Apple as innovator, from Tim O’Reilly.

Just happened to stumble upon an interview by Tim O’Reilly (if you don’t know who he is, maybe this is not for you). In that interview he speaks of Apple as an innovator in the computing industry.

One of the comments in the article are what made me want to write a few things about it. One of the readers mentioned how much more exciting, enthousiastic and meaningful the computing industry was in the 1980s. And yeah, he did mention Atari, Commodore Amiga and one could also add Spectrum, Archimedes and of course NeXT, on whose Operating System, MacOS X is largely based. Think about it for a second: What MORE have people added in the 90s desktop and overall computing experience? Multitasking was there; GUIs were there (ok ok, much simpler, but still the concept was there); audio and multimedia was there (at least in the most advanced computers of the time — clearly not talking about your average DOS box).

The only difference I see is that computers do not cost €2500, but €800 and that more or less the same software in terms of features requires ten times the memory, processing power and storage. Even though I agree with Tim when he states that Bill Gates is largely responsible for the “ubiquity of personal computing”, I believe he is also responsible for killing the enthousiasm and passion behind the most challenging and interesting industry the world has seen.

With the rumours circulating on the web lately on the upcoming macintosh computers I am thinking that it has been almost two years since I broke off the Windows dependence and started working full time with alternative OSes. (Before that there were about 4 years of dual-booting between Linux and Windows). Today I work almost exclusively with MacOS X, occasionally using FreeBSD or Linux. I can safely say that things are very different. MacOS X is by no means perfect: 10.2 was the first version of the operating system which provided just enough for the average user to enjoy using his/her mac to a comparable degree to the one MacOS 9 was offering (when it comes to the desktop experience). And I hated MacOS 9! But every single glitch on the Mac makes you feel happy rather than sad; because the whole product is so much different to the Wintel experience. Because you see improvements coming towards you much more often. Because it is fun using it. People worry about Apple not being able to sustain its revenues with the dwindling market share, the constant price reductions on computing equipment and the Wintel dominance.

I think, for as long as Apple exists, the industry will have someone to copy; something to use as a reference for its designs and products, both in terms of hardware design and adoption (see USB, Firewire, 802.11b, 802.11g, Bluetooth and now most probably Hypertransport, PCI-X, 64bit CPUs) and software technologies (3d accelerated compositing desktop aka Quartz Extreme, rendez-vous, Quicktime MPEG-4 etc). I think Apple will definitely need to rethink their business model. I understand that price margins are what largely keeps them afloat. I believe they should charge more for their products than the average DULL computer or taiwanese manufacturer, because their products are worth it: They are of a higher quality both in terms of manufacturing and design and sport superior software. But they should be price-competitive when it comes to performance (something that will hopefully be addressed by Stevey in a few hours from now) and they should keep their prices relatively close to what ‘mortals’ can afford: there’s no point for Apple to keep losing market share or produce good but pricey products; I believe they have learnt their lesson with NeXT and the Cube and will try to diversify so that they can cope with the changing times.

I am very hopeful as to their future come this fall: They will have new machines with performance (at last) comparable to the one offered by wintel machines and a scalable architecture (although there are several technical issues involved which may inhibit the evolution of the PowerPC 970 aka G5, but that’s largely up to Apple’s and IBM’s investment in the platform). They will also keep on having the best desktop Operating System this world has seen both in terms of technical characteristics and elegance/UI. Apple has come a long way in the past few years. I believe every step it takes brings it closer to a position whereby they can reclaim part of their lost market share — something which although may seem unimportant to some, is critical when it comes to developer support for the platform.

I, for one, am I willing to invest in their computers, but only because of my lifestyle and current priorities. I can picture myself in slightly different situations where I wouldn’t buy a Mac. And I think a lot of people not buying Macs are in those situations. Where adding €500 or €1000 to their computer purchasing budget is not acceptable — even though some may know that the benefits are worth it. Minimum cost is important to a very large percentage of users and developers alike. I think it is time for Apple to consider seriously trying (even harder) to reduce the number of those situations by offering

  • lower priced macs
  • competitive performance to wintel machines
  • higher compatibility levels with windows.
  • a much improved development environment and APIs provided free to all developers.
  • low-end options
  • more configuration options for their machines as well as higher industry compliance.

Well, that’s all folks. Too tired. The page with Tim’s interview is here.

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