a Mac Rant

... a system so verbose, inflexible,
and determinedly simple-minded
that it is nearly unusable ...

On Tue, 5 Feb 2002, Frances wrote:

"Listserv and Biff..is that like the real name for DOS? I have heard that it was originally QDOS, standing for "quick and dirty operating system."

QDOS - there is a QDOS. There also is a DRDOS (data research), a PCDOS, a FreeDOS, a Tandy-DOS, a IBM-DOS, etc, and some 10 more. I think the Eudora people now own DRDOS.

But it is not a joke ("QDOS"). Only the Unix and GNU people use bad jokes. Look at their mail user agents: the original is called "mail". The 'elm' ("electronic mail") mail reader displaced 'mail' by 1988. The U of Washington subsequently wrote "Pine" as an absolutely bulletproof and user-proof replacement. "Pine" stands for "Pine is not Elm".

The GNU people claim that "GNU" stands for "GNU is not Unix".

'Perl' stands for "Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister", says Larry Wall, its author, which just hides the fact that he named it after a girlfriend.

He also wrote "nn" one of the better UseNet news readers. "Nn" stands for "no news." Nn's motto is "no news (is good news)."

'MySQL', a the widest used database and sql language, was named after the daughter of one of the authors, My. (Hey, they are Danish).

But hey, many streets in Chicago are also named after girlfriends of the developers of the 19th century.

15 years before Microsoft, IBM was using the term "DOS". DOS proper (as from Micro$oft OS) comes from the code of the CP/M operating system, which is largely a single user Unix system.

I still have a puter, a laptop, with a screen a few lines high, which uses CP/M. The OS is on a chip -- so it is not a DOS: It has no disk.

The early IBM pc's had the OS on a disk -- quite an inovation -- and also had BASIC on a chip. If you forgot to put in the disk with the OS, it would just start with BASIC as the command interpreter. Only MAC has always had much of their OS on a chip. But since the rest of the OS was read from disk, the MACs might be called DOS machines.

DOS used the CP/M flat file structure until version 2, and used CP/M commands, which were in turn almost identical to Unix commands. Because MS was afraid Sun Microsystems (one of the not-for-free Unix vendors) would sue them over the use of "/" as a pathname separator for version 2, they used "\" -- which is still, twenty years later, the most stupid thing they ever did. I can switch from Unix to DOS and back in the middle of a sentence (so to speak), but I _always_ trip up on use of "/" vs "\".

IBM and Tandy had the OS on a disk so that it could boot up a (x86) machine of any design, and so that other programs could be bundled with it. And the operating system could be changed without having to bring your whole computer back to where you bought it. Compare that to Mac.

If you wanted to make changes on a MAC, you had to buy a new BIOS chip - for a few hundred bucks. When I was considering using a 1.44 floppy (which costs $40) on one of those goofie tiny MAc boxes (now called "classic"), I found I needed a new BIOS chip to do so, and would have to put up $270 for it. Naturally I trashed the MAC, and made it into a flower pot.

Today Mac still has the user interface burned into a BIOS chip, even if most of the rest of the OS is on Disk.

What the IBM/intel boxes did was to provide a very small BIOS chip which would inventory the system on being powered up, locate things, and start up other BIOSes (like video, scuzzy drives, net cards). The PC BIOS chip is only 64 or 128 K. Macs run 2,000 K.

But popularly, it is the Micro$oft OS which is known as "DOS". Originally licenced to IBM, there is thus also an IBM-DOS (they use slightly different low level files) - which is almost identical in operation with MS-DOS. Also licenced to Tandy/Radio Shack (for good reasons, since Radio Shack sold more PC's in the early 80's than all other companies put together), known as Tandy-DOS, also interchangeable with MS-DOS.

'Almost interchangeable' means some executable files might be missing or different. Otherwise you can run any of the 14 DOS operating systems (by other companies, or as clones, or better, or in color, or whatnot) on _any_ 'intel' and clone "series 86" processor: 80086, 186, 286, 286/287, 386, 386/387, 486, 586 (the Pentium), at speeds from 10Mhz to a gigaHz.

Additionally, all DOS versions are backward compatible with each other back to version 3.3. The last "for sale" DOS version was 6.62. Win 95-98 includes a DOS-7 and DOS-8. Later Win systems just put all the DOS stuff into the Windows kernel (Win386) -- same thing.

And any executable files from one DOS system could be run on a system with a different DOS installed. Does that work for the MACs? No.

And MS DOS is way small: Through DOS-6.22 about 57K bytes for the command processor (which does almost _everything_). But slow (compared to Unix, or even Windows), because the DOS OS just reads programs in from Disk when it doesn't recognize them as a built-in command.

You can put all of DOS on a floppy, add an editor, directory scanner, window graphics, boot up with it, run programs. You cannot run a network, or the goofie stuff you get with Windows.

At Columbia I use a crashed IBM-PS/2 (had no hard drive) with a 720 floppy drive. It booted from the floppy, created a RAM drive in its tiny 36K brain, stashed all the programs (including the OS), and ran as a clock telling time. When I needed it, I switched to using it as a terminal via a modem (had a modem program too on the disk) to a dialup Unix system. You realize that a MAC would require a minimum of 8 megs to do the same? Compare now these numbers: 36 K and 8,000 K.

Compare all of this with Mac: Mac has over 150 box models with operating systems incompatible with each other, all of which are made for one or another grade of Motorola processor, not to be used elsewhere. 149 Mac systems have been abandoned. It was not so much the OS (large parts of which were available on a diskette) which was at fault for the incompatibility as it was the user interface - the GUI - which was held to be proprietory, and burned into a BIOS chip.

Older MACs should have been much faster because much of the low level OS was on a chipset, except for two things: BIOS chips are excruciatingly slow compared to RAM, and MAC programs spend way too much time making sure they are not going to crash (since you have to return the whole box to the dealer, rather than just fix things on the spot).

That is why the Unix and DOS community have mostly paid no attention to MACs - they were considered consumer toys, and still are. Interestingly, DOS and Windows programs can be emulated on MACs (there was at one time even an add-on intel processor card), but no Windows program emulates Mac, even though there are 40 or 50 times as many programs available for Win.

There are also maybe 26 different Unix systems, mostly interchangeable. I still stumble over my Linux command "frm" to show what incoming mail is waiting, cause I type "from" - learned on some other Unix system. I was used to "who" also, but Linux uses "w" for "who" and "who" for some other variation. I dont have "biff" - it is a BSD command.

:biff: /bif/ vt. To notify someone of incoming mail. From the BSD utility `biff(1)', which was in turn named after a friendly golden Labrador who used to chase frisbees in the halls at UCB while 4.2BSD was in development (it had a well-known habit of barking whenever the mailman came). (Jargon file)

(I have seen pictures of Biff, he was _not_ a 'golden' lab, though) /j

- Date: Wed, 06 Feb 2002 17:54:48 -0600
- From Fran; Subject: Re: crack (2)

I take issue with one thing you wrote:

"That is why the Unix and DOS community have mostly paid no attention to MACs - they were considered consumer toys, and still are. Interestingly, DOS and Windows programs can be emulated on MACs (there was at one time even an add-on intel processor card), but no Windows program emulates Mac, even though there are 40 or 50 times as many programs available for Win."

There is another, more compelling reason that no Win program emulated Mac -- Mac would sue the pants off of anyone who tried. I imagine that's still true. They sued MS over the first Windows program because it derived too much from the Mac GUI. They lost and probably rightly so. Early Win (and later Win, for that matter) is a pretty crappy imitation of the Mac interface. It's just enough like it to be confusing for anyone who has ever been a Mac user. From a usability standpoint, Win is vastly inferior. I don't use a Mac anymore and for good reason, but if you're talking user-friendliness, no one beats Mac in my opinion.

Say what you will about Mac -- slow, inflexible, consumer-y, goofy, overpriced, etc -- and you will be absolutely right. They are toys, not real computers. But give them their due -- they really are friendlier and, when I bought mine, much cheaper and easier to deploy. I bought mine through UT at a massive discount, so the cheaper thing doesn't hold generally. But I could move that sucker around without having to muck around with 50 different cords, a tower, a monitor, peripherals etc. It was a handy little box which I used for almost 10 years. There's an appeal to that. Mind you, I'd back everything up on disk, 'cause I knew the thing could crash and I would be totally hosed. I also think that the Powerbook that I got in 1992 was possibly the worst investment I've ever made. But, there is a place for the Mac.

I briefly thought about going Mac again after the egregious WinXP was foisted upon the computing public, but then realized that Mac is now a part of MS and OSX would probably rat me out to Gates as well. I suspect that you will disagree about the usability thing--'cause George disagrees with me rather vehemently. It's the whole mouse issue. He's a keyboard person. Hates the mouse. I started out on an old IBM DOS machine and found it exasperating. Couldn't get rid of the keyboard cursor fast enough and took to the mouse like a fish to water.


- Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2002 01:26:02 -0600 (CST)
Subject: mac

On Wed, 6 Feb 2002, Frances Cook wrote: [above]

The whole GUI enterprise is a little confused by 'idea theft'.

MAC stole the GUI idea from Xerox who was running GUI computers years earlier. But that same influence started the Unix/GNU people off on another window system, which came out at about the same time as M$ Windows: X-Window, with no 's' at the end.

X-Window was developed at Harvard, and _one_ version (version X-11, year 1986) was made public property. Every Unix machine in the world includes X-11.

X-11 will operate over a modem, over the internet, over wires strung from a computer to slave monitors, to any of a hundred terminal windows, each taylored for the particular screen it is running on. Neither Windows nor Mac will do this sort of 'multi user', 'multi program', 'multi different monitor' and 'multi different terminal'.

I use a VT-100 emulation terminal on a Windows machine running programs (in this case the email reader) from a Unix box. If this wasn't such a bitty-box I might just run X-11. But I have neither the power or the RAM on either box for that.

X-Windows comes in more varieties than you can imagine. Off hand my Linux box came with 8 X-window managers. Kees uses "Gimp" a very large extensive GUI windowing system. For a while I used KDE. All are free, of course, and you can get anything you want off the web for them.

I set my KDE up to look exactly like Windows95, then i got tired of that and set it up to look and work like a MAC. I eventually removed all of the X-11 stuff, cause the box is only run as a router, and besides, the good monitor got moved elsewhere.

Now, to the suits: Yes Mac sued. And they lost. Actually it was destined to go absolutely nowhere. Consider that all of the MAC word-processing stuff comes from Micro$oft. Consider that even today, Mikro$oft supplies half the office utilities to MAC.

Consider that When Mac declared bankrupcy about 8 years ago, A certain mister Bill Gates donated $150,000,000 to MAC, and then (although this last is supposedly not officially information) imvested in $250,000,000 in stock.

I don't think MAC will sue. First of all, Micro$0ft _owns_ MAC. Secondly, it is important for them to keep a small competitor alive and 'up against' M$, or they will be more obviously accused of cornering the market. Notice that SUN microsystems, and AOL, and Netscape (before they sold) were parties to the current Federal suit against Micro$0ft, but not MAC.

Five percent of the world uses MACs. It used to be 8 percent. As far as Micro$oft is concerned, they are no competition whatsoever. But they better be there.

Fran writes...

"Say what you will about Mac--slow, inflexible, consumer-y, goofy, overpriced, etc--and you will be absolutely right. They are toys, not real computers. But give them their due--they really are friendlier and, when I ....

I have _never_ in my life been able to repair a MAC, although I have moved Hard Drives, changes scussy settings, transfered drives, etc. But of course only cause I had a copy of Norton for MAC. The older boxes were even glued shut - so that absolutely _no-body_ would get their screwdrivers in there.

To get a diskette out of a MAC, you have to put it in the "garbage can" -- Say what? That's intuitive?

What keeps people from understanding a 'real' computer (and which MACs steadfastly hides from view), and how they work, are only three things:

If George gets DS installed, ask to see it in use. You can actually see where _all_ the files are in the heirarchical structure. It takes very little then to understand why or how the shell (or command processor) can find a file. Or how you can hide files.

And DS lets you look at the innards of _any_ file (if George also installs List.com), or alter it (if George also installs Qedit.exe) (and 'install' means just have them somewhere where the shell can find them). They dont have to be 'registered' in the 'file-registry' -- a process Win uses to control how people add programs.

Where was I going with this..? Oh, yeah, price.

Two years ago I was still teaching a class in computer hardware, so my info dates from then. Comparison of a G4 hi-end MAC with a non name-brand (important, and BTW, _never_ buy 'name brand' PCs) hi-end PC -- equivalent processors and speed, same HD storage, same RAM, same i/o stuff including on-board sound, etc. (OK, the fire wire is an extra card on the PC, so put out $50 more). Speeds really dont make much difference, and the Motorola and Intel (or clone) processors cant be compared, since they dont program the same way... but whatever: MAC $4,500. PC: $1,500.

Today i can outstrip a G4 by a $1000 still. [June 2002: make that $2000]

Current prices: from Micro Center [Feb 2002]:

Wanna shop some more?

Programs, you say. OK, this is also a few years old. But here is the lineup:

_Any_ MAC program is available for DOS.

I am always surprised to have Columbia Photo faculty get overjoyed with some 'new' MAC program that does this or that, only to realize that I was using the same thing as shareware under DOS ten years ago.

Real kicker:

.. pay-for programs for MAC are generally more expensive then the equivalent DOS/Win program, but seldom over $500

.. but to get a first grade commercial Unix Operating System, you _will_ have to shell out $3000 or more. It will also outperform _any_ of the bitty boxes - yet run on the same amchine.

.. many pay-for programs for Unix run into the thousands to 10 thousands of dollars

Then where does the "mac is so cool for graphics, etc" come from?

It came from the printing industry, which made it the model for graphics production, as an add-on to the giant Unix typesetting programs. The typesetting programs produced negatives directly - ready for burning to a printing plate - but just didnt handle graphics - you still had to strip it in, and send the originals to a process camera operator. So all the publication software output always had those spaced-off rectangles where the graphics was going to be stripped in.

The possibility of making a single negative presented a manpower reduction, and (prolly more important) a gain in 'control' over a printing project. So the industry set people down with Macs (easy to learn) and had them produce screen-lookalike manipulations from scanned originals. Eventually the results were just intergrated with the typesetting programs to produce single line and half-tone negatives.

To accomplish this they jumped on "Photoshop". The Photoshop people quickly learned to add all the negative control features native to the printing industry, so that you have absolutely opaque terms in Photoshop like 'creep' which has to do with ink density on a particular press, etc.

It was actually too much for Photoshop, and resulted in a whole new industry, called pre-press or post-something (or something similar) where the digital information is turned into negatives (with commercial programs costing $50,000 for each copy). The MAClings are mostly not aware of this.

What they should be aware of is that to accomodate the graphic design and printing industry, MAC cranked their monitors to approach 'paper white' -- with the result that today any web graphics created on a MAC cannot be seen by 90 percent of the viewers, who are all using PC's which run the monitors at a much lower brightness.

While we are at it.. peripherals:

- Monitors
Early MAC has first 3 or 4, then a half dozen monitors available. Color too! PC's have over 200. Color too! But not really interchangeble, although your dealer can make MAC changes to allow use of a PC monitor. Eventually MAC gives up, and switches to the VGA PC standard.

- Keyboards
A serial port keyboard is fine, but what all those meta keys are for no-one knows, especially the french-fry key. Eventually MAc gives up and switches to the PC 101 keyboard. Then with the i-Fruits they go back to MACish keyboards, made for tiny delicate fingers (ever use one?).

- Mice
A one button mouse is just such a bad idea! Meanwhile there are over a hundred mice and mouse programs and roller balls available for PC. That hasnt changed.

- Hard drives
The best idea ever was the MAC use of SCSI hard drives, taht allows up to 7 hard drives to be added to a box. But this has been available for intel machine also. But most intel machines are set up for two ATA hard drives.

The problem is that SCSI drives are much more expensive, so MAC users never add extra drives. PC uses much cheaper ATA drives, which limits you to two, currently 4, and almost every PC I have ever seen has at least two hard drives. (Two of the boxes here uses 4-drive setups, although at times for peripherals other than hard drives. I also have one SCSI 2 drive box).

- USB port
A marvelous fast serial port. A year later every PC has them also.

- FireWire
Another very fast in-port. Next year they were available on PCs.

- Floppy drive
MAC claims to have invented the small floppy (IBM developed the large floppy). Actually Texas Instruments did, but what the hell. MACS use 300 Mb floppies, with the drive designed by Sony. Meanwhile IBM expands that first to 650 Mb, then to 1.44 Mb. MAc goes to 800 Mb. How is that for interchangeability?

Then if you put a MAC 300 floppy into a 1.44 drive on a PC, the read/write heads on the 1.44 drive gets destroyed. Fun. I will not ever accept MAC floppies.

- ethernet
MAC 'invents' Appletalk, in the face of the whole rest of the world which is using ethernet. Eventually MAC gives up and switches to ethernet also, but calls it Ether-talk or some other baby-talk name, claiming they invented it.

- printers
MAC starts with 3 serial printers. They are heavy and slow. PCs use parallel printers, 7 times faster. The PC printer line grows to 7000 printers, and MAC gives up and adopts PC printers.

- i/o ports
MAC has (I will admit) a brilliant I/O system, except it has changed from model to model. The PC system has remained the same for 20 years.

It is all interchangeable, except for three early MAC boxes. The stuff is just too expensive to have some company special-make chips for MAC.

- memory model
MAC uses a top to bottom memory model, which set aside data blocks for any program. A graet idea, since diverse programs in memory will not crash into each other. But this results in all MAC programs requiring much more RAM than the equivalent DOS/WIN programs.

DOS (and WIN) use a bottom up model for lower memory, and WIN uses page switching, but fills upper memory in both directions. Neither make allowances for writing data. The result is that WIN programs often overwrite each other and crash the machinery. This has finally stabilized some with W95/98, but does not compare to Linux which _never_ crashes, although it will zombie some programs if they leak (into other memory areas).

- add-on cards
There are 149 different ways to add peripheral cards on MACs. Well, not really - but they have changed their add-on card interface 4 times, finally giving up and adopting the PC's PCI slot. So now you can use the 40,000 add-on cards available for PCs on your MAC. Before that there were 'some' add-on cards, but expensive, since they were always produced in small numbers.

At the very least you should be able to take peripheral cards from one box and use them on the next box you buy. True for PCs, not true for MACs.

- processors
MAC has used 4 motorola processors (not counting the IBM MAC-PC chips), none are interchangeable. PC's have use 4 intel (or clone) processors, all downward compatible, thus upwardly interchangeable.

Fran writes ....

"I briefly thought about going Mac again after the egregious WinXP was foisted upon the computing public, but then realized that Mac is now a part of MS and OSX would probably rat me out to Gates as well. I suspect that you will disagree about the usability thing--'cause George disagrees with me rather vehemently. It's the whole mouse issue. He's a keyboard person. Hates the mouse. I started out on an old IBM DOS machine and found it exasperating. Couldn't get rid of the keyboard cursor fast enough and took to the mouse like a fish to water.

"I'm a dilettante, It's true.

Well, you need to set up properly. I almost never use a mouse. The keyboard is 20 to 100 times faster. But max the typomatic rate and minimize the delay, otherwise it is just agrevating. Command:

mode con rate=32 delay=1

Most boxes default to 'very slow typing' cause they dont wanna scare off new users. See 'user-friendly' directly below ...

":user-friendly: systems that hold the user's hand so obsessively that they make it painful for the more experienced and knowledgeable to get any work done."

Here is what the unix community thinks of MACs (and PC, TRS, Atari): I'll just present 'user-obsequious' - which excellently expresses my sentiments - and one more, the "for the rest of us".

":user-obsequious: adj. Emphatic form of {user-friendly}. Connotes a system so verbose, inflexible, and determinedly simple-minded that it is nearly unusable. "Design a system any fool can use and only a fool will want to use it." See {WIMP environment}, {Macintrash}.

For the rest of us (after a great 80's TV commercial) ...

":for the rest of us: [from the Mac slogan "The computer for the rest of us"] adj.

1. Used to describe a {spiffy} product whose affordability shames other comparable products, or (more often) used sarcastically to describe {spiffy} but very overpriced products.

2. Describes a program with a limited interface, deliberately limited capabilities, non-orthogonality, inability to compose primitives, or any other limitation designed to not `confuse' a naive user. This places an upper bound on how far that user can go before the program begins to get in the way of the task instead of helping accomplish it.

Used in reference to Macintosh software which doesn't provide obvious capabilities because it is thought that the poor lusers might not be able to handle them. Becomes `the rest of *them*' when used in third-party reference; thus, "Yes, it is an attractive program, but it's designed for The Rest Of Them" means a program that superficially looks neat but has no depth beyond the surface flash. See also {WIMP environment}, {Macintrash}, {point-and-drool interface}, {user-friendly}.

From the On-Line Jargon file, Ver 3.3.

I use a computer for computing. I cannot use a Mac to do so. I cannot use Windows to do so. I can use DOS to do about anything, and Unix.

later /jno (end)

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