious, that MacOS and AmigaOS were not compatible with x86/PC architecture
I think there were a number of factors that probably contribued to the decline of the Amiga, but I'm not sure this one was real high on the list. It might seem like a reasonable explanation here in 1999, but for a long time, the Motorola 68K series CPUs had it all over the Intel x86 line, both performance and architecture wise, and the Amiga had better hardware in general (back in the mid to late 80s) than the PC or Mac. It wasn't until PCI, for instance, that the PC got a bus architecture as good as Zorro II/III, and the Amiga never had issues like IRQ conflicts.

On the other hand, it was never pushed into the business or educational markets like the PC and Mac were, at least outside of a few niche audiovisual applications such as TV stations. Nobody ever bought an Amiga because they had one at work or their kid's school had them. This was before "multimedia" was a buzzword, so digital sound and high color animated graphics were seen as making it a games machine only, and consumers had no clue what preemptive multitasking was ("why would I want to run more than one application at a time?"). It also never had anywhere near the brand recognition of the PC or Mac, even in its heyday, since Commodore never spent much effort to market it, and the software base was heavily tilted towards games, and thus kids instead of adults. I guess it was really killed by a range of factors.

Little known fact: Microsoft used to write Amiga applications. They were generally the worst ones for the platform by a longshot, doing things like busy-looping while waiting for input that were OK on a single-tasking PC, but horrible practice on a multitasking OS.

Another interesting machine that I have little knowledge of is the Acorn Archimedes. I wonder if anybody reading has/had one.
--
peas on earth

JoeyBlades
12-21-1999, 01:03 AM
"PCs won?"

I think that is debatable. The platform is certainly more prevelant, but from a business perspective... well, let's just say I'd rather be Apple than any other PC OEM...

As for Atari and Amiga. I think the real problems were (1) perception - they don't look like serious computers, so no one takes them seriously (2) software - there was never really enough inertia to get software
developers excited and (3) differentiation - they didn't distinguish themselves significantly from the Macintosh, except in price. Of course, Amiga had the GenLock, but this was not useful to the general public at the time.

NeXT? Steve Jobs was definitely ahead of his time and too stubborn to admit that the world was not ready for a network-only computer. Lack of a floppy disk in the early days of the NeXT box was still a limitation.
Also, like it or not, NeXT was in competition with Sun Workstations not PCs.

I agree with Cooper's observations regarding IBM, but disagree with the viewpoint that Mac OS7 was inferior to Win95. Your point about floppy disks is actually an excellent example. The Mac OS would only ask for
the floppy to be reinserted if it had been ejected while the disk had not been updated. This was to give the user the chance to allow the update. If the user chose to disallow the update, a simple command-period dismissed the dialog, never to be seen again. In Windows I'm constantly nagged about missing floppies or CD-ROMs, even when I'm not doing anything to access them. Usually, after I tell the OS to Ignore or Abort a half dozen times, the dialogs stop. But here's the really annoying part. If I reinsert the floppy, the OS doesn't even know if it's the same floppy or that it may have been changed until I do a Refresh. With the CD-ROM, it's even more of an issue. Sometimes if I tell the OS to ignore the missing CD, it locks out the CD-ROM drive such that I can't get it to recognize CD-ROMs anymore. I have to restart to
correct this condition.

In any argument about the relative merits of one OS over another, the thing that stands out the most for me is this. I've never, ever, EVER had to reload the Mac OS to correct some system conflict (or for any other reason, for that matter). Not in OS 7, not in OS 6, and not in OS 4... The OS on my brand new Dell system has had to be reloaded twice in the last 5 months and most Windows power users tell me that they reload the OS at least once a quarter... To me, this is one of the most obscene things I've ever heard of. I could go on, and on, and on, but I won't... well... maybe just a little...


Cooper writes:


my experience with Macs was purely from supporting them in a campus computer center - we had a third as many Macs as PCs and they generated more problems.


My company replaced all of their Macs with PCs. It takes 4 times as many techs to support the PCs as the Macs and the support is considered to be grossly deficient, still. One of the techs once admitted to me that this is why he always promotes PCs over Macs... you can't build empires supporting Macintoshes!



My biggest interface gripe is the lack of a command line - there are many things that it is faster to do from a DOS prompt or with a batch file you write on the fly.


Most users don't need a CLI. For those that do, Mac power users use Frontier, MPW, or MacPerl... or they run Linux.


dhanson writes:


Windows NT (and Windows 2000), has a hardware abstraction layer that will allow the operating system to run on any architecture, as long as someone writes a kernel for it.


This was good in theory, but the liscensing fees and the complexity ultimately make this infeasible. Most other platforms (that I know of) have dropped NT infavor of Linux/BeOS, etc..


Mac people don't like to admit it, but the IBM PC had a lot of advantages. First, it had an open architecture.


No doubt about it. Even the most evangelical Mac person has to admit that the open architecture of the PC helped propagate the species. The question is, was this an advantage to IBM or merely the platform. Linus Torvalds may be perfectly happy with the meager financial gains he gets with open architecture... but don't fault Apple for having a business plan.



There were clones, which brought the cost down.


Not to mention bringing the overall quality down, as well.



You could buy high-performance graphics cards and big monitors (and the original Macs were saddled with small, B&W monitors).


"COULD" being the operative word there. Let's face it, though; in the mid 80s when the Macintosh first came out, most PCs had 14 or 15 inch monitors with 640x480 resolution and the text on these displays was not that crisp. Given that this was the environment that the MacPlus had to compete in, I wouldn't say the PC world had that much more to offer... except for color, at first.



The Mac's biggest advantage was its operating system, but that didn't matter to the average PC user of the time, who simply wanted to pop in his Lotus 1-2-3 disk and start spreadsheeting away.


Except that the installation process for Lotus 1-2-3 was far too complicated for "the average PC user of the time". Many users had to pay experts to manage their software.


Cooper writes:


I think Finagle must be right that the demise of the Amiga was due to poor marketing and management.



bantmof quotes and writes:



in addition to the obvious, that MacOS and AmigaOS were not compatible with x86/PC architecture


I think there were a number of factors that probably contribued to the decline of the Amiga, but I'm not sure this one was real high on the list.


Of course it is! Up until very recently, this was even a semi-valid argument against Macs. Of course, now that Macs can run much faster than PCs and run reliable emulation software such as Virtual PC, this argument doesn't hold up as well... Now tha Macs can run more software than PCs. I've always felt there was enough software for the Mac to meet my needs, though I don't play games. I have friends who have Amigas and Ataris and lack of software titles is their biggest complaint.



Little known fact: Microsoft used to write Amiga applications. They were generally the worst ones for the platform by a longshot...


Replace the word "Amiga" with any other platform that Microsoft develops or has developed software for and I think the statement remains equally valid...


Whew... rather long winded... responding to a number of posts... sorry, somewhat ad hoc...

JoeyBlades
12-21-1999, 01:19 AM
Oops! A couple of problems in that last message. Somehow one of my responses got pruned:

Cooper writes:


I think Finagle must be right that the demise of the Amiga was due to poor marketing and management.


Almost no marketing OR management. Unfortunately, this is what happens when very technical computer nerds expect computers to sell themselves, based on technical merit. Gates, Jobs, and Michael Dell are much better business men than they are techno-wizards.

I see, that you can't nest quotes. Hopefully it will be clear who wrote what and what I intended in the sement that starts out with:

> bantmof quotes and writes: