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1994 and 1995: Forward and Backward

Welcome to 1995! At this juxtaposition of endings and beginnings, I'd like to pass on some thoughts I've been mulling over in regard to predictions and look back at last year's more interesting events.

Predictions -- People often ask me what I think the Mac industry, the Internet, or I myself will be like in five years, in ten years, or who knows when. I never pretend to be a prognosticator in entrails, so I base my answers on several basic policies.

First, with the clarity of hindsight, could I have predicted where things sit today from some length of time in the past? In other words, if you ask what I'll be doing in five years, I look back five years and see if I could have predicted my current situation. I find this method useful for determining whether a prediction is possible. If the current situation was unimaginable in the past, I see no reason that I should be able to predict the same length of time into the future.

Second, all my thoughts about the future are predicated by a pair of contradictory statements, each of which on its own works perfectly.

  • "The world is constantly changing."
  • "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The first statement (an expression of Heracliteanism, for those of you with a passing interest in Classical philosophy) makes sense, and I doubt anyone would seriously argue with it. No matter what tack you take, the world is changing, at the levels of the physical, the cultural, the intellectual. But, the second statement, more of a popular aphorism, seems equally sensible. Cells may die and be replaced within our bodies, but we stay pretty much the same. Governments come and go, but the lot of most people remains the same. Fashion may come and go, but the penguin-effect of the tuxedo has remained constant for many years.

Again, I never said I was a seer, but if you keep these basic truisms in mind while analyzing the current situation, you'll stand as much of a chance as I do at gazing into the murk of the gleaming crystal sphere.

A look back -- It's much easier to look back than it is to look forward, and I just thought I'd glance at some of the events that caught my attention.

  • Early in 1994, the Macintosh celebrated its tenth birthday. Apple put on a good show, but it was up to the industry to note that Apple had survived for ten years both because of and despite the Macintosh. Is Apple going away any time soon? I seriously doubt it - Apple's too big and continues to sell more Macs every year. But will the Mac as we know it last another ten years? That's a good question for the soothsayers.
  • What Apple didn't quite manage to do at the Macintosh birthday party was release the Power Macs. They did appear though, a few months later in March, and have proven wildly successful. Apple pulled off a technical coup in moving the entire platform to a different CPU based on RISC rather than CISC with few notable problems. It took a few months for most major programs to appear in native mode, but clearly the Power Macs are here to stay and the 680x0 line is fading fast.
  • Less successful was the release of eWorld, Apple's online service. Based on the same software used by America Online, eWorld has been rightly criticized for having too little information, for offering insufficient Internet connectivity, and for not being the official channel to Apple for users. When all is said and done, Apple's new graphics for the AOL interface aren't enough; users want content, and in my opinion, the content Apple should provide is full, official, guaranteed technical support. Just think, Apple could make money on tech support rather than paying vast sums to let people wait on hold at 800/SOS-APPL.
  • The great industry implosion started with Aldus and Adobe merging toward the middle of March. Aldus has disappeared in favor of the Adobe name, and FreeHand reverted to Altsys, the original developers (who were later purchased by Macromedia). Not to be outdone, Novell purchased WordPerfect and picked up Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet in the process. Next in line was Symantec, which swallowed competitor Central Point (after having previously eaten Fifth Generation Systems, which had in turn purchased Salient Software earlier). Never one to be left behind (and perhaps the target of many of the other mergers), Microsoft announced an agreement to purchase of Intuit in October, pending FTC approval. Rumors about Apple and AT&T, Apple and IBM, and Apple and Motorola all proved to be nothing more than vapor.
  • This was definitely the year of the Internet, perhaps the first of many. Growth blazed on at the tremendous 10 to 20 percent per month rates (depending on what you look at and when), and the World-Wide Web took the spotlight as the sexiest Internet service around. NCSA Mosaic for the Mac was joined (and in many ways surpassed) mid-year by EINet's MacWeb and, toward the end of the year, by Netscape Communications' Netscape. Even Apple got in on the action, awarding eleven Cool Tools certificates (and Power Mac 7100s) to deserving Macintosh Internet developers.
  • Although OpenDoc's tiny modules still lie in the future, the backlash against bloated programs began with the release of Microsoft Word 6.0, which boasts an impressive feature set that helps it to leap tall buildings, very slowly. Word's 25 MB standard install bulk enables it to stop speeding trains, and users of machines with the 68030 chip (reportedly about half the installed base of Macs) wondered what sort of kryptonite was bringing the Document Processor of Steel to its knees on their previously capable machines.
  • Last but certainly not least, Intel closed out the year with what will become a textbook case of how to repeatedly shoot yourself in the public relations foot with the Pentium debacle. Despite having known about the bug for months, Intel tried to hush it up until the Internet took over and turned a couple of incorrect calculations into a firestorm of public outrage that burned Intel at every misstep, until the company finally offered to replace any bad Pentium chip for anyone for any reason.

 

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