Macworld Magazine, November 1996

The Desktop Critic by David Pogue


Turkey, Stuffing, and Interchangeable Power Cords

The little things that Macintosh pilgrims can be thankful for


It hasn’t been a completely pleasant year for us—the faithful Mac pilgrims. We suffered Microsoft’s onslaught of bloated Windows-ware (Word 6, Excel 5). We watched Apple ingest three huge hunks of humble pie: financial fumbles, imperfect PowerBooks, and several successive servings of system software. Finally, we endured the preposterous public pillorying of Macs by the wise ones at various national news organizations, who greatly exaggerated rumors of the Mac’s demise.


Still, Thanksgiving time is upon us, and we do indeed have much to be thankful for. We should remember that faith is a powerful force; the original Pilgrims didn’t have much else going for them, and their little piece of market share hasn’t done so badly. Despite our hardships, we, like they, should celebrate the little things, the surprising happinesses, the serendipitous touches that make Macs magical. Such as:



Interchangeable Power Cords

You don’t appreciate this one until you’ve acquired a substantial collection of Macintosh add-on junk. Once you’ve done so, however, you discover an astounding fact: your Macintosh, PowerBook, CD-ROM drive, scanner, printer, monitor, and other external gizmos all use the exact same kind of power cord! It’s that thick round cable with three prongs on one end and three slots on the other. In any junk-heap office, in a pinch it doesn’t matter which cable you grab—it’ll work.



Computers That Work in the Year 2000

Our Windows-using cohorts gloat at the apparent ubiquity of their computer format. Meanwhile, their big 90-percent-market-share ship is cruising at full speed toward an iceberg the size of Montana—namely, the year 2000. As you’ll soon be hearing with increasing urgency, all those millions of less-sophisticated, non-Mac computers weren’t designed to handle the turn of the millennium. When the year 2000 dawns, their software will rip off their little internal calendar pages and decide that it’s now January 1, 1900. Picture the calamity as millions upon millions of tax programs, spreadsheets, calendars, and salary calculations derail like a runaway train.


The Mac’s designers, on the other hand, had a little more foresight. Our computers won’t have to he junked until the year 2040.



Styled Text

It’s one of those things you probably only blink at, surprised but happy, then go right on working. You paste some text you copied from, say, ClarisWorks into an America Online e-mail you’re writing. Lo and behold, the fonts, sizes, colors, and styles of the text you pasted appear perfectly in the E-mail message! What’s going on here? Since when do such disparate programs communicate?


Since Apple quietly invented Styled Text, a terrific timesaving technology you hear absolutely nothing about. All manner of well-behaved programs (ClarisWorks, SimpleText, America Online, WordPerfect, DocMaker, desktop clippings) support Styled Text copying and pasting. In fact, even some not-so-well-behaved ones do (Word 6). Sign me up for the fan club.



America Online Disks

If you’re like most people I know, you just splurted your coffee involuntarily. “What?” you’re saying. “I’m supposed to be thankful for the torrent of junk disks AOL dumps in my mailbox every week?” You’re darned tootin’! Last I looked, a box of ten high-density disks cost about $10 from MacWareHouse—but those Santa Clauses over at AOL are sending them to you for free.



Omni-Orientation Zip Disk Cases

You’re gonna think I was running short of material here, but I do, in fact, give silent thanks almost every day for this tiny gift of convenience: every time I stuff a Zip disk back into its little clear plastic case, I pay absolutely no attention to which way it’s going in: right side up, label front, label back, rotated 90 degrees, whatever—it fits no matter which way you shove it. (If you don’t consider this a blessing, recall the fussiness of SyQuest cartridge cases, plastic videocassette boxes, audiocassette boxes, and CD-ROM cases, all of which require much more mental effort to stuff and close.)



Free Tech Support

Something bizarre is afoot over at 800/SOS-APPL. Suddenly Apple’s famous help hotline seems to be staffed with an army of newcomers who know less about the Macintosh than we do.


Me: “Hello, my new Duo won’t print whenever its internal modem is on.”


Person at Apple: “That’s correct, sir. Only one thing at a time can be plugged into the modem-printer port.”


Me: “You don’t understand. It’s an internal modem. Built in. Doesn’t need the modem port.”


Person at Apple: “Obviously, sir, if a printer is plugged into your printer-modem port, you can’t plug in a modem there.”


Me: “Are you familiar with the Duo 2300?”


Apple: “Well, no, sir, not really."


So if the experts in Austin are slowly being replaced by body-snatched automatons with almost no comprehension of the Mac, what’s to be thankful for? Three things. First, at least Apple’s front-line army of phone answerers eventually hands you off to somebody who knows something. Second, Apple’s help line is still free. By contrast, when my buddy recently called Compaq for help, they charged $35 to his credit card before they’d even listen to his question.


And third, the phone number itself gives hundreds of unwitting callers each week a delightful surprise: turns out that if you dial 1-800-S-zero-S-APPL by mistake, a breathy female voice thanks you for calling “America’s hottest phone line.”




Virus Immunity

There have been only a few Mac viruses in all history—and they’ve all been pretty darned mild. DOS- and Windows-based computer fans, on the other hand, live in fear of more than 500 nasty little viruses, some deadly to data, lurking at every turn on the info highway.




After reviewing Mac software for ten years, I can safely say there’s no shortage of software at my place; disks, boxes, and manuals consume roughly 93 percent of the available living space. But when I need to do something quick, professional, and reliable, what do I launch? ClarisWorks.


ClarisWorks, as much of the planet knows, is the world’s best-designed, smoothest, most trouble-free program. It dumps zero extensions into your System Folder; it runs in 1400K of memory; it needs no support files whatsoever. This week alone, I used its spreadsheet to type up a schedule of simultaneous rehearsals; its communications window to check a modem; its drawing module to make a quick map; and its word processor to create a Read Me file. While everything else is (a) getting bigger, (b) getting complicated, or (c) crashing, ClarisWorks will always be there, a happy little cocker spaniel with your slippers in its mouth.



The Upshot

I’m only warming up; given a long-enough Thanksgiving-dinner speech opportunity, I’d also give thanks for such glories as shareware, Zip disks, QuickTime, the 18 voices your Mac can use to speak, PC Exchange, Macworld Expos, desktop patterns, fax modems, TrueType fonts, E-mail, the Launcher, and the little cord-wrapping prongs on a PowerBook power adapter.


Too bad Thanksgiving rolls around only once a year. The other 364 days, we’ll go back to using the term "turkey" to mean lousy software.



Contributing editor David Pogue is the author of Macs for Dummies, fourth edition, and its newly updated sequel. More Macs for Dummies, second edition (both IDG Books Worldwide). He frequently interchanges power cords.