MacDaily Interviews Rodney O. Lain
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We profile Mac evangelist Rodney O. Lain, columnist for theiMac.com, Low End Mac, Semper Mac, and MacSimple.
October 27, 1999
Rodney O. Lain
Mac Columnist, Freelance Writer, Public Speaker, and Mac User
Rodney Lain first used an Apple computer in 1981, when he learned BASIC in junior school. He next used Macs in the late 1980s, when he learned desktop publishing. He naively thought that all computers were easy to use, until, in 1995, when he accepted a job teaching college-level writing in labs equipped with PCs running Win95. Luckily for him, his office was equipped with a Mac with which he found comfort and solace from dealing with crashed PCs. It was during this time that he ran across the original EvangeList and the Mac Web. He's been a Mac-head ever since. He lives in Minnesota, where he writes for theiMac.com, Low End Mac, Semper Mac, and MacSimple.
Q: What was your very first Mac experience?
A: Let me relate my first "experience," not my first experience:
In graduate school, our computer lab was all PC. I'd used Macs before, but never felt passionate about them. Then one day, I overheard a classmate (a Mac addict) arguing with the lab administrator (a PC user) about which OS was better. I didn't understand what the big deal was, even though I'd had several PCs crash and lose important work.
It would be three years later before I became a dyed-in-the-wool Mac user, when I would teach classes on Windows 95 and do personal stuff on my office-assigned Macintosh. The twin experiences led me to buy my first computer - a Mac.
Q: What was the first Mac you owned and what do you currently use?
A: My first one was a Power Mac 7200/120 with a 17" Apple monitor and a LaserWriter purchased in 1996 (for $3,000+ !!). We still own it (my wife uses it). I currently swear by a PowerBook G3 WallStreet, with 96 MB of RAM and OS 8.6. I'm too lazy to upgrade to OS 9, because all of my shareware would probably break.
Q: What inspired you to start writing about the Mac and evangelizing the platform?
A: I joined a user group when we moved to the Twin Cities in January of 1997. I was appalled at the group's lack of enthusiasm for the Mac. I offered my "humble" services to them, and I never received replies to my letters, email, and phone calls (but they did take my membership fee). Disillusioned with them, I took matters into my own hands by getting a job at Best Buy selling iMacs. In disgust, I left them for CompUSA right before the iMacs were pulled from Best Buy (at no surprise to me).
That wasn't enough evangelism for me, so I offered to write for theiMac.com. I then added Low End Mac to my writing chores, followed by Semper Mac. As I do this interview, I notice that I just received an email offer to write at MacSimple. I don't plan to write for any other sites.
It sounds like a Herculean task, but I love to write, and I love the Mac. So all of my laboring is a labor of love...
Q: Low End Mac, theiMac.com, and Semper Mac are all very different sites. What incented you to write for each one?
A: I felt it would be mono-faceted to write for only one site, and I felt that I each website reaches different audiences. I chose three obviously disparate sites because that allowed me to reach wider audiences than any particular site would reach by itself.
TheiMac.com, for example, caters to "newbies" more than Low End Mac, which is for more seasoned Mac users. Mac Simple and Semper Mac, by contrast, are trying to take online journalism to the next level - writing with a single, collaborative sense of purpose - more of a mission, if you will. I admire that and want to be a part of that. It appeals to the itinerant evangelist in me, I guess :-)
I honestly think online journalism will take off in the near future, and I want to be "in media res" - in the middle of things.
But I want to do it without losing quality in my writing. I want to write my best for each of the sites. The guys in charge of each site are gracious not to tie me to a set-in-stone schedule (except at theiMac.com, where I've agreed to submit weekly columns and produce the weekly newsletter). This way, I'm forced to write by deadline on one site, while I also get to write for the others whenever the Muse strikes - and that's often, thanks to the steady stream of news and gadgetry from Apple.
But if readers think my writing is getting stale (and I do have my vocal critics, mind you), I will pare down my writing chores - or get better.
Q: The can't-live-without resources that you use online or offline?
A: Here goes, in no certain order:
- Eudora Pro 4.2.1
- Consultant 2.58
- my Palm III
- my PowerBook
- PPP Menu
- Internet Explorer's "Favorites" feature
- all of the blood-sweat-and-tears-created Mac news sites (which I refuse to name for fear of offending)
- the "Apple menu"
- the one million extensions in my System folder
- reruns of Late Night with David Letterman)
- a dog-eared copy of On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Q: How would you have handled the G4 incident? [Editor's note: This refers to Apple dropping the clock speed of G4 Power Macs by 50 MHz with no decrease in price. dk]
A: I would have had in place at least one or two contingency plans. Always have a "Plan B." Regardless, I would not have charged the same price for the G4 after reducing the feature sets. I would have done everything in my power to make sure customers were not given short shrift.
I would have made sure that the customer is always first. The profits will follow.
I'm just glad that cooler heads prevailed.
Q: Do you think Apple was in the wrong or do you think they were justified in their initial decision?
A: Let me preface all of the following by saying that I haven't the foggiest about what really happened behind Apple's closed doors. That said...
In light of rising RAM prices and the Taiwan situation, I can give them the benefit of the doubt in raising prices . . . but I think it was much more than that.
Evidence indicates that Apple was trying to score PR points against the competition by announcing the G4 as early as possible, even though the chips hadn't been produced (totally) nor tested (thoroughly). That would explain the G4/400 that's been code named "Yikes!" by the Mac Web. They were obviously pulling a bluff of some type until the actual G4 shipped.
On a side note: If you read any of the history of say, Microsoft, you will see that risk-taking (read bluffing) is part and parcel of corporate America. Hence, I imagine this isn't the first time that Apple counted their chickens before they hatched. It's just that this time, the chickens didn't hatch.
Regardless of what you may feel about the G4 incident, remember this: Apple is one of the most scrutinized companies in existence. Microsoft can complain about the DOJ spotlight, but look at their list of PR disasters: the "Halloween memo"; the phony survey of educators supporting Microsoft; Microsoft's warning that halting release of Win 98 would hurt the US economy; their botched plan to pay journalists to praise MS in the press . . . need I go on? In each case the public has allowed these multiple instances of blatant arrogance to slip out of sight and out of mind.
But let Apple have an infinitesimal number of PowerBook 5300s sparking up in lab tests, and the incident is repeated and magnified for years after that. (stepping off of soap box)
Pardon me . . . was I shouting?
Q: How much does Steve Jobs have to do with Apple's current success?
A: Steve has everything to do with Apple's success.
Sure Jonathan Ive is the genius behind the industrial design of the iMac, but even he admits that he would have been gone if Steve wasn't there. I remember that one game developer was quoted in the Fortune article as saying, "I got to meet Steve Jobs. Cool. I'll do whatever they want." Come on... would Gil Amelio have been able to marshal the troops and inspire the iBook? Doc Amelio, bless his heart, reminds me of the old joke about Richard Nixon: the man looks so uptight, I'll bet he was born in a three-piece suit.
The smartest thing I've seen Steve do is draw focus off of himself and cast it onto his management team. He will always draw spotlight because he Steve frickin' Jobs. A good boss never makes himself the star of the show - not if he wants the company to last beyond his generation, anyway. Steve is positioning Apple, so that, regardless of whether or not he stays, Apple will be an influence on the PC industry.
To answer your question: Steve has a lot to do with Apple's current success, but the rest of Apple's employees need to internalize the Macintosh worldview if they are do be more than an iMac footnote in history.
Q: Do you think we're near the end of his tenure, or is it possible that he may one day assume the top spot permanently?
A: Only Steve knows. Only God knows. At risk of sounding blasphemous: Were those last two sentences redundant? :-)
Q: What does Apple have to do to stay on top of their game?
A: Create the Next Big Thing. Desktop video (a la iMovie) may be a next big thing, but they need to got beyond that to get the Next Big Thing. What is that? I think it is to take the GUI to another level. I think it is to evolve the personal computer so that it is as pervasive as the cellular phone. Or the television. Or . . . the PC.
Call it bias, but I don't think the Next Big Thing will be introduced by any Wintel company. To paraphrase Bill Gates, it will be introduced on the Macintosh. Hell, it may even be a Macintosh.
Q: In your opinion, what was the best product that Apple came out with in 1999?
A: The iBook. I predict it will be more of a fashion statement than the iMac is. Since when was a laptop a conversation piece? When you have one with you, people can pretend that they don't notice you . . . but they do. They all do.
I did a little test on Sunday. I risked getting fired from my weekend job at CompUSA's Apple Store Within a Store. I have a strong relationship with the Retail Manager there, so I get certain liberties. One was taken on Sunday (October 24), when I borrowed the demo iBook to lunch. Imagine being at Wendy's, scarfing down a burger and having the Star Wars trailer playing in QuickTime on a blueberry iBook. The kids next to me couldn't keep still. Nor the grownups :-)
If I was single and had a hard time getting a date, I'd buy an iBook and hang out with it. Talk about a Babe Magnet. Or a Hunk Magnet (admittedly, I'd be more attracted to a lady with a PowerBook. "Come to Butt-head." :-)
Q: A product or service that you would like Apple to come out with in the Y2K?
A: Apple needs to take its customer relations and do to it what has been done with its product lineup, knowhatI'msayin?
And, under "customer relations" I'd like to place the Mac web community. We are grossly underappreciated. I wish there were some way to count how many people stayed with the Mac or "converted" to the Mac from the efforts of sites like MacDaily.
I think we'd be viewed as a priceless resource as a result...
Q: The first words/phrases that comes to mind when you hear:
- Success - you can't achieve it alone...
- Evangelism - Guy Kawasaki
- Innovation - not to be confused with imitation (are you listening, PC makers?)
- Daily - make a difference in the lives of others
- Paradise - ...on Earth, if everyone owned a Mac :-)
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