Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Why Save Apple?

Because It's Important

By David O. Dabney

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Many Apple supporters are much like the American left-wing intellectuals that supported Communism in the '30s. These supporters continued to back Soviet-style communism even as reports of starvation, corruption and executions started reaching the United States. Even now, as the Macintosh market share continues its free fall, most of the fellow traveler's voices promoting the Mac continue to only get louder and more hysterical.

At the Mac industry's largest trade show, MacWorld Boston, one attendee was asked about the overall mood of the convention. He answered: "It's like being at a deathwatch." Even with the release of OS 8, Apple has lost its CEO (Gil Amelio) and several members of its board, with more resignations to come according to the rumors. Apple is very much a company in a coma, with the attendant family of software developers, who have staked their living on its survival, and a determined set of other supporters, who have staked perhaps their own ego on its survival, crowding around the sick bed, arguing and quarreling with the doctors on the best treatment. With all this speculation and hand-wringing the question becomes why is Apple so important? After all, less than 6 percent of all computers sold run the Mac OS.

I can sum it up in one word: competition, the one thing that has made the computer industry so viable in the past 20 years. It is competition that breeds change and expansion, and it is competition that gets Microsoft, far and away the biggest player in the home computer market, off its butt to innovate (or at least copy the best).

Microsoft is a classic reaction company, doing only what it needs to get by. Two examples point out Microsoft's lack of vision: the Mac OS and the growth of the Internet. There is no one who seriously believes that Microsoft would have ever thought of creating Windows or Windows 95 if they had not felt the heat from the Macintosh. You only have to use Windows for about five minutes to get the idea that they did their best to copy the Mac without getting sued. (It's true that the Macintosh interface borrowed much of its look and feel from research done at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), but that was a full 10 years before the creation of the first Macintosh. And besides, Xerox never even manufactured an operating system with the research. It simply languished in PARC's facility.)

In addition, when Microsoft saw the exponential increase of the Internet as an entertainment and information medium, it literally re-invented itself to take advantage of this emerging market. Not only has it tried to play copy and catch up in the browser game with Microsoft Explorer, but it's also currently trying to use its marketing muscle to create other forms of Internet-based entertainment like Slate (www.slate.com), MSNBC (a cable channel partnership with NBC's news division) and the Microsoft Network.

It's true that, aside from Microsoft, there are many other operating systems out there like Linux, a free version of Unix, and the BeOS that could take the Mac OS's place. However, they neither have the ease of use (Linux) or the installed software and hardware base (BeOS) that the Mac does.

Apple's message, in the beginning, was "a computer for the rest of us," and that still hasn't changed, even with their corporate troubles. In the beginning, they knew they were an underdog, but with imagination they thought they could undermine at least some of the hegemony of the Microsoft juggernaut. And they did, for a while. They forced companies like Microsoft to include some of Apple's best ideas in their products, like the graphical user interface and Quicktime, making the personal computer not only more useful but more fun. Let's hope, for the sake of innovation, they can continue that course.

--David O. Dabney


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