Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March

6, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Megan Peterson: A Mac Person

Just as there are dog people and cat people, bulls

and bears, vegetarians, and fans of bar-b-que, there are PC people

and Mac people. In none of these groups is allegiance shallow or

fickle. Megan Peterson is a Mac person.

Peterson has been a member of the Princeton Mac Users Group (PMUG)

for "at least 15 years." She is a past president and vice

president, and edits the group’s newsletter. She recalls that the

group was started by Princeton staffers who worked on the university’s

mainframes. Among the founding members were Alan Goldberg and the late

Phil Thompson, whose children are now members

of the group.

PMUG (www.PMUG-NJ.org) started as a place where the university

community

could meet to talk about how to get the most out of Macs. Now, says

Peterson, "there are very few members from the university

community."

Membership has been as high as 200 people. Now there are about 100

members, 80 or 90 of whom turn out at each meeting. But while

membership

is down from all-time highs, new members are joining, and excitement

is building as Apple introduces products that win raves from tech

reviewers for their outstanding design, ease of use, and cutting-edge

applications.

PMUG meets on the second Tuesday of the month at Jadwin Hall on

Washington

Road on the Princeton University campus. Each meeting begins at 6

p.m. with two question and answer groups, one for beginners and one

for more advanced users. A presentation by a speaker follows. On

Tuesday,

March 12, at 7 p.m., Andy Baird, a long-time member, speaks

on digital cameras. There is no charge. Call 609-258-5730.

Peterson, a graduate of Kutztown University, has been a communications

designer in Princeton’s office of communications for 12 years. Before

that she worked in advertising, a profession known for its embrace

of Macs. She got her first Mac 16 years ago. She remembers that

"it

cost $3,500 and could do barely anything." She used it mostly

for word processing. "It could do page lay-out," she says,

"but just barely."

Then software designers like Adobe came out with more sophisticated

design and lay-out programs. "Desktop publishing was the first

killer ap," says Peterson, "and for a long time it was much

better on a Mac." On a PC, commands had to be typed into a DOS

program. "Only programmers could understand it," she says.

"You had to have a Mac-like interface for a lay person to do

computer

design."

While PC design programs have caught up with those for Macs, design

people generally prefer to work on a Mac. Often more expensive than

PCs, the machines captured only a tiny fraction of computer users

in other industries, and did not do much better with home users. Steve

Jobs, who, along with Steve Wozniak, founded the company in his garage

in 1976, did capture the school market in the early years. Apple beat

IBM to the classroom, but eventually lost this stronghold.

Jobs left Apple in 1985 after losing a power struggle with John

Sculley,

whom he had lured from Pepsico to lead the company. After Jobs left,

says Peterson, Apple’s products lost some of their zip and had trouble

standing out in a sea of PCs.

Then, in 1996, Jobs, returned. "When Steve Jobs came back, the

excitement came back," says Peterson. He gave the world its first

blueberry-colored all-in-one computer, the iMac, and followed up this

winter with an eye-popping update. The new iMac is a half-globe that

uses a flat-screen monitor attached by a graceful, flexible arm that

allows users to pivot it to any height. "The company received

150,000 orders for the computer just in January," says Peterson.

Having remained a loyal Mac user through boom and

near-bust,

Peterson talks about why the machines fell out of favor, and why they

may rise again.

No excitement. "Interest in Macs went down," she

says of the post-Jobs era. "All the boxes looked the same, there

was not a lot of excitement. People in charge for years had no

imagination."

High prices. With every computer looking pretty much the

same, price became a determining factor in purchasing decisions. Apple

computers tended to be significantly more expensive. This problem

surfaced again just recently. Apple introduced the Mac Cube, a

stunning

little computer in a completely new shape. While reviewers praised

its lines, consumers balked at the price tag.

The beautiful Cube exceeded the amount she — and most other

consumers

— were willing to pay. At the same time, the machine disappointed

those who need the kind of power it delivered. Graphics professionals

working, for instance, for glossy magazines, need to run PhotoShop

at ever higher speeds, and the Cube was not expandable.

Marketing mistakes. Apple attempted to sell its computers

alongside PCs in chain stores like Sears. "Salespeople weren’t

trained," says Peterson, "they didn’t know how to handle Macs.

This went on for years and years. People in user groups were

screaming."

Confusing line-up. "There were so many models, for

a while people got confused," Peterson says. "Steve Jobs broke

it into four categories." There are now consumer laptops and

desktops,

and professional laptops and desktops. Period. Says Peterson,

"they’re

able to do better with fewer machines.

The iMac. "The iMac was a big change," says

Peterson.

The all-in-one machine, which came in a range of vivid colors, was

a breakthrough in design and ease-of-use, and its price was on a par

with — or below — that of comparable PCs. The iMac sold well,

as did the iBook, its laptop counterpart.

PMUG saw an increase in membership as the computers caught on. The

organization makes use of an iMac at its beginner question and answer

sessions.

The new iMac. "The 20th anniversary iMac is a gorgeous

machine," says Peterson. Sure, she is prejudiced, but newspaper

and magazine tech reviewers share her enthusiasm. Just becoming

available

now, the stylish-looking computer even includes a CD-RW/DVD-R drive

in its highest end model. This means that it can copy files —

say home movies — from the computer onto a DVD. Priced at from

$1,299 to $1,799, including, of course, the attached flat-screen

monitor,

the computers compare favorably in price with comparably-equipped

PCs.

Somewhat better marketing. "Have you seen an ad for

the new iMac yet?" Peterson asked a good month after reviews for

the computer had appeared in the New York Times and The Wall Street

Journal. The answer was no. Peterson hadn’t seen any ads yet, either,

and was dismayed and puzzled at Apple’s failure to tout its handsome

machine. A multi-story banner advertisement for the machine now hangs

on 7th Avenue in New York, near Penn Station, but there has not been

anything like an ad blitz.

Peterson does give Apple high marks for opening its own stores. So

far, there are not too many of them, though. The only Apple store

in New Jersey is in Tice’s Corner, at the northeast end of the state.

Also a plus, in Peterson’s view, is Apple’s retail website

(www.apple.com).

Business there is so brisk that by the end of 2001 Apple had won a

spot as the fifth largest E-tailer.

New operating system. Through good times and bad, Apple

has been able to boast of an outstanding operating system, says

Peterson.

The company has just introduced a new one — OS X. "It’s not

an upgrade," she says. "It’s based on UNIX. It’s completely

different, but it will run old programs.

Growing compatibility. Compatibility was among the biggest

reasons that consumers shunned Apple computers. PCs — and

Microsoft’s

operating system — became so dominant, at home and in offices,

that people feared they would not be able to easily send or receive

files with an Apple.

Peterson says she has virtually no trouble working with PC files.

"I’ve been dealing with PC files on a Mac for five years,"

she says. "I might have to fudge a little bit," but not much.

"For 10 years, we’ve had a virtual PC on Mac that allows you to

run Windows." She opens Word files easily, has been sending

PageMaker

files back and forth for years, and only occasionally runs into

problems

with picture files. And even then, she suspects human error more than

core incompatibility. "I have family members with Macs who can’t

open picture files," she says.

Lots of software. There is no gap in software, Peterson

insists. But she admits many consumers don’t know it. "Stores

that sell PCs don’t stock it," she says. "It’s a big

problem."

Mac people know where to go for software, but, "PC people think

because it isn’t on the shelf, it doesn’t exist."

Cool bundled software and hardware add-ons. As beautiful

and revolutionary as its new computers are, it is not the machines

themselves that will be prime movers in Apple’s. The engine for

growing

success? Says Peterson, "I think it’s some of the side

products."

One of those products is iMovie, software that turns consumers into

movie directors. Peterson has been "having a ball" with the

program, and is now eager to try iDVD, a program that will get her

home movies onto DVDs, which can then easily be played on television.

Then there is iPhoto. Among the features she thinks are especially

cool is its ability to help users create photo albums. "You can

order a hard bound book with linen pages," Peterson says. The

software provides a variety of lay-outs. Users type in captions and

receive their albums in the mail "in a week or two." The cost

for 10 pages is $29.99. Extra pages are $3 each.

This software — and iTunes, too, for organizing MP3files —

are included at no extra charge with Apple computers.

Relegated to the backwaters of computerland for so long, Mac

users now have plenty to crow about. So exciting way back in the early

1990s, computers are at risk of becoming ho-hum tools. But Apple’s

strategy is to jazz things up. As Peterson puts it: "Steve Jobs

wants the computer to be more the center of all digital toys."

Kathy Spring, the Survival Guide editor of U.S. 1, is a

cat person who happens to use a PC.


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