MWSF ’01 – All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter

MacWorld, San Francisco has come and gone. We’ve seen some exciting announcements; we’ve seen some blatant omissions; and we can’t help but note that, once again, Apple seems to have purchased itself some time. Time is of enormous importance to the company right now. It needs time for Motorola to produce a faster chip. It needs time for developers to jump on the OS X bandwagon. It needs time to produce a stable, viable version of OS X. It needs time to sort out its priorities.
The company, in fact, has spent an enormous amount of money, development, time, and marketing energy on OS X. After all, OS X is a modern operating system offering pre-emptive multitasking, multi-threading, and a whole series of other enormously important features that I don’t fully understand. On top of that, it boasts a whole new screen experience with a lickable Windows toolbar and a Finder that’s, well, difficult to find. On the other hand, the UNIX base should appeal to virtually no one. (UNIX users already have committed themselves to nerdy interfaces. Can you imagine running vi on a Mac?)

Let’s be honest about OS X. If Apple doesn’t have an Enterprise strategy with System X as the base, then the company is lost in the woods. On the other hand, if Apple does have an enterprise strategy, it will have to go up against Windows 2000 and the evil empire and we know how Prince Hamlet has faired in the past. One mention of the lack of Office support and it’s back to the ramparts..

I’m a fairly serious chess player or at least I once was and I see only one line here that makes sense. Apple needs to continue to exploit the home market while re-establishing itself in education. Key to its survival, however, is its penetration of the business market. In order to make any headway there, it has to offer a modern operating system (OS X) AND support for other platforms based on the Intel chip. After all, I can go down to my local base exchange and purchase a Compaq Computer featuring a fast processor and a sizeable hard drive for around $500. (I know that when you add the cost of a monitor and the relatively enormous hassles of coping with Windows’ problems, it will make a difference. Unfortunately, the average consumer or businessperson doesn’t even consider an alternative..)

Thus, the key to Apple’s success (as I’ve been suggesting for years) is to become a software company. It has to emulate Microsoft to be as successful as Microsoft. And given the impressive feature set in System X, Apple could win some skirmishes and later some battles and who knows…maybe even the war.

Beyond that looming battle, what about the rest of us? System 9 has been stable enough for me. I realize that at this point in its development it’s a slightly cobbled together system with all sorts of error fixes and the like, but it works and it’s comfortable. I like System 9. I’ve tried to download System 9.1 but so far I’ve only managed 10 of the 15 files. The demand on the Apple server speaks volumes.

What I’m suggesting here is a two-track strategy. Keep developing System 9 for home users and educators while introducing System X for the enterprise market. System 9 is gold and it may not glitter next to OS X, but it shines for me and for literally millions of other Mac users.

Mick O’Neil

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