(Welcome to the World of Endless Reruns! Two decades ago, As the Apple Turns (AtAT) was a daily web-based soap opera obsessively following the melodramatic ins and outs of all things Apple. Now the archives are broadcasting in syndication, so each day you can see what life was like 20 years ago when Apple was still the underdog, all in not-so-fabulous RetroVision™!)

TV-PGApril 13, 2001: Sure, the Power Mac G4/733 is at the top of the heap right now, but in four months it might be the entry-level model. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to promote its proprietary WMA audio format by crippling MP3 in Windows XP, and Apple plants full-time Apple employees in CompUSA locations in a bold attempt to improve the retail experience...
There was no new episode broadcast on April 14, 2001, so we're still showing you the last episode broadcast before then. (April 13, 2001)
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From the writer/creator of AtAT, a Pandemic Dad Joke taken WAYYYYYY too far

Top To Bottom In 4 Months (4/13/01)

Do you ever get that sinking feeling when you think about how much you paid for your aging computer equipment compared to how much it's worth today? For instance, when we bought our PowerTower Pro a few years back, we laid out $2600 for it-- $3100 including the used monitor. That was for a 200 MHz 604e-based system with 16 MB of RAM and a 2 GB hard drive. For that price today we could be steering a glorious Graphite Power Mac G4 with dual 533 MHz chips roaring under the hood hooked up to a matching 17-inch Studio Display. (Don't even get us started on that used 16 MB SIMM we bought for $400-- it was a steal back in '94.) Well, hopefully you can laugh about stuff like that; if not, we advise all Mac users with a particularly weak stomach for depreciation to head for the hills ASAP, because if the rumors are correct, the scene's going to get really ugly in the months to come.

See, even in the computer industry where the average price-to-performance ratio halves every year and a half, we don't often see a situation in which the fastest available model becomes the slowest in the space of four months. According to Mac OS Rumors, though, that's a distinct possibility; while today the 733 MHz Power Mac is the top of the line, word has it that the next major overhaul of the pro desktop line-up in July or August might start at 733 MHz and go up from there-- to 800, 866, 933, and the long-coveted 1000 MHz mark. (That's what they call "1 GHz" in the big city, Smacky.)

If the very prospect of a 733 MHz Power Mac G4 being the "entry level" model has you hyperventilating, that's probably because you just shelled out three grand for a system that'll cost maybe half that before summer reruns are over. Granted, while the RAM, hard drive size, and other specs of this fall's low-end Power Mac might not match the gear in your tricked-out "Fastest" config, the chip speed will be the same, and that stings a bit-- understandably so. Such is the price of progress. People who are particularly sensitive to that specific brand of pain should probably go full-on Luddite and forswear technology altogether-- or at least avoid buying brand new high-end systems, because that's just begging for a smackdown.

Oh yeah, if you're bummed about having to wait until August for new Power Mac systems, get happy: dual-processor 733 MHz Macs and some possible price breaks are reportedly still on track for "mid-spring." If you're a real "buyer's remorse" masochist, sell your car and buy a dual-733 with SuperDrive as soon as they become available, and then start counting off the days until your big-ticket purchase turns into yesterday's news. Fun for the whole family!

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Sound, Fury, And Bill Gates (4/13/01)

Did you find it a little odd that Uncle Steve made such a big deal about the whole "unrestricted encoding" issue at the iTunes intro back in January? We did. We sort of took it for granted that if we wanted to MP3ify our CD collection, we should be able to do it at the highest quality that suited us. We're supposed to get excited about Apple letting us choose what encoding rate to use? Gee, can we send Steve a fruit basket for letting us name our hard drives, too?

Of course, now we're hearing that MP3-encoding under Windows XP (yet another Redmond attempt at a consumer OS that doesn't suck) will be crippled on purpose, in a sneaky bid to get customers to switch to Microsoft's proprietary WMA format instead. According to the Wall Street Journal, customers who use Windows XP's pre-loaded software to rip their CDs into MP3 format will get garbage out, since Microsoft "plans to severely limit the quality of music that can be recorded as an MP3 file." Meanwhile, the same tracks converted to WMA will mysteriously sound much better and take up less disk space. The obvious hope is that clueless Windows users will abandon the commie MP3 format in droves, switching to WMA instead ("because it's obviously better!") and thus further padding Microsoft's wallet. Gosh, we wish we had a monopoly to abuse-- it really looks like fun!

Now, the way we see it, this could play out in Apple's favor. Since MP3 is so wildly popular and has such a massive mind share lead over WMA, Microsoft's attempt to suppress MP3 by sneakily making it sound worse might actually drive customers to the Mac; out of the box, an iMac lets customers rip their CD tracks at any quality they like, upload them seamlessly to their MP3 players, and burn them effortlessly to new CDs. No muss, no fuss, and no proprietary media format being shoved down their throats. (Apple embracing existing standards over a new proprietary technology? We're still not used to that; thank heavens for the Apple Display Connector, or we'd be suffering some serious withdrawal.)

Granted, it's not likely that Microsoft's MP3-squishing tactics are going to send iMac sales through the roof, and it's probably far likelier that most Windows XP users will in fact switch to WMA as the path of least resistance; "all shall bow before Redmond," etc. Another possibility, though, is that most people tasteless enough to use Windows voluntarily will be so used to mediocrity that they won't even notice that their XP-produced MP3s sound lousy in the first place, and thus won't see any point in switching to WMA. Whoops! Gee, it's so unlike Microsoft to miss a detail like that...

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Making Retail Suck Less (4/13/01)

Believe it or not, folks, Apple is listening! Remember that letter you sent them about your unsatisfactory shopping experience at the Apple store-within-a-store at your local CompUSA? The one in which you detailed a litany of transgressions, such as a lack of Apple-knowledgeable salespeople, an array of demo Macs in various states of disrepair, and a huge stocking ladder permanently blocking access to the latest Apple gear? The one you sent in early 1998? Well, great news-- someone at Apple apparently read it and is taking steps to remedy the situation. Sure, they're three years late, but they're moving fast!

It's almost good news, then, that in most (but not all) CompUSA locations, the quality of the Mac sales experience is basically just as awful as it was three years ago. According to MacNN, Apple is testing out a new program in which an honest-to-goodness Apple employee-- as in, Steve signs the paycheck, not whoever's running the store this month-- works a full forty hours each week at CompUSA to make sure that the Macs are handled and sold appropriately. In addition to performing sales duty and making sure that the demo Macs aren't on fire, the poor shmoe also gets to fight the uphill battle of trying to "train CompUSA employees in Apple technologies." Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new definition of the word "futile," but anyone who's really willing to take on such a formidable task has our utmost respect and admiration.

Reportedly this program is launching in "nine stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and nine stores in the SF Bay area," and if it makes a palpable improvement, Apple will extend it to CompUSA locations all across this great land of ours. We figure that means that Apple's going to have a whole lot of retail sales positions sprinkled all over the country before long, because we're hard-pressed to imagine how this test program could make the situation any worse. So those of you who dream of working for Apple and who happen to live near a CompUSA should perhaps consider polishing up the ol' résumé, because if you're game to fight a tough battle for The Cause, you may be just what Apple needs. Good luck.

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Previously, on As the Apple Turns...

TV-PGApril 12, 2001: Happy trails, Power Mac G4/667; we hardly knew ye. Meanwhile, with just six days to go before Apple posts its Q2 results, analysts are debating whether the company will manage to pull off its previously predicted "small profit," and the source of the Visuals in iTunes is confirmed-- and the mysterious subliminal image is finally explained...

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