Claris and Apple

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser Apr 1988 (guess) - scanned

Just over five years ago, I fell deeply in love. The object of my affections? The Apple Macintosh. It happened at a software show in New Orleans when I became lost among the conference rooms. Bursting through an unmarked door, I was confronted by an incredible sight. In this otherwise empty room, 64 Macintosh computers were set out in readiness for one of the first-ever Macintosh seminars.

The Mac had been launched the week before and I'd decided it was an ugly little thing which would sell primarily as a result of Apple's marketing muscle. But seeing so many machines in the flesh induced feelings in me which had much to do with emotion and little to do with logic. After all, the darned thing had a poky little screen and only one disk drive.

Before I could escape the room started to fill with seminar delegates. I mingled with them and soon found myself seated at a Macintosh, trying to squeeze some results from MacPaint. I was hooked. I spent most of my time at the show extollinq the wonders of this new machine and how it would restore Apple to prominence.

As I'm sure you'll agree, my feelings about the Macintosh were probably right, but my views on Apple's market share were somewhat wide of the mark. From that day to this, I have never been able to justify buying a Macintosh. I've spent the last five years locked in that other world, the DOS world of arcane commands and incomprehensible software. I have managed to blag the odd Macintosh from time to time, but I've never been able to commit my life to it because I know I'll have to give the darned thing back. All that changed when I took delivery of a Macintosh SE.

In the past seven days, we've had a lot of fun catching up on the lost years. We've both aged a lot since our first meeting, but the flame burns just as strong. I'm grey-haired and somewhat heavier these days, while the Mac has acquired more memory, tons of software, a hard disk drive and a cooling fan (no, not me).

I had been asked for some personal details so I fired up Hypercard and built a stack called 'Tebbo's CV'. It took me five hours to produce what is probably not the best example of Hypercard's abilities, although it is fun roaming around my life in a way which is impossible with paper.

But then I began to wonder what really differentiates the Macintosh these days from other machines. After all, I could have produced a similar CV on the PC using Guide (which also runs on the Mac). And the PC has the optional Windows desktop. Had I decided to use a wordprocessor, paint program or spreadsheet, I doubt I would have been any less productive on the PC than on the Macintosh.

This must be a dangerous time for Apple. There are qualitative differences between the Macintosh world, the PC world and even the UNIX world, but the fact is that the gaps are narrowing daily. Five years ago, Macintosh was unique. The other manufacturers watched for a while then made a shopping list of requirements - 'must use a mouse', 'must have icons', and so on. The end results may fall short of Apple's well-integrated approach, but the potential buyers probably don't know that and, by the time they find out, it's too late.

It seems to me that Apple has a problem. It has created desires in users which are now being addressed by other manufacturers. I believe it has kept its prices unnecessarily high and supplies unnecessarily short - certainly in the UK. The result is that the number of Macintoshes out there is a fraction of what it might have been. An Amstrad is still a very attractive offering to the small user and the business user is only just beginning to take Apple seriously for anything other than desktop publishing.

Many business users spend all their time inside only one or two applications so they won't be bothered whether they get there through a command line or an iconic desktop. What matters to them is what they can do once they're in the program. Apple scores heavily here with its consistent interface across applications. But, unless Apple makes some unimaginable leap forward in technology or completely stifles the competition with its various court actions, the future will belong to the machines with the best software.

Of course, Apple recognised this a long time before I did. Its 'spin-out' of 82%-owned Claris was a recognition of the importance of software to Apple's own success. It wasn't easy for Apple to persuade other software developers to join in the fray when it was developing applications software itself. At least by setting up Claris as a separate company, Apple reduced this obvious conflict and encouraged the software houses. Hardware and operating system offerings from different manufacturers are now on a convergent course. I believe that AT&T has licenced some of the Xerox user interface stuff that underpins the success of the Macintosh. Hewlett-Packard's NewWave has a Macintosh feel about it, as does Digital Research's GEM and Microsoft's Windows. None, as far as I can tell, actually mimics the Macintosh and I'm not sure how close they'd have to come before Apple stood any chance of success in a court action against them.

But something to bear in mind is that Xerox is the company which developed the ideas that have led directly to the success of the Macintosh. There's no question that visiting Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre was a pivotal moment for Steve Jobs and his development team. It therefore seems inconceivable to me that Xerox would sit on the sidelines and let Apple walk all over Microsoft and Hewlett Packard in the courts. Unless Apple has a secret agreement with Xerox that none of us knows about, then it must be on shaky ground with its court actions.

One upshot of this situation is that the Macintosh environment could become the front end of choice across all operating systems. If DOS, OS/2, UNIX and Macintosh all worked in the same way, then most software developers would develop applications that offered them access to the largest market. It would only be a matter of time before many of today's Apple software developers became tempted to make DOS developments a higher priority than Macintosh. At least in Claris there is one major software company that will remain totally committed to Apple equipment.

If Claris can come out with groundbreaking software that everyone wants then it could well become the tail that wags the Apple dog.