XP and old PCs still make the world go round

I’m about to commit heresy, but I can’t stand Apple’s overpriced kit any longer.

My first new computer was the Low End Mac described road apple, Apple Macintosh Performa 5215CD, purchased on sale at Best Buy for $1,995. I also bought an Apple Color StyleWriter 2400 color inkjet printer to accompany it for $299. For around $2,300 give or take, what a steal of a bundled deal, right?

Hardly. Although the StyleWriter 2400 was a decent printer, the Performa was truly a road apple and was donated to “Savers” about five years later in favor of a used Power Mac 7500 purchased on eBay.

The good thing about the Performa was it allowed me to explore the innards of computers as I was constantly tweaking software and hardware in search of better performance.

If you own Macs, you know they retain their value much more so than comparable PCs from HP, Dell, Asus, Acer et al. There is quite the thriving market for used Apple hardware on the internet—Craigslist always has used Macs for sale at inflated prices, for example.

I purchased the Performa as it was the most Apple computer my money could buy at the time. The Performa was part of Apple’s consumer line of Macs and was on the market just prior to Steve Jobs’ second coming at Cupertino.

Apple’s professional line then featured Power Macs with Motorola and IBM PowerPC processors. These were priced out of the question for me, as I would have had to pony up at least another $1,000 to get into the Power Mac 7500 I truly coveted. Although I enjoyed the relative speed of Power Macs during the day at the ad agency I worked at, it was the Performa for me at home or no new Mac at all.

While tinkering with the Performa, I began to grow curious about Windows 95 and its big release featuring the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” anthem that accompanied Microsoft’s marketing blitz.

Apple seemed to be in a state of inertia back then and was kind of on the ropes as Microsoft Windows became the predominant computer operating system for both businesses and consumers.

Windows NT superseded Windows 95 for business use, but on the consumer/small business end, Windows 95 was followed by Windows 98, the panned Windows Me, Windows 2000 (last NT-based OS release without product activation) and then, gloriously combining business and consumer operating systems, Microsoft released the most venerable operating system of all time, Windows XP, at the end of October 2001.

Windows XP changed everything. Apple was forced to abandon its Classic operating system in favor of OS X in an attempt to compete with the stability and speed that XP offered.

This was when I started picking up used PCs and began experimenting with Windows. I appreciated that XP was stable and fast on most any hardware, once you were sure you had the drivers for your particular rig at the time—whether it was an HP, Dell, Compaq, eMachines, Gateway or whatever.

Apple began releasing mostly not ready for prime time versions of OS X—slow and unstable. It wasn’t until Jaguar OS X 10.2.8 and really, Panther OS X 10.3.9, where Apple had an OS that could compete with the stability and speed of XP.

By then, though, Microsoft and XP had already won the desktop wars. Apple was reduced to a niche player, sinking to less than three percent overall market share. Once Jobs returned and saved Apple fanboys like myself a lot of embarrassment by transitioning to Intel processors in all Macs, for me, it was too little, too expensive and too late. The iPods, iPhones and most recently iPads that saved and ultimately catapulted Apple into most valuable company status, cannot sway me from the fact that whenever I need to do any heavy CPU lifting, it’s most often a PC and XP or now Windows 7, which is doing the job for me.

Although Microsoft would never admit as much officially, they made XP too good. That’s the reason it’s still on most desktop systems worldwide. It’s also nice that they have maintained it with regular security patches and updates over the years. This is another problem I have with Apple and their proprietary hardware/software model.

Apple’s OS releases eliminate some Macs from eligibility every three years or so. In other words, that shiny new iMac you buy today may not run Apple’s latest OS release four years from now.

Microsoft has extended support multiple times since XP was released. Yes, I know you can still run the same OS you have on your Mac five years from now, but modern security updates won’t be released for it, and it won’t likely run more recent versions of software. If you want that, you need to pay the Apple premium and buy a new(er) Mac.

XP has afforded modern browsers, office productivity suites and secure system software on ancient PC hardware with Pentium 4 processors, for example. For G5 Power Mac owners with PowerPC processors, however, OS X 10.5.8 Leopard is the end of the line. You can’t run the latest versions of Adobe Flash, Firefox, Chrome or many other software programs, either, as they are for Intel processors only.

In this era of planned obsolescence, Microsoft Windows XP soldiers on.

Yes, there are viruses and malware out there in abundance that only affect PCs. Yes, you can run Ubuntu or any number of Linux flavors if you want a free, alternative desktop experience minus, let’s say, Microsoft Office or Apple’s iTunes. Yes, you can buy a new Mac every three years so you can run the latest version of Apple’s OS (will they ever run out of (they haven’t aged well and now sound dumb) silly cat names?).

And yes, you may have a need to utilize the multi-core and 64 bit computer processing power that Windows 7 and newer PC hardware offer. The bloatware released these days disguised as software, requires ever more hefty hardware specifications on which to run.

If your needs are more modest, however, an adequately secured Windows XP on your old P4 tower or laptop, with a free anti-virus and free anti-spyware/malware solution, may be all you’ll ever need.

Sorry, Apple, but over half of the computer using planet that won’t pay up, can’t be wrong.



11 replies »

  1. Apple seems to be leaving the desktop behind as the world snaps up the iPhone and iPad. Oh! Apple won’t ignore the desktop completely, that will become a niche market, mostly for content creators. Even Windows XP users will find ways to use the iPad to replace Windows XP for routine operations.

    Life moves on. Windows is so twentieth century.


    • Agreed on Apple seeming to be leaving the creative professional desktop computer behind (their latest refresh of the Mac Pro line specs IMHO was underwhelming), Louis, in favor of mobile development. Apple has always been a niche market for content creators, but as the remaining print/pre-press shops that are around begin to update their hardware (some HAVE been using the same hardware/work process flow since late 20th century), Apple will need to rededicate themselves to this market or eventually lose them entirely to the Windows world with their superior hardware horsepower and their equally, if not superior, ports of Adobe Creative Suite and other software. As for the tablet market, let’s see if Microsoft’s “Surface” tablet can fall somewhere between their Zune failure and their Xbox smash hit, in terms of success (when it comes to being both hardware AND software provider), and potential iPad killer.


  2. Bob,

    With all due respect, your post gets a few facts wrong. Mac OS X was in development for three years prior to it’s March 2001 release. The first update to Mac OS X, (10.1) “Puma”, was released in September 2001.

    Windows XP did not make its appearance until late October 2001. XP was little more than a hasty re-skin of Windows 2000 designed to blunt the PR effect of the OS X “Aqua” user interface. It offered nothing in the way of new technology vis-a-vis Windows 2000. It sported the same old “GDI+” rendering engine with a bit of eye candy piled on top.

    Furthermore, Windows XP wasn’t really stable enough for daily use until Service Pack 1, released in September 2002. This nearly coincided with the release of OS X Jaguar (10.2).

    Microsoft’s real answer to Mac OS X was Windows Vista, released in late 2006. It wasn’t until Vista that Windows would sport a modern, GPU rendered UI.


    • For stability, I would say XP SP2 was the turning around and that was in the fall of 2004. Panther had shown it was better at Active Directory integration and you could still run Outlook 2001 in Classic. That made Macs golden for corporate deployment.


    • Although OS X development predates XP’s actual late October 2001 release, XP’s development dates to 1999. When I stated, “Apple was forced to abandon its Classic operating system in favor of OS X in an attempt to compete with the stability and speed that XP offered,” although it could be implied from this statement that it was Apple’s sole reason for developing OS X, it obviously was not, as OS X development predates XP’s actual release date chronologically-speaking, as you kindly pointed out.

      I’m hoping you agree, however, that releases of OS X prior to Jaguar (Cheetah and Pumah) were simply acquainting Mac users with OS X and not really meant for production use. I recall working at a non-profit shortly after 9/11, and being excited when a dual booting G4 Cube arrived at our office with Pumah on it. After booting into it, although I could see the promise it might hold some day, I realized it wasn’t very useful for anything just yet, and quickly booted back into OS9.

      This all said, Apple and OS X were playing catch up with XP in terms of actual usefulness, from the moment XP hit the market. Sure, XP prior to SP1 was buggy, but still offered far more functionality than any version of OS X at the time. Classic needed to be on its way out post-haste in favor of OS X, if Apple were to have any chance of catching the XP juggernaut.

      November 2001, I was also working for a public relations firm. The VP was a Mac guy, and had a bunch of G4’s with OS 9 in the creative/web design/prepress department. He was also an early adopter of Windows XP for the admin end of the organization, and quickly transitioned that staff component from WIN 98 desktops to WIN XP, and I remember thinking Apple really needed to up its OS X development game, almost sure their marketing department had to be feeling the pressure from XP’s competition.

      Today we have the best of both worlds, and more choices than ever for quality computing environments. I’ve always been a Mac evangelist, but I stand by my inference that Apple felt a renewed sense of urgency with OS X development, upon XP’s release, and subsequent OS X releases like Jaguar and Panther really shined, not coincidentally, me thinks. As to the much maligned Vista, it was rushed to market prior to vendors getting peripheral driver update compatibility completed, and as much as XP’s marketing was a wild success, Vista’s was largely a colossal marketing blunder on Microsoft’s part. Vista is robust today, though, and those brave souls with the patience to have stayed with it through to SP2 are enjoying a decent computing experience.

      I enjoyed your comments, thank you kindly for their courteous tone and appreciate your reading “hittingthesweetspot.”

      Best regards,


  3. I am glad you mentioned Linux at the end…its still the only viable way out of Microsoft and Apples expensive, walled in gardens. As for alternatives to proprietary there is always Open or Libre Office, which are both pretty good, but I run Microsoft Office 2007 well (admittedly with a few quirks) in PlayonLinux/Wine on x86 Linux. I gave up on iTunes around version 6, so that’s no big loss for me. Youtube and the Downloadhelper extension in Firefox gives you all the music you could ever want, provided you aren’t squeamish about “piracy”, and Amazon is always there too, if you feel that record companies actually deserve your hard earned dollars. Go see the artists you love live, buy their T-shirts or CD’s directly from them, that’s what I say. Mplayer, Totem, Banshee, Audacious, Songbird (now Nightingale)….the list of mp3/music organizers on Linux is as long as my arm.

    It’s also important to note that many old apps work as well, or even better, than the new ones. Google Earth 4.3, for example works as well on Leopard OS X as any newer version does on any other OS. There is also eMaps, a spectacular implementation of Google maps. The latest version doesn’t support PPC, but slightly older ones do and still work perfectly.


  4. I always counsel folks to “consider” Linux, especially when their budget is tight (or nonexistent), as well as when their needs are modest, too. For example, if they just want to browse the web, have email, a text editor, spreadsheet, presentation capabilities and the ability to play music, it is an easy suggestion for me to make, and I have. Most folks end up running it just fine, too. The Ubuntu flavor, especially, has come a long way in terms of user friendliness. The days of printers and other peripherals not working seamlessly with it are mostly a thing of the past. It is very gratifying to have true plug and play in modern day Ubuntu.

    I will have to check out Google Earth 4.3 and older versions of eMaps for Leopard OS X–good stuff, Dr. D.

    “Go see the artists you love live, buy their T-shirts or CD’s directly from them, that’s what I say.” Agreed. Awesome.

    Thanks for reading, Dr. D and thanks for another great round of comments, too–much appreciated!


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