ISSUE 470: The high-tech office- Oct 27 1998


Apple's graphics and printing niche is secure
as long as the Mac stays ahead of its rivals

For years, while Apple's Macintosh was more or less (rightly or wrongly) ignored by most businesses, it emerged as the computing platform of choice among most graphics, publishing and printing professionals. Even in otherwise PC-dominated workplaces, those employees mostly continue to work on Macs.

Still, even with Apple's renewed confidence following brisk sales of its consumer iMac model, there are fears that this profitable high-end market may slip to the enemy -- in this case, machines running Micro-
's Windows NT.

Apple has not done a good job in the server market, and be-
cause NT Server works well with Mac clients it's coming into many Mac-using businesses. As a result, there's a fear that once Mac shops and departments adopt NT as a server platform, Microsoft will somehow creep onto individual desktops as well, replacing Macs.

I don't think this is likely any time soon. Sun's Unix systems are also popular servers, but this doesn't mean that many Mac shops are replacing their Macs with Sun workstations. The MacOS remains better than NT for graphics for many reasons:

* Colour Management. Apple provides operating-system-level colour management, ColorSync, ensuring that what users see on screen is what they print. As well, there are fewer hardware options for the Mac, resulting in tighter standards. NT 5.0 promises system-level colour management -- but it won't be here any time soon.

* PostScript. While there's a new NT PostScript driver available from Adobe, the current driver is error-prone and inaccurate.

* Fonts. NT has lacked a version of Adobe Type Manager until recently, forcing users to switch to TrueType fonts. Microsoft is working with Adobe on OpenType -- a new standard combining TrueType and Adobe PostScript Type 1 support -- but there will still be problems with some popular applications, such as QuarkXPress.

* AppleScript. Macs include a relatively simple scripting language that can be used to automate repetitive actions. Nothing equivalent currently exists in NT. Win98 includes a Windows Scripting feature, which may be included in NT 5.0, but it would require rewriting existing, Mac-based solutions. Visual Basic is popular on PCs, and more powerful, but has a much steeper learning curve than AppleScript and, again, would require throwing out existing solutions.

Another fear is that Mac developers are switching teams. Graphics and publishing giants such as Quark and Adobe have made announcements of increased activity on the Windows side of the force. Adobe for the first time announced that Windows sales represented a majority of its income.

But the truth is more complex. Adobe's Windows sales increase comes primarily from nonprofessional PC users. The Mac graphics market seems to be holding steady -- and so does Adobe's commitment to developing for it. Similarly, while Quark announced that "it plans to adopt Microsoft technologies for future platforms," this is referring to a server-based Quark Digital Media System. Content creation programs such as QuarkXPress will continue to be developed for the Mac -- in fact, the company's press release was prefaced with a discussion of its on- going support for that platform.

Some fear that Microsoft will simply buy the graphics industry. Micro-
soft spends US$3 billion a year on sales and marketing, while Apple spends about half that. As well, Microsoft's money is in addition to spending by PC hardware companies.

However, marketing money has the biggest impact on emerging markets. In contrast, the graphics and publishing industry is well-established. In a recent TrendWatch survey of the printing industry, 40 per cent planned to buy new Macs within the next 12 months, while only 15 per cent planned new PC acquisitions.

The upcoming Microsoft NT 5.0 will be an improvement, reducing the Mac lead with more stable PostScript drivers and Adobe Type Manager, system-level colour management, and OpenType font support. Apple is not standing still, however, with the upcoming Rhapsody and OS X operating systems. Rhapsody may limit NT's move into the server market (at least in traditional Mac shops), while promises of improved stability with OS X may reduce any lingering at-tractiveness of NT as a desktop solution for graphics end users.

>From training schools through working designers, service bureaus and printing houses, the industry has an ongoing investment in the Mac platform. It's not going to change easily or quickly.

Apple shouldn't rest on its laurels, however. High-end users have been complaining that the company is focusing on consumer products, while taking more profitable high-end users for granted. There are currently no models in Apple's lineup with more than a few PCI expansion slots, for example. Graphics and printing professionals are hoping that their continued loyalty to Apple will not prove misplaced. *


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