Apple's High End Dilemma: Give Us Six Slots!
By Bill Troop
April 30th, 1999

It's hard to criticize Apple this quarter. Apple is doing unexpectedly well, and PC juggernauts like Compaq are doing unexpectedly bad. But here goes.

The problem is Apple's hardware commitment to high end users who need six (or more) slot machines, serial ports, and built-in SCSI. It was brought into sharp focus by last week's NAB convention. The highlight turned out to be the news that AVID, the mainstay Mac video editing powerhouse, has done its last Mac version. It'll be Windows NT from here on out.

This has caused an outcry of staggering intensity from a prominent part of the content creator community: professional video editors. The problem has been discussed at length by an enormous number of articulate users on the Macintouch site. Dozens of passionate letters can be read there. These users know how to communicate the immediacy of their pain. Investors haven't been happy either: AVID stock plunged, as the company attempted some desperately unconvincing spin control measures.

One thread that runs through the discussion is EXPANSION. Apple's post-clone expansion options are pathetic. Content creators have been miserable with the mingy, amateurish 3-slot machines. And we've constantly hoped for something better. It never comes. Instead, we lose SCSI, and gain USB and Firewire -- things we haven't asked for, and don't need. SCSI works. USB and Firewire don't. It will be many hard years before USB and Firewire run anywhere near as smooth as SCSI runs today.

Here at The Mac Observer, we were deeply troubled by the official word we got from Apple in response to our query about PCI expansion. Apple said "Generally, Apple thinks that PCI expansion chassis are a great solution for the small number of users that need the additional capacity and Apple has been working with 3rd parties to perfect their solutions." That would be fine except for one thing: you can't get faster than 32-bit, 33 Mhz PCI out of an external expansion chassis. That would have been great in 1996. It's laughable in 1999.

Apple continues: "We are also attacking the issue from a different angle, and that is to put more built-in functionality on the motherboard (100BASE-T, Firewire) lessening the need for additional PCI slots."

Ye Heavens above! Does this represent Apple's best understanding of why 50,000 AVID editors need six (or 10) slot machines? Or why hundreds of thousands of other content creators have the same needs? Or why millions of "prosumers" are willing to spend extra for expandability they know they may never need?

This statement signals but one thing: Apple wants to work only with low-end users whose main interest is getting onto AOL. High end people stick with the platform at their own risk: they won't be actively supported.

If that's the case, Mac content creators will gradually be forced onto NT -- a platform that isn't ready for them and can't provide much of what they need beyond raw horsepower.

Although the discussion has focused on desktop expansion, Apple's laptop expansion capability is mingy too. For instance, IBM's Thinkpad laptops have offered seamless SCSI-3 and PCI expandability for years. What's Apple's problem in offering this basic capability? Is Apple going back to the dark ages as regards hardware design? The hardware/software bug reports that appear in Macintouch each day are not encouraging.

Perhaps the best line to come out of the AVID discussion was: "Apple doesn't succeed because of itself, but in spite of itself." Like we said, it's never easy to criticize Apple.

Who knows? Maybe Apple only does good work defensively, like when it's losing money?

-Bill Troop

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