3.1262 expensive Apples (172)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 4 Apr 90 21:25:53 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1262. Wednesday, 4 Apr 1990.

Date: Wed, 4 Apr 90 01:47:08 CDT
From: Richard Goerwitz <goer@sophist.uchicago.edu>
Subject: make them work to reel you in

Recently, I saw an announcement for a conference devoted to using
Apple computers - specifically Macs - in education. It read, in

MacAdemia is an annual conference focusing upon the effective uses
of Macintosh technologies in support of university education. It
has always been held in the Northeast and this year it's being held
in Rochester from May 29 through June 1, co-hosted by the
University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, and
Apple Computer. The conference theme this year is "Visions for

You get the idea.

There are several notions implicit in this announcement that one
cannot help but wonder at. The most remarkable of these notions is
that Apple computer, deep down, has any real visions for education.
Apple, as I am sure the more informed readers are aware, is the
company that has gone rampant in their efforts to prevent others from
using even the general "look and feel" of their products. Some have -
I think very aptly - characterized this behavior as being a bit like
insisting that each and every car use a different pedal placement
because one particular manufacturer (which initially borrowed its
overall concept from another manufacturer [let's call it Xerocks]),
wants to force everyone into a proprietary purchasing pattern.

This is not to say that Apple's products are bad. In fact, I'll be
the first to state that, for multilingual, screen-oriented work, the
Mac just doesn't have a rival. We have to think, though, of what it
will be like to be married to Apple for ten years or so, without the
possibility of an easy divorce.

My feelings are echoed by a blurb I found in a text file that came
with the GNU Emacs distribution:

You might have read about the new look-and-feel copyright lawsuit,
Apple vs. Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Apple claims the power to
stop people from writing any program that works even vaguely like a
Macintosh. If they and other look-and-feel plaintiffs triumph, they
will use this new power over the public to put an end to free
software that could substitute for commercial software.

The real issue here is what constitutes fair competition in the
marketplace. Does Apple have the right to protect even the appearance
of its products? Surely using pictures and icons is not new. Even in
the world of graphics interfaces, Xerox preceded Apple at this game
(Xerox is now suing Apple!).

I'm sure we'll all agree that we, as users, will benefit greatly from
increased, fair competition in the marketplace. To me - and to many
others - it hardly seems reasonable to try to prevent one computer
firm from making a graphic computer interface that looks or acts like
one made by another firm (especially when the concept of
graphically-oriented interfaces was nothing new). As long as there is
no real fraud or mislabeling, this sort of one-upsmanship keeps
vendors on their toes, and prevents them from overcharging. To say
that I, as a programmer, can't write a program that integrates
smoothly with other programs I've used (i.e. has a similar "look and
feel") is an absurdity that could only make sense in the queer world
of an American courtroom.

I feel my collar getting warm.

The GNU document quoted above continues:

In the weeks after the suit was filed, USENET reverberated with
condemnation for Apple. GNU supporters Richard Stallman, John
Gilmore, and Paul Rubin decided to take action against Apple's
no-longer-deserved reputation as a force for progress. Apple's
reputation comes from having made better computers; but now, Apple
is working to make all non-Apple computers worse. If this deprives
the public of the future work of many companies, the harm done would
be many times the good that any one company does....

Note the distinction made above between "making better computers" and
"working to make all non-Apple computers worse." The first involves
quality control, innovation, good customer service, and in short,
everything that makes a computer worthy of a purchase. As I am told
by foreigners is typical of American industry these days, Apple has
turned from an intensely innovative, product-driven enterprise into a
great source of income for a bunch of obstructionist lawyers.

Oh, please, where are the Japanese?

All of this has important ramifications for us individual users. Mac
users just cannot sit by idly, paying double or triple what MS-DOS
users often pay for similar equipment, while Apple laughs, as they
say, all the way to the bank. You will be getting yourself into a
long and tough journet that, while appearing to lead in a direction
you want to go, actually takes a sharp U-turn up the road.

Some of you may be considering using, buying, or recommending
Macintoshes; you might even be writing programs for them or thinking
about it. Please think twice and look for an alternative. Doing
those things means more success for Apple, and this could encourage
Apple to persist in its aggression. It also encourages other
companies to try similar obstructionism.

Just a little more cynicism among microcomputer users would be
healthy. Often what happens is that, after spending thousands of
dollars to get a computer, and hundreds of hours learning to work with
it, users begin to identify with their "captor." They defend their
precious computers with more zeal than their spouses or children.
It's time we all recognized that this sort of attachment to a product
is extremely unhealthy. Let's all give Apple a big scare, and just
for once consider other options.

The need for considering other options seems especially acute for
educational institutions and for people who at least give a passing
nod to "intellectual freedom." In both cases, there is the problem of
funding. I fear that buying Apple is like taking cocaine. "Here,
have some for free," says the greedy pusher, as he offers children
bits of his white magic. What seems cheap and fun in the short run
quickly turns into an addiction. The pusher knows that many will be
back, and that then he can charge whatever he wants (ah, the look,
feel, and *cost* of Apple).

I stray into hyperbole. Let me try to be more down-to-earth. I take
the following quote once again from the GNU distribution:

You might think that your current project ``needs'' a Macintosh now.
If you find yourself thinking this way, consider the far future.
You probably plan to be alive a year or two from now, and working on
some other project. You will want to get good computers for that,
too. But an Apple monopoly could easily make the price of such
computers at that time several times what it would otherwise be.
Your decision to use some other kind of machine, or to defer your
purchases now, might make sure that the machines your next project
needs are afford able when you need them.

The message, to me, is that educators and educational institutions -
which pride themselves on farsightedness and open thinking - should be
the first to stand up and say "no" to Apple. It is dreadfully
important that we *not* get all worked up about what is, after all,
just another commercial product. The rest of the computer industry is
beginning to realize that standards are important to users. The US
government is even forcing them to conform to a set of guidelines for
systems interfaces which is mainly Unix-based (I let pass Apple's
sleazy attempt to pass off its version of Unix as a real, portable
Unix system). Apple is bucking this trend in a way that should make
every sensitive and far-sighted user suspicious of their prospects in
any close, long-term relationship.

I've never been a fan of Nancy Reagan, but I'll take a leaf out of her
book: Apple Computer - just say "no."

Again I exaggerate to make my point. Don't think that I am telling
Mac users to throw out their machines. What I am really after is a
more even-handed and realistic attitude towards a company whose track
record is increasingly blackened by a lack of basic innovation, and a
tendency to whittle away creativity by indulging in nonproductive
legal disputes. If you own a Mac, be willing at least to consider
other options. And (even if you do not intend to do so) at least
pretend that you MIGHT possibly buy another machine when the time
comes. Don't be a limp fish. Make them work to reel you in.

-Richard L. Goerwitz goer%sophist@uchicago.bitnet
goer@sophist.uchicago.edu rutgers!oddjob!gide!sophist!goer