Apple vs. Microsoft

Last week, I was involved in a discussion on social media where a friend of mine decided he was going to switch from using a Macintosh to using a Windows-based PC on the basis that Apple does not follow industry standards, making his work difficult. This drew the ire from the Mac faithful in his circle, telling him how wrong he was, dismissing his very legitimate reasons for doing so. I stepped in when someone commented how they enjoy the fact that they can get 6-7 years of trouble-free service from a Macintosh. I mentioned that, to me, this was cute given that I get at least a decade of good service from my PC’s. Case in point, my last PC before my current build was an HP Compaq dc7800 small form factor desktop model that came originally with Windows Vista in 2008, and ran Windows 10 perfectly fine and could even render 4k video. The only reason why I built my latest system was the fact that I wanted something that could render 4k video in a reasonable amount of time. To this day, 10 years later, it’s still a perfectly usable computer, and I love the small form factor and the energy efficiency of this machine. I do admit that, over the years, I upgraded the hard disk drive, memory, and video card, but these upgrades were very inexpensive and, when combined with the original cost of this computer, still put me well ahead financially when compared to a Macintosh.

Before I go on, I should make something very clear: I believe that Apple hardware is typically of very good quality; as well, I believe that their operating system is fantastic. On a technical level, Apple makes a solid, aesthetically pleasing product in their computers, tablets, and phones. They have had their issues over the years, but overall, they do deliver an easy-to-use, reliable, and simple product to non-technical people. I have used Macintosh computers and the Mac OS all the way back to 6.0.8; I had used Mac OS 7.5.1 and 7.5.3 on a regular basis in the mid to late 90’s, and, just for nostalgia purposes, I have a Mac Plus and a Bondi Blue iMac in my collection, along with a functioning Commodore Vic 20, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, Commodore 128, and Commodore Amiga 500 and 2000. All of these computers work fine to this day. The reason I don’t like Apple is because of how the company does business. For example, they have decided to provide system software updates to Apple computers only up to a certain age; if Apple deems one of their computers to be “Too old,” it won’t get the update; contrast this to Microsoft, who’s latest Windows operating system doesn’t care and will install even on systems that may not even meet the minimal requirements. Apple has been known to disable features or slow down older products through software updates (see “Apple slows down iPhone” in your favourite search engine). They purposely engineer their products to make it as difficult as possible to perform service or upgrades to your products. Compare this to Windows phones, which were all perfectly serviceable, with easy-to-replace batteries, and typically got updates that made them perform better. I miss Windows phones. Then there’s the fact that, when Apple released iTunes for the PC, it was designed to slow down Windows. Contrast this to Microsoft software on the Mac; Microsoft Office on the Mac has been absolutely the best productivity suite ever made for that platform. You don’t have to take my word for it; you can search for these things yourself.

All that could be forgiven if Apple products were not so ridiculously priced. Today, an iMac with a 21.5 inch 1920 x 1080 display, 2.3Ghz dual core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive starts at $1399. It’s a beautiful looking machine to be sure, but consider that the HP 21.5″ all in one with a 1920 x 1080 display, 3.1Ghz dual core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive costs only $669.96. All of these prices are as of the date this post was written. That’s less than half the price of the Mac, and is just as solidly constructed and at least equally as aesthetically pleasing. I know based on past experience that I’ll get at least a decade out of an HP desktop computer, as my own old HP is still supported with the latest updates from Microsoft, while an iMac of the same vintage is no longer officially supported with Apple system software. To be fair, Apple does make its own hardware and software, and perhaps one could argue that I should be comparing Apple hardware and software to Microsoft hardware and software, but then again Apple did at one time license their OS to clone makers to use on their machines as well, back in the days of OS 7.x, so this is a legitimate comparison of the platforms.

So, back to the argument. The first part of the argument was how slow the PC was compared to the “Speedy” Mac. The person arguing this point easily gave up the fact that she was using iTunes at the time. I believe that Apple purposely designed iTunes this way in order to make people think that Macintosh computers were better. The fact that iTunes is necessary to use an iPod with your computer is the reason why I won’t ever own an Apple iPod. If Microsoft had done this, they would be sued!

Her next argument was the fact that she downloaded some “Image” from some random Internet site that turned out to be malware that infected her system and took 7 hours to get out. Let’s ignore the fact that I consider iTunes to be malware. In her estimation, malware was at every turn in the Windows world, waiting behind every web site ready to jump out and infect our computers lest we let our guard down once, whereas it’s not even an issue in the Mac world. I have run every version of Windows, from 3.1 and 95 through to Windows 10, and often without anti-malware and anti-virus protection. Malware is a known entity; we know what it looks like and how it’s transmitted. It’s not uncommon, for example, for something to look like a jpeg, but is actually an executable file. This is easily preventable by not hiding filename extensions in file manager, or even by right-clicking on the icon (can you even right click with a Mac, or is Apple still shipping them with one button mice?) By installing and using software from known entities and known sources, I haven’t encountered any malware. Meanwhile, malware does indeed exist for the Mac, and is the reason why malware removal tools for the MacOS are available. In any case, I find it ridiculous that someone would spend 7 hours removing malware when a wipe, re-installation of the OS, and reload from the backup disks could be done in about an hour. This is when she pointed out that cheap USB hard drives were not readily available prior to 2010…but in fact they were, and prior to these, we had things like Iomega zip drives and even floppy disks. Seriously though, it’s not even an issue of malware; hard drives and and do go bad in both the Mac and the PC. Have a backup of your data somewhere, no matter what computer you’re using. This has been a thing since the 1970’s.

I think the important issue is one that my friend brought up; the fact that Apple doesn’t necessarily follow industry standards. What if Apple went out of business? I know, they’re a big company, and they’re too big to fail, but I used to believe that about Atari and Commodore. I honestly believed the Amiga computer was the computer of the future, and that’s the platform I went with from ’87 on through to ’94. After ’94, I had disks that couldn’t be read by any other machine but my Amiga, and applications and games that wouldn’t run on anything else. Fortunately today, we have emulators, but back then it was a real issue and I had to start over from the beginning if I wanted to use the latest in computer technology, like the Internet. Fortunately, DOS and Windows based PC’s were plentiful, affordable, and quite good. Today, if any one computer company went out of business, there are many more to take their place. If Microsoft went out of business, they at least stuck with industry standards ensuring my own investment in hardware and software will continue to work for me.

At the end of the day, it’s really about doing what you want to do with the computer, and that means software applications and/or games. Open source, public domain, or commercial, it’s all available on a Windows based PC without reservation. Whether you want nothing but high end proprietary software and applications, or if you prefer using nothing but open source software, or anything in between, the Windows platform offers it all. Odds are very good that whatever new gadget you bought will work with Windows. Whatever the Mac can do, Windows can do, but there are certainly things that Windows can do that the Mac cannot.

The uIEC and JiffyDOS

One of the most fascinating things I discovered in recent years is the fact that people are still developing new hardware for the Vic 20, Commodore 64 and 128. One such product is the uIEC, which allows me to use a modern SD card with my Commodore 64 as though it were (to the Commodore 64) a gigantic 1541 disk drive. This means dealing with things that the Commodore 64 was never designed to handle, like directories. Floppies for the Commodore 64 were of such small capacity, directories and sub-directories were unnecessary; a person would have a collection of disks, each one representing what we would consider today a directory. IMGP5959

The Commodore 64 and its brethren are flexible enough to be able to deal with concepts like directories through the use of complicated commands. For example, to change into a directory called “MUSIC,” one would need to type:

OPEN 15,10,15,”CD:MUSIC”:CLOSE 15

Cumbersome and difficult to remember, most users would load in a DOS wedge, which was a program Commodore offered with its 1541 disk drives. Load that, and the same can be accomplished by typing in:

@CD:MUSIC

I opted instead to use my Cinemaware Warp Speed cartridge, which incorporated an improved set of commands. For example, for getting a directory with the DOS Wedge, one would type in @$, whereas with the Cinemaware cartridge, I only needed to type in $. More importantly, when it came to changing the drive number, the Cinemaware cartridge simply required me to type in R8 if I wanted to change the uIEC to device 8. The uIEC defaults as drive number 10, which is fine if you’re just using it to transfer files and disk images to floppy disks, but is a pain when dealing with software that is written to run specifically from drive 8. There are a large number of programs in the Commodore 64 library that are written to run from drive 8.

The other thing about uIEC is that it runs at the same speeds as the 1541, which was (and still is) very slow. In fact, my main reason for buying the Cinemaware Warp Speed cartridge back in the day was to speed up my disk drive access. Accelerator cartridges were a popular accessory on the Commodore 64, because it really was horrible how slow it was. I figure Commodore designed it to be used with a cassette tape drive, and disk drives were more of an afterthought. IMGP5958

Unfortunately, the uIEC is not accelerated by an accelerator cartridge. As it turns out, there really is only one way to get it to run at modern day SD card speeds, and that’s with JiffyDOS. JiffyDOS is a chip that replaces Commodore’s original DOS chip. It allows all disk drives and devices like the uIEC to run as fast as possible, which is many times faster than stock. It also incorporates the DOS wedge commands. These commands aren’t as intuitive as those in my Cinemaware Warp Speed cartridge when it comes to changing the drive number, so I decided to write this blog post so I could have something to refer to.

Changing the drive number

  1. First, I press CONTROL-D to make sure it’s set to drive 10.
  2. I type in @”U0>{control-h}” to set the drive number to 8. I use CONTROL-I to set to drive number 9, and CONTROL-J to set to number 10.
  3. I verify with CONTROL-D to make sure the drive number has been changed.

Copying a fileIMGP5957

  1. First, I set the destination drive. If I’m copying from the uIEC to a floppy, I’ll leave the disk drive at 8 and the uIEC as 10. The command is @X8 to set drive 8 as the
    destination.
  2. I then get a directory of my files; I use CONTROL-D to switch to the appropriate drive, then @$ to pull up a directory listing.
  3. I cursor up to the file I wish to copy. I put an asterisk * next to the file I wish to copy, and press RETURN. The file gets copied.

There are command summaries available at various web sites for everything else, but these two issues seem to be overlooked on the ones I’ve found. Writing this blog post will ensure that, should I forget how to do this again from not using my vintage computers for a period of time, I’ll know exactly where to look.