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Of iMacs and eOnes
steaming and gleaming?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The San Francisco Gate published an on-line article on the iMac and eOne, that just had enough hype and misinformation that it had to be addressed.

The article is titled "The eOne PC has Apple steaming and critics gleaming" and is available at:

As usual, I think the author (Alan T. Saracevic) meant well -- but is horribly misinformed (see ignorant) about the subject which he is trying to write. Without a basic understanding of computer history, then the analysis and conclusions are pretty much devoid of any depth or insight.

Let's go through it in detail (quotes from the article are indented and in red).

Apparently, turnabout is not fair play. Twenty years after Steve Jobs ripped off Xerox PARC's graphical user interface technology, Apple Computer's ever-interim CEO can't believe someone would have the nerve to knock off his iMac. The alleged culprit: Irvine-based eMachines Inc., which recently introduced an iMac look-alike dubbed the eOne.

First, turnabout usually implies directly turning the tables on an adversary. So if Apple had stolen one of eOne's designs, then eOne doing it back to Apple would be turnabout. Claiming that because Apple stole some interface concepts that it is tolerable for someone to steal their hardware designs makes no sense at all -- even if it were true. But even that is just a big error.

The short of it is that Apple paid Xerox to see and use some very broad interface concepts (not steal implementations of those concepts). Xerox wasn't commercializing them, and Xerox knew of Apple's intents to "productize" what they would see. Xerox had borrowed, collected and refined most of those concepts based on what people had done before them -- which is exactly what Apple did to Xerox (except that Apple paid for them, and other than the mouse, I don't think Xerox did). Then Apple collected experts in the field, many from Xerox, and refined and polished ideas (many that had existed before Xerox), and put them into a complete system that went way beyond what Xerox was doing (and didn't go as far in some other areas -- different products). The "Apple ripped off Xerox" fable is old and spread by those that really have either no clue, or no interest in the truth. Let's let it die already -- I expect better from people writing for a living -- I mean it would have taken at least 10 minutes to get the facts correct before cramming one's foot in their mouth up to ones kneecap and perpetuating a falsehood.

Adding insult to Jobs' injury, the eOne runs Microsoft's Windows operating system. Yup, that's the same OS Jobs once sued Bill Gates over, claiming the Microsoft titan had stolen the "look and feel" of Apple's seminal Macintosh. What a wicked Web, indeed.

Why this is an insult to Jobs injury is beyond me -- to me it is a flaw in the eOne. They might as well market it as "like the iMac, only not as easy or elegant". But why pick nits?

As far as I remember, Jobs didn't sue Bill Gates -- Jobs was already long gone from the Apple (or not yet back depending on how you look at it) when the suit happened. It was Apple that sued Microsoft, and if you were going to pin a name on that suit, John Sculley would be the name to hang on it. Apple lost the suit -- but not due to what many think. Apple had been pressured into a licensing agreement for some of the Macs look and feel for a version of Windows (that was basically an environment for running office, not an OS). But the agreement had been too vague. Later Microsoft ripped off more of the Mac, and made an OS out of it (instead of an Application Environment) and Apple sued. But the agreement had been too vague, and so Apple lost on a technicality. It was a later "look and feel" suit over Lotus 1..2..3 that really closed the books on the subject of look and feel -- and implies that Apple probably would have lost anyway (based on that precedent, had it been in effect). But I'm not a lawyer.

Yet the jab that Jobs is getting just rewards again only applies in some alternate universe -- and the jab that "Oh what a wicked web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" seems more applicable to the author than to Jobs and Apple.

Jobs and company are taking the same tack against eMachines that they did against Microsoft, filing a lawsuit last week that accuses eMachines of "illegally copying the industrial design of Apple's award-winning iMac computer." The suit, filed in U.S. Federal Court in San Jose, seeks to enjoin eMachines from distributing the eOne and also seeks actual and punitive damages resulting from such illegal conduct.

Actually, I think it is a totally different tack. One was software look and feel, the other is hardware and industrial design. Quite different to me. And I think anyone with a clue can look at the two machines and see that eMachines certainly did steal the general look and feel. So the only issue left is whether you have intellectual property rights that extend this far to computers. Personally, I doubt it, and think Apple will lose -- and I won't lose any sleep over it. But I also understand why Apple would sue, and why it might be in their best interests to do so. And whether Apple wins or not, this is yet another case where the PC designs just blatantly copy the Mac, and claim them as their own -- and some PC apologist makes excuses for why this is OK.

Lost in the flurry of press releases is a pretty neat computer.

I agree, if we are talking about the original (the iMac) -- but sadly I suspect the author is only referring to the cheap copy. Which while not bad, for a PC, has absolutely nothing innovative about it. But I doubt a PC user can tell the difference -- which is part of the problem in our industry.

Much like the iMac, the eOne offers plug-and-play accessibility. It took me less than 10 minutes to pull it from the box, plug in the keyboard and mouse and start 'er up.

I don't mind the press talking up the strengths of a machine -- and I have no doubt the eOne is a nice little box. But it bugs me when people who don't really know what they are talking about (Macs) and then make comparisons like this. The iMac offers ONLY hot swappable plug and play devices, and runs the Mac OS (which is still far superior in ease of installing supported devices). The eOne offers non-hot swappable anachronistic ports like PS/2 Keyboard, Joystick, Parallel, Serial ports and PCMCIA slots. Heck, just the other day I was using a PC and trying to change network settings and getting frustrated at having to reboot all the time (which I wouldn't have had to do with the Mac). The fact is Windows is not "much like the Mac" in plug and play and accessibility -- it is a poor imitation that works (usually), but you can't really count on. Just a little fairness and balance in the article on this subject would have been all I asked for.

When it comes to peripherals, the eOne actually offers more flexibility than the iMac. While the iMac exclusively uses universal serial bus (USB) technology to connect such things as printers and scanners, the eOne comes equipped with two USB ports (one on the front of the machine) as well as standard parallel ports for extras such as handheld organizers.

Again, just a little fairness seemed too much to ask. What the author says is not incorrect -- but not the complete truth either. Yes, you can hook more legacy ports up to the eOne -- like serial, parallel and so on. And those older ports have issues with the ease of installing software, they don't allow devices to just be plugged in (hot swappable), and so on. The paragraph could have as fairly read, "the iMac offers all plug and play, hot swappable modern ports -- while eOne drags around out of date and troublesome slower interfaces that we are unneeded because of the superior USB". But I don't think fairness or balance was the intent. Even the closing jab, "as well as standard parallel ports for extras such as handheld organizers" is misleading -- I use the pilot with serial ports, and there are serial and parallel to USB adapters. As far as I know, there is no real issue to working these organizers on an iMac.

The other big question is: Will eMachines be able to weather Apple's legal barrage? The experts are not too worried about that.

Then the author goes on to take some partial quotes that all support the agenda of the article. Again, more of the presses typical fairness and balance in the face of Apple. One is left to wonder with such an open and shut case against Apple, why would Apple waste the money? Are they that stupid? I assume that there are experts out there who agree that Apple has a point -- but that possibility wasn't even discussed. Of course we don't have to go to the experts -- stick the two machines side by side, and ask users if they look alike or could be confused. Make a dozen people watch an iMac advertisements, then take them to a Circuit City and ask them to buy that machine. How many will accidentally walk out with an eOne? That seems to me to imply that there is at least some validity to Apple's case, and that the questions about industrial design theft should be addressed.


From what I understand it is tricky to prove infringement of this type. I don't know if it will be good or bad for the industry (or Apple) if Apple wins, or even if Apple will win -- and frankly, I don't think I care. It isn't going to make or break Apple either way -- though I do think companies deserve some protection of their designs and intellectual property. And let's not deceive ourselves like the author did -- the eOne is a rip-off, whether they get away with it (under the letter of the law) or not. Sadly, it isn't a good rip-off, since it didn't understand that engineering isn't always about what you can stuff in, but sometimes about what you wisely leave out that counts. But I expect that statement will just perplex the author as well -- more is better, right?

But none of that is why I wrote this article. I'm just so tired of the press writing such biased one-sided articles and not getting challenged. Where is the outrage by other journalists? Does anyone (but a few of the attacked group) feel outrage at such misinformation? SFGate (San Francisco Examiner) and San Jose Mercury News are both notorious for Apple bashing -- but it gets so tiring. They aren't even imaginative about it. Where is the journalistic integrity? Do these people even care about the truth? After reading this stuff like this, I'm left to wonder how the entire editorial staff let this embarrassment of an article get through. I understand the concept of selling a story and making it readable and interesting -- but I just wish they could do so with a lot less fiction, a lot more research, and just a hint of fairness. So that is all I try to do -- just offer some counterbalance and fairness. Sadly my forum is a lot smaller than theirs, and I mostly preach to people who already know better. And then I hear the press pondering such things as why the public dislikes them so much.

As usual, I ask that if anyone feels that they must respond to the writer or publication of that (or any other) story, that they please keep it civil. I know their misinformation and callous ignorance harms our industry and platform. I know too that it was very sloppy of them to write such stuff without getting the facts right (doing their basic research) or by being devoid of any balance -- but it is far better to address those points factually and politely rather than to let anger get the best of you (and make for later regrets). And it is just an opinion piece by someone who obviously doesn't know any better.

Created: 09/06/99
Updated: 11/09/02

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