Taking Stock

A Time For a Change?

By Steve Duff, Contributing Editor, See staff list for e-mail address

On the eve of Amiga, Inc.'s exciting announcement about our miggy's future, I realized I had to say good-bye to an old friend.

My old friend has served me well, but as I prepare to move from Seattle to Chicago, it's obvious that something has to give. I have to sell my PowerMac.

The realization just came to me one day. I'd been on the Web for hours ... on my Amiga. I looked over to my Mac and realized I'd barely used it in the last month. In fact, for the past several months, my Mac use has been drastically declining. I decided to find out why.

It didn't take long. I upgraded all the way to MacOS 8.1, but though it was attractive to look at, it was extremely slow, and its multithreaded Finder was a poor substitute for the Amiga's pre-emptive multitasking. Running multiple copy operations bogged the machine down and crashed it ... twice. The upgraded OS also brought with it QuickTime 2.5, the infamous version where they licensed an extra 200 instruments from Roland -- the wrong 200, if you play Doom. Doom music sounds great on the Mac if you use QuickTime 2.1, and I tried to replace the version of QuickTime Musical Instruments in 2.5 with the 2.1 version, but it didn't work. Perhaps I should have replaced QT 2.5 entirely, but I have a feeling that wouldn't have worked, either. In the end, I downgraded back to MacOS 7.5.3, which has always been the best version on my machine.

At some point during this episode, I increased the screen resolution from 800x600x'thousands' of colors, to 1024x768, only to discover that even with the mouse tracking speed at its highest setting, dragging the mouse across the screen was like dragging a heavy corpse. It was unbelievably slow.

While at the high res setting, I decided to do some web-surfing, and installed Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 from a MacAddict CD, to test it against Netscape Navigator 4.04, which was already onboard. Netscape Navigator proved to be much quicker, but it's a RAM hog that tends to crash. Neither browser appealed much to an IBrowse user, although Microsoft Outlook Express is a very nice integrated mail/news app.

In reality, I've been trying to escape the Mac for a long time. In the past it was mainly the Mac community I wanted to divest myself of. The Mac has a rep as a creative platform, but beyond pro-level workers, it's hard to find evidence of this. I was mortified a couple years ago when I cruised AOL's Mac and PC graphics libraries. At a time when Mac users represented 25% of AOL's members, the Mac graphics libraries consisted almost entirely of badly-scanned photos and crummy line art. The PC libraries had plenty of this, too, but they also contained stunning 3D renders. I was also embarrassed by the MacDoom community's poor showing in level design. The average Mac-made level is much worse than the average PC-made level, even though the Mac's editor, Hellmaker, is a superb program. I'll make no pretense to modesty; I'm one of the Top 100 Doom designers on the planet, and all my levels have been made with Hellmaker. Thus, it's easy for me to spot the flaws and realize how lazy an author was.

The Mac community's primary problem, however, is their continual whining for ports of PC products. Mac users feel slighted when Netscape versions arrive months earlier on the PC. They hate having to wait two years for a port of a hit PC game. The obvious problem is that nothing is happening on the Mac itself.

One thing that immediately impressed me about the Amiga community is that they wrote their own browsers, their own e-mail and news apps, their own games. Of course there is whining for PC products, but not nearly as much, and not all of the Amiga-native apps are as good as PC counterparts, but some are better. But the point is, if you had to bet on a community for the future, would you bank on the one doing its best to make homegrown products, or the one that waits for scraps from the big table? Would you bet on the one that has no scenes at all, or the one that's famous for the MOD and Demo scenes? Would you bet on the one whose future path is 'like the PC, but better,' or the one which promises a major breakthrough in computer architecture?

For me, the answers are pretty obvious. I use the Amiga because it's fast and enjoyable. From the very first, I have never worried about the Amiga becoming extinct the way I worried about the Mac. It could happen, but for the most part, the idea seems inconceivable to me. I can't tell you how much I used to stress out over the Mac's ever-gloomier future, and the reason for that is just because I had the Mac mindset of competing with the PC for the same products. It's a loser's game and something the Amiga community should avoid at all costs. If we are to get anywhere beyond our little corner of the universe, we have to do what we do now, but better -- we have to offer something different, something unbelievably cool. We can't win with a 'me too' product.

Now that I've slagged the Mac, I should reiterate that it has been a good and faithful servant. It has been the most reliable of my computers. It has never had any major problems at all. What problems it has experienced were easily fixed. Its ability to boot off a CD has been invaluable. For someone who can rise above the Mac soap opera, it's a good machine to own. For me, in the end, it just wasn't fun to use anymore. I found something better.

Return to the May 1998 (Volume 2 Issue 10) Main Index