Is Apple selling its soul to win business customers?

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 04/92 item 01 - scanned

Did you see the Lotus advertisement which contained a photograph of Apple CEO John Sculley? It quoted his fulsome praise of Lotus 1-2-3 for Macintosh at the pre-announcement last June. In fact, the advertisement uses Sculley's enthusiasm to imply that he wants all six million Mac users to rush out and buy the product. Given that Apple is the owner of Claris, publisher of the Resolve spreadsheet, surely these remarks were taking the 'hands off approach a little too far?

Sure, Apple wants itself and Claris to be seen as two separate entities, but this is ridiculous. Unless, of course, Apple is regretting the 'spin in' of Claris and is now seeking a buyer. Even so, promoting competitors in this way is hardly likely to improve Claris' price on the open market.

Sculley probably thought he had good reasons for hyping the fact that Lotus had finally done something good for the Mac. And, make no mistake about it, 1-2-3/Mac is very nice indeed. Lotus has goodness knows how many millions of 1-2-3 users around the world, most of whom are in management positions. So, by committing investment to a Mac version, Lotus was signalling to the world that Apple's computers are OK for business use. Sculley must have decided that, on balance, Apple would benefit more from his endorsement of 1-2-3 than from making a similar endorsement of Resolve.

There's no way of telling from the Lotus advertisement whether Sculley subsequently made any positive comments about Claris, to put his praise of 1-2-3 in some kind of perspective. Perhaps he felt that Resolve was targeted at a different part of the market. But, even if he did make any mitigating statements, Lotus wouldn't include them in its advertisements. The fact is that Lotus has used Sculley's supportive remarks to shift our perceptions in its favour. And, short of a Claris advertisement featuring John Sculley saying: "Claris is wonderful because...", the damage to Claris could be severe.

Apple continued its discrimination against Claris at the recent IBM '92 Show. It had Lotus, Adobe and a few other software companies on its stand, but no Claris. Once again, this could have been for good reasons. Maybe Apple thought it would be taken more seriously if companies known to the PC market wore exhibiting.

But no. Apple is so obsessed by the need to appeal to corporate UK that it even focused its show handout on the excellence of the Mac as a DOS machine. The front page reads: "If you are looking for an MS-DOS-compatible personal computer, Apple has something that may surprise you. Apple Macintosh." I ask you. I wonder if this abject grovelling really puts Apple in a better position or whether it makes it look foolish. Apple is portraying the computer for the rest of us as a computer like the rest of them. Even the screen shots on the cover of the brochure show, of all things, DOS directory listings in white characters on a black background. You'd be hard pushed to find a more boring shot of DOS in action.

The casual observer of this document would think that Apple had finally joined the opposition. After 80 or so words extolling the Mac as a DOS compatible computer, Apple starts to talk about what makes the Mac special. I suppose we should be grateful that it got there in the end.

Perhaps I shouldn't have gone to the show. Perhaps this is the sort of thing that Apple has been forced to do in order to make headway in its sales of business machines. Perhaps it has to kick its own sister company in the teeth. Perhaps it has to pretend that it's more proud of its ability to run DOS than of its ability to give users a truly satisfying computing experience.

Yet, looking around Apple's stand, I received another message, a message very close to the one I've just described. This was a message of interoperability, a message that the Mac can connect to almost anything. A message that the Mac can handle files from different sources, that it can read and write PC disks. All these messages were good and strong and would have enabled Apple to hold its head up high. Instead of saying, "We're like you", they said. "Whatever you choose to do, Apple computers will be able to participate".

I believe that Apple should exercise extreme caution. If it is to change people's perceptions about the Mac, it should do so without self abasement. There's a world of difference between a Mac that 'can run DOS' and one which is 'MS-DOS compatible'. The first implies that there's much more to the Mac, while the second is the standard claim made by hundreds of PC clone makers. Is that really what the last eight years have been for?