The following text is copyright 1996 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

A reversal of direction?

Over the last few years Apple Computer has been trying assiduously to make its computers irrelevant to the general computer user population. It was almost as if an undercover agent for the ABA Consortium (anybody but Apple) was calling the shots from behind a curtain.

Apple's aggressive unwillingness to license its operating system which, for most of the last dozen years, was far in advance of anything else on personal computers, was the basic problem. Many things confounded the issue: higher prices than the competition, a consistent failure to deliver updates on time, always disappointing 2nd generation products, a not-invented-here mentality, misjudging the importance of standards-based networking, constantly changing marketing plans, strained dealer relationships, a confusing array of products, an inability to articulate a consistent vision, ignoring technological innovations such as the PCI bus, ... one could go on for a lot longer but you get the idea.

Apple's focus on private-label networking technology and the related disregarding of the most powerful technology trend in many a decade, the Internet, more than offset Microsoft's attempt to ignore networking altogether (since there were a number of vendors with solutions to the latter).

Corporate information systems people have always been wary of Apple products. They seemed a bit wrong somehow, made by fuzzy California hippies or the like. More than a few corporations banned Apple machines in favor of DOS-based PCs. To me this was like mandating tin cans and string and banning the telephone but such is the forward thinking of some corporate IS departments.

In the last year or so this started to accelerate. Apple's shrinking market share along with the introduction of Windows '95, though hardly innovative to a old Mac hand, gave new excuses to corporate IS departments. Hardly a week went by last year without another corporation deciding to cease new application development for the Mac. This even extended to a number of universities, once hotbeds of Mac usage and support. GUI-based internal applications, a natural for the Mac, would now only be developed for Windows and ported to the Mac only if someone had too much time on their hands.

Apple accelerated this trend late last year when it announced that it would focus on specialty (read niche) markets like desk top publishing, and de-emphasize the commodity personal computer business. Why would a software development company make the investment in creating Mac applications when the market would not be there? The 80/20 rule works in this case also, developing for Windows gives you 80% (or more) of the market, why expend the resources for the relatively small remainder? At this point, all too many of the new Mac applications, where they exist, are ported from Windows and show it, with the best example being Microsoft Word version 6.

Things may be changing at Apple. There is now a new boss that has not said all that much in public. However the licensing arrangement with Motorola is a good sign. (I would like to see a licensing deal with Compac or some other mass-market manufacturer, but it's a start.) The way things are going, I may still be using a Mac a year from now... I hope so.

disclaimer: My own positive view of the situation is not necessarily reflective of Harvard's (which is not draconian enough to mandate OS types anyway).