Saturday, November 07, 2009

Apple play a devious game.

The desktop PC that I built five years ago has this year died, had various pieces replaced with parts bought on ebay, and been rebuilt. At the end of this it was still unreliable, slow, and sufficiently frustrating to use that I was not using it any more, and was instead using my laptop most of the time. This was not ideal, as I have two very nice screens on the desk in my study. I could have plugged the laptop into one of these and used it at my desk, but this seemed wrong, somehow. In any event, constandly connecting and disconnecting the laptop from the screen and/or other peripherals in my study was just a nuisance.

So, I decided I needed a new desktop machine. Over the last couple of years I have returned to Apple. The first computer I ever used was an Apple II back in 1981, and I used these and (later) Macintoshes until about 1998. From 1988 or so, I used Unix machines in university and scientific environments as well. I actually almost never used a DOS or Windows machine until 1998, but I moved to Windows then for a mixture of work related reasons and because Apple as a company had lost its way and appeared to be dying.

However, Apple did of course not die, and Microsoft lost its way over the last decade. By developing OS-X on a Unix foundation, it managed to swallow up a lot of the Unix community as well. (Like everyone else, Unix geeks have been moving to laptops, and Mac laptops are the best Unix laptops by far). I rather delayed coming back, but a couple of years ago I bought myself a Macbook Pro, which has turned out to be the nicest laptop I have ever owned, by far. The Snow Leopard upgrade a couple of months back has improved its performance. It still feels like a brand new laptop and has none of the sluggishness that Windows machines seem to get after a couple of years.

So, having decided to buy a Mac desktop, I this week bought a Mac mini. Since being upgraded earlier this year, the mini has had quite a nice spec, including decent nvidia 9400 graphics with dual monitor support. Apple gave the mini a minor speed bump a couple of weeks ago, which gave me a great chance to get the just superseded early 2009 model cheap. As it happened, I bought it "refurbished" from the Apple store for £339. The computer may have been a return, or might have been and end of model sale. But it was cheap, and looks and feels as good as new. This was theoretically the low end model with a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and 1Gb of RAM and a 120Gb hard drive. My intention was to upgrade the hard drive (probably to a 320Gb or 500Gb 7200rpm unit) and RAM at some point. I probably still will, but the machine that was shipped to me actually has 2Gb of RAM, meaning that the RAM upgrade isn't particularly urgent.

The Mac mini comes in a very small box which does not include a screen, mouse, or keyboard. Apple have always sold it as being a relatively inexpensive machine allowing people who have these things already to switch to Apple. People who want a fully new machine from the ground up should buy an iMac. And this suited me fine. The Mac mini is plugged into my (lovely) 24 inch Dell screen that has a few years of life left in it, and the (also nice, but older) 19 inch Sony screen I have sitting next to it will be plugged in also once the mini Display port to DVI adaptor that I have ordered on ebay arrives and I gain the ability to plug it in. And the (Compaq branded) USB keyboard and (Sony branded) USB mouse that I have plugged into the mini do indeed work perfectly.

However, they look wrong somehow. These are dark coloured and clunky bits of PC hardware. They look way too utilitarian to go with the Mac. And the keyboard has a Windows key instead of an Apple key. I can almost feel the urge to go and buy a Mac keyboard and Mac mouse for purely aesthetic reasons. Apple were not lying when they stated that "Most users will have compatible hardware already", but I fear they also understand that people - think "this is wrong" - and go and buy an Apple mouse and keyboard, and that this way Apple get much higher margins on them than they would have had they just put them in the box with the computer.

Except, of course, they do not fit in the box. If a keyboard had been included, Apple couldn't sell the Mac mini in such a cool, small box. And knowing Apple, this is quite possibly a fair bit of the reason.

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