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Copyright 1998 by Bill Fox
January 5, 1998
I've used personal computers extensively since 1982, computers that work with DOS through Windows 95 and those that work with Apple DOS, ProDOS and the Mac OS from the Lisa through today's PCI PowerMacs--before that were programmable calculators and main frames. Initially, I developed software applications for all of these operating systems. Now largely a consumer/user rather than a software developer, the personal computer is still essential to my interests and livelihood. There is no question in my mind that the Mac OS is the very best personal computer operating system, making work on a personal computer the simplest and easiest of all of them. Without the Mac OS, I would be far less productive. Apple also has built the highest quality personal computers. For these reasons, I not only want Apple to persist but to thrive and grow and be a mainstream player at the cutting edge in the personal computing environment.
For 1997, I suggested the following goals and objectives:
1. Spread the Mac OS as far and as wide as possible.
This suggestion took a severe setback in mid-1997 with the near end of Mac OS licensing. Apple alleged that Mac OS licensing had not significantly increased the Mac OS installed base and had resulted in significant "cannibalization." On the one hand, the demise of the Mac clones by Motorola and PowerComputing was blamed on Apple Interim CEO Steve Jobs' personal whim and, on the other, Steve Jobs' claim that they would not agree to new license fees (whether quadruple the old or more) that would make licensing the Mac OS profitable for Apple. The Apple installed base is huge, on the order of 20 million computers, but this base will surely shrink without a strategy for increasing those numbers. I am sure that Apple has one, it is just not sharing it as broadly as in the past and this may be a good idea.
2. Simplify the main Mac line, make it customer configurable, offer cutting-edge innovation and focus on value for the premium charged.
Apple has clearly pursued this direction.
3. Stabilize the Mac OS and make it bulletproof, but with real multitasking capability and protected memory.
Apple has done this as well. The Mac OS 7.6, 7.6.1 and 8 releases made tremendous progress and it continues with 8.1 and 9.0 (?) due out in 1998.
4. Re-think its marketing strategy of producing computers in bundles that look a lot more expensive when compared in ads with less well endowed PCs.
Good progress has been made in this area, partly because Macintosh features were reduced and the line simplified and partly because Wintels became better endowed.
5. Finally, Apple must pay more attention to the retail point of sale.
Apple began paying more attention to this issue in 1997 with, for example, the Apple Store Online and the Apple store-in-a-store in CompUSAs. Apple also began working more closely with its direct resellers, cutting out several large middlemen. However, there is a very long way to go and vastly improved retailing is essential to Apple's health.
Well, what about 1998? Were I CEO, and I am not, my vision for Apple would be captured in the words Quality, Elegant Simplicity, Innovation and Speed--in that order. To achieve this, there are four key areas that need the strictest attention:
1. Apple must develop a solid strategy for the low-end home and enterprise markets where Wintels are dominant. Why? Because this is where the greatest gain can be made and the relationship between the two markets is synergistic. I think that despite Apple's excellent brand name that the best strategy still involves licensing the Mac OS and even the NeXT OS (Rhapsody) for these specific markets and subsidizing them as necessary. To compete on price, those computers if fully featured simply will not be of the quality that should be tied to the Apple brand. Apple suffered terribly from the poor quality Performas and PowerBooks produced in 1995 and that should be a lesson learned. The Apple brand should be the quality computer in each market that it competes. Another possibility is an Apple-branded high quality but low featured computer, essentially a motherboard, power supply, superdrive and high-styled case to which very cheap peripherals (or Apple-branded quality peripherals) can be easily added. Rumors circulating about Apple's Network Computer project come close to meeting this possibility.
2. Apple must move in the direction of the Macintosh's original principal appeal--simplicity. While PCs have been moving ever so ponderously in the direction of simplicity (e.g. Windows 95 "plug and play" and color coded cables), I think Apple has been moving the direction of PCs--complexity. Apple must be moving in the opposite direction. Some confuse complexity with features. Apple should add features in a simplified manner, i.e. when a feature is added it should be simple, at least the simplest on the market to understand, install and use. A case in point is the movement from MacTCP/PPP technology to the much better TCP/IP/PPP (Open Transport) technology for internet connectivity--the degree of complexity for an already-too-complex area went way up when it should have and could easily have gone down.What was Apple thinking in this area so critical to the future of personal computing?
3. Apple must be the leader in pushing the cutting edge in key personal computing areas that expand usability. This has been an Apple staple but it has been too diffuse for a company of Apple's size. DVD drives, FireWire serial ports, 3D video acceleration, super fast CPUs, Network Computers, etc. all should be staples for Apple computers. By the same token, there is no reason for not providing standard PC parallel and video ports to use standard PC peripherals. It is exasperating to spend a lot more money on the very same product or not be able to use it at all simply because of the port configuration that Apple provides. This incompatibility is a legacy that must be done away with and the sooner the better.
4. Apple simply must fix the retail channel. Wimpy marketing will lead to Apple's death. This means finding ways to counter the unconscionable crusade against Apple and the Macintosh in the retail market and in the procurement channels of major corporations, educational institutions and governments. It is like a holy war on Apple's products and on the people that like and use them--it is real, not paranoia! Apple shouldn't blame the media as there are ways to get the media on Apple's side. Apple should do a better job of asking people on the front lines that use its computers what often silly and easily-overcome things are being used as excuses to "wipe out the Macs" and then spend some effort countering them. Something as simple as there being no Microsoft Access for the Mac is one of them. I hate to say this but for Apple's own survival it needs to begin behaving like Microsoft--get aggressive!
Apple! Keep bringing us Quality, Elegant Simplicity, Innovation and Speed.
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Copyright © 1998 by Bill
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