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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Apple's Top Five Achievements In 1999
December 14th, 1999

In the future, when you and I will chit chat near the fireplace about the good old days - with a good beer, of course, we will remember how things went in 1999. We can wax poetic about what a great and memorable year it was.

In 1997, Apple fought back and turned around. In 1998, Apple went forward, and part of its strategy was to introduce the concept of good looking computers. In 1999, Apple achieved success. It built on its favorable success wave and went further than anyone could have predicted. Let's open a few beers and recall what we went through as Apple customers.

5- Maintaining the Mac OS

The Mac OS is probably the most important jewel on Apple's crown. It makes a Macintosh... a Macintosh. Of course, we enjoy computing on great hardware, but without the operating system's user-friendly interface, its must have features and stability, a box made by Apple would not be the one that smiles at us when it starts up. It would not be the box that prevents us from frowning because of endless crashes... like on Windows PCs. Steve Jobs promised that our beloved operating system would benefit from regular maintenance and upgrades.

We had been running Mac OS 8.5.1 since early December 1998, and we received the 8.6 upgrade offer in May. It was a good maintenance release for sure. Then on October 5, Apple introduced Mac OS 9. Not only did this come only 5 months after the previous upgrade, but it was a worthwhile one. Fifty new features added to the system's functionality and calmed our cravings while we wait for the modern Mac OS X. Two good upgrades in a year or approximately every 6 months, this is pretty much what Mr. Jobs baited us with. Apple delivered, and the Mac OS is much more solid than it was during the 7.5 days... oh man, I don't even want to think about that era *gulps a big mouthful of beer*.

4- Sticking up for the iMac

When the iMac hit the store shelves in August 1998, it was about to revolutionize industrial design. But you know what happens when Apple innovates; PC clone makers have to copy it like an amateur painter imitates a great artist's style. This fact is so obvious that, when I came to the Mac Observer, I was able to predict that other companies would give birth to thier very own "creations." Their goal was to rip Apple off and sell machines that looked like the iMac by confusing consumers. Fortunately, Apple sued and the courts responded with injunctions against Future Power for the E-Power and also against SOTEC for the eOne.

Copyrighting the iMac's radical and original new design - rounded shapes, colors and cool plastics in a world of beige towers - proved judicious. They say "looks count." I say that protecting your original work counts too. Apple anticipated its competitors' moves and took the right path. Sometimes, you need the big guns to enjoy your success.

At least, some PC makers can improve their design a bit without imitating the iMac. Thanks to Ted Stoffers for the link.

3- Sustained profits

As far as I know, all of Apple's financial announcements and forecasts showed us that besides innovating, it made money. Apple Computer is a corporation. In order to keep satisfying its customers, Apple's gotta bring home the bacon. they have certainly done so. You probably remember, as much as I do, that giant losses threatened the company's survival only a couple of years ago. A profitable Apple a day will keep the financial doctor away... while we will keep drooling every time a new Mac stares us in the eyes and says "buy me".

2- Sustained innovation

In the same year, here is what Apple offered us:

  • iMac: flavors in January, faster ones a little later, and then a new generation of them in October. Whew!
  • Mac OS X Server.
  • The Blue and White G3.
  • FireWire integration.
  • OpenGL.
  • Tons of software updates, and major releases such as QuickTime 4 (also QT TV) and Final Cut Pro.
  • Lombard PowerBook.
  • iBook and its AirPort companion.
  • Power Macintosh G4 and Cinema Display!

In terms of major releases and improvements on Apple's product lines, this blew expectations away. Despite the fact that developing new products and actually shipping new products on time is complicated, Apple managed to make it work. You might be thinking that this was not accomplished without some mistakes (G4 anyone?), but if you look at the big picture, you will find more positives than negatives. Not only were all corners of Apple's product line were improved, but a new one was created with the iBook! And this leads me to the last - certainly not the least - of Apple's achievements this year...

1- The consumer portable

Customers and Mac related publications expressed the desire to see the above-mentioned fourth corner filled. The first three are:

  • Pro desktops with Power Macs
  • Pro portables with PowerBooks
  • Consumer desktops with the iMac

The only one missing was the consumer portable. Think about all the students and ordinary people who wanted to own a portable Macintosh without all the features (and price!) of a PowerBook. Not everybody needs a notebook unit offering desktop machine power. People wanted something to bring with them on the road. Maybe an iMac to go. They did not want old technology with a slashed price, but a portable Mac freshly cut for them. Just like a nice coat that fits your size. Apple fulfilled this wish and satisfied such customers. The iBook became popular and it took the #1 spot in portables! Big big big achievement.

Conclusion

Apple had to face tough challenges this year. In all honesty, I think that the result is more than positive. Of course, there are still problems surrounding the Mac platform, but nobody can deny that Apple made progress. After regrouping two years ago and going forward last year, Apple took significant steps towards its ultimate goal: revolutionizing the computing industry, then munching on PC market share and reputation. 1999 was a big leap forward in Apple history. I hope that the beer was as good for you as it was for me while we rambled about this :-)

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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