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By Jason Snell for Macworld
Compatibility and interoperability are concepts Apple has ignored or embraced, depending on its situation. To me, it seems that the Mac is about to enter a new era of incompatibility… and I’m okay with it.
When I started using a Mac in 1989, I rapidly discovered that it was essentially incompatible with every other computer in existence. Certainly, it didn’t work with my old Apple IIe, but all the PCs running DOS and Windows on my college campus couldn’t talk to it, either. The Mac of the 90s was populated with tech that was uncommon or unavailable elsewhere—ADB keyboards and mice, Mac serial printers, SCSI drives, AAUI and LocalTalk networking, Mac file sharing, Motorola 680×0 processors, and the rest. It was an enormous liability: If you were in certain markets, in certain industries, needed to attach to certain networks or peripherals, you just couldn’t use a Mac.
In the 2000s, as Apple came back from death’s door, Steve Jobs got the Mac on a growth path by throwing out as much nonstandard stuff as he could, replacing it with off-the-shelf tech that other companies in the computer industry were also embracing. USB, FireWire, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ethernet, Thunderbolt, PowerPC processors… and ultimately, Intel processors. Doomsayers claimed Apple’s embrace of Intel would mean that the Mac would become just another PC, but that never happened. Over time, Mac users got access to a larger market of peripherals, were better citizens on heterogenous computer networks, and even got access to Microsoft Windows software without the enormous speed penalty of processor emulation.
The Intel Mac era has been pretty great, but it’s probably coming to an end—at least in part. I think the Mac is going to be okay, because this era is very different than the ones that have come before it.