Common sense or religious fervour?

You can understand why ordinary folk get exasperated with the religious aspects of Mac ownership. Yeah, I know a lot of you out there are committed congregants of the First Church of Cupertino, so maybe you can’t understand. But someone has to point out that most ordinary folk are PC users and that however nice it may be belonging to a secret sect, ignoring the view from the outside world is a bit silly.

The nice thing about PCs is that their loose-fit modular architecture enables people to tailor their computers very specifically. You want a really fast motherboard? Take your pick. Or a graphics board? Mouse prices start at 5, cables at 5, keyboards at 12, cases 30. With the introduction of a variation on the PCI bus, and that wild new idea, cloning, Apple has loosened up. But by comparison with the PC world, the people at Cupertino still look like control freaks, the Moonies of the Global Design Village.

It’s certainly true that the PC was not designed as a graphics machine and that in the UK its old text-only DOS interface and the subsequent less-than elegant

Windows GUI were calculated to turn people off, especially visual people. Which meant that very few people designed serious graphics applications for it, Corel and AutoDesk being the notable exceptions.

But that has changed. Mac people point indignantly to the fact that the newish Windows 95 interface (and Windows NT) is very Mac-like. Bewildered PC people say, “So? That’s a virtue isn’t it?” And the fact is that you can easily nudge the GUI into behaving in a Mac-like way – or in the old Windows 3.1 way for that matter – or some way in between.

Another thing which has changed is the emergence of Windows NT, the stable, heavy-duty operating system with a more or less Windows 95 front end which some think will eventually supplant UNIX because of the latter’s stupid variety of proprietary formats. And the PC magazine pundits seem to be advising their corporate and home readers that if they are going to successfully keep up with the Joneses they’ll have installed NT round about, say, this time next year.

More seriously, all the major CAD apps have now been optimised for NT, as has the native 3D Studio Max which is now as clearly an industry standard in its sphere as is its Autodesk stalemate AutoCad in CAD. And, since almost all the heavyweight Mac graphics apps have been ported over to Windows 95, they can be used under NT. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been super-optimised for NT – that will follow demand.

Recently in these pages SGI- user Christian Hogue of Lost in Space admiringly reviewed LightWave, the ex-Amiga program and Soft Image almost-lookalike. Its makers had to double the price of around 1000 before anybody in the SGI world would take it seriously. Hogue liked it so much he subsequently bought a site licence. Now it’s available for less than 1000 on Windows NT and has had rave reviews elsewhere.

At the time we thought it might be the breakthrough in sensible non-SGI application pricing for SGI-quality applications. That hasn’t happened yet, but, significantly for the PC-need-a-second-look argument, Soft Image itself is now available on NT platforms – though at a price of around 7500 for the complete set.

Recently Hogue did a comparison for CGI magazine between this NT version and the standard SGI version running on an Indigo2. He had to double-check the timings because for some quite significant areas of rendering Soft Image ran faster on the PentiumPro/NT machine than on the Indigo2.

Hogue says that last week he was offered a Pentium Pro kit for less than 2000. And if you’ve been watching the prices you’ll know that 128Mb of extra memory would cost all of 500. Which means you could buy a dozen or more NT machines for the price of an Indigo, install Soft Image’s almost-free distributed rendering app and watch your mates on those old SGIs disappearing in the rear-view mirror.

Maybe the religious wars aren’t really between the dear old Mac and the loose fit modular PC, but between the high-end ditto PC and the toffs at SGI.

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