March 31, 1999 - A Bruised Apple?
Look, Fred Langa is either the least perceptive analyst in the computer industry, or he's just flame baiting you all. There is also the possibility that he is both -- you are what you do, and if you ignore reason and flame-bait long enough, you might start believing your own hype (that is how many people become everything they swore to avoid). But if he is just flame-bainting, then what he wants is to get a bunch of people pissed off and responding on his little forum (which gets hits and credit to him). He gets some thrill out of controlling you and angering you -- don't buy into it. Pitty him for his lack of insight, correct his many errors (defend the truth), laugh at the shallowness of his "insight" -- but don't give in to anger and his little baits. Instead of letting him control you (and piss you off) just learn and grow.
Remember, the Amiga users got too shrill. The LINUX and Freeware users are both pretty shrill as well. The OS/2 users never seemed to get THAT bad. Fred, and antagonists like him want to pester and pick at users of anything other than HIS OS, until we become shrill and overly sensitive. Then we respond so angrily that others discount us instead of listening to our reasoned arguments. Instead we need to keep our focus, smiles, and senses of humor. He's playing the fool, let's not get mad -- but just laugh and the fool (and secretly pity the lack of self-respect required to do that job).
So in the spirit of correcting a sad little uninformed (but arrogant) student, I will try to address his points, one by pathetic one.
There's an old saying, "I've been down so long, the bottom looks like up." That sentiment may explain some of the exceptionally gentle treatment Apple has gotten of late. No one likes to kick an underdog--and Apple was down so far for so long that any improvement at all looks almost miraculous.
This opening statement is hysterical -- though I doubt that was it's intent. The press loves to kick those that are down -- and people slow down for car wrecks. The point is that many have been declaring Apple's death for years as a WAY to beat them down! But the fact is that if they were correct then Apple would have ceased to exist years ago. The that Apple EXISTS is proof that Fred, and the many Apple bashers, were misinformed in the first place. Imagine how that galls them -- wait you don't have to imagine -- you can just read vitriolic attack articles like that one to tell.
Instead of wanting to talk about the many errors they made in the past, these angry pit bulls want to diminish any Apple accomplishments and instead pretend that Apple has just been barely hanging on. This is especially ironic considering that Apple is bigger than all but about 2 - 5 of the PC makers. If Apple is that far down, then what does that say about companies like AMD, Dell, Compaq and so on?
Apple has been growing, they are still successful, interesting and innovating. Perhaps that shows how wrong Langa and cronies like him have been all along? And perhaps that shows why we must suffer the spears and arrows of many in the "media".
Apple has done some things well. It has hyped and advertised the iMac to death, and as a result managed to move a boatload of the curvy little boxes. (Longtime readers know how I feel about the deceptive and elitist advertising tactics Apple used to achieve this goal--you can find past columns in the archives. But there's no denying that Apple's iMac tactics were hugely successful.)
Yes, readers are painfully aware that Langa not only doesn't understand the value of the iMac and about balanced engineering and systems. But they should also remember that he grotesquely misinterpreted the iMac and its market. He assumed that because the MHz or specs didn't sound impressive enough to him, that users would ignore the superior simplicity, usability and style. Sadly he was mistaken, and is now bitter about the whole situation and wants to attack Apple, and only concede that it sells because of some giant fraud. Poor, poor sad little man. I understand ego, I just hope that humans are big enough to grow and learn in spite of it.
Steve Jobs, with an undeniable sense of style and showmanship, has breathed new energy into Apple, and may succeed in his in-progress work of bringing Apple back from the brink of extinction to a secure market niche. I hope he does.
Apple was not in a great place -- but "brink of extinction" is just the kind of exaggeration that has permeated from the uneducated and resentful all along. What they are resentful of, I'm not completely sure -- I think they hate choice, but it is hard to say.
I like how he words the whole paragraph as if he's not quite sure that Apple is back from the mythical brink of extinction (that it was not close to), and that it is still teetering. Then there is the implication that it is only securing a "niche". I don't know what he does on his computer that I can't do on mine -- I do know of dozens of things I can do easily on mine that he can't do on his though -- maybe the PCs niche is just catering to the ignorant. But I do know of some informed people that use the PC, and they do have a place besides being the conformists computer.
As for "extinction", I just wish I had a company that was on the brink of extinction like Apple. With a mere $7 - 8 Billion / year in sales, and selling millions of units, and had the kind of customer loyalty and satisfaction that Apple had. I doubled my stock investment this last year on this "extinct" system -- and not by selling short. Maybe that's what Fred's mad about -- his short sale on Apple got him burned. It's got to be something. But since he mentions "niches" lets remember that Apple has marketshare numbers like 50% -- 90% in certain core markets (niches) like Education, Publishing, etc. -- but Fred does a stellar job of ignoring that. I wish I owned such marketshare numbers in such small niches.
But all is not rosy.
No, you think? We could just end the article with a reluctant admission that Fred may have been wrong. No, we get more sugar wrapped poison-pills. Now we get to the meat of the attacks and obfuscation.
If you peruse the byways of Usenet, you can find significant numbers of G3 users who are less than thrilled with their new systems. One frequent complaint is that there are far too many "out-of-memory" errors even on RAM-rich systems. Of course, the Mac's memory management/memory protection scheme is legendarily outdated---the Mac has probably the very worst memory management among all the currently shipping major operating systems. (And let's not even discuss the Mac's lack of preemptive multitasking...)
He almost has a point in there. Of course if we peruse the byways of the Usenet, for each one person complaining about a Mac or it's problems, we can find 100 seeking help for their PC / Windows problems. With installed base adjustments this is probably a 10 or 20 to one ratio against the PC. Ooops. Glasses house, stones, bad idea!
The funny thing is I think this shows where Fred gets most of his insight -- from Usenet. That would explain a lot. Of course he obviously never read Jerry Pournelle's column -- which was always about how to get around the latest problems with some configuration of PC and hardware. It was great Mac advocacy for those literate enough to get the point.
Does the Macs static memory have problems? Yes. Of course I wouldn't trade that very minor issue for any one of the hundreds I have on my PCs. So the point is that PCs have more problems, and that they are nastier -- but Fred doesn't want balance, he wants obfuscation and misinformation. It is even hard to claim that the Macs memory management is worse than Windows -- though Unix is superior. Windows uses very ugly low-memory shared pools and many really anachronistic things that make the Macs memory management look sophisticated. I mean Windows (95/98) doesn't even unload libraries when you are done with them -- and has more security holes than Swiss cheese. But this is obvious a case of "our shit don't stink", and selectively ignoring the flaws in one system, while gratuitously attacking more minor ones in another. Either Fred knows this, and is intentionally being deceptive -- or more likely he does not, and is just another case of a platform racist attacking that which is different, because it is different.
Of course he goes on to poke at preemptive multitasking, and ignore that Windows (95/98) only has partial Preemption (like the Mac) -- and the Mac handles MP (multiprocessing) which Win95/98 does not. I'd compare schedulers feature for feature against Windows, any day of the week. I mean Windows can't even keep their mouse from skipping all over the place under use -- and the disk constantly goes into "trash" mode. So while the Mac certainly has shortcomings, so does Windows.
OS X is supposed to remedy many of the problems with the current Mac OS, but OS X is still some ways out.
Actually, OS X Server is already shipping. And OS X is not just a way to remedy the problems of the Mac OS -- it is a way to dramatically improve the users experience in many new and exciting ways. Yes it will improve on the limitations of the Mac OS -- many of which Windows has (or worse) -- but it is trying to go on and make a better user experience. This is especially ironic since it is hard to notice any significant improvements in user experience in the last few releases of Windows. But I don't think Fred even understands that, or the usability advantages of the Mac in the first place. Poor, poor, little man -- always attacking and never thinking or learning.
Steve Jobs himself got bitten by a nasty confluence of G3/Mac OS/OS X problems during a live demo at the recent MacWorld Tokyo. During a live keynote demo by Jobs, several G3 machines suffered the all-too-common out-of-memory problem, forcing Jobs to reboot while the audience waited. Ever the showman, Jobs tried to make the best of it, pointing out how it was great that the new G3s have a normal reset switch on the front. (Now there's an innovation for you!) At least he wasn't reduced to begging for a paper clip from someone in the audience, as he would have been with Apple's old-style reset switch.
Well, Fred demonstrates quite graphically that he is as misinformed as he is lax in his research. There was a keynote and a MacWorld Tokyo -- but I think that is all that Fred got right. It was the Microsoft guy that had problems with his demo, and made a comment about the reset switch (which Macs have had for about 15 years now). It was not Jobs. And if Fred had ever used a Mac, or read the manual, he'd know that command-option-power key does a fine job of rebooting. (Of course there are a very few cases where that won't work -- but I doubt Fred has used a Mac enough to even know about the former).
The out-of-memory errors were bad enough, but it got worse. The climax of Jobs' 75-minute presentation was a demo of OS X Server; using normal, off-the-shelf G3 hardware, Jobs was simultaneously going to stream video to 49 iMacs, plus show streaming video on the G3 server: 50 video streams at once. Cool!
In the words of any umpire -- "Steeeriiikkee 2". The demo did work, but in starting up 50 machines at once, there was some "settling in time", where all were trying to talk at once and there was some collision and arbitration issues. Things were a bit jumpy for about 30 seconds, and then settled in and worked just fine. Minor glitch, on a demo that has worked fine before.
The irony here is that there was no major catastrophe -- everything worked. When ol' Bill Gates does a demo, the actual machine comes to a crashing halt -- just weeks before shipping -- and had to be rebooted and couldn't complete the most basic of functions (plugging something in). But boy, Jobs runs a demo that is stressing a far more complex system, with more than 50 machines working together, and there is a minor stutter problem on startup, and ol' Fred is there, knife in hand, ready to offer his special brand of insight. Poor, poor little man -- imagine how insecure you must be to run around attacking like that.
Other than blatant attacks and rampant errors, what has the contributions of this article been so far? I keep looking for SOMETHING of value.
Then last week, Apple announced the release of Darwin, the open-source version of Mac OS X server. But, in classic Apple fashion--and in a way very analogous to the way it previously tried to license hardware--Apple wanted to stay in total control. Sure, you could get a copy of the Darwin source, but you had to notify Apple of any changes you made, and if Apple didn't like your changes, they could yank your license to the source.
Puhlease, talk about misinformation. Apple basically tried to create the same thing that Netscape did with Mozilla. They just wanted to control and coordinate source code so that changes could be incorporated globally (not that different from what Netscape was doing). Apple worked WITH Open Source people -- a few of which can be quite rabid and extreme, and who don't like any conditions or coordination at all. A few extremists went ballistic (like they often do) but things are getting worked out -- and rather than getting the facts, Fred runs off in his usual half-informed way, and goes on to pontificate about the how's and why's. What insight, what intellect -- what an idiot.
Apple does need to work things out and work with people -- which it looks like they are doing. They are the first really big OS company that threw their OS into the Open Source ring. We could talk about Caldera (DR-DOS) or Sun (almost) -- but they aren't in the same league with what they are doing. Instead of giving Apple credit for making the attempt and trying to get things worked out, Fred is once again on the warpath -- with the old, "Apple can do no right". I imagine that if MS copies the action in a few years, that Fred will have nothing but good to say about that -- that's the kind of balanced and insightful person that he is.
Apple is busy backpedaling now, and seems to want to make things right. (See "Apple Open Source License Draws Criticism" and Apple Defends Open Source Initiative.) But add it up: Rumblings among the user base. System problems even the interim CEO can't avoid in a carefully-prepared demo. A snub of the programming talent that Apple so desperately needs.
Just when I think Fred has maxed out the total number of errors in a single paraphraph he goes and proves me wrong. Will that guy never cease to one-up himself?
Lets see -- two bad opinion pieces (that he thinks is news) that are exaggerating and only partly informed -- Fred uses those as facts. Then takes those out of context, throws in an irrelevant comments on a demo that he got all the facts wrong about -- and then sees that all as a snub of programming talent -- then implies that Apple desperately needs that. Wow, where to begin?
And these are just the obvious errors, I'm not going to split hairs over the dozens of variants in there. But I really do get a kick out of the little court Jester; the only sad part is that usually the Jester knows that he is kidding -- in this case, I'm not so sure.
I have to wonder. Style and showmanship can carry Apple for a while, and to his credit, Job has given Apple a fabulous opportunity to gain real momentum. But is Apple frittering its chance away?
Flittering its chance? It was never doomed, though it was close to having some major changes of focus or being bought out. But they've had quarter over quarter growth in every way measurable, year over year growth. Apple is generating far more attention than ever, and offering superior solutions that the Wintel camp is not. But because of one minor demo error, and a couple of issues on open-sourcing their OS, that is reason to question Apple's survivability? Please! This is the whole crux of his article. Does this sound more than ankle deep to you?
Of course we should keep balance and compare things to the Windows side of the fence -- where they still haven't fully fixed the Y2K issue (which Apple fixed 15 years ago) and many people will lose thousands or even millions of dollars over these errors. But no, that is just punishing your customers for picking your product -- that isn't as important as a minor glitch in a demo. Let's crucify Apple some more!
Few companies survive near-death experiences as dire as Apple's. And I know of none that have survived two such experiences. If Apple continues to stumble and loses its way again, it could well be lights-out in Cupertino.
But wait -- it was supposed to be lights out the first time (or first few times that the Press wisely predicted Apple's doom). Yet Apple survived against all of Fred's predictions -- meaning he has a track record of failure. Of course his near-death experience was no where near as bad as Fred pretends (and was as much a construct of the media as it was a real problem). Again, I'm not saying that Apple didn't have problems -- but let's keep some perspective -- they could have gone on for 4 or 5 more years the way they were -- slowly becoming less relevant, while trying to dig in to certain niches -- but it certainly wasn't the teetering on immediate death that the media (Fred) wants you to believe.
What is the indication of a stumble? That Apple just released OS X Server, that is getting interest of many companies (but had a minor issue in a demo)? Or was it that Apple just Open Sourced a lot of their OS, in a rather revolutionary move, and is getting the interest of many freeware programmers (but had a minor issue with some wording in the agreements)? That Apple is getting better at responding to customers needs? That they are getting better at marketing? That their machines are faster and more cost-effective than ever? That their OS has been progressively getting better and better -- while MS still hasn't fixed major catastrophic bugs? That Apple is about to make another leap or two in OS technology, as well as having some really impressive hardware on the drawing board (and ready for release)? Where is this mythical stumbling that Fred keeps alluding to? I keep looking.
What's your take? Is Apple firmly on the road to recovery, or still shaky enough to be at risk from ongoing problems like these? Can Apple go against its own hardware and software licensing history and actually find a way to work with the open-source community? How long can hype and showmanship sustain the company? Will OS X deliver enough "meat" to carry Apple beyond the current interim stage? Join in!
All very loaded questions. Do you beat your wife often? How long have you enjoyed the sexual favors of goats? This is all just prodding and baiting. If the article had been written on April 1st at least I would have known it was a joke -- but Fred chose to release it on March 31st -- which must mean that he is serious about all this. Poor, poor guy.
How can you or others get angry at someone like that? I pity them. Sometimes, when antagonized, I make fun of them. Usually I just correct them -- but angry? Not worth it. I think the article would have better been titled, "A Bruised Ego" since it was really about Fred attacking Apple since it was easier than admitting that he's been wrong all along.
So as such, I look forward to the next Langa Letter -- I want to see what else Fred's little mind can come up with. Perhaps Apple will make a machine that is twice as fast for half as much money, and Fred can criticize that as "not doing enough". When OS X Client comes out, he can blame Apple for not coming out with it sooner, or because it might have a bug or two (in contrast to thousands of more serious bugs in Windows). Maybe Apple will be doomed because they are only gaining marketshare at like 30%/year and not 50%. The mind works in mysterious ways -- and Fred's is more mysterious because he's from the other side of the bell-curve. I always look forward to learning how some others may view things -- but him more than most -- after all, he's funny! Let's all laugh at the funny man, and the laughing stock he's makes of InformationWEEK every time they print his fluff.