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Mac Musings

Apple and the Mac Web

4 October 1999 - Page not found | Low End Mac

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- Tip Jar

I've taken the past few days off from publishing new material. It's given me time to think, talk with others, read piles of email, and reflect.

Apple's Rights

First, let me state that I take no issue with Apple's right to control distribution of trade secrets and copyrighted material. They are within their rights to insist that it be removed from circulation.

That said, in several years surfing Mac web sites, this is the first time I've seen actual Apple photos on the internet before the product was officially announced. Seeing the photos on a rumor site such as AppleInsider certainly makes one wonder whether these were genuine Apple photos or expert hoaxes created in Photoshop or some other such program.

The same goes for the Kihei specifications published on a couple sites over a week ago. Although they claimed them as final specs, in my presentation they were viewed as probable specs. After all, Apple does run disinformation campaigns. The specs might have been put out as a way of determining the source of a leak or confusing the media.

Many sites, such as MacNews and AppleInsider, presented these photos as gospel. Based on their sources, they claimed these were legitimate shots of the Kihei iMac. Based on my experience with rumor sites, I tried to present a greatly reduced version of this image as a teaser.

In doing this, I believed I was creating a derived work (by greatly reducing the size of the original image) and using it journalistically under fair use. I would have been better off using a screen shot of the MacNews or AppleInsider site, as MacWeek did in covering the issue (Do photos portray new iMac?).

I'll know better next time.

But this goes beyond copyright issues and journalism. Trade secrets are involved, which is a whole different area of law - one most of us know little or nothing about.

In that light, publishing any photo of Kihei before Apple allows it is wrong.

It's a lesson a lot of Mac webmasters have learned for the first time, since there has never, to my knowledge, been a leak of such magnitude from Apple. (On the other hand, one lawyer who wrote me said use of the photo in a news context could well win the day in court.)

The Trade Secret Issue

I received dozens of emails over the past few days. Many of them are posted on another page for your perusal.

They raise some interesting points, points I've had several days to reflect on.

  • Lost sales. Leaking trade secrets could cost the sale of a lot of iMacs over the days or weeks between the leak and the official announcement of the Kihei iMacs.
  • Competition. Leaking trade secrets gives the competition the opportunity to steal Apple's thunder, perhaps releasing a Kihei look-alike before Apple rolls out Kihei.

If Apple announces Kihei on Tuesday, as expected, the number of lost sales will be minimal. The photos only appeared a week ago, and Apple promised a special announcement for October 5th on Thursday, October 1st.

Since everyone has been expecting a new iMac for months, and the probability of Apple showing it on Tuesday is extremely high, the most Apple can claim would be a small reduction is unit sales between Monday and Thursday.

That said, the supply of iMacs has been severely constrained for some weeks, so it could as easily be argued that any reduction in iMac sales is due to Apple's decision to reduce availability of the iMac recently.

Had these photos leaked weeks or months in advance of Kihei's release, had there been no speculation that a new iMac was coming, had there been no reduction in the iMac supply, Apple might have a case on lost sales. At is it, that is unlikely. We've been expecting a faster iMac since summer.

As for the competition stealing the Kihei design before Apple releases it, I find the argument ludicrous. One week is not enough time for anyone to steal Kihei's appearance. And, based on the photos, they could as readily argue the designs were inspired by the iMac. There aren't enough visual differences between the iMac and the purported Kihei photos that any competitor would feel compelled to copy them.

Coming when they did, it would be difficult for Apple to prove these leaked photos cost them sales.

Deferred Sales

After all, anyone who wants an iMac has to buy a computer built by Apple. There are no clones to pick from, just an inventory of Apple iMacs.

If someone who had planned to buy an iMac last week didn't, odds are they will buy an iMac in the near future. So it'll be a Kihei instead of a Revision D. Big deal. Apple still gets the sale, still makes their 28% profit on the unit - and even more if it's purchased through the Apple store.

A sale deferred is not a sale lost.

If Apple hadn't nearly cleaned the channel out of old iMacs already, there might be some arguing that the remaining iMac 333 inventory would have to be sold at a reduced cost, creating a loss of potential profit. But Apple did constrain the iMac. (I'll bet a lot of dealers wish they'd done the same with the Power Mac G3, but that's another story.)

Moore's Law

For a generation, Moore's Law has been a safe predictor in the computer industry, from mainframes and minis to personal computers: chip density doubles every two years.

Well, that was the initial version of Moore's Law, which has been revised down to about 18 months.

That doubling means that ever 18-24 months, memory chip density will double. It also points to a doubling of CPU speed and a probably increase in CPU complexity. At the same time, a byproduct is a reduced cost for the same amount of memory or system performance.

In today's marketing-driven computer industry, a small increase of 33 or 50 MHz becomes a marketing opportunity. In the old days of PCs, going from 8 MHz to 10 or 12 worked the same way. An increase of 10-20% is very marketable, as Apple discovered when it bumped the iMac from 233 to 266 MHz (14% faster).

Moore's Law predicts April's 333 MHz iMac will become a 666 MHz machine in October 2000. That also means about a 26% increase over 6 months, putting the iMac on target for a 420 MHz CPU in October.

So a new iMac available in 350 and 400 MHz versions six months after the last one was released should be no surprise. At the same time, it's been well over a year since the iMac was introduced with 32 MB of memory. This is about the time Moore's Law would predict 64 MB base memory. Likewise, the 4 GB hard drive should give way to a 7-8 GB drive, since hard drives tend to follow the same pattern as Moore's Law.

All in all, it's pretty predictable. In fact, the question could be, why aren't there rumors of a 450 MHz Kihei? That's what Moore's Law predicts at this point.

Apple History

Apple has a habit of releasing computers at certain times of year. Late January, echoing the Super Bowl introduction of the original Macintosh, the Mac Plus, the iMac 266, and the Blue G3.

March/April is another popular release time, noted for the introduction of the 512Ke, SE, Mac II, IIcx, IIfx, and the current iMac.

August has been another such month. The first improved Mac, the 512K, was introduced in August 1984. So were the Mac IIx, Power Mac 7500, 8500, and G4.

But the winning month is October. Here are some of the models announced in October: Mac IIx; Classic; IIsi; LC; Classic II; Quadra 700 and 900; PowerBook 100, 140, and 170; IIvi and IIvx; PowerBook 160 and 180; Duo 210 and 230; Color Classic II; Mac TV; and the iMac Rev. B.

So odds are pretty good that Apple will be introducing the long-rumored replacement for the six-month-old iMac in October. Apple's promise of a special announcement on Tuesday provides the perfect opportunity to announce the next iMac, roll out Mac OS 9, and maybe even provide some surprises.

Apple's Attitude

What is most troubling to many of us, webmasters and visitors to our sites, is Apple's apparent disdain for pro-Mac sites. For instance, someone who claimed to be a member of Apple's board of directors sent the following in response to my last editorial:

Spare us the whining and yes, stop covering the Mac, but forever.

Not many people are going to miss you, really.

You can read the entire letter if you'd like, but it's obviously penned by someone unfamiliar with Low End Mac, someone as angry as I was about the way Apple went about getting the photos off sites. (For what it's worth, Apple never sent me an email. They sent one to my site host, asking them to remove content from my site, but never to me. They even looked up my home phone number and called my wife at 10 p.m. - but never bothered to use the email address that appeared on my site. I'm still angry about that.)

The Mac Web

There are several different kinds of Mac sites. There are the rumor sites (AppleInsider, Mac OS Rumors, Think Different), the news sites (MacCentral, MacWeek), the link sites (MacSurfer, Apple Surf), the advocacy sites (Mac Observer, Macs Only!), the techie sites (Accelerate Your Mac!, Bare Feats, MacKiDo), the software sites (Pure Mac, Version Tracker), the resource sites (EveryMac, Low End Mac), and the personal "I love Mac" sites.

Very few sites seek out insiders so they can scoop the world with rumors, yet Apple treats anyone who publishes inside information as if we had received it directly from someone at Apple. The letter from Apple legal states, "Apple believes that the person who disclosed the Material to you violated their non-disclosure agreement with Apple."

Apple legal should be more aware of the way the web works. In this case, the information was provided to MacNews.de. Thence it was picked up by AppleInsider and who knows how many other sites before MacNews was forced to pull it. Thence it was picked up by who knows how many other sites.

The same goes for the Kihei specs published on Mac Observer and AppleInsider about a week ago. Any number of sites looked at the information, linked to it, and used it as grist for the editorial mill.

In both cases, most sites publishing the information had no direct contact with the person at Apple who leaked the information. Further, we had no way of distinguishing this from other rumors, which often claim the same veracity. We didn't know if the photos and specs were the real thing, intentional disinformation, or honed speculation.

Well, until Apple Legal went into action we didn't. That pretty much established that the specs at Mac Observer (since pulled) and the photos all over the web (seemingly all pulled at this time) were the real McCoy.

Still, Apple Legal treated us all to the same boilerplate letter, assuming that somehow the same information had been directly leaked to every site the discussed the published Kihei specs or photograph.

It just isn't so.

As one reader suggested, the letter from Apple legal should have started,

Thank you for your interest in Apple and promoting its products. Apple could not survive without people like you, and even if it could what fun would that be. You are truly special and Apple appreciates your dedication to all things Mac. However....

Well, I'm not so sure Apple couldn't survive without the pro-Mac sites, but the idea is to build bridges instead of barriers.

Where Next?

Bryan Chaffin of Mac Observer raised the issue over a week ago ( Apple missing out on a powerful weapon, 9/24/99), just days before the Kihei photos appeared on the web.

Apple wishes that most, if not all, of us would go away.

In all honestly, a part of me can't blame Apple for this. Many of the Mac web sites are out to release anything that will land eyeballs on their site, some of it long before Apple wishes it to be out. In addition, many stories are printed without any traditional due diligence, and this can make any company tense. Before you start thinking I am somehow excluding The Mac Observer, I am not. We too have printed information about things that Apple has not released yet....

Following the Kihei photo debacle, a lot more Mac sites can say that than ever before.

Mac webmasters are an interesting bunch. We're fairly independent, often geeks to some extent or another, are almost religious in our devotion to the Macintosh and our sites, yet we have created communities among the relatively independent individuals. Several of us work together to cross-promote sites. We link promiscuously to any article we find of interest, even if it's on a Wintel site or has an anti-Mac perspective.

Apple, now more than ever, is operating in control mode. They're back from the brink, but one huge misstep could cause untold damage.

They see us as loose cannons. We see them as a bit paranoid. We love the computer, love the OS, but sometimes fear the company that produced them.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Apple could build bridges. They already have the tools at their disposal.

First, there's the nondisclosure agreement. If I promise not to share the information, Apple will share certain confidential information with me. I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) many years ago so I could know about the Classic, IIsi, and LC before Apple released them. Ditto for using a late-beta version of System 7.0 on my Mac Plus. And, more recently, I was under NDA with Dr. Bott regarding their MoniSwitch USB.

If I were under nondisclosure, it would limit anything I was able to write about specific products until they were released.

It's a powerful weapon. So is the independent Mac webmaster.

How do we put the two together?

Apple Web Liaison

My suggestion is that Apple create a web liaison department under the leadership of someone who knows the Mac web and wants to work with the motley crew of Mac webmasters willing to partner with Apple.

The web liaison would work with a team to review sites interested in working hand-in-hand with Apple, sites willing to put themselves under nondisclosure. They would especially look at rumors and speculation published on the site, helping the webmaster understand what would and would not be impacted with a NDA.

Apple would post guidelines for partner sites on www.apple.com, along with an invitation for other Mac webmasters to join the program. Member sites would be listed on this portion of the Apple site and allowed to display a membership badge on their site.

Further, the liaison office should be staffed around the clock, so when Mac webmasters would always be able to contact someone with questions such as, "Is this photo legit?"

As a stick, Apple would be able to pull membership status from any site violating NDA. As a carrot, perhaps Apple could offer to purchase some ad space on member sites after a certain time as members.

Apple would benefit by reducing the number of sites publishing rumors and by no longer being viewed in such an adversarial role by webmasters.

Webmasters would benefit by knowing exactly what was in the works, would be able to prepare content in anticipation of new product release, and would no longer view Apple as an adversary.

I believe an Apple Partner program for webmasters would greatly benefit both Apple Computer and the many Mac webmasters already advocating the Macintosh.

I hope it's something Apple is willing to contemplate, because I know many Mac webmasters would be interested in such a program.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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