Multimedia and Groupware - takeaways from MacWorld Boston

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser Feb 1989 (guess) - scanned

After the build-up, I had expected MacWorld in Boston to be much more exciting. In fact, it wasn't that different from Which Computer in Birmingham. I had expected to stick out like a sore thumb among all the bobble hats. I actually stuck out because I didn't wear a suit. This maturing of the Macintosh marketplace can only be good news for Apple, although I'm sure that thousands of Macintosh fanatics will be sorry to see the passing of the excitement of the early days.

Not that the show was without its uplifting moments. Fans who went to Jean Louis Gassee's keynote address would have been well rewarded. It was pure entertainment. Gassee cocked things up, the computers went wrong, he took a telephone call on stage and said, "I em on a stedge in frurnt of sousands of peeperl. Leesen." And he held the telephone out to deafening applause. This was Macintosh fervour at its peak. Gassee exploited his Gallic accent and good looks to devastating effect on both men and women. He concluded his romp around the technology by thanking the audience, not only for their business, but also for their love and enthusiasm. I can't imagine a top executive of any other computer company voicing such sentiments.

Sculley's bit was slicker, although he too had his fair share of hiccups. We were kept waiting for 29 minutes before the curtain went up. He said a power failure had destroyed everything 12 minutes earlier. (I couldn't help wondering whether we are all placing rather too much faith in a still very fragile technology.) I'd never seen Sculley in the flesh before and I was determined not to be taken in by his marketing gimmicks. Trouble is, I didn't spot any. He just came across as a really nice guy. Even in a more private session afterwards, he still seemed a very straight person. I was impressed.

The theme of the two sessions was multimedia. Most of the demonstrations were based on today's technology and they showed what a powerful medium it's going to be in learning, entertainment and in business presentations. You're going to read plenty on the subject elsewhere, so I won't elaborate here. Suffice it to say that multimedia is going to be huge business and will irreversibly change the lives of all who are touched by it.

Sculley gave an example of a tutorial on Mozart's Magic Flute. You can read the theory, you can listen to the music, you can see it being played or learn about the underlying structures - all in a sequence which satisfies you. And you will always get instant answers to your questions. As a private tutor multimedia has a bright and profitable future.

Still, despite Apple's efforts, multimedia wasn't the only game in town. Microsoft gave the best organised press conference. The subject was Mail 2.0, an electronic mail system which will run on multiple hardware platforms. Microsoft says its mission is "enterprise-wide connectivity". But Mail 2.0 actually goes beyond this into public messaging systems such as MCI Mail. Each workstation user need know only the name of the person they wish to reach, Mail 2.0 takes care of the routing and delivery. The participating systems maintain the directories automatically.

Mail is already integrated with Excel, Word and HyperCard. This means that you can attend to mail without leaving the application. On the Macintosh, Mail is a desk accessory and on the PC it is a 'pop-up' program. Software developers can buy a kit for $50 which enables them either to build a gateway between Mail and other systems, to integrate existing applications with Mail or to build graphical HyperCard applications which integrate with Mail.

With Mail, Microsoft is making a bid to provide the 'glues which holds workgroups together. The more developers who choose Mail as the E-Mail platform for their applications, the greater becomes Microsoft's already powerful grip on the industry. Other exhibiting companies like cc:Mail are going to have to work hard to stop this juggernaut. Not that it is without its flaws. One disgruntled beta user told me that the only way that Word on the PC can recognise a Word file sent from a Macintosh, is by looking for 'DOC' as the filename suffix.

Despite Lotus' efforts to get groupware renamed to group information management software, the original name has persisted. Until now groupware has really defined a loose knit collection of products such as electronic mail, project management, conferencing and multiple author documentation. These are computerised versions of what we can currently do manually. According to the speakers, the future lies in products which will improve our ability to work with each other. They talked of individuals sharing the same workspace in real-time over vast distances and of products which will properly exploit networks. Mail 2.0 is the start.

The advent of groupware marks the end of an era. For the last ten years or so, we've had a personal computer on our desks and we've been answerable to no-one. Groupware, however, will definitely change the way we work. The benefit will be greater synergy and access among group members. The downside is that we will have to surrender some of our free will for the benefit of the group.

Multimedia will appeal, in different ways, to everyone from the smallest child to the largest corporation and groupware will appeal to any business with more than a few computers. These two themes from the Boston show illustrate how Apple and independent software developers are teaming up to make the company a formidable force in all sectors of the marketplace.