The Bottom Line

Source: Louise Kohl, "The Bottom Line," BMUG Newsletter 4:2 (Summer/Fall 1988), 287-288.
Location: M1007, Apple Computer Inc. Papers, Series X, Box Y, Folder Z.

Copyright © 1988 Louise Kohl. All rights reserved.

From the start, the Macintosh has been a machine that evoked strong responses. Practically before the first Mac went out Apple's door, end users and industry had split up into two camps: unquestioned partisanship and derisive contempt for a "toy" computer. Anyone who had heard of or seen a Mac had a definite opinion: pro or con-- -there was no neutral.

Now the Mac has developed into a computer even a CEO can love. And that's always been Apple's goal: get the machine into business and give IBM a run for their money. The operative word here, of course, is money. Companies, after all, buy computers by the truckload; the rest of us do well to buy one with a modem and hard disk. Those of us who have supported the Mac through all the lean times with nothing but the MacPaint spray can to brighten our days, don't always like this introduction of the corporate image. We're like a dewy-eyed lover whose partner has just sued for palimony. But there can be some advantages for all of us in this turn of events. It would be naive to assume that Apple isn't as interested in the bottom line as any other company-and we've certainly had enough indication that the end user isn't their main concern. If nothing else, the Mac's history is a study in patience. In 1984, who could have predicted anything like A/UX or any kind of Macintosh workstation?

The decision to make the early Macintoshes a closed machine was not as harebrained as it may have seemed at the time. Even the industry Cassandras who spent the years between 1984 and 1987 predicting a bleak future for the Mac will admit now that the time was well spent-both by Apple and by third-party developers.

He Who Does Not Study History...

The Macintosh was an innovative machine. The combination of its new kind of interface and operating system meant that developers and programmers had had to spend a lot of time getting up to speed before they could take full advantage of the Mac's special features. It also meant that end users spent a lot of time messing about with nothing but MacPaint and MacWrite. You didn't need large disk holders in those days.

Suppose the first Macs had been designed with an open architecture? Chances are they would have followed the Lisa into oblivion if developers and programmers had been forced to contend not orgy with the intricacies of the new operating system, but also with the traditional headaches of any open architecture machine. As it worked out, Apple gave everyone time to both master and fall in love with the Mac before blowing the whole thing wide open. But make no mistake about it. This was no serendipitous development; it was a Plan.

However, as with most long-tern plans, factors slipped in that were not part of the neat original. One of these factors-- perhaps the most important for the Mac's longevity-- the near fanatic partisanship of those early users. When unanticipated factors begin to show up, there are two ways of dealing with them. You can alter the plan in various small ways to accommodate them, or you can ignore them, as long as they seem benign. Apple chose the latter route. (p. 287)

The Mac's acceptance in the business milieu should be good for all of us. For one thing, it means we've gotten hold of a computer that will be around for a while. Getting into corporations may be difficult; staying there isn't. Businesses tend to stick with what they know. The reason IBM is so entrenched in the first place is that when CEOs started to look for computers, they saw all those Selectrics around and thought, "Well, they make a damn good typewriter."

More and more third-party developers will be producing more amazing, and reliable software and hardware for us to play with. And maybe at last we'll see some real end-user support-- even if the reasons for its late appearance are reprehensible. Doomed to Repeat It

The outlook is pretty rosy. But Apple has made one consistent mistake all along the way; and continuing to make it could jeopardize even their present success. Apple has always ignored the valuable contributions made by early and-- dare I say it?-- non-corporate users. This seems to me to be a very dangerous procedure.

Remember that first year of the Mac. There was damn little software or anything else out there to support any predictions that this computer would ever have a place in the business world-if in any world at all. The Mac was kept alive by a grass roots fan club while the only thing you could do on it was draw, write, and manage swine farrowing. Oh, yes; you could telecommunicate with it if you had a copy of MacTEP.

Programmers and developers (the kinds of folks you never see in a three-piece suit-- well, hardly ever) first played around with the Mac and tested its limits. They served it well. These folks have been around throughout the history of microcomputers, and they seemed to fail in love with the challenge of the Macintosh. They made the machine's reputation as a graphics computer before anyone so much as heard of desktop presentations. They were the ones putting out innovative (and otherwise) newsletters before Desktop Publishing was even a catch phrase, much less a Trojan niche. They made the Mac the computer of choice for musicians. They were, and are, the people who made it possible for Apple Computer, Inc. to expand their offices all over Cupertino and employ half of the population of the Bay Area. As much as Apple's engineers and programmers, they put the Macintosh on the corporate desktop.

Computers became an accepted part of business life in the first place because they are so good at all those complex, detail-oriented (boring) things that take up so much human effort. Computers are very good at adding things up and figuring out payroll deductions. Most of the Macs that have made it to the big time have been slipped in the back door by people who saw it as more than a particularly fancy adding machine. The Mac made its debut in art and graphics departments, introduced by much the same kind of creative, innovative people who have supported it from the beginning.

The Macintosh is not yet so completely accepted in the corporate marketplace that Apple can afford to forget this-- they'll probably never be that safe. They aren't going to push IBMs off desktops by going head-to-head on spreadsheets. They have to accentuate the Mac's real power; the things that make it both different from and better than any other computer. And the Mac's selling points are the ones that appealed in the first place to people who carry portfolios rather than briefcases. Apple owes a debt to those people. It would be better for all concerned if they were to acknowledge it.

Document created on 20 April 2000;