The following text is copyright 1993 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Aiming at the foot

By: Scott Bradner

Way back in 1983 I was part of a Harvard expedition to a maker of home microcomputers to see what was claimed to be a whole new idea in computers, something that people would actually want to use. Well, it turned not to be 'something new under the sun' (I had been to Xerox PARC a few years before) but it was exciting and very promising.

An advanced graphical user interface and a mouse is what set the Macintosh off from the rest of the crowd for the average user; its intrinsic networking features is what made it work in a crowd.

The next year, after the Macintosh had been introduced, I went to an early developer's tutorial for those in the education business on Apple's new networking protocol called AppleTalk. (Apple has always been good at arbitrary capitalization.)

The class had a mixed view of AppleTalk. While we could see the difficulty in stuffing a standard protocol suite into a 128KB memory space with something left over for an operating system, we were still quite impressed with the breadth of detailed design that went into it. Most of us would have preferred that Apple had instead gone with TCP/IP so that it would have been compatible with the emerging standards on our networks.

Despite this preference, the Macintosh is a computer born to networking. One uses the built-in networks to talk to printers, to access file servers, exchange email among other things. The Mac networking functions are well documented and easy to use. It was only a few months after Macs started to become available in the educational community that student-programmed, interactive, multi-user network-based games started to appear. If this seems "normal", you should remember that when the Mac was introduced, few computers of any size came with network interfaces by default.

Although Apple was asked to provide integrated support for TCP/IP by each annual meeting of the Apple University Consortium, it was a research organization (The National Center for Supercomputer Applications - NCSA) that produced the first widely used TCP/IP driver for the Mac. It was a number of years until Apple produced an implementation of their own which they called MacTCP. But Apple has never made it easy to get MacTCP; you cannot go down to the corner software store and get a copy. You have to get it through a, to most people, obscure developer's organization.

When it introduced the PowerBook series of laptop computers, Apple also introduced AppleTalk Remote Access (ARA) which is a way for a remote Mac to dial-in to become part of a local AppleTalk network. Since ARA allows someone on the road with a PowerBook to get back into their home network and read email, access files and all, it would seem that it would be included with all PowerBooks to make them more attractive but, no, not for Apple.

Now that Windows is catching up with the graphical user interface, Apple seems to want to continue to undifferentiate itself. It is not providing AppleTalk Remote Access and it is raising the cost for MacTCP and other products like MacX that make the Mac a better computer in a corporate or educational network.

If Apple wants their Macintosh computers to continue to be considered as something different (and special), they should exploit their networking abilities and provide MacTCP & ARA as part of the standard software distribution. It would cost them next to nothing since the software could fit on the existing disk set and keep the Mac in a class by itself.