Confessions of an Accidental Evangelist

By Mick O’Neil

Having been raised an Irish Catholic, the word “evangelist” evokes
religious overtones. Webster defines it in terms of “one of the four biblical evangelists” or a “revivalist.” My Word thesaurus suggests I substitute “preacher,” “missionary” or “crusader.” When it comes to companies promoting goods, I am more comfortable with the term “salesperson.” Evangelizing the Macintosh suggests that perhaps we consumer “natives” require Apple missionaries to educate us. As I note below, this is one of the longest sustained marketing blunders in the history of commerce.

Nevertheless, I suppose in a way I am an “accidental evangelist.” That is, people come to me and ask for my advice, and do so knowing that I have no commercial interest whatsoever in the outcome. Because of my broad background in installing, trouble-shooting, and maintaining PCs and PC software (Windows, DOS, NT, Novell, and the like) and my similar experience with Macs, I act as kind of an unbiased local guru.

In that role, I suppose over the years I have “accidentally” sold dozens of Macintosh computers – not out of loyalty to Apple, but rather because the Mac’s hardware and System’s interface deliver accessible power not available from any competitor. John and Mary can make it dance with the angels, and so can their parents and teachers.

Of course, I try to give balanced advice. There are some situations where, because of a previous investment in software and training or compatibility with existing systems, the choice between a Mac and a PC is a close call. For most users, however, the Macintosh is still the obvious choice.

I believe there are thousands of “accidental evangelists” like myself who, to a large extent, are responsible for the Mac’s past success. Over the past year, however, I’ve noticed a number of first-time users have ignored our advice and purchased Windows 95 machines. Incredibly, they do so because they’ve identified Windows 95 as the conservative choice. Many of these decision are based on the public perception of the state of Apple Inc. and Apple products and is a testament more to the marketing failure
in Cupertino than to questions about local credibility.

It’s time for Apple to recognize the role of the “accidental evangelists”
and restore the leverage we once had when Apple produced dynamite
products and the competition countered with a new version of MS-DOS. In that light, I offer my top ten New Year’s resolutions for Apple Computer for 1998 – all designed to give us back the high ground that the Macintosh warrants.

10. Simplify, simplify, simplify

When there were just a few Mac models available, Apple could predict
demand more accurately, rely on fewer suppliers, and ship products
on time and in quantity.

9. Market the Mac’s Strengths

It’s not easy explaining why the Finder is so much easier to use than the Windows 95 desktop or the abominable File Manager, but it is easy to explain expansion via the SCSI (or FireWire) port, MultiMedia ready systems with video in/out, and the graphics advantages of the Mac.

Apple incorporated a SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) bus
in the Mac years ago and never convincingly marketed this feature.
Today, when the average user needs to back up gigabytes instead of megabytes, that SCSI port takes on even more importance. Apple should demonstrate how easy it is to expand the Mac – no board to install, no jumpers to switch, no interrupts to assign, and no extra cost to the consumer. At the same time, a little preview of FireWire technology would be impressive.

When Apple introduced true MultiMedia capability on the Mac, there
was a sudden rush in the PC world to label almost every system
“MultiMedia ready.” These “MultiMedia systems” included a sound
board and an internal CD-ROM drive. They generally did not include
video in/out capabilities that were already available for the Mac. If you purchased a video digitizing board for a PC, you were saddled with an often complex installation job requiring you to find an interrupt (or IRQ) that did not conflict with the sound card, the SCSI card, or any other expansion card that had been previously installed. Windows 95, with its “plug and pray” capabilities improved the situation, but only if you were lucky enough to buy a card that Windows recognized. Apple could easily
show off the real MultiMedia machine.

The Mac is still the overwhelming choice of graphics professionals because the interface is solid and memory hungry graphics programs work well in concert on the Macintosh. The company should show
off a Mac running PageMaker, GraphicConverter, Illustrator, Word,
and perhaps SuperPaint and demonstrate how easy it is to move data between these programs without worrying about the dreaded system crashes that plague the PC world.

8. Fix Quality Control

With the rush to compete, Apple has gotten terribly sloppy with its hardware and software. Last month’s column (“Think Again, Think Technical Support”) illustrates part of the problem with just one series – the PowerMac 6500. Despite its roaring success, the introduction of System 8 was marred by problems with the installation CD failing to boot from some CD-ROM drives and with the new installed system failing to fully recognize some hard drives.

7. Fix Technical Support

Apple should announce that they will apply the same one year parts
and labor warranty, including sending technicians to people’s homes, to all their models. If the computer is another appliance, like a television, then people should not have to anticipate lugging a mini-tower and 17-inch monitor to a service department, especially in the days of direct purchases over the Internet.

Does the company really think an Apple reseller is going to eagerly work on a computer they didn’t sell? Compare it to car warranties. If you buy a car in Canada or elsewhere and then bring it in locally for repair, the local dealer is obligated to fix it, but anyone who has done so will testify that sometimes this service takes forever to get accomplished… while you wait. How about a loaner while your Macintosh is being repaired?

Apple has taken a small step in the right direction with its announced
30 day hardware guarantee. Another important breakthrough would
be for the company to fix the telephonic support system (Again, see last month’s column for a technical support nightmare).

6. The Newton MessagePad

The MessagePad is already a useful piece of technology, but for the kind of price the company is asking, the customer deserves a color screen, better integrated software, and a FileMaker compiler for creating MessagePad databases. If Apple gets the price/performance ratio right, the MessagePad still could be a potential winner.

5. Miracle in Cupertino

During every holiday season, I watch Miracle on 34th Street – a
movie in which an employee of one department store has the audacity
to advise customers to purchase some items from another store. After first reacting in horror, the management notes the popularity of the strategy and endorses it. Though this is all a holiday fantasy, the idea that ‘the customer is always right’ has been the hallmark of successful businesses for eons now.

I’m not suggesting that Apple dealers recommend customers purchase
Gateway or Dell systems (certainly not Dell!!!). Rather, it’s time for the whole Apple organization to recognize that the customers may be right – even if they elect to purchase PCs. That is, there is no “rest of us,” there is just “us.” And Apple has no monopoly on the right solution.

When the company gets off its high marketing horse, maybe corporate
MIS and government will take a fresh look at what Apple has to offer. Apple Marketing should remember that at the end of the day, they’re trying to sell equipment to people. Taking the stance that customers are only right if they purchase(d) Apple equipment is offensive – particularly to the key customers who bought PC equipment in the past. What would motivate them to go to a company that openly accuses them of past incompetence?

I’d wager there were very few of those corporate lemmings that Apple depicted in one of its famous commercials who ended up purchasing
Macintosh equipment. This sustained misreading of the computer market represents one of the longest running marketing blunders in the history of commerce. In the hierarchy of Apple blunders, it rivals the company’s failure to license the operating system until Windows was entrenched.

4. Offer an Upgrade Path

One of the reasons why Apple developed such a loyal following is that the company traditionally offered an upgrade path. That is, the Mac 512K could upgrade to a MacPlus, the Mac SE to an SE30, and so on. The company moved away from this policy when it expanded the number of models from two or three to over sixty… I suppose it just became too financially and logistically cumbersome.

Unbelievably, the pace of technological advance is continuing to accelerate and it’s time for Apple to once again throw us a safety net. We should be able to buy G3 based, 233MHz Macs with the knowledge that when the G3 chip matured to 400 MHz, we could buy an Apple upgrade. Even if it’s necessary to charge exorbitantly, the opportunity to upgrade could make a difference in purchase decisions.

3. Think Differently, Really Differently

Sorry, I couldn’t help it. What would prompt an educational
organization to buy computers from a company that commits grammatical
errors, however intentional, in its major advertising campaign? Some major PC vendors are offering universities stipends to ease their switch from Apple Macintosh to Intel-based equipment. It’s time to stop the rot before it spreads.

During the past summer I traveled to Tucson to put my son in school
at the University of Arizona. Out of curiosity, I checked out the “student prices” at the University computer shop and I was shocked. Across the board, the prices could easily be beaten by ordering through the net or via mail order. Kevin now tells me that he “takes a lot of grief” in his honors dorm for having a Macintosh and not being part of the Windows 95 “network neighborhood.”

Where is the Apple University Consortium when we need it?

My advice to Apple: Get back into the Universities fast and at a loss if necessary. The education market is critical to your future success.

2. Make the Mac OS 8.1 Upgrade Free

I know, I know… you ask, how can a company as strapped for success
as Apple give away anything free? A free 8.1 upgrade would send a message to System 8.0 purchasers that the company cares about their investment, and it would do a lot to sell bundles of new System 8 upgrades. Again, customer loyalty to Apple would be reinforced, and the company could accomplish a marketing coup by differentiating itself from the more opportunist Microsoft.

Though some PR benefit might be derived from Apple’s donation
of part of the System 8 proceeds to charity (some estimates indicate
a cool million dollars a month so far), charity begins at home. A free 8.1 upgrade would demonstrate that Apple’s Public Relations program has matured beyond the Macworld soundbite stage.

1. The Mac NC, the “Next” Insanely Great Machine

The number one resolution – the strategy that could sustain Apple as the leading innovator in the industry, transform Apple into a market leader, dismiss Michael Dell as a desultory dinosaur, and give back the leverage to all of us accidental evangelists is the introduction of an affordable Mac Network Computer.

The prospect of the Network Computer evokes strong emotions from
the user community. The NC, of course, is as inevitable as a Windows 95 crash (see “Paradigm Paralysis and the Plight of the PC in Education” in the November issue), but nevertheless, is already meeting resistance from some quarters. Some users are frightened by the loss of local customization and control that might result from relying on a centralized server, while others resent the very idea of working with less hardware. (I considered entitling the November column ‘Beyond File Manager and DFOCO’ in a take-off on B.F. Skinner’s ‘Beyond Freedom and Dignity‘ but then wondered how many readers were familiar with CP/M’s DFOCO or Skinner’s early 70’s work).

Apple needs Steve Jobs to organize a team of the best hardware and software gurus in the country, isolate them like the original Mac team, and produce a sub $500 Network Computer that will revolutionize
computing – first, in the schools and later, in the homes and offices. This task may not be as formidable as developing the original Mac, but could have an equally profound effect on how we access, engage, and process information.

Mick O’Neil (

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