Monday, July 30, 2012

Got a Mac? Time to Upgrade or Else

Don't get me wrong, I have always been one of those PC users that have had a serious case of Mac Envy. 

When Windows was a kludgy mess of crashes and hidden DOS it barely ran.  Meanwhile, Apple computers tended to run and run fairly well with a simple but elegant design.

You must like it in the Windows World since there really isn't that much difference between the current version of Windows and Mac OSX on the surface any more.  Besides we're all running software on the web these days, and the software that sits on the computer is not completely unchallenged.

Of course I am summarizing greatly.  There are some significant design considerations under the hood.  To the end user, the differences are not really all that obvious.

On the other hand, the Mac had a significant problem with it.   The way Apple choses to orphan machines. 

You see an electronic device could conceivably work for decades or more.  There are plenty of antique devices.  There is a point after which they're not supported any more.  You can't get Vacuum Tubes at the corner Drugstore for example.

Things do wear out, and there is a point after which keeping that old machine running simply makes no sense. 

With Computers, they improve them on such a rapid pace that many times it makes sense just to get a new one.  Mind you, I've done quite well using other people's old machines for a very long time.  I would keep a desktop at the cutting edge and a second machine around that typically would be a year or two old.  That machine would be my daily driver and I'd use it to do all those tasks that I would want to bang away at quickly and move on.  The heavy lifting goes on the desktop.  

The desktop is gone now.  My 2 year old machine is sufficient.

That's because I'm running Windows on it.  I expect to be able to get a new version of Windows for this machine and run on until the battery no longer holds a charge or the dog knocks it off the coffee table.   I'll probably use it as a tethered machine to play music after that and squeeze a year more out of it.

That flexibility means that I'll be able to expect that I'll be safe and sound.  I won't be serving out advertisements for a Russian Porn Site or for "marital aids" because someone somewhere decided I wasn't going to be supported.   Sure, software gets dropped in the PC world, but generally you just don't get cut off and left to twist in the wind if you have a PC.

Now, look at the Apple Mac user.  It doesn't profit Apple if you don't upgrade so every so often. They will then make a decision that they will not support the older machines.  After all, those new machines are so Shiny you will just want to run out and get that new shiny object!

I have an old G4 Power Mac that I keep on my desk for "Mac Emergencies" and it hasn't been supported for quite a few years.  I hardly ever use that thing which is a shame because it runs about as fast as I would expect a fairly recent machine to run. 

It is however a security hole.   That is because it hasn't been supported by Apple for all that time.   When they made the change to "normal" Intel hardware like your PC uses, they decided that they would eventually stop supporting that aging beast after the next operating system is put out.  If you want up to date, you have to get a new machine. 

Not by my choice, but theirs.  That physical machine is still running happily, but at this point you really don't want to do too much with it because you may get a virus.

You see this sort of thing is happening right now in the Mac World.  Sure they are beautiful machines but Apple has decided that some not so very old machines won't be supported.  They won't be allowed to upgrade to the latest operating system because they are incapable of running the thing.   In this case it's their transition from 32 to 64 bit architecture. 

Windows is still supporting the older 32 bit machines, but because of the way Microsoft does its support, you won't be cut off from security updates and cause a problem immediately.

Apple has just thrown up a wall and said you're not supported, buy a new one.

More importantly, Apple is also not going to update the older versions of its application software.  The biggest security hole in all of this is their browser, Safari.  The browser will not be supported on the older platforms and security updates will not be issued. 

Browsers are the biggest problem in computing these days since they're used so intensely on so many different sites.  I have gotten "virused" before and I watch extremely closely what I'm doing.  I've had many friends call and ask what to do about a virus.  "Update your scanner, run a full scan, update your computer, and change your passwords" is the basic suggestion.

In this case, Apple users can't do that.  They're locked in on the older computers to an older browser.

The solution in that case is either get a new Mac or get new software.   My suggestion is Windows or Linux.  At least you don't have to give up your shiny hardware because of a design decision.


After all, the browsers on Windows and Linux are being kept up to date.  The biggest security hole is safer there.  The application software like a Browser is being supported by another organization outside of the walled garden of the operating system and hardware vendor.   You're simply safer when control isn't so concentrated. 

That's the definition of a single point of failure.  Now go check your virus scanner and help "mom" get hers checked too.  You'll be happy you did.

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