Once upon a time, there was an insanely great computer company. It was great because it used technology intelligently to leapfrog the then current computer operating system which was called SOS. This upstart company introduced a user interface that made it easy for anyone to relate to a computer. Now a typical user could approach his machine with anticipation rather then trepidation. It was point and click easy. No longer would the computer system dictate to the user. No longer would users be required to insert arcane commands. No more orange screen or green screen with text. Now the user was in charge. The future for the fledgling company seemed secure. The year was 1984.
One of the original three wise men to bring this novice company and its new computer to the world was named Stevie Wonder. He was young, brash and not too patient with people who did not share his vision. He was a dynamo and a top notch salesman. He named the company Applesauce and the new, easy-to-use computer he called Delicious after the famous apple variety. Devotees of the new computer however, quickly chose to call it the Deli, liking its extensive range to that of the neighborhood delicatessen rather than the fruit. The Deli offered a world at your doorstep that was rich, diverse, exotic, and interesting.
The whimsical computer name, however, drew ridicule from the SOS camp. Naming a computer after a type of fruit was unheard of and considered frivolous. To launch his ingenious computer, Stevie Wonder approved a hard hitting commercial spoofing blue monolithic MBI. The commercial aired on Super Bowl Sunday and the computer world would never be the same.
The established computer universe thought the little company was insane to introduce this toy. In many ways, they were right. A toy was something a child could use but the difference with this new marvel was that a child would have no trouble to unleash the power that it promised. It was an insanely great concept… and it worked!
However, Stevie Wonder alienated as many as he attracted to this new platform. His outspoken attacks on the establishment were not looked on with any humour. After all, there was nothing humourous about SOS. To accomplish anything on that system meant sweat-of-your-brow determination. It was a throw back to the New England puritan immigrants who firmly believed in no gain without pain. Lets call this the Mayflower syndrome.
This Mayflower syndrome was not the only reason that hindered the rise of the Deli but it had a great deal to do with acceptance of the new toy. Although many flocked to Applesauce, this watershed in computer and interface design lagged behind the established text-only SOS. Eventually Stevie Wonder became less wonderful to many of his admirers and ultimately he was forced to resign from the very company he had helped to establish. Ironically this pioneer of the toy was kicked out of his company in one of the many power play games Wall Street loves so much. After all, this was not about superior systems; it was about money! Stevie Wonder was gone. What would become of Applesauce and the Delicious?
In the corporate world, a widget is a widget. Stevie Wonder knew this and so did his CEO John Skull, who had been recruited from a soft drink company. When Stevie left, Skull remained behind. Selling sugared water and selling computers isn’t that different, is it? Its all a matter of taste, vigor and pep, si? But John Skull, after almost 10 years could not get it right and resigned. Perhaps computers required more attention than adding extra sugar to the water, no?
In the interval, another computer pioneer, Geeker Gates, head of Softco, had led his SOS system along the path of success under the nose of big blue MBI. But he had seen the vision. He commanded that SOS replicate the Delicious interface as quickly as possible. Never innovate when you can imitate, he pontificated. After years of false starts and mediocre upgrades, the new system called Panes finally developed into a usable system. Not a good system or as easy a system, but one SOS users could migrate to. Panes was still built on the SOS foundation and continued to have many of its quirks but it simulated the Delicious and the new Panes users considered it good enough. Many still remained loyal to SOS (the Mayflower syndrome). Many gladly switched, only to encounter more pain–the transfer was not without problems. Even so, Softco sales of their Panes OS increased.
Geeker Gates became the richest man in the world. His rise to the financial top and the success of his company, Softco was chronicled in his book, “The Road I Look Back On”, published by MS Press. In one revealing chapter, he fondly recalled the many hours spent by the log fire (it was cold in Red Mountain, Washington) while he hand wrote his struggles. No one could accuse him of having his work ghostwritten. He had the stacks of lined letter size sheets in his shaky scrawl in the Softco archives. The archives location is in the basement of the small 5 room bungalow he grew up in.
During this transition of SOS to Panes, Applesauce was slowly losing market share. The Delicious system, although superior and still well ahead of the Panes system in usability, was not advancing as it should. Internal squabbles at Applesauce and multiple changes of CEOs led to mediocre products and the future looked clouded indeed. The hyena press lost no time in declaring the once proud company, beleaguered, stumbling, embattled, doomed, and finally, dead.
Apparently, these journalists all attended the same correspondence school where vocabulary and insight was limited. They all seemed to turn a blind eye to the startling report in 1998 that the top selling Panes computer company, Compact, had lost more money in one quarter ($3.4 billion) than Applesauce had lost in their 2 year slide (2.8 billion). Where were the journalists? Where were the Wall Street gurus? Certainly not hanging crêpe on Compact, the queen of PCs. It doesn’t take a digital genius to see that takeovers can lead to folly and that some segments of the press were biased.
The late 1990s also ushered in change at Applesauce. Suddenly, in a fast swivel hip play, reminiscent of a Super Bowl end-run, the previous CEO was out and Stevie Wonder was back in. But it was all acting. He wasn’t the real CEO; he was only making the decisions until a permanent CEO could be found. Perhaps it would be sometime in the new millennium. In the interim, he refocused and rebuilt the company. He introduced new products and set in motion Delicious next OS. It was music to Applesauce supporters’ ears and they rated his efforts with a X (10).
One of his new products was a new all in one computer for the “Me” generation. He named it the meMic. The name was a word play on the computer’s ability to mimic the more powerful top of the line models and still offer compact simplicity, and state of the art industrial design, all wrapped in an attractive low price.
In one short year, Applesauce’s stock had risen to landmark heights, the newest power models of the Deli were selling briskly and the meMic models sold off the shelves as quickly as they were received. The dead computer company would not roll over. It was very much alive and gave every indication that it would have a long and prosperous life. And, as they say, they all lived happily ever after.
Disclaimer: Any similarity of characters and/or situations to actual people/events is: a coincidence; unintentional; intentional; a misunderstanding; a gross misconduct by the author; grounds for impeachment; none of the above.
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Ralph J. Luciani