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Busman's Holiday
Which Apple "Special Event?"
by Steve Wood
October 4, 1999

 

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Tomorrow Apple Computer, Inc. will host another Apple Special Event. It is widely expected that Apple's interim CEO Steve Jobs will announce the latest version of the iMac, code named Kihei. There has been a great deal of speculation about this new version, including rumors of possible multiple configurations, drawings, and purported photos of the new release.

In a surprise move last week, Apple's legal department apparently conducted a "special event" of their own. Several of the various Macintosh news and rumor web sites that had obtained and posted photos of the purported new Kihei iMac reported receiving a barrage of threatening emails, letters, and phone calls demanding removal of the photos. Legal action by Apple was apparently threatened if the sites did not comply.

MacWeek's Daniel Drew Turner and John Batteiger quoted business law attorney Rubin Turner in a midweek column as saying, "It appears that [the sites] violated Apple's copyright protection in appropriating the images." Apparently the sites may have violated "'common law' copyright" and/or be guilty of "misappropriation of trade secrets."

Apple has long been known as a litigious company, suing many various enterprises over the years for alleged copyright and patent infringement. Apple has also been on the receiving end of a number of such suits, most recently by Microware over Apple's alleged misuse of the trademark "OS-9."

Unfortunately, Apple Legal's alleged activities couldn't be more ill-advised or ill-timed. Coming nearly on the eve of the Apple Special Event that apparently will announce the Kihei iMacs, desperately needed attention is diverted from the new product to what appears to be a case of Apple bullying faithful and loyal Macintosh news sites. Apple has long benefited from the public perception of being the little guy battling the "Goliaths," Microsoft, IBM, etc. While I believe this to be an illusion created mainly by Apple and the Mac press, loss of this illusion may negatively effect Apple by allowing users and potential customers to see Apple for what it appears to be in this case, a large, rather heartless corporation, that pound for pound, may be far more avoracious than Microsoft and others ever dreamed of being!

This action also comes at a time when iMac sales and interest have slumped. The introduction of significant new features in the Kihei iMacs could reinvigorate interest and sales. Advance speculation of the Kihei iMac's possible new features by various web sites adds to the anticipation and excitement. Apple Legal's actions put a damper on that spirit, if not engendering a whole set of completely opposite emotions.

With all of the Kihei speculation and furor, Mac OS 9 is supposedly "ready" for release, but serious issues are being raised about its "completeness." Mac OS 9 will supposedly ship with known incompatibilities with a number of major, widely used applications and extensions. Various sources report major and/or minor problems with Adobe Type Manager, StuffIt Deluxe, Suitcase, MasterJuggler, Norton AntiVirus, Norton Utilities FileSaver, and Virex. Applications and extensions breaking with new OS releases is nothing new, but the Graphic Power site is concerned enough to post a notice entitled, "Beware MacOS 9 Disaster Looming.". This time it does seem a bit different in the late notice of what won't work, and even some incompatibilities such as the Adobe issue apparently created by last minute changes by Apple. Ric Ford's Macintouch carried the following posting yesterday:

We're hearing of significant compatibility issues with Apple's upcoming Mac OS 9, the major Mac OS upgrade due in a month or so at $99. Among other things, readers report problems [unconfirmed] in the late beta-test versions with Adobe Type Manager (ATM), Acrobat Reader, AsanteFast network card driver software, StuffIt, RAM Doubler and Speed Doubler, current Disk First Aid versions, Apple Telecom, Color StyleWriter 4000 series, LaserWriter 8f, the remaining (non-printing) part of QuickDraw GX, Macsbug and possibly Toast. Mac OS 9 reportedly is in its final test phase, with a new "ROM" file version. The multi-user file protection system apparently is weak, such that it can be bypassed by booting off a different volume.

All of the above closely follows the controversy Apple Firmware Update 1.1 for Blue & White G3's created by blocking owners' ability to upgrade those machines to the new G4 chip. The Macintosh News Network has posted an annonymous letter supposedly from an Apple employee that purports to explain away any malicious or avarous intent by Apple. PowerLogix may have made this issue moot with their G4 ROM patch, but Apple's continuing near silence on the matter leaves serious doubts about the whole issue. Depending upon whom you read, Apple made a serious, if innocent programming mistake, a despotic decision to protect naive users from the evils of "inferior" systems using upgrade cards and incidently increase G4 sales, or a parsimonious attempt on the part of a miserly enterprise who has hidden their enormous corporate greed in the sheep's clothing of being the underdog to increase sales of the new G4 machines by blocking the upgrade path in Blue & White G3's. (Even my glamorous proofreader, Annie, couldn't fix that last sentence, but maybe you'll get the idea:-).

The G4 Block came shortly after Apple discontinued the practice of allowing Mac magazines to distribute major free system updates. Mac Users Groups were not spared either, as their contracts with Apple were unilaterally amended by Apple to exclude such updates. A line of thinking has been advanced that Apple wishes to control and enhance the user experience in obtaining updates by this change. No one has been able to adequately explain, however, how downloading a 10-35MB file over a standard dial-up modem does anything to enhance the Mac experience. The whole thing has the feel of Apple working to maximize their exposure at the user's expense.

While not exactly a front burner item, many ClarisWorks/AppleWorks users are still waiting in vain for a more stable release of Apple's excellent integrated application. Last December when addressing the Cause98 conference, Steve Jobs told educators, "AppleWorks is getting a sustained investment. You're gonna be very happy with future releases of AppleWorks." We're still waiting for any such release. The gibberish that appears in the AppleWorks toolbar during sustained use of the product (usually preceeding a hum-dinger of a crash) is a continuing reminder of an empty promise by Apple's leader.

I could go on, rehashing the murder of Emailer, or the lack of an adequate replacement of the All-in-one for the education market whose absence has doomed my elementary to an evergrowing WinTel presence. I could point to problems like the Mac OS's inability to print to a directly connected AppleTalk printer, like the LaserWriter Select 360, while connected to an AppleShare Ethernet network (the inferior other OS does this as a matter of course), or the lack of an OS 8.5/8.6 compatible driver for the LaserWriter Select 310. I could point to HyperCard, which despite some rumors to the contrary apparently from Apple, looks pretty dead.

Going on and on about Apple's shortcomings isn't the point of this piece, however. What is the point is Apple apparently forgetting those who support it year after year and rather viciously going after a few of them last week. Almost ten years ago Apple rocketed to the pinnacle of personal computing interest under the leadership of Steve Jobs. It then started a death spiral, still under his leadership, that was only blunted by his removal from leadership. Mr. Jobs has rescued Apple from another death spiral in the last few years. It remains to be seen if there's some kind of corporate or personal character flaw at work that will cause the cycle from the past to be repeated by Apple driving away the very supporters it desperately needs. From this chair, based on the events of last week and the recent past, it doesn't look extremely promising. 

Returning to Apple's Special Event planned for tomorrow, let me offer Mr. Jobs some suggestions. Many are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but maybe he'll get the idea. Actually doing some or all of these things would considerably ease the tensions that currently exist in the Macintosh computing world that are the direct result of Apple's "ill-advised actions and inaction" (substitute "incredible corporate arrogance and heartlessness" there if you wish). Let's hope he might:

  1. Open the event with a public apology to Dan Knight and others over Apple's Legal's ill-advised actions. My personal thanks go out to MacAddict webmaster Niko Coucouvanis for leading MacAddict's Friday postings with this suggestion.
  2. Acknowledge the significant contribution of the many Mac news sites to the Mac computing platform and Apple Computer's welfare in general. Sites such as Dan Knight's, or Bill Fox's MacsOnly, or the Macintosh News Network, for example, perform a valuable daily free service for Apple Computer. Many of the Mac sites barely exist at the breakeven level, so their proprietors must be doing it for something other than money. Maybe a little public appreciation of their Macintosh loyalty is due, rather than unleashing Apple Legal upon them.
  3. Announce that stripping Mac Users Groups and Mac magazines of the privilege of distributing free Apple system updates was a very bad idea and announce the reversal of that policy. Downloading large updates or fixes over a standard dial-up modem does nothing to improve the Macintosh computing experience.
  4. Announce with the release of OS 9 the release of System 7.6.1 as a free download. Allow both Mac magazines and Users Groups to post it to their sites or distribute the upgrade on CD.
  5. Announce and produce a more stable release of AppleWorks. Some time ago rumors floated that Emailer would be integrated into such a future release. Since the promise of such a release is as yet unkept, maybe now is the time to go public with such plans and then actually carry them out.
  6. Announce and fulfill a new policy of openness in dealing with the users and the news media. If Apple is going to kill a technology or application, be honest and say so. Stop the alleged practice of disinformation concerning future releases. Floating rumors of what will or will not be included in future releases only complicates users planning and decisionmaking.

Finally, Steve Jobs and company should go back to number one and consider what ill you have done to an honest and upstanding individual. Those of us who know Dan Knight can attest to his integrity and selflessness. He's done a lot for the Mac platform. He certainly deserves better treatment from Apple Computer, Inc. than he got last week. 

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©1999 Steven L. Wood

reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/5/2000