Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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January 2002, Week 2 --The Cost of a New Machine



   Another iMac is out, looking a little like an adjustable mirror in a beauty shop, and drawing the cover illustration and a big article in Time magazine. I would have thought the people at Time-Life had real subjects to cover.

   The new iMac sells for a shade under $1,300 in its minimum configuration, $1,800 in its top config, as they say. New, faster PCs from other suppliers sell for around $600 to $700, but without a monitor. A 15-inch flat-panel monitor like the one on the iMac sells for $400 to $500. If you want a big one, a 17-inch flat-panel, it's around $600 to $700 now. Both Dell and Compaq are selling fast systems with monitors and CD drives for less than $1,000.
   E-Machines, which, as the British say, had a spot of financial trouble a while back, has just come out with a new machine featuring a one-gigahertz processor from Intel, a 20-gigabyte hard drive, 128MB of RAM and a CD drive for $399. Its top-of-the-line, with a 1.6-gigahertz processor and an nVidia graphics card to please the gaming crowd, is $799. It's a tough business; price still matters.
     Every so often I get a letter from a reader asking why I don't cover Macintosh products (actually, I do cover some). Once every three or four years I get a letter accusing me of the being in the pay of Microsoft (they've never even taken me to lunch). The truth is not only much simpler, but simple in the simplest way: Apple computers represent only a tiny fraction of the number of computers in use.
 imac    I am not anti-Apple. I have owned six Apples and Macs over the years; I bought the first one a week after it came out. I even had one of the ill-fated Lisa machines. Macs were great, more fun than any other computer I've owned. Unfortunately, I had to get my work done.
   I used to have an IBM-PC clone and a Macintosh side by side on my desk. Over time I noticed that whenever I wanted to play a game or make a graphic design for a card or just fool around, I would turn to the Mac. Whenever I needed to write or get other computer work done, I would turn to the PC. After a while the Mac was turned on less and less often. If I worked as a graphic artist, the reverse would have been true.
   There was a moment in the evolution of the personal computer that I thought Apple would sweep the field. Its technology was superior to that of PCs and remains ahead to this day. Unfortunately, superior technology hardly ever carries the day.
   Beta was superior to VHS in video recording and playback, yet Sony's beta format is a curiosity now. RCA introduced movies on laserdiscs 30 years ago, and lost a fortune on them. Too expensive.
     In fact, the primary factor governing whether a new technology is accepted and ultimately becomes dominant is price. It may be possible to find exceptions, but they would be very few. The fact of the matter is, PCs are cheaper than Macs -- not just a little bit, but a lot cheaper.
imac    Somehow, this matter of price never embedded itself in the Apple consciousness. The introduction of each new machine has resulted in a great deal of praise for design and innovations, and a brief spurt in sales. Market penetration rises to 5 percent or 6 percent of new sales of all computers.
   The installed base, however -- the number of Macs as a percentage of the total number of computers in use -- remains at around 3 percent, perhaps a little less. Over time, as new Macs have been introduced, the installed base percentage has actually declined.
   Just out of curiosity, I looked at the stock tables after this latest iMac came out and noticed that Apple stock declined immediately afterward. My recollection is that the stock nearly always went up before the introduction of a new machine and usually declined soon after. The "hard guys," the money managers on Wall Street, are seldom sentimental. Price still matters.
 Today in history --  A long address but worth the trip. This site is maintained by the Library of Congress, and each day it features an event from American history. Sounds simple, but it goes way beyond what you might expect. When I tuned in on Jan. 9, for example, the history lesson was about the "Connecticut Compromise (1787)," which proposed the two-chamber legislature of Senate and House of Representatives that we have today. Jan. 10 was the anniversary of the 1861 secession of Florida from the Union, the beginning of the formation of the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War. The site also provides pictures, old and new, of the people and places involved. You can also read letters about the time and even call up sheet music of popular songs of the period.

 frugal crafter

-- How to make an American flag out of beads and safety pins, or how to make soap and other bath products, do paintings on wood, and so on. This site has hundreds of articles and ideas plus links to more than a thousand other craft Web sites. Get in there and make something.

Actor's Source

-- Everything an actor needs except friends in high places. Tips on how to get into the business and job news. Lists casting calls for TV shows and stage productions, plus names and addresses for agents, casting directors, more. So, once more, but with feeling.

NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" Web site: and can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or