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Stupid Is As Stupid Does

By: Scott Bradner

Well I guess it's that time again. It has been a few months since I last talked about the ability of Apple Computer to snatch stupidity out of what seemed to be a smart move, but they have done it again.

Finally Apple is producing a new version of their operating system that will include inherent support for TCP/IP. In addition to the IP support, System 7.5 has a bunch of other features and improvements ranging from the 'why bother' through 'gee -- that's neat' to 'gotta have that'. Most of these features are not things that the user will exercise directly, even though the System 7.5 ads say "breakthrough functionality and ease-of-use."

The things that users do deal with directly seem to generally fall into the 'OK, I'll use that' category. An example is a feature called "windowshade" that lets you collapse a window (Can I still use that word now that Microsoft has a trademark on the term? Well, maybe it's OK since the trademark is on "Windows" not "window", I'll have to be careful though.) so just its title bar shows. It is an improvement, but not nearly as useful as the ability to reduce a window to an icon as you can in the MIT X-Window system. The new ability to read and write MS DOS disks is also quite nice even if many of us had been doing that for quite a while with third party software.

Most of the more interesting additions are enablers - they enable an application to perform a function that it was not previously able to do. MacTCP, the way that Apple spells TCP/IP; Drag and Drop, an updated version of cut-and-paste; and PowerTalk, as far as I know a not-to-any-real-standard electronics communications manager are only useful if there are applications that utilize the new features.

Why bring this up? Well, here is where the Microsoft "mole" inside of Apple made his, or her, move. Apple has priced this upgrade at about three times what IBM and Microsoft priced their own system upgrades, upgrades that made more of a difference to those operating systems than System 7.5 will for Apple. Apple is asking $134.99 list price with the cost running to many thousands for a large site. Don't they understand that unless the enablers are widely installed, software developers will have little incentive to rely on them? What use will they be if they are not used?

Why should I care? As I mentioned in a previous column, I saw my first Mac back in '83 and have used one as my primary or secondary computer ever since. When the Mac was not my primary computer a UNIX workstation was. When I first saw the Mac I concluded that these people understood the operational paradigm that I wanted to work with. I had seen the Altos at Xerox PARC so I was primed, but here it was and I could get one of my own. I now have 3, a VX at home that I'm about to upgrade to be a PowerPC, a Duo 230 that is my portable computing environment and a PowerPC 8100 at work. As an aside, in order to merge my two favorite computing environments I run Mach10, a full Berkeley-style UNIX, on all three.

I have recommended Macs to many people in the same spirit that I've recommended minivans ever since I bought my first one back in '84. It is some part of human nature that makes a person want to have made the right choice and gets them to recommend their choice to others. Apple keeps getting me into the position of having to apologize for my recommendation, and that don't make me happy.

No, I don't know that there is a Microsoft mole in Apple, it just may be a natural home-grown ability to do the dumb thing that is driving Apple so resolutely along the path of lesser differentiation of their product line.

Disclaimer: Although many people at Harvard use Macs and a similar number use PCs, the University takes no stand on these issues so it must be my own frustration speaking.