by Dean Hall (January 9, 1997)
With the acquisition of NeXT and the rumors that the next Apple operating system may not carry the Macintosh label, Apple is faced with the task of articulating to the world what exactly it is to be Apple.
In the past the answer was easy. To be Macintosh was to choose a computing environment where the user was in control. Writers and artists embraced Macintosh because it gave them the ability to be creative without having to learn arcane DOS commands. The only real fear to overcome was that it was ok to put your floppy disk in the trashcan. Progressive companies bought Macintosh because they recognized the increase in productivity offset the extra cost of equipment. Big business bought DOS because their computing departments saw the Macintosh as a threat to their existence.
With the widespread acceptance of a desktop environment all of a Mac's advantages are gone. Windows 95 and System 7.x are essentially different ways of doing the same thing. In the Macintosh, we are left with an environment that we use because it is familiar or because we want to be independent from the Microsoft monolith. Apple's current markets are safe for largely the same reasons that limit its expansion: once an investment in technology is made it is easier to stay with the current system than invest in a new brand.
In its next OS, Apple has to show that it can create new ways of doing new things. The task facing software developers is to create an idea that is so visionary, yet simple and obvious, that it inspires people to give up their current system and join the next revolution. Porting Photoshop, Director, and Office won't be enough to convince people to move. Developers have to create the next Pagemaker and Navigator.
Much is made about how the internet creates collaborative environments that develop ideas; but true vision is created by individual igniting masses, not watered down by committee. Apple has to show how its operating system and the internet can release the power of the individual. While Microsoft's vision is to put a computer running Microsoft software into everything we do, Apple's vision is about empowerment. A word that wasn't even in Microsoft's dictionary (Word 5.1 circa 1992-93ish).
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