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Serving Up the Next Mac
Jan 06, 1997 :: Michael Sippey

In the Media Shock conference on Electric Minds, David Hudson and I had a little exchange recently over dead links. Somehow the topic "The Book is Dead" got around to talking about the difference between writing for the page and writing for the web. A participant noted that nothing can ruin the experience of reading on the web more than a dead link.

I argued that I actually enjoy hearing about dead links in my pieces, because it reinforces the fact that I'm writing on a very, very slippery medium. Not only am I writing on a slippery medium, but I'm writing about a slippery medium. Very, very slippery. I may crank out a gem here and there, but in the process of writing a weekly piece, I'm bound to have my share of pieces that in six weeks or six months don't cut the mustard anymore.

This week's piece may be out of date in six hours.

The MacWorld Expo takes place here in San Francisco this week. For anyone involved in the world of Apple, life kind of shuts down for a week, so that everyone can hear the latest hype from Gil Amelio (and maybe Steve Jobs, oh boy!), the latest whining from Dave Winer, attend overcrowded by-invitation only parties, and gather as much promotional crap as they can in a quick two hour tour through the floor of the Moscone center.

I'm writing this on a sunny California afternoon, tapping away on my hand-me-down PowerBook Duo 230. I've been a fan of the Macintosh since the hammer was thrown at Big Blue during the Superbowl almost thirteen years ago. But thanks to some career (and platform) choices, I no longer work on Macs on a regular basis. I miss it...but not that much. The war over the desktop doesn't interest me a whole heck of a lot, since I don't spend hours fiddling with my control panel. I'd rather spend those hours fiddling with my applications; you know, important things like Eudora filters.

But this week's MacWorld will be interesting for anyone who thinks that the world actually needs more than one set of operating systems. And even though Apple's acquisition of Next has generated more ink (digital and otherwise) than anyone should be forced to wade through, this week should plenty of interest for people who are greeted by the trademark "bong" when they boot their System 7.5.x.

For me, the Next acquisition was not really about creating the next generation of the MacOS for the masses. Instead, it was a move to enable Apple to stay alive in the server arena. Next wasn't known for it's easy-to-use consumer technology or mindshare among business application developers. Lately the only attention being paid it was as a web content delivery platform.

Microsoft has Windows NT and Internet Information Server; Apple needs its Next/Mac hybrid.

Apple should not be fighting the desktop war. Not because they've lost the desktop to Microsoft, but because the desktop is a shifting space. Microsoft may own the majority of business and consumer desktops for a while, but if the thin client idea takes off, all bets on the desktop are off. WebTV, the NC, the handheld; all will vie for desktop prominence. What the Next acquisition says to me is that maybe Apple recognizes that the server is where the real action is. With a thin client, the people that are doing the content development will need powerful tools that can handle content creation and database driven applications. A hybrid of the MacOS and Nextstep could be just the answer.

The challenge for Apple will be to convince both application and content developers to stick with the Mac through what will be a very interesting 1997. Without a major release scheduled from Apple until early 1998, the temptation to switch to Microsoft will be very, very strong. You can bet that the folks up in Redmond are planning some interesting server-side goodies timed with the release of IE 4.0. (Or is it IE 5.0? Or Windows 97?)

Not to mention the fact that if Apple keeps posting quarterly losses, Wall Street won't be the only ones losing faith in the platform.

Finally, here's a thought on the future of a mainstream OS for Apple: Newton. On the high end, users can move to the Mac/Next hybrid. For the home and school users, the Newton could prove to be the perfect next generation OS. Instant on, built-in applications, Internet connectivity, easy-to-use...what more could you ask for out of a TV-top machine?



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