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Bah, Windows Again

We'd hoped not to have to address this topic again, but it refuses to die on Usenet or in the trade press. Essentially, the argument is whether or not the introduction of Windows 3.0 will make a PC-clone just as good as a Mac, thus putting Apple out of business because the Mac would no longer be worth the money.

There are two separate issues here, first, if Windows 3.0 is as good as the Mac interface, and second, if Apple can and should compete with PC-clones on price. Our impression of Windows after installing it (and having it hang because of a conflict with a batch file), is that it is a step forward for user PC-clones user interfaces. It concatenates the functionality of a number of previously separate (and confusing) memory management tools into one package. And finally, it provides some form of (we aren't getting into the argument over the definition of "true" here) multitasking. However, Windows is just an interface, just as the Finder is. You cannot initialize a hard disk from the Finder, similarly, you cannot perform many low level functions in Windows. The difference is that with the Mac, you get other programs with decent interfaces for low level functions. On the PC, you get DOS or at the ultimate worst, DEBUG (I'm thinking specifically of formatting a new hard disk on an XT, which required use of DEBUG). Windows users still must deal with the infamous CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files that have confounded many a DOS user. Windows makes using applications written for Windows easier than using non-Windows applications-it does not make a PC-clone into a Mac. If you have a powerful PC-clone and aren't going to buy a Mac soon, get Windows. Issue one done.

Issue two is stickier. Apple has promised a low-cost Mac and such a Mac would be good for Apple's image if not its coffers. Apple would appear less elitist, which never hurts. The world should have low-cost Macs. However, it doesn't necessarily make sense for Apple to make them. Apple's prices are very comparable to IBM's and Compaq's, the pre-eminent PC manufacturers, because all three companies are similar. They all do research and development and push the frontier of technology (no quibbling about IBM for the moment). However, you can buy a PC-clone that may even be better than an IBM PC machine because many other companies concentrate all their efforts on bringing out well-made, inexpensive machines. Apple is not a low-end marketing company, and it is very difficult to push both the technology forward and the prices down. The only company that achieves this as far as I know is Hewlett-Packard with their printer line.

Two possibilities suggest themselves to us. First, Apple could (as we've proposed before) license the old ROMs in the Plus and SE to certain third party manufacturers. Apple would then retain control over the high end and would still reap the benefit of the increased market share of Mac-compatible machines. To keep quality high, Apple could only license the ROMs to companies who have proven manufacturing and support abilities, like Dell Computer Corporation. Second, Apple could itself create a spin-off company, much as it did Claris in 1987, that would completely handle the low-end machines. That way Apple could keep fairly tight control and would even make money by owning the majority share of the new corporation. That would also leave Apple with the option of re-absorbing the company at some future date if necessary. Issue two done.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst & Tonya Byard -- TidBITS editors
Steve Martin -- steve@uswmrg2.UUCP
Matthew Mashyna -- mm5l+@andrew.cmu.edu
Matthew T. Russotto -- russotto@eng.umd.edu
Benson M. Wu -- bmwu@athena.mit.edu

Related articles:
Umpteen zillion in all the major trade magazines and Usenet


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