Mac Lab Report

Time for Apple to Do the Right Thing

- 2002.09.12

I'm writing this in response to an editorial posted over at the Mac Observer by Vern Seward entitled Just a Thought--Whining 101. Vern's story of how he continued to insist on having his Bartlett pears rung up correctly at the grocery store is an allegory for how people should view writers (like myself) complaining about decisions by Apple Computer is a good read. You should go read the original.

Now I'm going to do some complaining of my own.

His article set me to thinking about how difficult it is sometimes to be an advocate for Apple Computer and at the same time a critic. I'm extremely happy with the improvements in Apple hardware and software (particularly the iApps and OS X), but I am disturbed by Apple's monopolistic (you heard me right) practices in shutting down innocent websites, censoring sites they don't like through the liberal use of cease and desist letters, bait-and-switch tactics used with .mac, and repeated charges for OS X users.

Recent stunts such as the outright theft of the Watson concept without even an acknowledgment are quite disturbing, as most of the problem seems to have been isolated in marketing and now seems to be spreading to R&D and the programming staff as well.

I lost the illusion that Apple was a company worthy of my loyalty some time back. They're interested in the bottom line, as any good company is. My primary reason for continuing to advocate for them is that I believe they have a superior product and that healthy competition will be good for the future of computing in general. The worst thing that could happen to innovation is if Microsoft is ultimately successful in crushing and/or purchasing all of its competition.

A long time ago (pushing uncomfortably close to 20 years now) I was a reporter for my college (Berea College in Kentucky - the only college in the nation where if your parents make too much money, you can't be admitted) newspaper when I heard there would be a protest staged in front of the college library. I and my notebook found my way over there, and I talked to a few people. To this day, people laugh when I tell them what the protest was about: The library had cut back hours on Sunday nights.

Done laughing? Seriously, that was the protest. Now everyone involved was perfectly aware that in and of itself the problem was pretty trivial. Certainly there are more, shall we say, socially acceptable things to stage a protest over; we had several events related to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. This was notable because Bishop Desmond Tutu's daughter, Naomi, attended our school. Bishop Tutu even made a few appearances on the campus over the years.

As I interviewed folks sitting on the steps of the library, it became clear to me that the protest wasn't about library hours. It was about how the hours got changed - in response to complaints by a faculty member over something I don't even remember, the administration had changed the hours without consulting student government.

When the student government complained, the administration responded, "The change is done, and there's nothing worth complaining about here. Go home." The administration felt it was such a minor issue, it wasn't worth bothering about. The dismissive nature of their response triggered the protest; it had nothing to do with the specific library hours, despite the rhetoric being issued by representatives at the campus.

The issue was resolved by the arrival of the "real" press in the form of the local paper. Suddenly the administration was more than willing to reopen the issue. Hours got reinstated. Student government got patted on the head. Everyone was happy. End of story.

The connection to my present life is that I feel sort of the same way about the decisions Apple has been making lately. Charging full price with no upgrade option for Jaguar was maybe a minor issue at a meeting in Cupertino; some junior exec probably wrote it into a business plan late one night, and after a brief discussion over Dasani and some exotic food no one would eat, the decision was approved. When users complained, the reaction by the company was to ignore them, delete their complaints (handy policy, that) from the Apple website, and studiously ignore them some more.

A few murmurings of dissent reached the "real" press (read: not the Mac Web), and suddenly we have "Family Jagular," intended to solve the issue "all along." As Dan Knight said, "riiiight."

I used to believe Apple was about more than making money. I'd like to believe it again. Recent events have made it extremely difficult for me to have any hope of seeing it soon.

Maybe it's the whole market share thing, but it seems that Apple's in no position to be treating its faithful customers the way they have in the recent past. I'd like to argue on Apple's behalf using a stronger argument than they aren't Microsoft.

How could they restore the goodwill they've been grinding away lately? Here are a few ideas:

  • Release OS 8.1 as OS 7.5.5 has been - the majority of Mac purchasers are Mac owners, not switchers. Make it easy for them to see the benefits of being a long-term Apple customer.
  • When Apple's computers become no longer capable of booting into OS 9 at all - and I'm not talking about the lack of an OS 9 disk in the Jagular release here - then release OS 9 too.
  • Help folks with less financial means make an easier transition into the Mac fold by offering one low-cost, non-configurable iMac to compete with the Walmart boxes people buy. Not everyone drinks Dasani and lives in an affluent California suburb.
  • Either support HyperCard or sell it to someone who will. I triple-dog dare you.
  • Provide a decent midrange web page development package by upgrading Claris Home Page or selling it - or by returning the phone calls from Homestead.
  • Give the Watson people some money, and return to the practice of crediting or buying your shareware improvements instead of simply copying them. There's some honor there that needs defending.

Apple has been doing some brilliant work lately. It's time for them to be smart as well.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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