Recently, I have pondered the future of the Macintosh, and given my impressions of Apple's latest notebooks. My current Macintosh is a 24" iMac, which I purchased about a year ago. Because computers represent not only my job but also my hobby, I tend to upgrade a bit more aggressively than the average person - I have settled into a two year cycle, where I replace my main machine every two years. Back when I used no-name PCs, it was possible to do "rolling upgrades", where every 6 - 12 months some component got replaced. But on the Mac, I am pretty-much reduced to buying a whole new machine. This isn't as bad as it seems, because I can either find someone else in my family who wants my old machine, or if not, I can sell my old Mac, typically for a pretty good price. In addition, back in my PC days, the rule used to be that the machine you wanted always cost $3,000. Well, I've found that since I have been buying Macs, I haven't spent more than $2,000 on a machine, which is price ceiling that I am comfortable with spending every two years.
So, I will be in the market for a new Macintosh in late 2009. And I can already tell you what my requirements are going to be - I'll want a machine with at least 4 cores, and the ability to take more than 4 GB of RAM. Apple's next version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, should be available by this time, and it's 64-bit qualities should really show some benefit when it has more than 4GB to work with. Based on Apple's current Macintosh line, only one machine currently fits the bill - the Mac Pro. However, judging by Intel's roadmap, and the availability of 4GB SO-DIMMs, I think that a late 2009 iMac might satisfy these requirements.
Except for that fact that it will probably still have the glossy screen. And I am so not keen on Apple's glossy screens. Of course, there is a chance that the Mac mini could see some strong updates in 2009 - but I'm not holding my breath.
So in all likelihood, I'm going to be left with the Mac Pro. And while the expandability and power of a Mac Pro would be nice, the cost is just insane. As of today, the cheapest Mac Pro is $2,300, and that doesn't include a display (which since my last two machines have been iMacs, I would need). So, going this route would put me way, way, way over budget.
Apple is a company that, by necessity, must offer a limited range of options. So, what is an Apple customer to do when Apple's offerings don't meet their needs? The choices are to get something that isn't quite right and suck it up, or to leave the Mac.
Tangent: how I am locked in to Mac OS X
If I wanted to switch off of Mac OS X, I need to think about what I would be losing. While I am a huge fan of Mac-only applications such as NetNewsWire and MarsEdit, I suppose that I could give them up (although losing NetNewsWire would really hurt). I use iPhoto to manage my photos, but basically consists of getting my photos off of my camera, and uploading them to the web -- so that wouldn't be a great loss. I don't really deal much with documents any more - so I won't miss Microsoft Office, or even Apple's iWork suite. Calendaring really isn't all that great on the Mac, so I won't be missing anything there. OminGraffle is pretty awesome -- but come to think of it, I don't actually use it all that often. And there are several Open Source drawing applications that will do for making a quick diagram.
As I think about it, there is only one application that I rely upon daily, that is keeping locking me to the Mac - iTunes.
iTunes not only manages all of my music (most of which is DRM free), but I also buy a fair amount of video (which is DRM-encumbered). But that's not all -- iTunes also manages my Apple TV, and more importantly, my phone. All of these things are pretty central to my life, and not only would it be hard (or impossible) to rip all of my content out of iTunes and access it via some other application, I would also have to find a new way to watch it on a TV, and as an even bigger disruption, I'd have to get a new phone.
So, it seems like while I could leave Mac OS X, it would be painful to let go of iTunes. One solution would be to use Windows -- but we all know that's not going to happen. Another would be to try and run iTunes on Linux via wine. Or to even try to make my main machine a hackintosh. But the latter two options aren't supported, and even worse, are "swimming upstream" of the vendor. For something that I consider to be a toy, I don't care if it is hacked up, unstable, unsupported, or whatever. But something that I consider to be mission critical - my home machine which manages all of my mail, web surfing, photos, media, etc - I want to at least be on a platform that is going with the flow - be it an Open Source operating system, or something proprietary like Mac OS X.
I have a year to bide my time on this, so we'll see how it plays out. Certainly, one outcome of this is that I need to keep my options open. My iPhone is under contract with AT&T until July of 2009, so I'm definitely going to refrain from any activities that would extend my contract (i.e. buying an iPhone 3G). And I'll continue to avoid DRM-encumbered media as much as possible (this really isn't possible for video, sadly). And I'll continue to keep abreast of other means of watching TV and filmed entertainment on the computer -- while I'm not a big fan of sites that are based on flash streaming, they do seem to be gaining a lot of traction.
Another interesting outcome is that I have been forced to consider how my computing environment has changed in just the last decade. My computer has always been a great way to waste time, but never before has it managed so much of my life - news gathering (RSS feeds), publishing, TV watching, music listening -- even my phone. It was back in the year 2000 that Steve Jobs began to articulate Apple's "Digital Hub" strategy, and it's amazing to see how that vision has become a reality.