It's Not Apple's Fault

Originally published 08 May 2001 as a Tech Reflections article for Low End Mac.

An unnamed individual published a column on Macinstein yesterday, Of Course It's Apple's Fault, responding to The Firmware Police and world just how wrong Apple was with this latest firmware update.

[T]he firmware, Ram killing, update is completely Apple's fault.

Normally I don't nitpick on spelling, but this is a published column claiming to present a logical argument. I don't know what "Ram" is in a computer context, but I certainly know what RAM is.

The firmware update didn't "kill" any RAM at all. In fact, it didn't even disable any RAM. It only caused certain non-spec-compliant RAM modules to be unusable in computers with the firmware update. The RAM itself was completely untouched.

I say they [Apple] should [test third-party RAM].

Apple shouldn't be responsible for testing third-party products any more than a car manufacturer is responsible for testing third-party after-market add-ons for its products.

If one insists RAM should be tested, where does it stop? What about upgrade cards? PowerLogix, Newer Tech, and Sonnet did an admirable job making the hardware they could compatible with OS X, and I didn't see anyone screaming at Apple when their PowerLogix card wasn't officially supported on OS X.

What about hard drives? Should Apple make sure hard drives are in compliance with the ATA-66 specification before enforcing it in their Macs?

USB mice and keyboards? FireWire (IEEE 1394) video cameras?

OEM suppliers' equipment certainly ought to (and, I'm sure, does) pass tests before it is used, but after-market upgrades are absolutely not Apple's responsibility.

If Apple has no basis to test third party products, then why not make their own proprietary hardware that developers just have to deal with? How Microsoft should we act here?

This is an intuitive leap that apparently made sense in the mind of its author. I don't see the logic here at all. This statement simply doesn't make sense.

As long as Apple clearly outlines the specifications for an interface — in this case, a well-defined industry standard — it doesn't matter if the interface is proprietary or not. If a third-party developer chooses not to follow those specifications and, by doing so, renders its product unusable due to noncompliance with the specifications, the responsibility for the failure lies entirely with the developer, not with Apple. This is exactly what happened in this case.

To use another analogy, is it the fault of the reader that the "proprietary" argument made above makes no sense? No, there is a set of standard rules of English grammar, syntax, and logical argument. If a writer doesn't follow this "specification," so to speak, it's not the fault of the reader that the argument isn't understood.

[Apple] seemed to try to include [support for] the most popular CD-RW [drives in] ... iTunes, so not to appear as they were acting underhandedly trying to force customers to buy an Apple drive.

Apple doesn't make CD-R or CD-RW drives, but they would have been perfectly justified in making iTunes' and Disc Burner's burning features compatible with only the drives sold in the new "Rip. Mix. Burn." Macs. Apple HD SC Setup or Drive Setup doesn't support every single hard drive ever made, yet no one insists Apple build in support for hard drives that didn't ship as standard equipment. CD-RW support for iTunes is tangential at best to the argument at hand.

The only fair thing would have been to warn people of what it could possibly do.

Not quite. As I stated before, Apple had no reason (quite reasonably, I think) to believe that third-party RAM vendors were making RAM that was not standards-compliant. Apple should have made reference to the fact that RAM standards enforcement in firmware was being changed, however, with something like this in the Firmware Update readme file:

"Enforces JEDEC-standard RAM compliance."

Nothing more, nothing less.

Testing third-party peripherals is not Apple's business; Apple is not responsible for fixing third-party hardware developers' mistakes. After all, if Apple had to troubleshoot their own engineering and that of Newer Tech, Sonnet, PowerLogix, Macally, Keyspan, and the numerous RAM vendors, they wouldn't have time to create a PowerBook G4 or a 4.9-pound iBook. Apple would still be trying to figure out why the Rev. A USB iMation LS-120 drive didn't work 100% of the time.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson