Apple Understands Simplicity

by Chris Howard Sep 25, 2006


OS X’s built-in dictionary (based on the Oxford American Dictionary) defines simplicity as “The quality or condition of being easy to understand or do.” The thesaurus gives words like ease, clarity and effortlessness.

In the last day or so, I have used a PowerBook G4 1GHz, an eMac G4 800Mhz and an iMac G3 400Mhz (on which I’m writing this). On all three computers, I’ve run the same system. I’ve been running off an external hard disk drive that has my operating system, my applications and my files on it.1

I’ve been working this way for about six months, ever since my PowerBook’s hard drive gave up the ghost.  And every time I switch to another computer, I’m amazed all over again.

All I have to do is plug the hard drive into a Mac and boot from it. (Hold the Option key at boot-up to see a list of bootable drives.) No configuration or reconfiguration necessary. ZERO. Zilch. Nil. Nada.

I can plug my external hard drive into any Mac with Firewire and it will boot up fine.2

Try that on a PC!

If you’ve never had the displeasure, be grateful. In fact, you’d have to be desperate. Windows will go through a massive install process of all the necessary drivers for each new system you plug into. Hopefully you will have the necessary driver disks handy. This can take quite a while, and a few reboots. Even in a best case scenario, the Windows install disk will have all the drivers you need, but it will still be a lengthy process.

I accept that it is difficult in Windows to have every driver available on the Windows disk and Apple has a huge advantage there, but it’s about the process. Having swapped hard drives between PCs on occasions, sometimes I reckoned reinstalling from scratch would have been a better option.

And then there’s online ordering…
Another example of how Apple understands the value of simplicity can be seen by comparing its online ordering and configuration to Dell’s

Take a gander at the Dell ordering website. Look sure, I’d like a few more configuration options when ordering a Mac, but the Dell ordering page is a nightmare.

If buyers wants to configure Dell computers, they are presented with pages of configuration options.

A Dell computer that might compete with an iMac (well - in the same price range), the Dimension E521, has the following configuration choices:

- Processor: 7 options
- Operating system: 2
- Warranty: 4
- Other service options: 6
- Limited time offers: 3
- Printers: 12
- Printer drivers: 7
- RAM: 4
- Video: 2
- Floppy drive & Card reader: 2
- Keyboards: 2
- Mouse: 1
- Display: 4
- Hard drive: 6
- Additional hard drive: 5
- TV tuner and Remote control: 3
- IEEE 1394 Firewire: 2
- Optical drives: 2
- Sound card: 3
- Internet and Networking: 1
- Software: 4
- Security Software: 4
- Dell media experience: 1
- Network Assistant: 3
- Norton Ghost software: 2
- Memory key: 3
- Additional delivery requirements: 3
- Additional call requirements: 2
- Adapter: 2
- Recycling program: 2

Total number of configurations:  80,905,355,919,360

That’s over 80 trillion!

Bamboozled is a word that springs to mind - but seems so inadequate.

(There is an irony with the Dell website - it doesn’t work with Safari. Dell mustn’t want Mac users to switch. Must be because Michael Dell wants OS X on his PCs.)

Now compare that to the iMac configurations. Like the Dimension, you are first presented with pre-configured models (three E521’s, four iMacs), but thereafter, the two diverge rapidly. Here’s the 17 inch 2GHz iMac:

- Processor: 2 options
- RAM: 3
- Hard drive: 3
- Modem: 2
- Keyboard and Mouse: 2
- AppleCare Protection Plan: 2

Total number of configurations: 144

Maybe the iMac is a little light on for options and I grant you that some of those configuration options for the Dell, you might make at some other stage of the buying process with the iMac (eg the printer), but what Dell just don’t get - and other PC vendors - is simplicity.

Apple defines simplicity
I’d understand Apple if had stuck its logo next to the entry for simplicity in OS X’s dictionary.

Whether it’s the design of its machines, the functionality of its operating system or the usability of its online ordering, Apple gets simplicity.

There are things about Apple that annoy me no end, but when I experience this ease of use, I become a bit more forgiving - plus grateful I don’t have to mess around in the Windows world anymore.

1Because of the significantly different architecture and totally different partion scheme of the Intel Macs, you cannot yet boot an Intel Mac from a boot disk created on a PowerPC Mac - and vice-versa. See TidBits article Booting an Intel iMac from an External Driv. And according to the Apple Intel FAQ website, it is possible but not yet enabled. If anyone has information to the contrary, please let me know.
2 Although it is quite sluggish on this old iMac. But hey, I’m running Tiger on 192MB RAM and a G3 400Mhz processor. That’s pretty impressive.


  • There was this woman in the late 80’is here in Belgium, who wanted to use a computer to make knitting en sewing patters. So she invited different computer-sellers to her home saying she would buy that computer that would output exactly the same pattern as the example that she gave the sales people. The example was… a circle.
    She bought a mac.(plus or classic)

    WAWA had this to say on Sep 25, 2006 Posts: 89
  • Going back decades in the way-back machine, while attending one of the lectures of my favorite electronics design instructor (a closeted philosopher), he said that with technology it is very easy to make very impressive, state-of-the-art, products. But, above all else, you must be aware of the difference between what is impressive and what is important.

    You can impress your customer by having a hundred dials and meters, all lit up like a tree on Christmas eve, or you can do what is important. The function of technology is to make life easier. Use technology to REDUCE the number of dials and lights. Let it assume the complex responsibilities that no one wants to cope with, especially the home/novice user. It is easy to make a stereo with a dozen knobs to fine tune the audio, but the true designer will have a stereo with one button, “Power On/Off”, and one knob, “Volume”, and the rest of the circuitry self-adjusts all other audio parameters to the environment. THAT is technology at its best! THAT is the designer at their best!

    All of the current Apple ads illustrate various aspects of the Mac’s simplicity.

    THAT is what technology is for!!

    Aryugaetu had this to say on Sep 26, 2006 Posts: 10
  • @Aryugaety
    Yes that’s exactly what I mean. Still, some people are more impressed with the 1000buttons HiFi than with the top of the range, that indeed has only a few buttons, because they don’t listen to the sound. A lot of my friends are Windows-users, but when something really matters, they always come to my place. When they see what a mac can do, they don’t say a Mac is better, they say I’m a computer-freak who’s on his computer day and night. And when they say,  it’s a pity a mac isn’t compatible, although they clearly can see me work with excel & word, nowadays I simply reply: Yeah, isn’t it ?

    WAWA had this to say on Sep 26, 2006 Posts: 89
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