It started innocently enough when the original Macintosh came out in 1984. It was a closed box with specifically chosen peripheral ports available on the outside. A very long torx driver was required to travel down long plastic tunnels and loosen the screws that kept the back and front together. A plastic separator tool then was necessary to loosen the tight seal between the two parts. Eventually, with some slapping, shaking and wrangling, the back would come off.
As a reward to the persistent and curious, one could observe the signatures of the original development team, forever part of the mold that cast the inside of the back plastic cover.
If you wanted to expand its memory, you had to carefully unsolder the memory chips off the motherboard, solder new ones on, and modify a few jumpers and traces to get the firmware to recognize it. And of course, you voided your warranty in the process.
I write this post on a new, diminutive MacBook Air. Its back cover screws have been custom designed: a rounded edge, 5-point version of a torx screw that only a custom tool (or a filed-down standard flat screwdriver) can open.
You are expected to order this product with the speed and storage requirements in mind before you make the decision. The battery has been custom fitted and cannot be removed without the daunting task of removing the back cover. Once purchased, there are no expansion or upgrade options for this device.
Today, as it was then, any product team at Apple that Steve Jobs oversees is directed to keep their devices locked down.
Folks have posted on this topic before. These ideas are just further manifestations of the “walled garden” paradigm that pundits throw at Apple and its products.
But I am doing so to steer this concept towards the “Pro” line of Apple’s Mac hardware: the MacPro and the Xserve. These products clearly don’t fit within the paradigm of “walled garden.” They are, in fact, the very antithesis of it.
They are clearly the manifestations of another school of thought at Apple: that computers should be versatile, open and expandable. The original Apple I and Apple II, the Macintosh II, G3 and the G5/Mac Pro and finally, the Xserve are all a linear and further manifestation of that directive. Right in the middle of that product line, a new operating system, based on the sheer openness of Unix, drove the idea of open development to even higher standards.
There was a time that the creative professional had to be as much tinkerer as artist. At one time, being one of them, I was constantly inside my Mac, much like a hobbyist with their muscle car. Creative professionals had to live within these two worlds because operating the machine required a more intimate knowledge of is hardware and software underpinnings.
And so, naturally for me, this evolved into becoming a consultant and system architect, using Apple hardware and software as my base. The tools of my trade were these open systems, ones that allowed me, through both hardware and software additions, to bridge gaps, complete processes and create efficiencies that saved time and money for my customers.
But, I would always joke with my customers and students in my classes: “If Steve Jobs sneezes one day and happens to look upon these boxes being designed and manufactured in the little tiny corner of his company, with covers that come off so easily, it will be all over.”
Steve Jobs has sneezed. At least half-sneezed. The Xserve has been discontinued.
The timing of this, as always with Apple, is perfectly unacceptable. Many creative content facilities are just discovering pools of unspent CapEx budgets that could be funneled into fortifying their encoding clusters or adding a much needed archive solution for their storage infrastructure. A customer of mine wrote a terse email to Steve Jobs lamenting the decision, to which the man responded in his usual cryptic and minimalistic tone: “No one was buying them.”
Of course we were buying them. Just not in the multiples that the pods and pads and phones are flying off the shelves.
What I’d like to further suggest is that the Mac Pro is not far behind. It has to be.
Almost in desperation, Apple has introduced a hastily slapped together mutant offering called the “Mac Pro Server” and an even more confounding white paper on how to transition server functionality to this product and the adorably underpowered Mac Mini Server. But these are placations, nothing more.
We can scream all we want that about the demise of the ecosystems that provide the digital content that is now so voraciously consumed on Apple’s clever and cute devices. That if they did not exist these devices would not exist. But I’m afraid those ecosystems themselves are about to change fundamentally. We have to understand that they can’t be all-Mac or perhaps even partial-Mac environments. The products and the environment are no longer suitable for each other.
This notion would be easier to take if the forthcoming technologies that will usher in the new era of shared storage and collaborative workflow infrastructures were standardized, tested and being used already by many prestigious shops. But they’re not; they’re in their infancy. Standards, more difficult to obtain these days due to the politics of intellectual property ownership and licensing, are stumbling forward or at a standstill.
And so the next few months to years will be rough for us. We will struggle to keep our current infrastructures relevant and operational as we slowly transition into these new technologies.
During this time, MMCT will refocus on two directives.
First, we will continue to provide the world’s finest support for Apple-centric infrastructures within the industries that create, modify and distribute digital content. We will continue to do so until it becomes impossible due to the age of the products or the lack of parts and software available for them. We see this business model existing within a three to five year window.
In parallel, we will forge ahead and discover, test and introduce new technologies for our customers, so that together we can continue to provide infrastructures that are crucial to their relevance and continued growth in the industries they serve. We will concentrate on transitioning our customers into these technologies only when they make both economic and practical sense. We promise not to drag them to a bleeding edge unless they insist.
If we’re lucky, as the first directive wanes in significance, the second directive will have all but replaced it.
And in so doing, we intend to lead the industry in pioneering these technologies and processes, buttressing our reputation for sharing our knowledge transparently with our customers, colleagues and even our competitors.
This is our clear and precise intention as we move forward. We look forward to it with relish and gratitude.
Contact us today, and let us help you with your infrastructure plan.