How to tilt at windmills.
September 18, 2000 7:15 PM   Subscribe

How to tilt at windmills. What these guys don't undestand is that Apple can't make money selling software. They develop software so that they can sell the hardware on which it runs, which is their real profit center.
posted by Steven Den Beste (30 comments total)
God knows they charge a fortune for their hardware, I love macs, I really do, just I don't think apple is being all that reasonable, at least right now. I hope that, once they get back to their full financial state, they'll come try to balance the value/money scale.
posted by tiaka at 8:25 PM on September 18, 2000

Oops, btw, I do think that maybe in a couple of months, those hardcore linux/unix/bsd geeks will somehow port mac x to an x86 processor. Gee, I hope that came out right, I'm not really all that tech savy, so, let me know if I sound silly. = )
posted by tiaka at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2000

Firstly, who would buy a Mac if you could get the Mac OS on a Pc. Secondly, this would put Apple in direct competition with Microsoft. Not a good idea.
posted by Zool at 8:48 PM on September 18, 2000

Apple can't compete on a price/performance basis on their hardware with the PC world and never will be able to, because they're up against economy of scale. 20 PCs are made and sold for every Mac, and making twenty times as many of something doesn't cost twenty times as much. So the per-unit cost is inherently lower.

Also, Apple has a monopoly and can essentially charge whatever they feel like they can get away with, because the true believers must have a Mac and will pay whatever Apple tells them to, though they may gripe or rationalize as they do so. On the other hand, the competition in the PC hardware world is intense (to say the least) and profit margins on PC hardware are paper thin.

As to the "port"; someone will probably port Darwin to x86 (in fact, I think it's already happened), but there's a lot more to OSX than Darwin, and most of the things which make OSX what it is are notopen source and probably will never be open source.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:18 PM on September 18, 2000

Sorry Steven, but your economics is flawed.

"20 PCs are made and sold for every Mac, and making twenty times as many of something doesn't cost twenty times as much. So the per-unit cost is inherently lower."

The fact is, it's actually many, many computer manufacturers who happen to make similar computers with similar parts. I'm not sure if economies of scale apply here.

It's actually a bunch of different companies selling PC's in a market that is a monopolistic competition. Each PC maker puts out a similar computer with similar components, but each has its own funny little quirks. They're not the same product, but they're different enough to justify different prices. Apple's computers tend to stray more from the norm and as a result, since people are willing to pay a premium for them, they can charge that premium. They do have a choice though, so it's hardly fair to call Apple a monopoly.

What am I getting at? I'm not sure.. I nearly failed Microeconomics 201 but I'm sure I'm onto something here. Any economics majors wanna take a crack at it?
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 9:26 PM on September 18, 2000

Regarding ``how long until some open source geeks would take to write something like MacOSX on intel hardware``. What comes to mind is Berlin. Resolution independence like MacOSX (though MacOSX's display PDF isn't nearly as advanced). Lovely CORBA objects with location transparency making native distributed processing. Berlin has the underlying system for to replicate MacOSX visually; anyhoo. Berlin doesn't any apps (no, a partly working terminal doesn't count).

Of course i'm not really a programmer (but I play one online), a thousand pardons for my mistakes.

posted by holloway at 10:10 PM on September 18, 2000

PWA_BadBoy: no matter how you slice it, Macs have always been overpriced.

Economy of scale has contributed more to that than you admit, but the primary reason is competition.

Economy of scale kicks in in the secondary industries, like production of PC100 and PC133 SDRAM DIMMs which are being produced in immense quantities. But there are so many PCs being made which can use those memories, that memory is dirt cheap due to a combination of immense volume and cutthroat competition between vendors. Economy of scale permits them to cut prices, competition forces them to do so. And that cuts the component price of everyone's PCs no matter who the manufacturer is of the PC itself -- they all gotta have RAM, and everyone's RAM is cheap because of economy of scale and heavy competition.

Likewise, Intel and AMD are fighting a blood-fight for the CPU market. Every PC from everyone has a CPU in it from one or the other, and both have been cutting prices like mad to try to take market share from each other. It doesn't matter whether I get my PIII from Dell or Compaq, I'm still actually getting it from Intel, and Intel's economy of scale (and a substantial threat from AMD) is making their processors damned cheap. And that lowers the price of the PC I buy, no matter who I buy it from.

Or take bus control chips, where Intel recently committed suicide and left the market open for Via and ALI. You can buy mobos from a large number of different sources like ASUS or Soyo, but you'll find that in many cases the bus control chips came from Via anyway because Via is selling to everyone, and Via's volumes are up so much that their prices are falling due to economy of scale (and due to competition from ALI). And that means that the mobo is cheaper no matter whether I buy it from ASUS or from SOYO, because they are in competition, and thus want to pass on the savings so as to undercut each other.

It's like that throughout the entire supply chain. When I buy a PC I'm actually buying products produced by 25 or 30 companies, and most of them are in heavy competition and are doing so much volume that economy of scale is lowering their price structures.

You're only looking at the very last step of assembling the PC itself, but that's not where the economy of scale is kicking in. It's in the components, most of which can't be used in a Mac and thus don't benefit the Mac price structure. (For instance, IIRC No Mac can use a PC100 DIMM, let alone PC133 or DDR200 or DDR266. And certainly Macs don't use Via bus control chips, which are specific to Pentiums or Athlons.)

Actually, I built my PC myself; it didn't come from Dell or Compaq or any of the other companies at all. The only logo on the compuer is from the company which made the sheet metal for the case.

But I nonetheless got my PC100 SDRAM for dirt cheap because EVERYONE is using it, volumes are huge, competition is intense, and thus prices are low.

But the big PC companies are also in cutthroat competition with each other, so they're also passing on all these savings so as to try to undercut each other on price, for this is now a commodity market and price is critical.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:17 PM on September 18, 2000

oh you're just mad because MACS RULE. YEAH!!
posted by chaz at 1:40 AM on September 19, 2000

I didn't realize until I read this second thread that Steven was so... obsessed... Anyone even remotely connected with the computer industry who retains the "Apple... baaaaaad..." attitude is simply not worth arguing with, as time has already proven that (1) Microsoft is pervasive and (2) Macintosh has a legitimate place in the portfolio of options for creative professionals and, particularly, for novice users.
posted by m.polo at 6:25 AM on September 19, 2000

I feel it important to point out here that the architecture of Macintosh machines has been moving towards much more standardised hardware over the last two years. For example, all the G4s, and all of the Blue-and-White G3s before them, do in fact use PC100 RAM. Of course, if you buy it through somewhere like MacMall it will still cost a little more than if you buy it at Joe Random Computer Shop, because part of what you are paying for there is the assurance that "Yes, this will work with your Mac." Just like with the PC, although not to the same extent, knowledge of what goes into your PC can save you a lot of money.

Unfortunately you cannot build your own Mac from scratch. But that is not really what Apple is trying to sell. As you point out Steven, they are all the same crap underneath. Apple is basically a Value Added Reseller if you ask me. If I wanted a case made out of custom-fabricated Lexan, it would cost me a lot more to make one for myself than to buy one from a company making hundreds of thousands of them (economy of scale, remember.) Or if I want an operating system that doesn't look like ass and require thousands of hours of maintenance and tweaking, writing it myself is out of the question just based on the time it would take. Of course, the current choices are the unstable, dated MacOS, heinous Windows, or labor-intensive Linux/BSD/etc. So it is natural to be excited about a decent operating system that will run on our funny-colored boxes. These boxes are cheaper and more powerful than ever before, use many standard components, and will (potentially) run a really great OS. The cheapest is not always the best for every situation or user.
posted by donkeymon at 9:04 AM on September 19, 2000

Macs use standard hard drives, CD-ROMs, power supplies, RAM, fans, PCI cards, input devices, monitors, etc. The only "non standard" components in a Mac are the processor (arguably), the motherboard, the case, and the software.

Apple has been moving in this direction for *years*.

posted by Mars Saxman at 11:04 AM on September 19, 2000

Mars, then why are they so bloody expensive?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:05 PM on September 19, 2000

Gateway sells a Celeron with monitor for $799. Apple sells an iMac, with monitor, for $799. Primary difference: the Gateway is butt-ugly. If your butt is beige.

As for non-standard stuff: when I got my first Mac, every peripheral was made by Apple. Modem, printer . . . well, that's about all there was. Now everything hooked up to my Mac was made by someone else - the Firewire HD, the Superdisk, the camcorder & digital cam, the printer, the scanner. And they'd work with my PC, too, if I used it for something other than games. It's a wonderful world.
posted by lileks at 12:22 PM on September 19, 2000

Because Apple has very high [by industry standards] markups. The innards aren't particularly more expensive. [They arguably also have more R&D to amortise.]

They think they're the BMW of the computer market, and price accordingly... you're paying for the style.

And I spent all this afternoon looking at a Blue G3 while waiting for my stupid Dell to reboot after crashing for the umpteenth time, and thinking that the G3 was, is, and always will be, by far and away the ugliest [not to mention most dated] computer I'd ever seen.
posted by theparanoidandroid at 12:27 PM on September 19, 2000

Because Macs include in, say, an $800 iMac:

350MHz PowerPC G3
512K L2 backside cache
7GB Ultra ATA drive
RAGE 128 Pro graphics
10/100BASE-T Ethernet
56K internal modem
15-inch display (13.8-inch VIS)
Two USB ports

For $200 more, you can add 3GB, 50 Mhz and a slot-loading DVD drive. I think you'll have a hard time trying to match that feature set with a brand-name, warrantied PC for the same price.

It cracks me up when I have to buy an Ethernet card as an add-on to Wintel computers.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2000

My appetite includes both snails and oysters.
posted by thirteen at 12:58 PM on September 19, 2000

13, that may be the first time "Spartacus" has been invoked in the Mac / PC debate.

IMDB yielded another "Spartacus" quote about a beautiful body and a lesser brain, which I'd use if I didn't love my Mac so much.
posted by lileks at 1:38 PM on September 19, 2000

Nope, I'm not going to get involved in this discussion anymore. I'm not. I'm not. I'm not.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2000

My school recently had to replace six relatively new imacs because the enternet cards on them got fried (electrical storm, I assume). Is it worth it to pay $799 for a new computer when all you need is an ethernet card?

(Is this really a realistic situation, or might I have my facts wrong? It seems so... wrong.)
posted by Lirp at 3:54 PM on September 19, 2000

I've never popped open an iMac, but it is possible the ethernet connection is embedded into the logic board.
posted by thirteen at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2000

I just recently popped open my parents iMac and one thing about the design: I have never had a more difficult time getting ram into a computer. Putting it back together took almost half an hour (and cut my finger). Didn't notice that the ethernet was onboard, but I've never heard of such a thing before ... I think it is wrong.

(Not that I don't think Apple & iMacs aren't great. I want a G4 PowerBook though, damnit.)
posted by sylloge at 4:52 PM on September 19, 2000

I just recently popped open my parents iMac and one thing about the design: I have never had a more difficult time getting ram into a computer. Putting it back together took almost half an hour (and cut my finger). Didn't notice that the ethernet was onboard, but I've never heard of such a thing before ... I think it is wrong.

(Not that I don't think Apple & iMacs aren't great. I want a G4 PowerBook though, damnit.)
posted by sylloge at 4:52 PM on September 19, 2000

The serious flaw in iMac is its lack of upgradability, this is specific to the iMac and not the entire Apple line. This is also true of the cube, and why I try to disuade the designers I know from dropping their money on those pretty boxes. Logic boards are available for Mac's, and the solution for fixing a broken Mac is virtually identical to what you would do for a PC. The difficulty of manuvering around the iMac was mentioned, and can almost certainly be attributed to it's cute LITTTLE package. The G3/4 design is so incredibly easy to service it should be winning award after award, I had 15 of these machines lined up sealed, and I averaged 30 seconds per machine opening the box loading RAM and closing it up. My only real complaint about Mac's are that they slow down my network, other than that they cause me far less trouble than all my squeeky Dell's and HP's.
posted by thirteen at 9:53 PM on September 19, 2000

"My only real complaint about Mac's are that they slow down my network."

What? How? Prove it. This isn't that lame "chatty Appletalk" canard again, is it?
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:10 PM on September 19, 2000

I can't even prove that i'm human. It is my perception, I did not know that anyone doubted it, it seems to me it does slow down the machine itself, If i'm gonna play with 200meg photoshop files I take my self off the network. All computers slow down when networked, maybe I am wrong. I have not read much, but I think Appletalk has been cut out of OSX, and would then be moot. What I am sure of is that if I have any trouble with my server I immediately think Appletalk, it is almost always the problem (and don't get me wrong this is like every other month, not a major problem). I am very pro Apple, almost all of my home hardware is apple (1 workstation and the server are not), if I ever get around to learning anything about Linux I will run it on Apple hardware. Until I can buy myself a cool William Gibson Sandbenders machine it will probably stay that way.
Did I mention you should all pop open a g4 to see how a box should be designed? Best layout since the ci.
posted by thirteen at 11:48 PM on September 19, 2000

I used to do some part-time work for a photography supplies company - they started selling computers because people were buying digital editing software, and saying "Hey, can I get a computer with this?"

It was right around the time the G3s came out, and one of the things I did for them was pop in the various boards (MIDI boards, digital video editing boards, etc) and install the software. The G3s were easy as pie. The boxen are magically delicious, pop off here, flip that there, slap card in, flip, pop closed and running.

I can only imagine the G4s got better.
posted by cCranium at 7:01 AM on September 20, 2000

Who cares? Use whatever computer you want.
posted by daveadams at 8:10 AM on September 20, 2000

Dave doesn't care about anything today, and he is glowing. Radiation poisoning?
posted by thirteen at 8:18 AM on September 20, 2000

Upgrading RAM on my iMac DV, with it's trap door, took me no more than 2 minutes. Yes, the older iMacs were not easy to upgrade RAM, but this design flaw has been fixed for almost a year.

I also don't want to fight the Apple/Wintel fight (is there still one?), but one thing that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention is when a Wintel user refers to their hard drive as the 'C' drive. Almost as bad as the user that refers to their monitor as their computer. I'm just picky I guess...
posted by Sal Amander at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2000

Still, though, it *is* the C drive...

Did I not say I was being 'picky'?
Still, the mention of anything with a C: just reminds me too much of the ancient days of DOS and command prompts...ick.
'nuff said!
posted by Sal Amander at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2000

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