I should have seen it coming, of course. Most months, I pretty much comment on every article I see on Apple and Apple products. But with the high stakes last-gasp lunge at survival that Apple enacted by buying out NeXT, the entire computer publishing world double-clicked its collective word processor icons to write, editorialize, praise, and criticize the latest move by Gil Amelio and his corporate crew. If I cut out all the headlines from all the columns and articles I saw on the subject this month and threw them in the air, the mess would rival New York after their parade last year for the Yankees. So, first, a sampling of the headlines:
Jan. 13.)And so on. So, by now, lets assume you have the facts about Apple buying NeXT. Want to take a peek at the PC pundits’ positions on the purchase?
THE NAY SAYERS
From the editorial page of PC Week (Jan. 13): “Good luck, Apple. I hope the new alliance with NeXT will allow you to grow into a serious enterprise computer company. We need the competition and the innovation that Apple could bring. But if you expect to be taken seriously by the crowd that reads PC Week, you have some questions to answer.”
Forget your readers, pal. If PC Week had ever taken Apple seriously, Bill Gates wouldn’t be building a $40 million dollar house. Part of the author’s point, however, is that Apple is clearly going to try to get its foot back into the corporate market (good move) since it passed up BeOS in favor of NeXT. But the corporate market moves with unforgiving speed. Apple’s problem for the past several years is that it has barely moved at all. If it takes another year to get a functioning OS out of Apple, who’s to say what the competition will be? Billions have been invested by corporate America already in hardware and software to make their offices into fully operational Intranets. So what the information technology officers of the business world want to know is, will Apple move to make its hardware and software compatible? How long will they have to wait before they know how Apple expects to integrate its products into the workplace? What software will be available for businesses? Will it work with what they have now? Will it function on their servers? On their processors? In fact, forget all that. To what extent will the NeXT Mac OS even be compatible with System 7? In recent weeks, Apple has tried to answer some of these questions. But there are still a lot of boxes on the calendar between now and a product release. Microsoft Office 97 is now out to rave reviews, and Windows 97 and NT 5.0 are on their way. Netscape has made its intentions to move into OS development/replacement clear. The size of the established fish have made the pond small.
So headlines like this (from Computerworld, Jan. 13) don’t help: “Amelio vague on details of future operating system.” It was on article on Amelio’s address to the MacWorld conference, an address that lasted three hours and left some trying to remember if he discussed anything they needed to hear. Many of the corporate customers in attendance declared that they were confused but still (bless them) willing to wait. But Computerworld attributes to returned Apple co-founder Steve Jobs the admission that they “won’t wait forever.” In the same issue, there were two articles outlining Apple’s bleak financial picture as profits took another dive during the last quarter. There was even an article explaining that there are just a few more grains of sand left in OpenDoc’s hour glass.
Also in that issue of Computerworld was a commentary on the situation by columnist David Coursey. It’s well worth the read for some of Coursey’s witty one-liners. O.K., here’s one of them: “(Apple gave) Next a graceful exit from its swamp — what else can be said about a company that’s a decade old, is breaking even at $50 million and has a worldwide total of 245 customers….” Coursey concedes that Apple passed up Be’s consumer market potential to take aim at the corporate world. But what he wants to know is if the corporate world will care. There are already more players than economical options. If Apple makes a NeXT OS for Intel chips (as they have said they will do), will people already devoted to Intel hardware be the least bit interested in purging the Windows from their corporate houses? He summarizes: “So, dear reader, Apple wants to be your computer company. What are you going to say?”
Oh, and Computerworld had one last parting shot for the MacWorld Expo speech: “Apple Chairman and CEO Gil Amelio’s butt-numbing three-hour keynote at Macworld proved that holding several patents hardly makes you a charismatic speaker. ‘Mama mia, that was too long,’ exclaimed Apple Executive Vice President Marco Landi.'”
Inter@ctive Week announced that industry analysts think that the mid-1998 target for the new Apple OS “could mean the end for Apple.” There was some good news however! “…investors should not sell their stock, because Apple could be ripe for a hostile takeover by a foreign company.” Gee! That makes all the difference.
Communications Week quotes one observer saying “(NeXT is) no magic bullet for Apple.” The magazine also alludes to the disturbingly important role Microsoft will play in the success of Apple’s next OS. Microsoft is still the number one maker of Macintosh applications. But what if Bill’s software writing drones just don’t feel up to the challenge of writing programs for the new system the day it comes up in their department meeting? Apple’s Ellen Hancock (chief technical officer) says: “We believe that getting Microsoft support is very valuable, and we are going to work with them to make sure we get (it).”
I hope I didn’t lead you to believe we were done visiting with PC Week. They were, after all, just bursting with all sorts of things to say about the situation in Mac land. Helping to generate momentum for the MacWorld Expo hype, the front page of the publication’s January 6 issue opened with “Never has so much been riding upon one Macworld Expo. (It) has become almost a make-or-break event for Apple Computer Inc.” So it was fitting that the final page of the January 13 issue should close with the headline “Macworld Isn’t Such a Cool Stop Anymore.” Columnist Eric Lundquist speculates that the Expo used to be a required stop for the powers that be in the PC industry to see where the industry was headed. Apple was always charging ahead, showing the world the future that Microsoft and everyone else would rewrite, copy, and sell as their own. But now, with the declared focus to merge Mac OS with a ten-year-old NeXT OS, Apple looks to be suddenly only dreaming of catching up. Lundquist adds, “…if there were folks who thought it was going to be a really great idea to spend the next 18 months welding Mac OS and NextStep together, I didn’t run into them.” The sentiment is echoed in the same issue 90 pages earlier in the editorial section. “From where we sit, though, Apple’s adoption of NeXT seems to be a step backward for what was once a technology and industry leader. And we’re confused….”
Well now if you thought all that was a little depressing, please let’s not forget that PC Week has a rival. The other biggest book in the world of corporate computer magazines is Infoworld. Infoworld’s CEO used to make a living starting magazines called Macworld all over the planet. And it shows in the stand Infoworld ‘s editorial has taken on developments since the Apple/NeXT deal. Oh, I know. I’m not doing Infoworld any favors by implying that the magazine has a built-in bias on something as important as the future of operating systems. But the consistency of the difference of opinion was startling. And we all know that PC Week has a bias, so who cares? And after the negative press I’ve reviewed above, don’t you think the following headlines could only come from a coordinated effort to give a nod of approval to the pioneers of personal computing?: “Apple Strikes Chord with Harmony,” “OS Future Comes into Focus,” “Developers Excited About Apple’s Acquisition of Next,” and “The Right Job for Jobs Could Mean Bright Future for Apple.” Even Infoworld ‘s industry gossip columnist Robert X. Cringely got into the act, including in his January 6 column the New Year’s resolution to “Give Apple a break.”
In the magazine’s January 6th issue, an article opens with “Apple’s first battle in making its acquisition of Next Software a success already seems to be won, judging from the praise software developers have given the deal so far.” True, the next sentence does read, “But the devil is in the details, few of which Apple has released to this point.” However, Infoworld describes a software community that can’t wait to get its hands on the more stable environment they see coming. Also praised is Apple’s efforts to recruit the support of various computer software giants. Microsoft is again named most-important-player in the coming software saga. And Infoworld was the first publication I came across that addressed the future of OpenDoc’s place in Apple Inc., stating the Apple had “reiterated its commitment to OpenDoc.”
Page 2 Infoworld columnist Michael Vizard muses upon the unspeakable in his January 6 column: with the new merger of NeXT and Apple, “will Windows operating system soon be obsolete?” Actually, the question would have been more valid if Apple had gone with Be. One reason Be is so attractive is that it is a new operating system made to run on today’s hardware. Not a new version of an old operating system made to run on 1985’s hardware. Mac OS 7.x and Windows 97 are simply layer on top of code-heavy layer of programming where all future improvements must be added like new pavement to the underlying legacy code. This leads to the enormously bulky, RAM-demanding, processor-speed hogging software applications that Microsoft is famous for today. (Microsoft Office 97 weighs in at a whopping 180 megabytes after a full install on a Wintel machine.) Dumping all that legacy code once and for all, despite the financial smack in the face it would be to the home and corporate users who have invested so much money in these systems, would lead to vastly improved hardware and software performance. That was part of the thinking behind last month’s Amelio quote on
magazine (“Everything Bill Gates has sold will become obsolete”). Eventually, Microsoft has to get rid of the excess baggage. Be would have done that for Apple, but NeXT is a good start also.
columnist Nicholas Petreley was clearly hard pressed to come up with words to convey his excitement not just about the integration of NextStep with Mac OS, but with the return of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. “If Gil Amelio takes advantage of Job’s strengths, Apple may have a brilliant new future ahead. Forget the quality of the NextStep OS and the development tools. Forget the fact that Apple’s parallel OS development strategy is practically a flawless first step …. Look instead at the sheer leadership value of Jobs.” I disagree. Don’t forget. Read that quote again and you’ll see an optimism about Apple’s future that will be hard to find anywhere, even in the Mac press.
(January 6) expresses concern over the coming NeXT/Mac OS, but also shows some excitement over some of the implications. The new operating system will no longer be forced into competing with Intel since it has been announced that it will be Pentium compatible. In turn, this will help erase the need for Apple’s less-than-promising battle against Microsoft. The line between platforms will be blurred, and the need to choose one absolutely over the other will start to fade.
The cheerleading from
actually had less to do with the acquisition of NeXT than with the prominent future Apple may have on the Internet. For a company that has only one-tenth of the desktop operating system market, Apple’s dominance of Web development is alarming to those who are chasing the company around with an engraved tombstone. The February issue used CyberDog, OpenDoc, and QuickTime as examples of technology that will not fade quietly away from the world-wide network, but rather act as an anchor to a company that few pundits credit with having one.
THE NEXT RIVALRY?
After all of this, only a handful of publications found it worth mentioning that something else may Be brewing in the future of Mac operating systems. CommunicationsWeek (January 13) closed out its article on the NextStep/Mac OS merger with this quote: “Be (Inc.) is, supposedly, shortly away from announcing backwards compatibility for Mac applications. It makes you wonder what the logic was for going with Next.” Now this is an area that could definitely get exciting. It may even cause the creation of a few more magazines.
MORE NEWS ON THE KINDER, GENTLER MICROSOFT
I know that many of you have probably just ignored me when I’ve written in the past about all the ‘please-can’t-we-play-too’ noises Microsoft has been making in Apple’s front yard. Your eyes have probably glazed over and switched to autopilot as they’ve encountered stories of Microsoft trying to make fabulous new products for the Macintosh. But there were quite a few stories about just these types of occurrences this past month. Take this headline, for example, from Infoworld (January 13): Microsoft Creates Mac Group. That’s right, Microsoft now has set aside for its Macintosh mutants their own little promised land. Sure, the cynical among you might think they are simply being quarantined. But the truth is that Office97 for Mac is a huge undertaking and stands to make a load of money, so a special effort was needed. And as long as Apple is refusing to simply die without a fight and instead shows itself willing to toss around hundreds of millions of dollars to swallow up new companies, Microsoft might as well try to make some money off the deal. The surely self-conscious Mac programmers at Microsoft will be given free rein to write future programs specifically for Macintosh, using Apple technology as needed. This will improve the lines of communication between Apple and Microsoft, enabling the continued development of the Microsoft Mac OS products which we merry Mac users have made our first choice.
PC Week picks up this Beauty and the Beast story. Although they disagree with Infoworld on the actual number of people who will be working in the new Microsoft Mac department, they do reveal that Microsoft will take it upon itself to make ActiveX controls work in Macintosh OpenDoc containers, a remarkably hopeful piece of news that could foreshadow good things for the Windows version of OpenDoc.
RAISING THE BAR
Computerworld (January 6) was one of the first to find the space to break the news that Power Computing will be selling 300-MHz PowerMacs by July. Sure, this Mac will cost $5,000, but they’ll throw in a free modem and some fun software. If you think you’ll have to sit the first round out, though, you should know that IBM and Motorola will be rolling out the first of the G3 chips sometime this year. They’ll toss around your data at speeds between 200 and 400 MHz.
DEFENDING MR. COATES
An awkward thing happened last month for us Mac users in Chicago. There’s a wonderful, nationally-known computer writer at the Chicago Tribune named James Coates. I’ve read his column for years and he’s always been a reliable, fair source of information. And he’s always been sensitive and excited about the Macintosh platform. One of his articles in December, however, rubbed Mac evangelist Guy Kawasaki the wrong way. Guy is a hero in the Macintosh world, spreading the word about the Mac’s superior interface and ease of use in an effort to expand the Macintosh market. And he’s found wonderful ways to do it, including newsletters and Web sites. Occasionally, however, Guy will declare war on an infidel. James Coates was the object of one such declaration during the early, nervous days of the Apple/NeXT story. Encouraged by Guy, uncounted thousands of Mac lovers around the world flooded Coates’ AOL e-mail box with hate mail.
So I’d like to take this chance to point out at least one piece of good news to emerge from this: apparently Mr. Kawasaki reads Coates’ work. That’s great. He has an excellent column and Guy should read it more often.
Grant Cassiday (GBCassiday@aol.com)