Macintosh may just wind up a victim of its own success at innovation
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in
Vancouver , Issue #328 February 6, 1996 High Tech
personal computers are members of that broad, ill-defined species,
the PC, which is somehow related to IBM's original 1981 PC.
But what about the rest? In particular, what about the 10 per cent
or so that are Macs--Apple Macintoshes?
in a funny
sort of limbo: many years, Apple Corporation ships more Macs than
any other computer manufacturer, yet is considered a fringe
Despite a reputation (based on reality) of being easier to use, easier
to network, and easier to add hardware to, it remains unacceptable
to most of the business community. Despite being the computing platform
of choice in most schools and among graphics professionals, and despite
having a strong range of word-processing, database, and spreadsheet
software, it isn't accepted in most offices. And despite continuing
to post strong sales of both desktop and notebook models, Apple Corp.
is considered to be in trouble, and a possible candidate for buyout.
current problems have arisen at a time when it has closed the gap
on much of what the business world has considered its main liabilities:
the price gap between Macs and comparable PCs has shrunk, and with
Apple's switch to models built around the PowerPC chip, new Macs run
standard office software just as quickly as do PCs.
ability of Mac
users to share data with PCs and even to write to PC floppy disks
and interact with PC-based Novell networks, and you'd think they'd
be able to build a stronger following in the business world.
have. Business in Vancouver remains predominantly Mac-based,
from the page designers' to the reporters' desktops. That's equally
true of many companies involved in publishing. But take a look at
Calgary-based TransCanada PipeLines--certainly not your
Mac shop. Macs were well-established there by 1986, and today there
are 2,300. TransCanada PipeLines likes the fact that there's typically
less user support needed, saving a bundle over the life of the machine.
Gartner Group have estimated the cost of ownership of a typical
business personal computer. They suggest that a networked Windows
3.1-based PC, running an average of four applications, will cost an
average of $41,000 over five years--much of this in unrecognized
costs. By comparison, an average Windows 95 machine will cost $35,859.
But a Mac, running the latest System 7.5, comes in lowest of all at
$35,124, with end user operating costs of about $3,400 per year.
however, Windows 95 systems are approaching Macs in overall cost of
operation, and in usability as well. And that's part of the problem
for Apple. Claims that "Windows 95 = Macintosh 1987" don't matter
to most users. They're more interested in what can they accomplish
today. With its newly added long file names and hardware Plug 'n'
Play (yes, available on Macs for a decade or more), Windows 95 has
narrowed the usability gap. And with pre-emptive multitasking, Windows
95 gets a productivity edge on Copland, Apple's System 8 operating
system, which might have it for some time next year.
problems as well--paradoxically, often as a result of increased sales.
Last year, it began seeking other manufacturers which wanted to make
Mac clones, hoping to expand the user base. But shortages in vital
computer chips have caused it to limit the number of clones that it
of popular PowerMac notebooks have kept sales restricted, and when
they were forced to recall their flagship PowerMac model (the batteries
started catching fire--including several in Apple's own offices),
shipments were suspended.
up, but profits
are down. Part of the problem is that Apple nets a lot less with each
low-priced model sold than it does with the high-end machines. It
wants to focus on increasing sales of the more profitable models,
but unless it builds its customer base, primarily through selling
more low-profit, entry-level machines, it will continue to be perceived
as a fringe platform.
loyal customer base, whose stability has been one of the company's
strengths. But to the extent that Mac users are seen as a sort of
cult group, it again becomes difficult to break into wider business
Apple and its
line have played an important role in the evolution of computers for
business use, if only by providing an example of features that the
Windows-using majority has tried to emulate. But while pioneering
features that are increasingly taken for granted by computer users,
Apple has remained outside the business mainstream. Rumours abound
of Sony, Oracle, even IBM as prospective purchasers.
Let's see if 1996 is the year that Apple finally becomes a victim
of its own success in changing the way we all work with our computers.