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Sep 98 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Sep 98 Viewpoint

by Nicholas C. "nick.c" DeMello,

I generally don't like surprises. I browse the last chapter of novels, I peak at Christmas presents, and I stay away from Stephen King movies. I like to know what's coming.

With Apple, knowing what's coming hasn't always been that easy. They'll send you a Christmas card promising one present, but when you get the package (in June) you find something entirely different under the wrapping paper. To be fair, the computer industry as a whole changes constantly and is about as predictable as a cat's tail. We all (even Apple) need to adapt to those changes and rechart our plans accordingly. I've certainly delivered more that one project a little behind schedule, and a little different than the draft spec -- so I can't cast any stones. But it sure can be frustrating when you're trying to make long term plans your software.

Well, that's been the case.

Something odd happened this year. Apple turned off their hype machine and dug in hard. Not only did they make very few promises, but they did their best to be sure we couldn't even peak over their shoulder (so those of us in the press couldn't make any promises for Apple either :-). Then products started coming out.

Mac OS 8.1 was a good incremental release. Not flashy, but solid -- which is what you want from a x.1 release. Then, on the last day of the last month of Q1 Apple released QuickTime 3.0, an incredibly feature rich new release of the Apple's powerful multimedia architecture. Next we heard that G3 PowerBooks and Rhapsody DR2 would be coming our way in Q2 (which I personally interpreted to mean I'd be able to actually buy a G3 PowerBook for Christmas). Christmas came early. Folks had the incredibly sexy new PowerBooks at WWDC in May and a Rhapsody CD to put into them. It took another month before I was able to pick up a G3 PowerBook at my favorite hardware outlet. But, that was still in Q2 and the hardware wasn't just "released" -- it was available.

Apple told us that we'd be seeing more new products in Q3: the iMac, Mac OS 8.5 (AKA Allegro), Mac OS Server (née Rhapsody), and a dramatically improved MRJ 2.1 (with Java 1.1.6 and swing). This time I wasn't sure what to think, so I waited and tried my best to be patient. Sure enough, iMac is here and it seems to be taking the consumer market by storm. It looks to me like 8.5 may be ready by the time this column is printed. Still, that leaves the Mac OS Server and the new MRJ (to be fair though, Steve did say that we were looking at the new JVM in "the Allegro time frame" -- so I can see this coming in Q4).

Oh, and somewhere along the way the hype machine came back online. There was a subtle difference though. Instead, of telling us how revolutionary OpenDoc was going to be or how powerful Rhapsody would be, that hype machine was talking about delivered products and available technologies. Simple, clear, and effective messages about why folks should buy Macintosh G3s or why developers should use QuickTime. It still had all the subtlety of a hammer throw or a steam roller, but it also had the Byte marks (on shipping products) and technology demos to back up those insanely great claims.

Say what you will about the mistakes Apple has made in the past. The simple truth is, in 1998 Apple delivered. More importantly, they established a strong foundation for next years technologies. Rhapsody and the Carbon protocols make Mac OS X a very believable goal, and after the iMac and G3 PowerBooks I'm looking forward to what Steve has in line for the Consumer Portable.

I don't know that in 1999 Apple will stick to the new motto Steve seems to have borrowed ("Just do it."). But, to borrow another motto, "I want to believe," and Apple is making it a lot easier to do so these days.


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