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ATPM 2.10
October 1996




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by H.M. Fog,

Stay Wired, Stay Tuned, Stay Ready

The recent announcements from Apple Computer about the company's direction and soon-to-be-developed products are harbingers of exciting times ahead for Mac owners. There are many new products in the planning stages at Apple and development time for bringing new products to market is being shortened. There are also indications that there will be major changes in the way the company develops and releases software.

How did all this happen in nine months and just what does all this mean for Mac owners? Stay wired, stay tuned, stay ready...

Hiring Dr. Amelio and restructuring Apple's management team represented not only a change in top management but also a change in business approach and strategy. As I mentioned in ATPM's August cover story, Apple's latest offerings built around the 604e chip are a significant increase in technology masked by familiar product names. The company has chosen to use more standard components in its hardware and to reduce the number of overall motherboard designs, thus making manufacturing more efficient and less costly.

Recent reports indicate that Apple will once again be manufacturing computers in a broad range of prices and configurations, including lower cost computers and computing appliances. The current management team has made a tough choice: canceling products and revamping production schedules in order to improve the manufacturing process, increase efficiency and reduce the cost of computers to the buyer. This has meant reducing sales in the short-term to position the company for efficient growth and a return to profitability. The management team should be applauded for these important steps. It takes commitment and vision to make the decisions that are being made.

When I began writing for ATPM, I thought it would be a fun way to share my limited knowledge with my fellow Mac owners. I enjoy reading ATPM and I very much like that the e-zine is targeted to the every day user. For this reason, the focus of this article is less about technical changes and more about how Mac users will benefit from the new direction and changes at Apple Computer.

Before moving forward, let's take a minute and look back several months. At the beginning of 1996 Apple Computer had been experiencing a drop in market share, in large part resulting from a seemingly confused approach to the consumer market. The company had released the Power PC machines, but was still offering a line of computers which used the more dated 68k chip technology. In addition, the ease-of-use of the company's computers and the full "Macintosh story" were being muted in advertising and press media by the bloated budgets promoting the release of Windows '95 and numerous 'apples and oranges' comparisons by other competitors. Apple was also falling behind on the development of the next major upgrade to the Mac OS.

It is this writer's view that Apple Computer was struggling with the basic question of whether it was a software company that required proprietary hardware or a hardware company that used a proprietary OS. The lack of an answer to this basic question left the company without a clear focus and definitive approach to the marketplace.

Quite recently Dr. Amelio indicated that one of Apple's most underutilized assets is the Mac OS. This signals not only a change in priorities for the top management at Apple but is a significant and fundamental modification of the company's approach to the personal computer market. It also sheds light on the remapping of Apple's business plan and corporate strategy. To better utilize the underlying value of the operating system, Apple will need to release incremental upgrades and make the upgrades available to the public at a user satisfactory price. It will also mean a continuing effort to license the Mac OS to more third-party hardware manufacturers.

By changing its fundamental approach to the personal computer market, Apple is stating that the Mac OS may have far more value to the company's future growth and development than does the computer hardware itself. You may be wondering by now what all this means to the personal computer user at home, at school or in a home-based or micro-business. The answer is: plenty.

In addition to the Mac OS, Apple owns Claris Corporation. In the past couple of months I've had the opportunity to demonstrate the Mac OS and Claris software to two clients in particular that had never used a Mac. Both clients were impressed with the ease-of-use and superior performance of the Mac OS. One client went home considering the purchase of a small business system from Power Computing. The other client was equally impressed with the way that Claris' FileMaker Pro files could be exchanged across platforms. He has already acquired a Macintosh for his assistant and is now considering purchasing a Macintosh for himself as well. The Mac OS and its ease-of-use sells the hardware and ancillary software.

This change in market approach will mean a larger and better commitment from Apple to support developers thus increasing the number of MacOS applications. It will also mean the continuing development of cross-platform technologies such as OpenDoc. The more value the Mac OS has in terms of features and ease-of-use, the more hardware and software that Apple will sell. This is one reason the company will be investing large amounts of time and resources in developing OS 8. This major operating system upgrade will put to rest most comparisons between the Mac OS and its Windows counterpart.

A major benefit of Apple's new strategy to those of us who already use Macs will be a broader array of MacOS-compatible software. In addition, it will mean that MacOS-compatible hardware from manufacturers other than Apple will make their way to market. This should increase the presence of the Mac OS and hopefully extend the useful life of the new generation of OS 8-compatible Apple hardware.

Apple has also been more forthcoming about hardware products scheduled to be introduced to the public in 1997. This indicates that the company is quite confidant about its short-term direction. However, Apple's competition in the hardware and software markets will soon undergo a more difficult transition, similar to changes made when Apple first developed and then released RISC based personal computers. Inevitably, the "Wintel World" will need to incorporate the benefits of RISC technology or risk (pun intended) obsolescence. The bigger the company, the more dramatic the change.

Current Wintel users will eventually be compelled to replace their machines and upgrade their software with RISC-based products. By that time, Apple and its clone makers will have positioned themselves to take advantage of this transition. By that time, very competitive hardware and software options will be already in place. These will be quite attractive to the computer buyer. This will be an extraordinary opportunity for Apple to increase the market share of Macintosh hardware and software. The hardware releases planned for 1997 are an exciting preview of what's to come.

Stay wired to Apple on the WWW at for more news.
Stay tuned to ATPM for more views. Stay ready for more changes ahead.

© 1996 H.M. Fog H.M. Fog is a west coast computer consultant who sometimes writes articles for ATPM. [apple graphic]

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