The Brancatelli File



November 11, 1999 -- Why does anyone pay attention to Apple anymore? Why does anyone listen to a word that Jivemaster Jobs utters? And why would anyone buy an Apple computer?

Since I come from the other side of the technology equation--you know, the real world, where computers are tools, not a lifestyle choice--these questions have been vexing me ever since I switched to Wintel computers a couple of years back. My friends on Wall Street are asking these questions again after Apple fell from its synthetic state of grace last week by screwing up its earnings forecasts. A hundred or so computer users I've evacuated from Appleland in the last two years are asking, too.

It seems to me that Apple is what's wrong with American business today--arrogant, lawless and a lousy marketer of overpriced products. It seems to me that it's time for Apple to go the way of the Edsel or the Kaypro.

Now, look, before you Mac fanatics clog my E-mail box with invective, understand that I was once one of you. I used Macs exclusively for most of the decade. I've helped at least 150 people buy Macintosh. And if you want to keep using Macs, well, no skin off my apple.

Just hear me out. Listen when I say this: I switched from Macintosh to Wintel, survived and prospered. In fact, when I crossed over, it was like being liberated.

I no longer felt compelled to defend a product that cost me more. I was no longer a prisoner of a rapacious company that led me down bizarre technological alleys and then abandoned me. I no longer had to excuse the actions of a company that crushed all its competition and got away with it.

Oh, by the way, it also turns out that Windows is a better operating system than Macintosh. Maybe that wasn't always true, but right now, at the end of the 20th Century, Windows is better than the MacOS. It's easier to learn, easier to use, more stable and simpler for all us Average Joes out there whose only goal is to hook up a printer and a monitor and surf the Internet.

As I said, I was once a Mac loyalist. In 1990, I inherited a publishing operation that was a Mac shop. I taught myself how to use Apple and rode the wave. As friends called for help buying or replacing their own computers throughout the 1990s, I directed them to Macintosh.

I helped friends buy MacTVs and made excuses when Apple canceled the system faster than a network sitcom. Every time Apple fiddled with the base configuration of its machines by filling up the only RAM expansion slot, I rationalized the deception when my friends got stuck with expensive and superfluous RAM cards after every memory upgrade. I shrugged when Apple created a $300 video card, then abandoned it, and friends lost their investment when they upgraded machines a year later. I looked away after I steered friends into Powerbook Duos with proprietary internal modems that Apple abandoned at 14,400 baud. I gritted my teeth when Apple ran Mac clones out of business and made us prisoners of one company that controlled pricing, distribution, operating system and hardware. Yeah, I told friends, it's a monopoly, but…

I ignored glitches, crashes, problems. Need a $100 piece of firmware to get that printer running? Well, you know, it's the price you pay for owning a Mac. Got to buy an adapter to get a monitor working? Yeah, well, it's a Mac. Oh, sure, it's annoying to pay so much more and, yeah, you do have to buy everything by mail order, but…

My excuses and rationalizations stopped in October, 1997. That's when Jivemaster Jobs decided he could do anything--including cheat his customers and tell them they didn't know how to read. In a sweeping change of its customer-service policies, Apple began charging for calls to tech support. Included in this switch were Macintosh Performa users. It didn't matter to the Jivemaster that Performa users had been promised--in writing, in their manuals--free telephone support for as long as they owned their computers.

Apple stonewalled. Jobs' minions were sent out to tell the craven, sycophantic Mac press that: 1) no Performa user was ever told tech support was free and 2) even if Apple had guaranteed free tech support, they couldn't afford it anymore.

Many unhappy Mac users went to court and Apple had to settle the resulting class-action suit. Early this year, Apple finally agreed to resume free support for Performa users. It also agreed to refund any charges Apple had extracted from Performa customers.

I went another way. Dozens of my friends bought Performas on my recommendation and they were being screwed. I knew Apple was lying and I knew this was the final Apple outrage.

I switched to Windows in November, 1997 and haven't bought an Apple product since. And all my friends who bought Mac? As they have needed new machines, I have switched them to Wintel. About 100 of the people I've helped over the years have changed to Windows now. Not one regrets it.

Once in a while, I admit, a friend has given a cursory look at an iMac. One of them called last Sunday from Chicago. She was looking to replace a 30-month-old Mac clone I helped her buy.

"The CompUSA flyer is selling an iMac for $1,350 and there's even a printer," she said. "I was thinking that's a pretty good deal."

I shuffled through my Sunday paper in New York and found the flyer and the iMac ad. I pointed out she'd have to buy a floppy drive for an additional $100 and told her the integrated iMac monitor would be useless when she needed a new processor.

"Well, what should I buy?" she asked.

I directed her to a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion bundle advertised below the iMac. It had twice the memory and a much larger hard drive, a built-in floppy and a Zip Drive, better sound, a comparable printer and an external monitor. The price: $1,100.

She followed my recommendation, bought the HP and set it up herself without once having to call me for help. She E-mailed me a few hours later.

"Wonderful machine," she wrote. "Windows is heaven. It installed all the software and the printer automatically. I'll never go back to Mac."

This column originally appeared at

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