Rip Mac Winkle

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I heard a commotion out on the floor. From the snatches of exasperation I heard from my sales rep Tatiana, it was that kind of trouble. Sighing, I got out of my chair, got out of my office, and headed to the noise.

I saw him. Yep, a Rip Mac Winkle. The iMac type. You can always tell. They just look at the center spot on a 48″ screen, and they cup their hand like they’re holding a hockey puck, even with a pointing finger on.

“May I be of assistance?”

Tatiana beamed in deliverance, a picture of glorious, gorgeous female frustration. “I’m sure HE can explain this to you.” Rip looked at me, saw the gray in the hair, nodded.

We went to the office. I closed the door. As soon as I did, Rip started. “I want to buy a Mac” He wanted to say more, so I just nodded and let him. “Your salesperson said they didn’t exist anymore, but if I wanted to buy an Apple, it would cost me $299 or $18,000.”

I was going to have to let him down easy. But not too easy. “You owned an iMac, right?”

A stare of shock. “Why, yes, how did you know?”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. What did you do with the iMac?” Like I didn’t already know.

Rip thrust out his chest, and said, “I cruise the Internet.” Antique.

“You mean you went to the Apple community.” He glared, and said, “I said that, didn’t I?”

He hadn’t, but it wasn’t important, so I let it pass and said, “A lot of things have changed since you bought that iMac.”

His face reddened. “Are you sure no one makes Macs anymore?”

I nodded negatively. “Stopped five years ago, back in 2006.” I paused, let that sink in. “Not even parts anymore.”

He tried to look through the floor as if he were trying to gaze through the gates of hell. “So Microsoft won.”

It’s good when the news isn’t all bad. “No.” He looked up, expectantly. “No more Windows, either.”

I swear, he beamed in joy for a moment, then realized he was truly in a strange land. “Then what OS do those funny boxes out there use?”

OS. Took a moment to remember just what that used to be. “There are no OSs anymore.” Not exactly true, but not the way he thought of them.

He gasped. “No OSs?? Then how does the processor know what to do?”

Another hammer. “There are no processors like you knew them anymore.”

I gave him a few moments of silence. He asked pleadingly, “How can you run applications then?” A pregnant pause, then “No applications like you knew them, either.”

Three strikes, and he was out. He went back to looking at the floor, but now he seemed to be searching for a crack to crawl into. He didn’t find one, and finally asked, “What happened?”

So I told him that the Crash of 2001 had flushed the old computing model down the toilet. People didn’t have money or time to waste on computers anymore. I told him that people finally realized it was stupid to have one-size-fits-all CPUs and OS’s that tried to do everything but did nothing well or reliably. They first had looked at the Sony Playstation, but that was just less stupid. Finally, the technology for programmable gates and ROM technology made it possible to combine all the necessary CPU, OS, video and application technology into one dedicated chip that could be plugged into a docking station with memory (and you really only needed that for virtual reality, most chips brought their own), some storage and ports.

It was like an asteroid strike in the Cretaneous. The old dinosaurs just died. Some died hard. Bill Gates had to be thrown out because he couldn’t believe a world could run without Windows, or Microsoft without the old core business. Died a couple months ago, a still-rich, embittered man. Dell, Gateway, Compaq, all perished. Intel got damn close before they finally sold the CPU business for a pittance to AMD and made themselves a much smaller Internet service company.

Stephen Jobs was a lot smarter. When he saw which way the wind was blowing, he dropped the personal computer business, and reinvented Apple as a company that made the workstations that created the new technologies. Apple was making more money making fewer machines than it ever had before. Some Far Eastern company now made docking stations and paid royalties to use the Apple name.

Rip struggled to come to terms with the now. “How much do these modules cost?” he asked. “Fifty, a hundred bucks,” I answered.

“How can they be so cheap?”

“Nothing uses everything. Just provide enough to do the task right, fast and well.”

“Can’t I buy a MacOS module?” he insisted.

“No, but you can download a skin that can make programs look like MacOS, or Windows, or Linux, or any other old look you like.”

He didn’t like me using “old.” “I still don’t see how this works without an operating system.”

“Oh,” I said, “there are standards for input/output, but all that’s in a BIOS chip. The ports are pretty flexible. A lot easier to build ports that can handle anything likely to come in five years than to build a complete system. The programs sort of have an OS, but just the routines needed for that program. All new technology gets built right into the app chips, no need to upgrade hardware, just buy a new program that has just the right technology.

“How can you run more than one app at a time?”

“Why do you think there are eight plugs in that dock?”

“How can you share information between apps?”

“There are protocols for that.”

“Don’t the apps use an operating system? Which one does it use?” He was really fixated on that.

“The apps use whatever its owners decide is best for it. It doesn’t matter. No matter what they use, everything works.”

He really glared this time. You mean you could have a machine running eight different operating systems at one time???” I shrugged. “Sure.” He yelled, “That can’t work!” Sounded less like a technical determination than a declaration of faith. I showed a little impatience in my smirk and said, “Why not? They all live with their own CPUs in their little worlds and memory spaces. You do have logic chips with office and other suites in them, those all do live in the same place.”

“How can you download programs from the Internet?”

“You buy a programmable logic chip, and do the deed. Makes illegal copying a lot harder.”

“But displays . . . .”

“You just set the wireless transmitter to your HDTV.”

Again, eyes on the floor, but this time in defeat. I knew why. “I know this hurts. All those fights, and arguments . . . .”

He poked his head up and I saw a tear glistening in his eye, ” . . . and all for nothing. None of it mattered.” How many times had I seen that before in the past few years from PC owners? He began to choke up. “But this was important to me . . .”

He was going to have to find his own answer to that. For now, though, the pitch, might as well make a few bucks out of this speech “Cheer up, bucko! You can still buy a computer with that proud Apple logo that’s a lot better than your iMac for a lot less. Come, let me show you. . . .”

I knew there would be no resistance, and he bought everything I told him to buy. Even gave him a little extra off, since I knew that day cost him a lot more than his credit card bill would show.

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