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Letter from Leigh Harrison
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Response to one of my reports on Apple Computer

Aug. 11, 1997


From: Leigh Harrison []

Sent: Monday, August 11, 1997 4:23 pm


Subject: Truth

Dear Mr. Fasoldt,

Re. your Sunday column ...

Who is to blame for Apple's troubles? Years of inept Apple management for sure. Apple was too greedy when it was the obvious technological leader, too slow to license clones, careless with operating system stability after the Power Macs came out, slow to match the clone makers for both performance and value once clone licensing was authorized, and reluctant to commit the resources to upgrade its operating system sufficiently quickly.

The federal courts for sure. They allowed Bill Gates to steal - there is no other word - all of what Apple bought from Xerox ... and much of what Apple innovated on its own.

Information systems people at big corporations for sure. In most companies, they were the ones who were asked what personal computers to buy. Never mind that those guys knew nothing of personal computing - felt threatened by the whole idea in fact. They had a quick and self-serving answer: whatever system was least amenable to individual control, the most arcane, the most in need of their own private knowledge.

Plenty of guilt to go around. And journalists must accept a big chunk, too. Over the last year, Apple's has gotten it's old System 7 stable and much faster. It's introduced a new operating system that, if it doesn't have everything we were waiting for, is still a big step up. It's made the value of its machines strongly competitive with the clone makers and developed far more appealing configuration options. It's built the fastest laptop ever. It's offered performance in many demanding applications that goes beyond any wintel machine (that's real performance, not clock speed - though Apple's been leading the wintels there, too). Not a bad record, but you'd never know it from the press.

>From Apple's standpoint, the Gates' pocket-change investment is about credibility and perception, not cash. My guess is now that Apple will make it. How well they make it will depend on part on whether the press continues to buy the PC Nazi line that there can only be one broad-use operating system in the marketplace and that it doesn't matter if it isn't as good as it should be.

What are we in for if Apple doesn't make it? I had a telling glimpse recently. A State agency provided my disabled daughter with a new Thinkpad. I'd argued for a Power Book, not because I thought it made much difference what operating system she used, but because after 12 years of experience, I know I can personally keep a Mac running. I lost. The Thinkpad is an impressive piece of hardware, all right. Fine display. Good ergonomics and keyboard feel. Commendably compact. Seemingly fairly quick. No internal floppy drive, though, a strange omission.

The hard drive died on day three. That can happen to any machine, of course. But it took IBM two weeks to come up with a replacement drive. And now, the Syracuse Computer Store can't reload the operating software, because they don't stock it and IBM provided it only on the hard drive. No CD. No floppies. Nada. The software needs all sorts of product-specific drivers you won't get buying standard-issue Windows 95. One is supposed to make a back up from the hard drive on about 380 floppies. I'd searched the documentation for instructions on how to do it - no luck. I now know the system would have prompted me at random and taken me through the process, had the machine actually worked that long.

For my daughter, just starting at Le Moyne, the wait is tolerable - though she won't have the machine to use in testifying in Washington before the Department of Education this week. But if something like that happened to my one-man business, I would be in desperate trouble. And although I've experienced several hard- and removable-drive failures, I've never in a dozen years had a Mac down or incapacitated for more than 24 hours. I've never had essential operating software unavailable.

If past bad Apple management, our foremost modern day robber baron, and a knee-jerk press succeed in killing the promise that still is Apple, it will be a disgrace - one which I hope you'll stand against.



Leigh Harrison


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