A reversal of direction

A reversal of direction

Over the last few years, Apple Computer has been trying assiduously to make its computers irrelevant to the general computer user population. It was almost as if an undercover agent for the ABA Consortium (Anybody But Apple) was calling the shots from behind a curtain.

Apple's aggressive unwillingness to license its operating system, which - for most of the past dozen years - was far in advance of anything else on personal computers, was the basic problem.

Many other things confounded the issue: higher prices than the competition, a consistent failure to deliver updates on time, always disappointing second-generation products, a not-invented-here mentality, misjudging the importance of standards-based networking, constantly changing marketing plans, strained dealer relationships, a confusing array of products, an inability to articulate a consistent vision, ignoring technological innovations such as the PCI bus . . . one could go on, but you get the idea.

Apple's focus on private-label networking technology and the related disregard for the most powerful technology trend in decades - the Internet - more than offset Microsoft's attempt to ignore networking altogether (since there were a number of vendors with solutions to the latter).

Corporate information systems people have always been wary of Apple products. They seemed a bit wrong somehow, made by fuzzy California hippies or the like. More than a few corporations banned Apple machines in favour of DOS-based PCs. To me, this was like mandating tin cans and string and banning the telephone, but such is the forward thinking of some corporate IS departments.

In the past year or so, the move away from Apple has gained momentum. Apple's shrinking market share along with the introduction of Windows 95 - though hardly innovative to an old Mac hand - gave new excuses to IS staffs.

Hardly a week went by last year without another corporation deciding to cease new application development for the Macintosh. This even extended to a number of universities, once hotbeds of Mac usage and support. GUI-based internal applications, naturals for the Macintosh, would now be developed only for Windows and ported to the Mac if someone had too much time on their hands.

Apple accelerated this trend late last year when it announced that it would focus on specialty (read niche) markets such as desktop publishing and de-emphasise the commodity personal computer business. Why would a software development company make the investment in creating Macintosh applications when the market would not be there? The 80/20 rule works in this case: Developing for Windows gives you 80 per cent (or more) of the market, so why expend the resources for the relatively small remainder?

At this point, all too many of the new Macintosh applications, where they exist, are ported from Windows and show it, like Microsoft Word Version 6.

Things may be changing at Apple. There is a new boss that has not said all that much in public. However, the licensing arrangement with Motorola is a good sign. (I would like to see a licensing deal with Compaq or some other mass-market manufacturer, but it's a start.) The way things are going, I may still be using a Mac a year from now . . . I hope so.

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