How the mighty Macintosh became the Betamax of the computer World

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in Business in Vancouver, June 16, 1992

Mac users of the world-- it's time to face facts. You're about to become the BetaMax owners of the personal computing world. Sell your Macs now, while they still have some resale value.

Don't get me wrong. Even though I've run Windows on a PC since version 1, I'll readily agree that the Mac has a superior operating system on a better hardware platform. It's not crippled by DOS's limited filenames, or Intel's segmented memory demands. Sure, it's easier to plug another device into the Mac's SCSI chain then to fiddle with a PC's mysterious IRQ settings.

But then again, video experts agree that Beta has better image quality than VHS. Have you tried to rent a Beta movie lately? Better isn't always good enough. Take notice---

--- Since Windows 3.0 was released in May 1990, an estimated 10 million copies have been sold -- more than the total number of Macs sold since  its release in 1984.

--- The MacIntosh Finder is more intutitive and easier to use than Windows' Program Manager/File Manager duo. But no one buys a computer to copy files. People get computers to run applications. And here, the Windows and Mac platforms are quickly becoming indistinguishable.

--- Most of the best-known Mac applications have already appeared in Windows guise. PageMaker and Excel have been available on both platforms for years; the newest version of Excel even uses the same manual for both Windows and the Mac. But there's an important difference-- both run faster on a PC than on a comparible Mac, and the comparible PC-clone can be bought at 50-70% of the cost of the Mac equivalent.

--- Even fringe Mac software is moving to Windows. It's a little ironic to see ads for MacInTax for Windows and MacDraft for Windows. MacIntosh software developers are drooling at the prospect of penetrating the 100 million-PC market.

--- Microsoft, the largest producer of MacIntosh software is putting most of its energy into Windows software, developing the Mac versions as an afterthought. That's no surprise, seeing that they developed Windows in the first place. But how about Apple? Claris, Apple's software division bought Hollywood, a presentation graphics package for WIndows from IBM. And they've announced plans to port most of their Mac-only product line to Windows, starting with their FileMaker database. And Apple itself is planning to release its QuickTime media software for Windows. Can HyperCard be far behind?

--- The Mac has established itself as the favorite for graphics and publishing, using these strengths to gain entry into often conservative Fortune 500 corporations. But PageMaker, long available on both platforms, is going to be joined by currently Mac-only QuarkExpress for Windows this summer. The favorite illustration programs for the Mac, Illustrator and FreeHand were both released in Windows versions this spring. And they've joined a  field crowded with excellent illustration software available only to Windows users: Corel Draw, Designer, Arts and Letters, Harvard Draw, and more. Suddenly, Windows is looking like the platform where the graphics action is.

As the Mac and Windows platforms merge, Mac users can no longer boast of the distinctive powerful yet easy to use software that made many PC owners suffer from 'Mac envy.' And Apple, led by an ex-Pepsi marketer, seems to have lost the drive and creative edge that it had in the mid-80's.

Apple's running scraed, and with good reason. Their "look and feel" lawsuit against Microsoft (for Windows) and Hewlett-Packard (for New-Wave, an innovative, but commercially unsuccessful Windows add-on) has been virtually thrown out of court. They've successfully boosted sales by cutting prices, but have ended up with lower earnings per unit sold, and still have a smaller market share than Windows. All they're left with is a dubious alliance with former arch-rival IBM, an alliance that has left many Mac owners feeling confused and betrayed.

The result? Like Sony and its BetaMax product, the Mac is ultimately doomed by its closed, proprietary architecture--- its lack of clones. Windows may only provide 80% of the Mac's ease of use, but for many users, 80% is close enough, especially as that 80% can be provided on hardware that may cost thousands less that its Mac equivalent.

My prediction-- there'll always be a strong and loyal base of MacIntosh users. But then again, there's still a large base of loyal Commodore 64 users. Really ! But within a year, two at the most, sticking to a Mac is going to seem like running the world's most expensive Windows clone.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan