The Bove and Rhodes Report
Insight on computers and media | by Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes | Dec. 25, 1996

Eyes of the World on Apple

How much more attention can this company get? How much is really warranted? Apple owns less of a market share now than when it was considered the underdog. Now Apple even has competition in the underdog role, with its previous leader following the wise French existentialist's advice: just Be.

So Steve Jobs went back to Apple Computer, and Apple will own the NextStep system and put it to good use on Apple hardware. Steve will now play the role of visionary for the original company he founded. Is all this good news for Apple developers?

The press thinks, mostly, that it is good news for Apple. Quite a few favorable stories followed the sizzle and left out the details, such as the fact that Steve got no stock in Apple in the acquisition of Next Software (Dave Winer pointed this out in a DaveNet piece).

No stock? That means no risk. Steve can juggle the future of Apple without any impact on his personal wealth. That doesn't sound too good for developers who invest a lot more in Apple than Steve currently does.

Steve may have the right ideas and the right plan, but the lack of a personal stake in this plan does not inspire confidence.

There were quite a few laudatory remarks in the press. The San Jose Mercury News (Dan Gillmore's column) was typical:

"The computer industry may be getting fun again... the future-fun potential comes with what Apple acquired -- Next's technology plus Jobs' world-class energy and charisma."

Lots of fun, and especially suspense. Will your Mac of today run the NextStep O.S. christened by Apple tomorrow? Don't bet on it. Does it matter? Not to the segment of the market I belong to. As a developer, I can't afford not to add new hardware to my arsenal. To the corporate users Apple is still, hopelessly, courting, it does matter, probably too much.

The developer that has to decide how to port software from the Mac OS to NextStep has lots to worry about, including the imaging model (Display PostScript or QuickDraw GX), the QuickTime layer that does not run on NextStep, and the need to use of Objective C for programming, something only NextStep customers do.

I heard a rumor that a group of Apple engineers are looking forward to ripping Display PostScript out of NextStep and replacing it with QuickDraw -- a project that would provide long-term job security for them, as it would take a long time to accomplish.

For the full details of the acquisition and its impact on Mac developers, see Henry Norr's column in MacWeek. Norr's summary: "Probably the biggest single threat to the Mac's future is that Apple's declining market share, inadequate tool offerings and inconsistent direction have already made many developers, including longtime Mac enthusiasts, waver in their commitment to the platform."

As for Steve, the typical opinion could not have been better stated then by Jean-Louis Gassee in a MacWEEK Commentary in 1993, in which Gassee pondered the idea that Jobs might sell NextStep to Apple and IBM in place of Taligent's "Pink" OS that never happened: "Calling Steve resourceful and persuasive is probably like calling Houdini agile.... We are dealing with a master of persuasion."

So what is the feeling like at Be, the company that would have been acquired had Apple been unable to reach a deal with Jobs? They were gleefully distributing around the office freshly pressed "BeOS for Power Macintosh" CDs and are planning a big buzz for Macworld San Francisco.

Gassee thinks the deal is great for Jobs and Apple, since the company's goals and market focus is the enterprise and business markets. "We at Be have long stated that what gets us up in the morning has more to do with performance, digital media and interactive design -- the "bit-flingers" -- than with the traditional office automation market."

So it is with a dramatic flourish that the alternatives to Microsoft are themselves gearing up for a pissing contest. Don't miss it!

-- Tony Bove, Dec. 25, 1996. Comments?

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Copyright © 1996 Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes


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