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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

Apple's G4 ROM Block Will Only Serve To Lose Customers
September 3rd, 1999

We have gotten a glimpse of what I consider to be the Bad Old Apple. The Bad Old Apple is the Apple that was unresponsive to customer needs and desires. The Bad Old Apple also thinks that wishing for something to be true makes it so.

Guess what? That ain't the case.

It has long been rumored that Apple had done a bit of ROM magic with the last G3 firmware update that would keep those Blue & White G3s that had been updated from being able to use a G4 upgrade. This has now been confirmed. MacInTouch has reported extensively on the issue and added lots of reader responses as well.

Let me summarize the situation. Apple released a firmware update that either intentionally or accidentally included code that would look for a G4 in the updated Blue & White. If it found one, it would not allow the Mac to start up. The chances of this occurring accidentally are slimmer than Twiggy after a two week fast.

To add insult to injury, a discussion on this topic began on Apple's message boards. After receiving criticism, most of the posts were deleted,* though Apple does have a current thread posted to which readers are directed (and in which readers are instructed to no longer post to the thread). Here is an example saved by MacInTouch:

Notes to consider after reading this include the fact that there is no shipping or announced PowerPC G4 processor upgrade from Apple or, as far as we know, any other company and we're not aware of any documentation that indicates any Power Macintosh G3 computer was marketed as being upgradeable to a PowerPC G4 processor.

Additional posts to the thread will be removed and since the entire thread is off-topic, it will most likely be removed as well. If anyone feels the need to discuss this further, please post to any of the public Usenet comp.sys.mac. newsgroups.

That little gem of customer support says that since there are no marketing materials saying that the G3 was upgradeable, that people might as well stop their whining.

Of all the arrogant attitudes to take!

The issue is that Apple feels that they lose sales to manufacturers of G3/G4 upgrade cards. While this is certainly true to one degree or another, most buyers of upgrade cards are people that CANNOT AFFORD TO BUY A NEW COMPUTER in the first place! These are customers who are not going to buy a new Mac anyway! What the upgrade manufacturers achieve for Apple is that Mac users have usable machines for a longer period of time and remain satisfied Apple customers. When they get to the point where they can afford a new computer, most of them will do so and they will return to Apple as happy customers ready to buy a new great value. Part of that value is longevity. After all, who doesn't want a sexy new computer? It is not as if the company can keep up with bloody production anyway. Apple does not get this, and in order to try and control this situation, it appears as if they are trying out this ROM stunt.

I can think of no better way to lose customers than by sneaking in crippleware in the guise of a firmware update without telling people about it. Had Apple announced that Blue & Whites would not be upgradeable, and people bought them anyway, that would be fine. Had Apple announced that the Firmware update would make their Macs no longer upgradeable after they installed it, that too would have been fine. As it is, people bought computers from Apple in good faith, thinking that they would be upgradeable. Apple then artificially and capriciously took that ability away from those customers. That is one of the most unbelievably arrogant and stupid things I can conceive of. On top of that, it is much closer to the kinds of tactics we normally associate with our good friends in Redmond, WA.

Imagine how that makes those who bought Blue & Whites within the last month feel.

This situation is intolerable. Apple's actions should be protested by every single Blue & White owner out there. Only by applying massive public pressure will Apple change this. That means a public outcry is necessary. Another post from MacInTouch inlcudes contact information:

If you would like to express your dissatisfaction to Apple please contact Customer Relations, they will know where to redirect your message for the most effect. You can call 1-800-767-2775 (Do not select any options from the menu) or write a letter to:

Apple Computer, Inc.
P.O. Box 4040
Cupertino, CA 95014-4040

It is possible that the upgrade companies will be able to get around the problem. Indeed, XLR8 has already said that they will have a fix for the situation. According to MacInTouch:

"A special fix will be needed to run G4 with the 1.1 firmware in a Blue and White. Users get 5 tones, like the emergency weather warning. We have a fix in hand, using DayStar magic."

This should not be necessary. Apple needs to immediately announce a new firmware update that will reverse the cripple feature. They can even claim that it was an accident for all I care, but they need to announce it, and they need to then release it soon. If the problem was caused by code, it can be fixed by code.

If they fail to do this, they will lose customers. They will also lose a lot of trust from a lot of Mac users. Many of these Mac users are just now regaining that trust. If they will just treat their customers well in the first place, all of the upgrade customers will eventually buy new PowerMacs. This is especially true when they include new technologies like the PowerMac G4s. Apple needs to compete on the basis of their merits, because those merits are good ones. They do not have to rely on tactics more suited to the Dark Side.

* Apple maintains those boards and is certainly well within their rights to delete anything and everything they want. However, this is just another case of Apple being unbelievably arrogant and not listening to their customers.

Your comments and hate mail can be sent to backpage@macobserver.com.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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