THE GUERRILLA WAR
James Coates wasn’t the only victim of the over-zealous Mac faithful during the Apple/NeXT marriage (see last month’s column). PC Week (Jan. 20) ran an article on some recent attacks on computer writers and IT managers lead by Guy Kawasaki. (A picture accompanying the article showed Kawasaki done up in an interesting interpretation of the Mac OS logo as war paint.) The author of the EvangeList had a few other people on his hit list, earning them the cyber equivalent of a cherry bomb in their mailbox. Generally the attacks consist of an uncontrolled flood of vicious e-mail. There are other methods, however. A Newsweek writer (Barb Kantrowitz) was subscribed to “a sex-related discussion group.” She also received an e-mail which made particularly good use of turn-of-the-century ideology by asking: “Why don’t you go and bake brownies and leave this to the boys?” On the PC side of the computing world, Kawasaki is definitely redefining what it means to be a Mac lover. After all, if you can’t persuade people of your point of view through intelligent debate and hard work, leading the troops to sexist name-calling and pedantic cyber tricks is bound to win the war!
The British version of PC Magazine has a monthly ‘Letter from America’ column written by John C. Dvorak. I’ve written about him before … I believe I reported on his article explaining that Intel’s MMX technology would rid the globe forever of the pesky Power PC (and thus Macintosh). In his January column, he filled in his Euro readers on the ‘holy war’ (see above), “the still never-ending tale of Apple Computer’s future”, the loss of computer store chain support of the Mac platform, and (these are the positive ones) the growing success of Macintosh mail-order catalogues and Apple’s recent profitable quarter . (Remember, this was the January issue, released before the more recent and more unpleasant news of Apple’s fiscal bar graphs.) But very quickly he gets back on message: “I believe the final straw for the Mac will be the MMX Pentiums, which will finally give the Intel chip the edge in raw graphics processing power.” Yes, we know you do. (And here I thought the success of Power Computing and the coming of the G3 line of super chips for Mac had shut him up.) Apparently though, Dvorak thinks that Intel’s competition is so far behind that Intel shouldn’t even rush into releasing MMX technology. Why bother? No one else is coming out with anything comparable any time soon, he explains.
With a column like that, do you think this guy could possibly be living in America?
Of course, by the time I got to read his February column, it was obvious what Dvorak’s problem was. He must have written every one of this year’s columns during his summer vacation. That would explain the dated material. In the February column, he speculates that Apple might buy Be Inc. (bad idea, he says, because it doesn’t run enough legacy applications), and then launches into a theory that was very new to me. Dvorak hinted that Apple was probably in talks with Microsoft to start building PC clones running Windows. Figuring that Apple might be successful at this type of work, Dvorak thinks it would be a great way for Apple to finally dump the Mac OS and get back into the computing scene. “After all,” he writes, “Sony discontinued the old Beta machines and makes VHS decks, thank you very much.”
I must admit, it is very tempting to send Dvorak’s e-mail address to Guy Kawasaki.
Fortunately, I don’t restrict my reading to desperately outdated columns in British magazines written by a day-dreaming American. I also read plenty of American magazines that sometimes annoy me, like Byte, which in its February issue had the good sense to actually test the performance of MMX compared to the modern Mac.
The Byte article reads: “Could an MMX Pentium outperform a high-end Macintosh? The answer: no. Although MMX delivered dramatic performance in some operations, overall, a high-end Mac still beats an MMX Pentium.” For those who enjoy and understand the technical side of these things, the article even includes bar graphs.
CONTINUING REACTION TO THE NeXT DEAL
Web Techniques finally had something to say about Apple … albeit not necessarily something nice. In the March edition’s letter from the editor, Michael Floyd (you know, the editor) first explains that the purchase of NeXT by Apple “appears to be Apple’s first smart move in a decade. NeXT technology is superior in many ways to most operating systems on the market.” And Floyd is very partial to the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. But in the end, Floyd doesn’t really see how buying a corporate-oriented technology is going to help all the graphic artists out there currently using Macs. His bet is that the disruption caused by the incompatible Apple systems, along with an under-developed Internet strategy, will be too much for the Mac platform to take.
Inter@ctive Week ran an article in its February 10th issue explaining that NeXT developers are optimistic about their new clout in the world of Apple. Recent reorganizations to incorporate the NeXT programmers into the Apple programming and development teams for Rhapsody have caused some NeXT personnel to float to the top. In fact, the NeXT developers are more worried about Apple’s marketing ability than the NeXT enhanced company’s code-writing skill. But one interviewee for the article speculated that “NeXT developers are failing to see they will have to compete against Claris, Adobe, (and) Symantec now.” I say let the games begin … competition is something that is much too hard to find in the Mac-supporting world.
One interesting and one bizarre quote from the same article:
The latest Mac OS Update, Mac OS 7.6, is finally out. To mixed reviews, of course. The reviews tend to depend on what was expected. Those who didn’t expect much were impressed. Those who wanted something to justify all the buzz about Apple lately were unimpressed. Or, in the words of PC Week (Feb. 3), “Uninspired.” “(System 7.6) brings together enough already-released system technologies that an upgrade is worthwhile, but it’s certainly not exciting.” Reliability and performance are better, say the publication, and the new Extensions Manager does make things easier, but PC Week joined a chorus of magazines complaining of the lack of a site-wide installation procedure. In the end, PC Week reports that there is nothing to get ecstatic about with 7.6 … but it is an overall better system. The upgrades to various software (Extensions Manager, CyberDog, etc.) are improvements, OpenDoc is fun, and Internet connectivity is easier. The system was given a ‘A’ for usability and capability, and ‘B’s for performance, interoperability, and manageability. There was one under-emphasized warning in the article, however, that other publications did pick up on. OpenDoc and the Internet software included with System 7.6 won’t work on Macs with 680×0 (non-PowerPC) chips. The Code Fragment Manager has caused system problems in the past (as some unlucky AOL 3.0 users may have found out) and it wasn’t included in this system update. Apple is expected to have a fix for the problem soon.
OPENDOC’S FUTURE BRIGHTENS
PC Week (Feb. 3) ran an article detailing the increasingly optimistic outlook for OpenDoc. The magazine said some of its own experiments with the Mac version of the technology (a part of system 7.6) had “outstanding” results. The article also pointed out some other highlights in the technologies recent past:
An editorial in Internetwork (February) doubles as yet another obituary for Apple and the Mac. Saying that together Apple and NeXT comprise an insignificant market share, there is no way and no reason for the business world to bother with the OS now being built. In addition, the writer said that Apple’s share of the education market is beginning a long and permanent downturn. The marketing strategies of Microsoft and the PC makers are having success, and Apple’s customer service in years past has left a lot of school systems with bad memories.
The January 20 issue of InformationWeek included a strong warning to Apple to get its fiscal situation under control. The less-than-accurate fiscal projections since Amelio took over makes it look like the planners at Apple don’t understand the economics of running a business. And the magazine insists that the constant reorganization internally is bad for employee morale as well as for business relationships with customers, distributors, and developers.
A new columnist at Infoworld reads Apple’s corporate tea leaves differently. Mark Tebbe writes in a recent issue that the newest version of the company’s organizational chart (the one with the new names from NeXT) should serve to greatly encourage Apple’s corporate customers. Tebbe thinks the programming team assembled will be able to put together a solid OS, and the customer support for this OS will be improved with the new faces acquired in the NeXT buyout. Still, even this optimistic article is not without its warnings. Apple, says Tebbe, must stay true to its deadlines and not make technology promises that go broken.
A catchy acronym is always a good way to hype something … but in the world of business computing, there is no need to hype T2K, which, translated, refers to the “Year 2000 Crisis”. The problem is that computers have been built for decades with the capacity to store dates as six-digit numbers such as 970301 (March 1st, 1997). But that will cause a problem when, in three years, computers will be receiving numbers like 000301 and happily translating them into March 3, 1900 instead of the more appropriate March 3, 2000. The example often used is that of a bank computer deciding your next mortgage payment is one month after 991202 (December 2, 1999), recording the upcoming date as 000102 (January 2, 1900), and then instantly realizing that you are a circuit-frying 99 years behind schedule on your payments. The potential problems are endless, especially in the financial community. The real issue is that this is not something that can be easily fixed. Storing and translating numbers gets right to the core of what computers do, and the method in which they do that is not something that can be solved with a simple software patch. Hundreds of billions of dollars may have to be spent world-wide to help computers cross that bridge to the 21st century. But not, as the January 27 issue of Computerworld points out, in the world of Macintosh. For some reason (I’m not an engineer), Macs are designed “to handle dates differently. (They) use a 32-bit value to store seconds beginning at 12:00:00 a.m., Jan. 1, 1904, and ending at 6:28:15 a.m., Feb. 6, 2040.” (If you think I’ll ever be able to explain that to you, you have seriously over-estimated me.) At any rate, Macs have a couple extra decades to deal with their crisis. Which means, of course, that it won’t be necessary. “Rhapsody (the NeXT OS) will include a method for coping with any date between 30081 B.C. and A.D. 29940.” So, you’ll be able to use that 1998 Macintosh well into the 300th century.
Grant Cassiday (GBCassiday@aol.com)