The matter of and with Macintosh. (Apple cart) John J. Anderson.
After my negative review of Jazz, I feel more than a little bit like the boy who yelled "the emperor has no clothes," and as a Macintosh devotee that leaves me feeling somewhat melancholy for at least four good reasons.
Contrition by Subtraction
First, it bodes ill for the field of microcomputer journalism. Because computer magazines depend on advertising revenue to produce their product, they are loathe to antagonize a company as large and important as Lotus. So they sacrifice objectivity and shirk their primary responsibility to readers to provide the potential buyer of a product with a basis for an informed purchasing decision.
Nowadays, with so many computerspecific magazines devoted exclusively to a single product line, I have consistently seen objectivity shoved into chauvinism, and journalism pumped into propaganda. I am beginning to wonder if people can even tell the difference anymore. It would certainly make my job easier if I were sure no one could--it would be easy to tell you only what I know you want to hear. It is more difficult to state the truth when one's survival is at stake.
Second, it reflects poorly upon Lotus. They are a highly reputable firm that has invested a great deal of time and money in Jazz. The list price of the product simply represents that effort. As I stated in the body of the review, it is not really Lotus' fault that Jazz is a mediocre product. They did the best they could under the constraints of the problem, and now they are stuck with a package that disappoints mainly because of the lid Apple has literally screwed (using nonstandard, recessed screws) on to the Mac. I therefore feel queasy about taking Lotus to task, and I also lament their current position, hawking the thing with a multi-million dollar media blitz.
Third, I feel sorry for the unwary buyer. After seeing the hotly cool Jazz commercial on TV, the slick four-color spread in Esquire and the New York Times Sunday Magazine, glowingly positive reviews of the product in Lotus magazine (that bastion of objectivity), every Apple-specific magazine (they know where their bread is buffered), and even most general titles (all's fair, of course), the misinformed Mac-owning yuppie will covet Jazz badly. If he has a spare $600, he just might succumb to Lotus' promises. And only if he is too dumb to know or too proud to admit it will he not be disappointed.
Most of all, however, I feel badly for the Macintosh itself. Jazz was supposed to be the product that would finally catapult the Mac into the business market. When that doesn't happen, Apple will be in a tough position. It has ever thought of the Macintosh as a home computer. And yet according to our 1985 survey, an overwhelming majority of our Macintosh-owning readers have the machine at home. As you may also read in this issue, the Atari ST computer does a fine rendition of its own desktop metaphor and much, much more. I hope you caught our Amiga review last month, for that machine also has a brilliant future. The Macintosh, at least in its current form, is therefore headed into dangerous waters--unless it can make the break-through that Jazz promised but will ultimately fail to make.
This is a crying shame, for though I use the word "great" more carefully than others in the field, I know the Mac is a great computer. Too great, one might imagine. So great it brough out in classic, almost Promethean manner a tragic flaw in the Mac project management team. It is a flaw latent in all men who dabble with greatness: that of hubris, which Webster defines as "overbearing presumption."
The Key to Nonsuccess
If there is one thing I have learned in six years of living with microcomputers, it is that machines must be designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but only while simultaneously accommodating the highest. If you would aspire to failure, design a machine that is "finished," then close the door to the future. Underestimate the needs and desires of your buyer, as well as his sophistication. Present a market line that forces him into a cubbyhole. Discourage third party manufacturers, and burn your decisions into ROM.
Blue Over Big Beige
For all its greatness, the Mac fell victim to the very hubris I have described. Its floppy drive was designed to thwart known standards, to ensure no clones. Its memory capacity was capped to thwart competition with its now-deceased mother, the Lisa. Its architecture was closed to thwart third party manufacturers in adding hard disk drives and peripheral boards. One exceptionally awful story tells of the incredulity of the Mac team when it learned about the Hyperdrive, a 10Mb internal Winchester. "It isn't possible," the story quotes a Mac-designer. "We made sure of it."
In its competition with IBM, Apple had ironically become its own worst enemy. I had at one point actually taken to calling the company "big Beige."
John Sculley of Appel has recanted this philosophy of closure publicly, and while we have all rejoiced, it is all too easy to lay the problems of the Macintosh at the feet of the exiled king of Apple, Stephen Jobs. Surely he had a hand in it and has at least as much hubris as the next millionaire child prodigy. But the decisions of Appel Macintosh were never his alone; ergo he should not bear the blame alone. He is, however, savvy enough to know the importance of the role of scapegoat, and he wears the label with dignity.
It is time now to lay aside the placing of blame, and get down to the hard work of redressing the errors. If they work quickly and with resolve, it is not too late to make the Macintosh into the machine it should have been in the first place. Neither is it too late to make the Macintosh into a machine in business at home and at home in business. It is utterly crucial, however, that the right decisions be made. Apple has voiced a commitment to redress. It remains to be seen whether they are truly smart enough to know what the right decisions are.
Take, for prime example, the matter of the Color Macintosh. I am of the strong opinion that a Macintosh with a color CRT is absolutely the wrong road to take for it would sacrifice the superlative monochrome resolution that has made the Macintosh what it is. Yes, color is necessary to complete with new generation machines, but replacing the monochrome CRT is not the right way to do it.
Prying Off the Lid
The right way to do it is to provide an expansion bus, as should have been done in the first place, to accommodate any and all manner of hardware peripheral boards. Among these might be an ultra hi-res RGB card, perhaps sporting its own VLSI processor. Want color? Attach a color monitor, and you're off.
Rather than an inboard color CRT, I would much rather see a larger, vertically mounted monochrome tube, allowing you to review an entire 8.5" x 11" page at a time. At that screen size, multiple windows would become truly manageable, and the shackles would come off MacWrite, MacPaint, and all other truly indispensable software.
Then there is the dual-sided floppy drive. A matter for the circular file, in my humble but vehement opinion. The time and price-point have come to make hard disk drives standard equipment for the Macintosh. And I don't mean serial daisychaining from the modem or printer port, which equates to a priori crippling of capability. I mean a parallel driver from the expansion bus. If you own or have seen a Mac running with a Hyperdrive, you know how the Macought to run. No one needs an external floppy drive to run Jazz or anything else. An internal floppy must remain standard only to boot new packages and make data transportable. Otherwise, the machine should run exclusively from hard disk.
A corollary of this specification is the need to run protected software from hard disk. I have argued hard in the past for unprotected Macintosh software and lament to this day the passing of the early, idealistic mentality that was once committed to it. But I understand that it erodes the strength of the third-party community. All I ask is that a protected package be capable of writing itself to hard disk. This is eminently possible, and I believe the approach to be the inescapable future direction of all software. Macintosh developers must, for the good of the machine, commit to it as well.
Pre-eminent among considerations for an open Macintosh is the overwhelming need for more RAM. As I stated in my initial review of the machine, in the dim recesses of July, 1984, the ambition of the Macintosh user interface fairly demands two, three, even six times the memory currently set as a maximum. That Apple ever marketed a 128K Macintosh is further evidence of their failure to comprehend the scope of the machine. That they designed it to top out at 512K is a crime. Its processor can address up to 16Mb of RAM, and Apple must make it possible to address up to 16Mb of RAM, and no less.
Yet with a mere 1Mb, the Mac could run Write or Word, a power spreadsheet like Crunch or Click-It, Microsoft Chart, MacTerminal or Red Ryder, and Microsoft File, all simultaneously under Switcher, the RAMdisk I describe in the Jazz review. With such a configuration, the Macintosh would immediately be propelled into the realm of a muscular, high-powered business machine. Lotus could make the 1Mb version of Jazz into a product that was truly worthy of the name Lotus.
With, say, 5Mb, a 20Mb parallel hard disk, and a laser printer, the Macintosh would not only be a formidable business contender, but conceivably the front-runner--if one more early error of hubris is redressed--the forbidding spectre of IBM compatibility.
This is perhaps the bitterest pill for Apple to swallow, in itself representing a surrender to the standard of the major competitor. The arguments against it have validity; why face "the rest of us" with the complexity of cryptic command codes, a mediocre standard, and on and on. But the fact is that IBM owners are among "the rest of us" as well, and if the Macintosh is ever to succeed in the business market, it must invite current IBM owners to upgrade to the "SuperMac" without having to toss their existing datafiles. The easiest way to do this is to open the expansion bus to a coprocessor and a 5.25" IBM-standard floppy drive. The way to beat Big Blue is not to imitate their management inflexibility or market compartmentalization. It is to open the minds of their customers to a choice that tempts rather than antogonizes them. And this calls for the potential to imitate Big Blue's product.
Make Yourself Heard
Do you agree with me and want to lend Apple a helping hand? Photocopy this column, and send it to John Sculley along with your own comments. In invite your comments as well. Write me at the magazine or via CompuServe (76703,654) or MCI(JANDERSON CRE COM).