By now, I'm sure everyone reading this has heard about Apple Computer, Inc.'s purchase of NeXT Software, Inc. to revitalize their next-generation operating system plans. I'm sure you've also read the editorials of countless pundits in the media who are evaluating what this shift in direction means for Apple. Well, this pundit would like to give you his perspective on the situation.
First, let me say that I truly feel it is a sad testament to Apple's mismanagement over the years that we could be at this crossroads today. Microsoft went from selling yet another version of DOS to selling an operating system -- Windows NT -- that is technically advanced by any standard. By comparison, the MacOS -- as it is now known -- has languished and in many ways gotten worse over the years.
First, Apple spun off Taligent for their next generation operating system future. Taligent is still around, but I'm not sure that anyone cares (or should care, frankly). Thousands of man-hours of work, money, and more importantly time, spent for naught.
Then we have the ill-fated Copland and Gershwin projects. Sure, some research and development can be salvaged from these projects, but their collapse is a poignant reminder that Apple squandered their technological lead. The fact of the matter is that the MacOS doesn't have a clear technological or ease of use edge over the competition, which is likely no small factor in Apple's dwindling market share.
So now we have the acquisition of NeXT. I've long been a fan of NeXTSTEP; in fact I have the original NeXT programming references in my office, dating back from 1990. The operating system is powerful, but more importantly it provides a stable foundation upon which NeXT built a killer set of development tools, as well as an excellent user interface.
The problem I see is that this new operating system (code named "Rhapsody") will require Macintosh programmers to forget what they've learned over the past decade, and learn an all new way of writing applications. Faced with such a situation where a developer will have to spent a significant amount of time learning a new OS, I wonder how many Mac developers will spend that time learning Win32 instead?
I'm as unhappy about the situation as anyone. Perhaps more so, because my business depends on Apple being a viable company. However there are a number of areas where Apple is in trouble, and I can't help wondering how in the world they can dig themselves out.
For instance, Apple's retail presence (both hardware and software) has diminished significantly over the past few years. I'm lucky to find a couple of non-functioning Macs on display at CompUSA, and Egghead Software has stopped carrying Macintosh software at the majority of their stores.
How are new customers going to be brought into the fold when they see a mountain of WinDOS computers and software, next to a molehill of the same for the Macintosh? Yes, I'm aware that most Mac software is sold via mail order -- however that means customers will have to start out intending to buy a Mac for it to ever happen.
One of Apple's strongholds has been education. However, parents are more and more wanting their children to be educated on using the computer systems that are used in business. Preparation for the future, and all that -- it's a logical argument -- so how long can Apple hold on here as well?
The press has been rife with stories of Macs being phased out of companies in large numbers. NASA wanted to get rid of about 3,000 Macs. Nissan is getting rid of about 5,000 Macs. The list goes on; the fact is that Apple is in trouble.
Can a new operating system help turn Apple's fortunes around? As much as I'm optimistic about NeXTSTEP, I also know that it is a critical time for Apple. Most of John Q. Public already believes that Apple is either out of business or will be shortly. We know it isn't so -- Apple is an $8 billion dollar a year company.
However Apple has gone from 20% market share down to 5%; from the number one computer manufacturer to the ninth. It's a good thing that Apple is cleaning house and working with NeXT on their new operating system; I trust that it isn't too late.
Confidence is an intangible thing that can't be purchased, and few consumers will buy a computer system unless they have confidence in the platform. Here's to hoping that this new year, Apple will regain the confidence of the public, and just as important, its developers.
Ambrosia Software, Inc.