Apple, Intel and the Price of Obsolescence

Of course, the inevitable after-the-announcement hits, with Matt Marshall’s long-awaited arrival of a new Apple Powerbook a sobering event. “But we’re feeling a bit like a fool today. That’s because the laptop arrived on our doorstep about two hours after Steve Jobs announced Apple’s shift to Intel processors. Even before we cracked open the box, our shiny new Powerbook was a legacy machine”. Such is the price of processor envy.

Matt wonders if he had just waited off, if he could have gotten five years worth of work out of it, but instead “…will officially be obsolete in two, when the new Intel-powered Powerbooks land in Apple stores. Oh sure, the laptop itself will still work fine. But chances are, all the relevant software updates we need to keep the laptop current (from both Apple and independent developers) will begin to disappear, and our Apple flag will be firmly planted in the land of the old.” So true.

Of course, the wags always have the “you never owned the machine anyway, just the use of it, so what are you complaining about” (which is somewhat incorrect as you do own the tangible hardware, and by implication permanent access to low-level software like device drivers that allow replacements, upgrades and repairs, but ignorance is bliss). They also think that five years is bogus. Well, that’s not really right either, but again, most people are pretty ignorant of the difference between the hardware and the software, and even much of the software isn’t as convulsed as one might believe. Here’s Lynne’s take on this tech:

“Well, my kids have inherited a Symmetric 375 Berkeley Unix (Symmetrix) system that is turning 20 years old, and it runs great, has all the Unix utilities, and has the best version of rogue ever. Just a few bad blocks on the disk, but we mapped those out (yes, you can fix a disk drive!).

No, these machines don’t need to be obsolete so rapidly. The bit rot is intentional (as is the broken versioning and updates). Otherwise, folks wouldn’t migrate to new software. But the hardware is actually very reliable and remarkably easy to upgrade from when I started in workstations.

Can you imagine if people couldn’t fix their cars after 3 years? Wow, GM and Ford would love that, but you’d have a rebellion on your hands!

Of course, one could argue that we don’t live, we only buy the USE of life for a time. But I would hope that becoming obsolete according to a corporation’s best interests won’t mean we all end up on “Logans Run” soon after. :-)”

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Lynne Jolitz is a Silicon Valley OS pioneer, inventor, and startup founder.

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