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Natives Restless Over Proliferation

Truth is stranger than fiction. I didn’t do a careful count, but last week’s article on the October crop of Macs elicited as many irate comments as did my editorial on the subject several weeks before. Maybe people didn’t believe me the first time around – we have a problem on our hands.

Software companies have a major stake in the outcome. Technical support is no joke these days. It’s not something you can have the programmer do when she’s taking a break from hammering out code. Support in today’s real world requires staff trained to not only know the products in question cold, but also trained to handle the occasional irate customer. Support seldom earns money directly, despite Microsoft’s recent addition of paid support for people who want to call at odd times or want priority into the calling queue. So Macintosh developers must consider the increased costs in testing and supporting their products on what seems like an exponentially increasing number of Macs, and once they have considered those costs, decide whether or not they should add their voices to ours in calling for a more sensible product line. Perhaps Apple will listen to the developers who keep the platform moving forward if they won’t listen to the customers whose dollars contribute to Apple’s bottom line.

A number of people commented that the reason Apple is creating differently numbered Macs for specific retailers is probably because that way each retailer can safely offer a guarantee that they will beat any price on the same system from another store. Since many of the stores won’t carry the same models, there’s no worry about the competition.

In any event, here are a few of the letters we received after TidBITS #195 that make the point especially well.

Saurabh Misra <[email protected]> writes:

Lunacy. That is how you can describe Apple’s naming scheme for new computers. Complete lunacy. I thought I kept up with new models better than anyone I knew, but I give up. LC 475, Performa 476, LC040… oh, forgive me isn’t that a processor?

Buyers don’t like being confused by smart naming schemes. If Apple doesn’t stop, maybe one day there will be more Macintosh models than there are buyers.

Clint Laskowski <[email protected]> writes:

I have been very involved in the Mac revolution. For 6 years I sold Apple II and Macintosh personal computers (and Intel-based PCs too). I also worked for two Macintosh software developers. Most recently, I have spent the last 4 years providing Macintosh consulting services in the Midwest. I think I have a credible background regarding the Mac.

I agree that the number of Macintosh models is insane. There is no way anyone can follow these things. My customers are confused. I am sure retail sales people are confused. I am sure third-party vendors are confused. The Macintosh market is confused. I’ll bet if we put Apple’s top executives on a stage and asked them simple questions about product features vs. product models, they too would be confused. And this state of confusion is leading customers to consider other computers. Any military expert will tell you that confusion is a major reason for poor performance by a well-trained fighting team on a modern battlefield. Can the marketplace be all that different?

I love Apple and the Macintosh. I have based my career on them. I can understand some of Apple’s problems. But I cannot stand to see them fragment and confuse their market. Why are they doing this? A competitor couldn’t do a better job of destroying Apple’s potential! [Hmm, perhaps it’s time for a conspiracy theory. -Adam]

Mark Maris <[email protected]> writes:

My first letter to you folks, but I couldn’t help it. The latest issue of TidBITS is so ridiculous that I must vent my outrage! I mean really, how could you foist off the Performa article (in "The Proliferation Continues") as serious, when we are not even close to April 1st? Everyone knows that Apple has some of the most astute marketing people in the industry, and would never, ever follow a path that might confuse (or Heaven forbid) anger its customers!

Given that Apple marketing is much too intelligent to follow such a monumentally stupid course of action, and also given that I believe you are both honest, may I offer the following alternative reality?

I think that the announcement of the new Performa models must be the product of a cabal of PC clone makers, probably headquartered somewhere in south central Texas. Sitting around a conference table, sipping something way too strong for a normal business lunch, these ingenious fiends mused on various ways to derail the competition.

"What could we do to induce users to leave Apple products in droves?" they asked. "What would virtually guarantee that people would be so confused and frustrated that they would leave an obviously superior user interface, and migrate to the junk operating environment that we bundle on our machines?"

"I HAVE IT!" one particularly inebriated shareholder yapped. "It’s the distribution channel, stupid! We could fake an Apple product announcement: Dozens of Macs with nearly, but not quite, identical features… nothing but meaningless model numbers to differentiate them… no obvious reasons or market strategy for the flurry of models. And… get this… we’ll say that Apple will only market certain models through certain dealers!"

"Brilliant," said the Chairman (also well lubricated). "If people believe it, they’ll conclude that Apple has abandoned any pretext at customer service. Obviously, no one would ever be able to keep track of operating system versions in that crowded a product line. Users would become hopelessly lost, just trying to upgrade!" By this time, the group was laughing so hard, they were reduced to tears.

"Also," the Vice-Chair said, gasping for breath, "for a company to single-source a model through one dealer is to explicitly encourage that dealer to gouge the public on that model, and someone is bound to make that connection. Go with it!"

And so, before the group could sober up, the plan was launched. The announcement was smuggled into the normal distribution channels, and you subsequently received it. I am certain that, within a very short time, angry Apple executives will issue a vehement denial of this sick joke, and we will all sleep easier.

Well, that’s about it. I enjoy TidBITS a lot, but I think you might want to check your information sources more carefully in the future. Otherwise, these obviously ridiculous items might damage your credibility.

Charles Gervais <[email protected]> forwarded this excerpt from an article Jack Nissel wrote in an Apple II magazine called II Alive:

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