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  1. Technology
November 10, 1994


By CBR Staff Writer

IBM Corp should be feeling like Michael Moorer this morning, but like Moorer after that punch from grandfather George Foreman landed, IBM probably still doesn’t know what hit it. But one way and another, Apple Computer Inc’s admission – it can hardly be called an announcement – that yes, you will be able to buy Mac OS for the new PowerPC standard hardware architecture off the shelf from your friendly neighbourhood software store with no question of anyone having to license the thing ahead of time, means that Apple has done the number of all time on IBM – and there is not a thing IBM can do about it. With the promise that when machines to the new standard finally come out, they will be Power Macintoshes for the $100 or so price of the shrink-wrapped software, it is completely irrelevant whether IBM decides to pre-load Mac OS on its own machines built to the standard – if it decides against, there are 20 other manufacturers that will, and what is IBM to do? Hollow laughter Refuse to sell them PowerPC chips? The most delicious aspect of the whole affair from Apple’s point of view is that unless you want to run Windows NT or OS/2 as well as Mac OS on your Power Mac, (pause for hollow laughter), there is no reason whatsoever for anyone wanting a Power Mac to wait for machines to the new standard to appear. The present machines are Macintoshes, the machines to the new standard will be Macintoshes, so why delay? And for that vast army of business people who would love to have a Mac but can’t persuade their bosses that it is a safe option, there is a whole arsenal of new ammunition with which to persuade their bosses unarguably that they are wrong, that Windows95 probably won’t work any better than OS/2 did for its first three years, that no-one denies that Macintosh System 7 – and 7.5 for that matter – works fine, and that Apple has already achieved without pain for its users what many thought completely impossible even with a load of pain, transfer Macintosh system from a complex to a RISC processor and get it right first time, and that therefore Mac OS is actually a safer bet right now than the Microsoft Corp-Intel Corp combination. (No need to explain that the version of Mac OS for the new standard will be a microkernel version and that there are plenty of things that can go wrong before that is solid – your boss wouldn’t understand the distinction anyway). And just as there is no downside in buying the present generation of Power Macs without waiting for the new standard – and a whole load of new reasons making them worth buying that weren’t visible last week, there is absolutely no reason for anybody to buy a PowerPC-based personal computer from IBM or from Motorola Inc (unless you are only interested in Unix), until machines to the new standard become available. Excruciating That creates an exquisitely excruciating 18-month to two-year hiatus for IBM’s Power Personal Systems Division during which it has nothing saleable to sell. The guys working for the division might as well take an 18-month sabbatical, and the prospects for Motorola’s PowerPC systems business is very little rosier – the only serious market for those machines is Motorola’s existing base of 88000 RISC-based Unix system users. Unless of course you believe that Windows NT on PowerPC is going to be a runaway success, and since it has hardly been a hot seller on either the MIPS Technologies Inc R-series or the Digital Equipment Corp Alpha AXP RISCs, it is difficult to see why it should do any better on the PowerPC. What makes the whole affair so much more galling for IBM is that there is no way that it can retaliate against Apple – its only volume customer for PowerPC chips for at least the next 18 months: even if IBM were to refuse to sell PowerPC chips to Apple in retaliation for its presumption, it can hardly break its licence agreement on the PowerPC with Motorola and ever hope to sign a collaborative agreement with any other company ever again.The extraordinary news enhances Apple’s prospects immeasurably and it must be worth writing applications for Mac

OS now for all the third party software houses that were beginning to waver – and companies like Lotus Development Corp and Novell Inc’s Wordperfect unit, which had been scaling back their commitment to the Mac will have little alternative but to review that decision very seriously. For the next 18 months to two years, Apple has the alternative desktop standard to itself, and has every incentive to slash prices on Power Macs, sell the things at cost if necessary, do all in its power to increase the size of the base and the market share of Power Macs ahead of the day when the floodgates open. The company has been muttering for two or three years now that what it would really like to do is to give up hardware manufacturing and become a software company, and the commitment to offer a shrinkwrapped Mac OS paves the way for it to follow that route. Since it has such an ovverriding interest in increasing the size of the Macintosh base, now is the time to start contracting the likes of Canon Inc and Pioneer Corp to do much of its manufacturing for it, and work towards the day when it can start selling its own manufacturing plants to such subcontracting partners. It could ultimately spin off Macintosh Manufacturing Inc to its shareholders, giving them one share in the new company for each Apple they hold, or gracefully withdraw from hardware marketing altogether over time as other manufacturers progressively take a greater and greater share of the much enlarged Mac market. Hostile bid The ultimate irony is that Apple’s promise of a shrinkwrapped Mac OS makes that operating system so much more attractive than any of the other desktop operating systems for PowerPC that 18 months from now, it is quite likely that there will no longer be seen to be any need for the new hardware environment standard – but the thing will have served its purpose from Apple’s point of view anyway. So what would you be thinking if you were sitting closeted up in the Armonkey House today? If we were in that supremely unhappy position, we’d be very seriously considering the Final Solution – launching the mother of all hostile bids for Apple.

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