Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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870 words

When Apple released their new MacBooks recently they introduced yet a new port to the machines. Unlike its predecessors it has a name that immediately tells you what it’s good for: DisplayPort.

Of course progress is a nice thing in technology and certainly some old standards are not sustainable today. LocalTalk networks died somewhere on the way and you won’t find a 30″ display which can be hooked up to an analogue VGA port. Fair enough, the old technology simply isn’t powerful enough for today’s needs.

I still think that it seems wise to be more conservative when it comes to delivering machines with a new connector. That is particularly true when it comes to display connectors and even more so to those in portable machines. One benefit of a portable computer is that you can carry it around (yeah, they managed to kill the ‘laptop’ term over time, so you’re not allowed to use them on your lap these days, but you may still carry them around!). And it’s not unheard of that people like using their own machines, hooking them up to projectors and using that combination to (in whichever questionable way) support a talk or presentation they are giving elsewhere.

As far as those projectors and the wiring they’re attached to are concerned, VGA still seems to be the standard. So Mac users have been screwed for a while as they needed an adaptor (read: an additional point of failure) to connect their machine to a projector just so some other people could connect their portable machines to 30″ displays.

In my book every adaptor is a bad thing. And any duplication of adaptor formats is even worse. The people who had the idea that each electric device should come with a charger that’s incompatible to all other chargers should be shot. And the same is true for people promoting ‘diversity’ in other connectors as well.

And somehow Apple manage to do even worse by not just using a completely new and unproven connector in their new machines - but by coming up with a totally new connector which nobody else uses. Of course that creates ‘demand’ for boatloads of inconvenient and ugly adaptors which undoubtedly Apple’s shareholders will love, but for the user it just sucks.

What strikes me as odd in that context is the following: In the 1990s Apple had the reputation of being incompatible and expensive. And the price difference certainly was bigger back then. But it often seemed like the ‘incompatible’ parts were there for a good reason as the connectors used by Apple were more convenient and powerful. A single ADB cable could be used to connect a keyboard and mouse without tangling things in an ugly way. Same for SCSI which let you have a whole disk copied before the PC guys had figured out what a ‘slave’ is. Even Apple’s non-VGA monitor connectors had the advantage of being able to encode the resolution of the attached display - which prevented configuration hassle and possibly even physical damage to some early fixed resolution displays.

Even more ironically, you could buy a Mac to standard VGA connector for around 30DM. And you could use those over years. So there was a nonstandard solution in Apple machines, but it was relatively constant and well understood. These days, where one could hope that there is more experience around, there seem to be more connectors than ever before and with the increasing number of electronic toys you end up needing an increasing number of cables. How many different FireWire cables are there? AHow many different USB cables are there and why can’t one use the same one to connect a hub, camera, hard drive or mobile phone? nd how many different screen connectors can one have on recent Macs.

I’ll let you fill in the first numbers as I have plenty of cables but I’m not sure whether I have all of them. As for the screen connectors I think there are:

And if one is to be anal one should also count the kinds of video output ranging from S-Video and Composite video to the odd ‘A/V port’ in early iBooks and HDMI in the TV.

Perhaps we can turn this into a quiz: I name two recent Macs and three screens you want to connect them to and you tell me how much money you have to spend on ugly adaptors to be able to use them.

And I didn’t even mention moronic ‘copy protection’ stuff which seems to be essential when designing a display connector these days. I mean that stuff seems so moronic: First the media people delude themselves into thinking that they can ‘protect’ their ‘content’, then they spend their customer’s money to make the stuff the customers pay for worse in a way that affects only the honest customers but which won’t stop any enterprising teenager or professional pirate. And I’m sure one could even make an ecological point here in terms of extra chips used and extra energy consumed to make a product worse.

November 20, 2008, 6:16


Comment by d.w.: User icon

Leaving aside the other stuff, I was amused to see a DisplayPort on the new Dell notebook my ex-boss got last week.

November 22, 2008, 3:26

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