As The Apple Turns

    As The Apple Turns

    ……………………………………

    As The Apple Turns

    March 1998

    Airborne, airborne, airborne. As always, this column is being written while I’m on the move: moving at 600 miles per hour and 30,000 feet above sea level, commuting by jet.

    During the last

    nine months, I’ve been flying all over for business, repeatedly to New York (, my birthplace) and Arizona. It’s been interesting. I’ve flown into both the sunrise and dusk, through thunderstorms at night and a

    during the day — never a dull moment.

    I’ve been able to weave a few pleasure trips into my schedule, taking my fianceé to Manhattan (staying at the Hotel Kitano, a room with a view of the Empire State Building, eating really good Indian food at Karachi on Broome Street at West Broadway in the Village, and Arizona (Tucson, Phoenix, and the Grand Canyon), as well as a skiing trip to the Italian Alps this winter.

    The world of the , , and Newton haven’t seen too many dull moments either. (Damn, it feels as though I’m watching a soap opera.) This month, I’ll give you an update into what’s going on with the gang in Cupertino.

    Where We’ve Been

    To begin with, it hasn’t been a particularly comforting time for those of us who live and breathe

    Apple. Our anti-heroes seem hell-bent on giving away the store. I’ll start my story with a quote from a “Mac the Knife” column: “The Mac is Dead!”

    While things may not be as bad as that, Apple certainly hasn’t done a good job of managing our expectations with a coherent communications strategy. Good words have come from outside the company. Here are two of my favorites:

    DOS Computers manufactured by companies such as IBM, Compaq, Tandy, and millions of others are by far the most popular, with about 70 million machines in use worldwide. Macintosh fans, on the other hand, may note that cockroaches are far more numerous than humans, and that numbers alone do not denote a higher life form. — The New York Times, November 26, 1991

    Numbers alone is no reason to stop using the most productive operating system around.

    For some reason, unbeknownst to us, Apple management refuses to abandon the theory that the best technology always wins.

    — Bill Gurley,

    Right on! So let’s see what’s going on.

    Apple

    Mercurial Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is back, but refuses any title other than . The new Apple board of directors assembled in August 1997 includes mogul Larry Ellison (who led a bizarre abortive take-over attempt of Apple) and Bill “The Coach” Campbell, currently head of

    and one-time head of

    and my boss while we were at PDA-pioneering GO Corporation.

    Persistent rumors of an impending merger with Oracle abounded, along with rumors that may abandon , its miserable-to-use operating system (OS), in favor of Rhapsody, which runs on the

    chip set. The Rhapsody

    OS continues to get good press, and will be highlighted in mid-May at the

    (WWDC).

    Either they’ll announce a new CEO in 1998 or they won’t. Either they’ll roll out their new network computer (NC) some time this year — or they won’t.

    (Just an aside that’ll seem quaint in a few years: “Columbus” is a code name for the NC product. A source at Apple told a source of mine that they’re keeping such projects super-secret, developing them in a building totally separate from Apple’s buildings and literally changing the code names every day. When and if leaks occur they can tell who said it and when since a handful of people are told a particular code name at a time. Steve Jobs wants it out by year’s end, which may or may not happen.)

    Deep breath. Whew!

    Macintosh

    Macintosh news is no less strange. It turns out that the fabled “Star Trek” project – a port of the Macintosh OS to the Intel chip set actually happened years ago, but the project was squashed by myopic Apple management.

    And it turns out that Bill Gates was more of a friend of Macintosh than we knew: Not only did he forward a licensing and cloning plan to Apple years ago, he also rounded up partners — but the project was squashed by myopic Apple management. Sigh. How many times can one company fail to take the world when it’s handed to them? Of course, hindsight is a great vantage point from which to write, but we knew things were wierd at One Infinite Loop, Cupertino.

    (Much of this good information comes from a book published in October 1997 about Apple Computer, written by Jim Carlton and entitled .)

    In other news, Apple is trying to re-redefine how it sells computers to you. By now, you’ve heard of the chaotic, bloody end to cloning of the Macintosh platform. This silly imbroglio has cost you the opportunity to get

    faster and cheaper Macintosh systems quickly, because it means buying from a single supplier, which is never good. Having multiple suppliers is better for you, the consumer.

    Apple is reworking its agreements with retailers, such as

    in California, to give you a better and more enticing browsing and purchasing experience. I predict that nobody will care.

    Nor will the horribly lame

    television and print commercials make any difference.

    And the opening in late 1998 of Apple’s

    and their made-to-order manufacturing and sales thrust are nice, and will solve some problems, but they don’t address what’s wrong with our favorite pomme.

    Users want interoperability with other platforms, something that functions with the

    suite (available now only for the Mac), so that we can coexist in our work environments without being second-class citizens. — Witness the cessation of Macintosh support at environments such as Motorola.

    We want to hear that Apple is spending revenue on improving the platform, much as we’re seeing with the development of Rhapsody.

    We want to hear that Apple is not frittering away what lead remains in ease-of-use.

    (Gutting the Newton group, providing no clear migration paths from the MessagePads of today to the eMates of tomorrow, going to a difficult to-use for-pay support system, and being unclear on the level of enthusiasm within Apple for continued Macintosh development are not ways to give warm and fuzzies to your long-time customers.) And we want Apple to be as enthusiastic as we are.

    Apple has begun to release faster machines, such as the G3 desktop and PowerBook models, and more are being produced.

    (The “Wall Street” PowerBook, due in May 1998, will have

    a 250- or 292-MHz version of the PowerPC 750 (G3) chip — the fastest system bus of any Power Mac.)

    Of course, those models are prohibitively expensive. And they are also targeted at business users who can feed from the corporate teat — not the diehard, evangelistic Mac user.

    On the positive side, there are some very good deals to be had on last year’s computers. Remember to load up on the RAM and hard disk; software bloat is continuing to accelerate. And on the very positive side, hard drives with a capacity to hold 5 gigabytes are now becoming standard-issue equipment. On the very negative side, backing up is rather a lost art (pun unintended).

    Update: since I’ve written this two things have happened that I think are noteworthy. First is news of price: “Wall Street” will come out around US$2000, although it’s possible that this low-end configuration will be crippled with too little video ram (VRAM) or some other silly Apple oversight (as have the predecessor PowerBooks). Second is the feisty new ad campaign that roasts the competition in a memorable way. The “Snail” and “Toasted” advertisments are great. Owners of Pentium IIs walk with a lot less swagger these days. Thank you Apple. But for every two steps forward…

    Newton

    The Newton group, set for spin-off from Apple in May 1997, complete with a new domain name and a butt-ugly logo, was ungraciously spun in again at the last moment four months later. Sandy Bennett, long-time group leader and co-worker of mine at GO Corp. departed, dimming the PDA universe. The wildly successful Newton MessagePad 2000 was superceded by the 2100. Days later Apple announced the

    of the Newton and eMate OS. (I don’t remember this being the best way to nurture a best-selling product. This is all eeriely reminiscent of similar tomfoolery that took place just as the 2000 was released.)

    I thought the general idea was to kill brands when name recognition and sales were low and unprofitable. Orwellian double-speak marketing, all of this. Rumors abound that this great technology is destined to rise again, either as the color-screened Professional eMate 1000, or as a -capable Network Computer (NC) to spearhead Oracle’s attack against Microsoft’s global domination by Windows. My head spins — and it’s not the turbulence or Starbucks coffee causing it.

    Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) notwithstanding, there’s been news you can use in recent months.

    ln the Newton world, there have been slew of upgrades to the Newton OS, and to much of the software I use. I’ll describe them shortly. There’s a $99 upgrade path from the MessagePad 2000 to the 2100. Heck, even the hard-to-find NiMH battery packs are finally on the shelves (at least for the time being). The recently released Newton Internet Enabler allows Ethernet connectivity through certain PCMCIA cards.

    Where We’re Going

    Where does this leave us, the long-time and loyal users of the most productive operating systems around? Suffering from serious amounts of FUD. Sure, FUD has been a way of life for the faithful, but the long-term effects can be serious: lately I’ve been maintaining both my marginally operating

    5300 models with duct tape and chewing gum, holding off against the day that they completely fall apart. There is no way I’m buying an overpriced, poorly engineered machine now.

    Heck, if the MacOS portion of Rhapsody, the so-called “blue box”, ever runs on Intel laptops, I may never buy an Apple-branded device again. That’s not good, but I can’t deal with the piss-poor support I’ve been getting. (Remind me to write up the hoops my local Apple store jumps through, just

    to get a PowerBook under warranty fixed. It’s amazing that we don’t live in a DOS world after all.)

    The Scorecard

    What’s the scorecard? Well, we live in interesting times. Apple seems to be spending us much time and energy hurting themselves as they are helping us, taking two steps forward, and three steps back. Yet there’s still reason to hang on.

    may become widely enough adopted to make our preferred user interface live on to the next decade. And it may even run on industry-standard hardware

    — although I don’t understand why the MacOS should run on the Intel chip set and not on the Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP).

    As ‘s Satan said,

    “it’s better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” I think Macintosh users live in a similar state.

    , recently married, lives and works in the fine city of . When he’s not enjoying the unusual El Niño weather or the antics of his cats he’s updating his web site, eating sushi or Indian food, refurbishing old Macintoshes for others to use, wondering if this is the year he’ll finally maintain a garden out back or learn to speak conversational Hebrew, and looking for consulting work in the city. If you need computers to jump through hoops, give him a . UNIX and Perl-based web presences a , along with database connectivity and custom programming in most modern languages and a few recently deceased ones.

    Credits: The photo of Lady Liberty and the Marathon Cab courtesy of , the the official web site of the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. They have other stock photos of the Big Apple available for you to enjoy.

    Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me . Thanks!

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