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ATPM 3.11
November 1997


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The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

The Big Apple Event

A few days before Apple's November 10 "event," the front door to the company's Web site was mysteriously down, with the following riddle in its place:

Think Different

That Monday at Apple's Boston media center, I attended a live satellite video feed of the "event," which was really a press conference led by Steve Jobs. I normally don't go to these kind of events because there's little to see that's not written up in the press release. This time was different, largely because the Internet community and Jobs led us to believe that there would be big announcements. I wanted to see it first hand and compare it with the press coverage on Tuesday.

The room was packed. People were standing without chairs in the back; there were even people outside the room watching the video screen through windows. We all expected something big, and the excitement level was high. A few minutes after the 2:00-scheduled start, Jobs still wasn't on the air. "He sure knows how to keep us in suspense," someone muttered.

It was speculated that Apple would announce partnerships with Lucent and Oracle, Jobs would announce plans for using Intel's Merced chip, Apple's Network strategy would be unveiled, and Jobs himself would be named permanent CEO — or announce the chosen one. None of these happened.

Instead, Jobs explained what the cookie, the shopping cart, and the screwdriver stood for — and their importance to Apple's future. Each announcement was described as very different. They are very different — from what Apple has been doing in the past. Truthfully, I felt a little underwhelmed. Maybe I should stop listening to rumors. On the other hand, it's possible something big was going to happen, but was canceled at the last minute. The event was scheduled to last until 4:30, but ended around 3:30. Perhaps Jobs didn't want to say too much at one time, or maybe the deal(s) fell through at the last minute. In any case, I'm very pleased with the announcements that were made.

The cookie, he explained, represents a "very different chip." The way he said it, I almost thought he was going to announce that a new PowerPC processor was in the works — something vastly superior to the PowerPC G3, which we've been hearing about since the August Macworld. In the end, I was glad that he gave the PowerPC G3 as much attention as he did. It's a great example of the power of RISC technology and deserves as much attention as possible. It's at least as fast (except, perhaps, in floating-point operations) as the 300+ megahertz Mach 5 processors used in Apple's high-end, at a fraction of the cost. It's also smaller and simpler than previous PowerPC processors.

Jobs did an excellent job comparing it to Intel's best — the 300 Mhz Pentium II with MMX. He showed us the processor cards. The G3 is tiny, and most of what you see isn't the processor, but the back-side cache. The Pentium II casing is huge and uses 43 watts of power, compared to 6 for the G3. Jobs noted that the Pentium II alone uses twice as much power as the whole PowerBook G3. That's why you can't even buy Pentium II-based laptops.

Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of product marketing, did a few head-to-head demos comparing the best of Apple's midrange PowerMac G3's with the best Intel systems (costing considerably more money). The PowerMacs were considerably faster. Building a movie in Adobe After Effects on both machines, the PowerMac was able to finish creating the movie and lap the Windows NT machine on playback. The crowd loved it.

Speeding past Pentium machines in Photoshop, After Effects, and Director demos was certainly impressive, but my favorite part came at the end. Schiller launched a "the existing first version of'' Microsoft Word. (I think, perhaps, he meant the first beta of Word 98.) It opened, literally, in less than two seconds flat. "But wait," he added. "We don't have to stop there. Let's open up Excel, too." Sure enough, Excel opened. In less than two seconds.

The shopping cart represented Apple's new online store, and the screwdriver symbolized production facilities, retooled to allow customers the option of built-to-order machines. The company negotiated a new partnership with CompUSA, which includes an Apple Store inside of every CompUSA location and specially-trained Mac sales people. Retail has been a classic weakness for Apple. It's nice to see that something is being done. You can check out a QuickTime VR panorama of the Apple Store inside CompUSA at: Unfortunately, it's at a lower resolution than the one Job's demonstrated at the "event."


I haven't been to a CompUSA recently, but I know for a fact that the online Apple Store is excellent. It was created using Web Objects, a technology Apple acquired when they purchased NeXT. Dell used a similar, but less advanced (as Jobs was quick to point out), system until recently, when they were "encouraged" to switch to a Microsoft-supported system.

I've done a lot of online shopping and Apple's store is the best I've seen. It's easy-to-use, uses familiar Macintosh buttons, and looks very clean and classy. It's also very fast. After selecting a system and add-ons to purchase, you can enter billing information via phone, fax, mail, or the Internet. After placing the order, you can download an Acrobat PDF file of your receipt and print it out. Spiffy.

A nice touch is that the sales phone number is included in the store's URL. I had a question about the memory that the G3 machines use (The Web site contained some incorrect information about memory, as it turned out), so I called the Apple sales line. For the first time — ever, I think — I wasn't put on hold. Not only that, but the sales person was very knowledgeable, answering all of my (rather difficult) questions straight away. It's about time Apple learned how to sell things!

Unlike previous Apple events, this one was focused on the now. Jobs assured the audience that the G3's were ready that day. As soon as people left, they could place orders from the online store. Sure enough, many orders were placed that very day.

The new strategy sounds great, but is it too soon to applaud? Build-to-order machines currently take an additional two weeks to deliver. No one knows yet if Apple can keep up with demand. It may not have to worry about system inventories, but it still has to keep parts in stock.

Jobs mentioned that we have to think different (This is one case where it would be grammatically correct for him to use "differently" instead of "different," but I'll let it slide.) about performance because the PowerMac midrange is now competitive with the Wintel high-end. What he didn't stress, is that Apple has to educate its customers about the difference between megahertz and actual speed. The 266 Mhz PowerMac G3 is faster than the 300 Mhz 9600 (using the Mach 5 chip), the 300 Mhz Performa (using the 603e), and 300 Mhz Pentium and Pentium II machines. It's tough to communicate stuff like this when marketing people have been so successful at equating "Bigger numbers and higher prices" with "faster." Apple is certainly faced with a challenge.

The "Reality Distortion field" was certainly at work on November 10th. Every single person in the room seemed upbeat and excited about Jobs' announcements when, in reality, most already knew about the G3 processor, online store, and build-to-order.

For better or worse, Apple has finally learned how to hype. On his DaveNet mailing list, Dave Winer (a cross-platform software developer) commented, "There wasn't anything controversial in today's event, nothing but no-brainers." Disappointed as I initially was, I think that's exactly the way it should be. The Think different message is out. Apple has established who it is and what it plans to do. Now it's time to follow through.

A RealAudio transcript of the event is available at: pnm://

Blue Apple "The Personal Computing Paradigm" is © 1997 by Michael Tsai, <>.  Michael is still searching for the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. 

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