Apples, Kids, & Attitude
Apple’s Turnover and the Resurgence of the Mac OS
It’s about 6:15 PM early Sunday evening. I’m feeling a bit harried, a little pressured, a bit tired, and a little overwhelmed. Church has just let out and I’m on my way to the high school track for my daily run. The track is just a few hundred yards from the church, and the city keeps it open 24 hours a day for use by residents. Although the lights are turned off late at night, you can often see people jogging and walking by moonlight.
The sun is shining brightly through the trees as I park my car on the street. My mind is racing as I think about the list of things that need to be done before morning. I’m thinking about why I spend so much time at church with all the things I need to get done and whether or not I really have time to exercise. I quickly put on my running shoes and step out of the car to change my shirt. I reach over to reopen the car door, and my stomach suddenly feels likes it’s in my running shoes. There, on the front seat of my car, are the keys, along with my leather wallet that has the permanent impression from the “credit card” emergency key tucked snugly inside it. My pager and cell phone are stored safely in their usual places, which means they’re not standing alone in the street with me. As you may have guessed, when the car door closed behind me, the electronic door locks were not in the most advantageous position.
”Now what do I do?” I say to myself as I stand by my car gazing in the driver’s window at the items I list among life’s essentials. I slowly walk toward the track. As I walk I remember that the house on the corner always seems to have someone home. I walk up the steps and ask in one breath through the screen door “Is someone home? may I use your phone?” A woman cheerfully answers the door and shows me her phone. Like me, she also has an auto club membership and digs through her purse to find the number for me to call. “I recognized you from church,” she says “otherwise I would have been a bit wary about letting you in.” My misfortune allowed an opportunity for at least one of the day’s questions to be answered, I thought.
Now, it’s the waiting game. I need to wait by my car for the auto club’s locksmith. At this moment life seems a bit surreal. It feels like time has been taken out of time...
Life has awkward moments and interesting times. I remember about two years ago this month, when the world was filled with Windows ’95 hype. Newspapers, TV, magazines, and retail stores were all announcing the soon-to-be-released operating system for the Wintel market. In my view, what was finally delivered in August, 1995 met the expectations of very few users. It wasn’t all that easy to install, it required a large amount of hard drive space, and it still wasn’t as elegant or easy-to-use as the Mac OS. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to matter.
What did matter to computer makers, retailers, software developers and most others directly involved in the personal computer industry was that Windows ’95 and Wintel machines were where the money was being spent and where the crowd seemed to be moving because of the hype. Lost in all the Windows ’95 commotion were Apple Computer and its story. For a veteran Mac user like me, August, 1995 was a time that also seemed a bit surreal...like the beginning of time taken out of time.
Almost to the day that Microsoft released their updated operating system, I replaced my Mac llci with a Power Macintosh 7500/100. It’s the personal computer that adorns my desk today. It was among the first PCI-based Power Macs and it’s been a real “workhorse” of a computer. Later that month I remember visiting the bookstore of a large, prestigious Southern California University as students began to return for the Fall semester. The staff couldn’t keep the new PowerPCs in stock. Demand far exceeded supply.
Apple was losing ground not just to the Windows ’95 hype, but to poor planning and bad product forecasting. There were more than enough 68k Macs to go around, but most buyers didn’t want them. People wanted the RISC-based technology. The stores wanted PowerPC products. Apple wanted high margins on lower cost machines. More of the market moved to Windows. What the advertising hype couldn’t do to move buyers away from Apple, the company did to itself by not having available the machines people wanted.
Since its inception, the Mac OS has consistently been better than its Microsoft counterpart. We can sit around and blame a lot of different people for Apple’s lost market share and the time lost in developing the next generation OS. What we can’t do is change history. The seeds of Apple’s future success may be found in the ashes of its recent failures. Apple has to be much better than the competition. It no longer has the luxury of time and blind buyer loyalty. It must move quickly to reestablish itself and distinguish its products from those of its competitors. Apple now has the best personal computer hardware in the world. Apple’s financial necessity and the company’s recent hardware innovations are not coincidental to one another.
The decision to terminate the Copland project and create a new operating system (Rhapsody), will provide Apple Computer with an extraordinary opportunity to expand its user base and overstep the competition. Many of the user-visible changes to the Mac OS developed for Copland are incorporated in Mac OS 8. Many of the unseen but fundamental changes developed for Copland will be incorporated in future Mac OS upgrades (Allegro, Sonata, etc.). By providing a backward compatible operating system via the Mac OS, Apple ensures that the release of Rhapsody will not make millions of Macintosh computers immediately obsolete. Rather, by implementing a dual OS strategy, Apple is extending the useful life of millions of computers. This may be crucial to the company’s ability to maintain its strong presence in the education market.
Additionally, Rhapsody’s “Yellow Box” component will be adapted to run on different platforms including a version for Intel PCs and a version to run on Windows 95 and Windows NT. This should make Rhapsody more appealing to software developers by broadening the potential market for their products beyond the Mac and Mac clones. Rhapsody will run many current Mac OS applications via its “Blue Box,” thus allowing developers and users to migrate gradually to Apple’s next generation OS.
Buyers of Apple’s latest hardware offerings are assured that their computers will run Rhapsody when it’s released, as well as the current Mac OS. Additionally, great progress has been made in optional hardware and software solutions that allow Macs to run Windows compatible software. For computer buyers who have been concerned about Mac-Windows compatibility, the good news is that it in many, many cases this will no longer be an issue. Computer buyers can take advantage of Apple’s quality hardware and the ease-of-use of the Mac OS and still have the potential to run many Windows applications, if needed. The closer we get to the release of Rhapsody and its “Yellow Box” component, the less important this will be.
Windows ’95 is a technological dead end. That statement isn’t a Microsoft slam, it’s computer industry fact. Microsoft itself will be migrating users to a more full implementation of Windows NT. This is an interesting time for PC users because we are in the midst of a cycle of accelerated obsolescence of installed Wintel PCs. The ever-increasing sophistication of software and the continuing need for greater processing speed and power will bring buyers into to stores well within the three years since their last purchase. The upgradeable CPU daughter cards on many Macs and Mac clones are valuable options in today’s computing world.
Apple’s plans for future hardware innovations are very impressive and will be hitting the stores in almost “rapid fire” succession. While most magazines focus on the technical aspects of the enhancements, the practical implications for computer buyers should not be left unmentioned: ease-of-use, upgrade ability, Rhapsody-ready and optional Windows compatibility . The release of Mac OS 8 along with exciting hardware options should create new excitement for Macs and Mac clones. The question for Apple is no longer about their technology and seeming lack of compatibility, it’s about whether or not Apple can effectively communicate the advantages of the Macintosh and Mac clones to computer buyers. Apple, PowerComputing, Motorola, UMAX and others have an opportunity to pleasantly surprise millions of consumers.
Apple has started addressing the company’s perception in the market by discontinuing the use of the Performa name. This is because Performa line of personal computers became erroneously synonymous in the minds of buyers with 68k technology, not the newer RISC-based chips. I’m glad that brand name is no longer being used. I’m also glad that cheap Macs are no longer competing with Wintel machines for shelf space at office supply stores. I think it soiled Apple’s image in the minds of buyers. I’d much rather see Apple appeal to potential buyers through school promotions (students and parents) and at retail businesses where the staff is presumable better trained and there is more of an opportunity to tell the “Macintosh story.”
Apple’s turnover in the way it approaches hardware innovation and OS development will bring about a resurgence in the Mac OS. Again, Apple simply needs to explain its new approach to computer buyers. People who buy Apple hardware will be selecting from among the finest personal computers available on the planet. People who choose to buy Mac OS 8 will have an OS that not only provides a great deal of satisfaction today, it will also allow for an easy migration to the Rhapsody OS of tomorrow.
At the same time, Apple’s decision to port Rhapsody’s Yellow Box component to multiple platforms will further de-couple Apple’s hardware and software strategies. This will provide an opportunity for Rhapsody to sell itself to a much larger group of potential buyers. It may also appeal to software developers who do not currently release Mac OS versions of their software.
All these changes in less than two years! It really has seemed somewhat surreal, like time taken out of time...
There I am. Standing by my car waiting for the auto club’s locksmith to come by and open the door. What a silly thing to do — allowing the car door to close behind me. The thing is, when a mistake like that happens, there is nothing really one can do after you take the necessary steps, except stand and wait. Or, stand and think. Or, stand and ponder. I couldn’t leave the car unattended until after the locksmith arrived and opened the door. This gave me time to think about a lot of things including work, this column, upgrading some of my software, and the myriad of other silly things I’ve done recently.
The locksmith arrived within the 30 minute time-frame that was promised. It may not seem like a long time, but standing by one’s car in the street, waiting on someone else puts time in a different dimension.
Two years ago Apple made a few silly mistakes, too. They were caught unprepared by the Windows 95 hype and their own consumers’ demand for more modern technology. In effect, they let some doors inadvertently close behind them. It sometimes takes awhile, figuratively speaking , to open doors after they’ve been closed. We’ll see how Apple reopens the hearts and minds of consumers. It may still take a little time. But rest assured that Apple is taking the necessary steps to revive its product line and reestablish itself in important markets.
For those of us who have stood by Apple waiting for the company’s changes, it’s seemed like a really long time. Like I said, almost like two years taken out of time.
The locksmith worked quickly and within a few minutes of his arrival I was reacquainted with my keys, my possessions, and my pride. I thanked him and walked to the track. In all my fussing about time, I had lost a half hour but still had time to run. Looking back, now that I have my keys and a few days perspective on the incident, it wasn’t so long of a wait. It was more of a minor, albeit embarrassing, inconvenience.
Let’s hope the same holds true for Apple. OS 8, the plans for Rhapsody and the new line of Apple hardware should unlock a few doors. We’ll see what the world thinks of Apple’s products now that everyone has reason to look inside.
Also in This Series
- Good Morning America, How Are You? · October 2003
- Martians in the Manholes · February 2001
- The Golden Touch · May 2000
- Three Kids and an iMac · February 2000
- How? · November 1999
- Apples, Kids, & Attitude · August 1999
- Play Ball! · May 1999
- A Time For Change · February 1999
- New Year, New Times · January 1999
- Complete Archive