RANT: The iMac-Like PC (FAT CHANCE!)

(Thanks, kuch, for the link to this NYT article…)

I’m not sure what all of the confusion is about concerning the absence of a viable all-in-one Win32 system. There is a strong philosophical disconnect between Macintosh and PC thinking when it comes to prioritizing aesthetics versus economy for a desktop computer system.

PCs are there to “get the job done” in the fastest, most cobbled-together way possible. They’re not fun to use. Nobody complains that they’re not fun to use. Computers aren’t supposed to be fun… they’re for work, fool! If anybody does complain, they find themselves the target of ridicule.

People who buy Macs know what they’re putting their money into. I’m not sure PC manufacturers know just what that is. They always try to copy some surface aspect and then find it to be a total flop. PC all-in-one designs make the assumption that the user just wants a small case that fits the rough technical specs of an iMac, while Apple puts tons of resources into designing a machine that looks good sitting on the desk.

I’m not sure PC manufacturers even have the option of pulling off the same aesthetic appeal within the current environment. For one, as long as they rely on Windows as the user interface, it doesn’t really matter how pretty the box is, the thing is going to be a kludgey mess to use. But there are other reasons.

Mac users are accustomed to Apple’s monopoly over Macintosh hardware, and they’re used to getting no respect from hardware vendors when it comes to device drivers. They know they can’t go to the store and grab just any commodity part, plug it in, and have everything work. So buying an all-in-one Macintosh system is not much different from buying one of their towers if you think in terms of building out a Frankenstein box.

At least, it’s not as much of a difference as all-in-one means to the PC world. All-in-one PCs are almost as expensive as Macintosh all-in-ones, and they’re far uglier. You don’t get the usual PC advantage of being able to extend the life of the machine indefinitely by swapping in new parts over time. You’re stuck with a box that can’t be upgraded, in a market where constant innovation guarantees that your machine will become obsolete in no time.

In reality, most home users probably don’t upgrade their PCs often, or maybe ever. But they do seem to get old faster because the hardcore gamers and office users keep pushing the envelope, and applications continue to be written with the expectations that more and more resources will be available to them.

It’s a funny point to make, but I think innovation for its own sake has this side effect. Mac users can keep their computers longer basically because Apple’s absolute control over the architecture stifles innovation and keeps the app writers from getting greedy with system resources. So again, people keep their Macs longer and get more back on their investment before pawning that iMac off to a third cousin and getting a new one.

I’m not trying to be a Mac bigot here. Both systems have their advantages, but I can totally see why all-in-one PC systems just don’t cut it. It’s just opposite of what the PC architecture is all about. We don’t even call them “IBMs” any more! The PC philosophy just can’t be frozen in a little box and expected to stay put like a Mac can.

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