Editor's note: A few weeks back, we ran an essay in this space about Apple and the iMac, written by computer consultant Frank Catalano. The piece generated a deluge of mail, some of it addressed to City Pages, even more of it to Catalano personally--and all of it negative.
A sampling of the correspondence we received appears below, edited for length and clarity, along with a brief response from Frank Catalano.
Before getting to that, however, we'd like to clear up a couple of things. The volume of the outpouring from readers may have been attributable in part to two factors Catalano had nothing to do with. One was the headline, "Apple Bites"--which may well have been more incendiary than the title the author had suggested for his piece, "Internet Appleiance." The second was our choice to highlight some of the more vehemently worded parts of the column in boldface.
OPEN THE, UM, WINDOWS
As an Apple enthusiast, I feel obliged to stand up and open a window to help dissipate Frank Catalano's recent spell of stale flatulence. Has Catalano had any actual contact with Apple products in the last few years? No, reading a poorly researched article in "Newsweak" doesn't count. Neither does an online extract from the Wall Street Journal, even if it is just as poorly researched.
Frank, you're perpetuating myths and tired old lies. Honestly, how out-of-touch have you gotten?
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE RECOVERY
Frank Catalano's comments on the demise of the Apple are strangely reminiscent of those doomsayers a few years ago who all but pronounced the company dead. Puh-leeeze, gimme a break. I am a system administrator. I manage Microsoft NT networks worldwide. I enjoy my job and have NT servers at home. I also have a Mac, and whenever I want to have some fun or get some work done, I use my Mac. So many things are done so much better in six colors. Apple is in recovery. It takes time, it takes work, but it is happening. So don't help the cause of those other folk, those other nonbelievers.
I just want to inform you that Macs are not dead and iMacs are not just glorified Internet toasters. I administer and maintain around 50 Macs, ranging from the ten-year-old MacIIfx to brand-new G3 towers and iMacs. We use these computers to run laser trim stations that adjust set points on hybrid ceramic circuit boards; to control in-process and final testing of parts; and to have the secretaries use iMacs for spreadsheets, databases, and word processing. In fact the iMac is so nice, it is great not to have a floppy drive included, because it makes it harder for employees to take confidential files.
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
NEXT: INTERNET WASHER-DRYERS
Frank Catalano laments that his Mac software is out-of-date and that Apple produces only Internet appliances. Might I suggest Frank update his software to any of the current products rather than mourning the death of old software. This is a fast-paced business that gets shaken up occasionally, and it appears Frank got left behind this time.
Further, as an obvious power user, Frank should realize that the iMac is not for him but for casual consumers who want nothing more than an Internet appliance. Perhaps he should check out the rest of Apple's product line, or are their more powerful computers simply more powerful appliances--Internet refrigerators, as it were?
Or perhaps Frank is just hoping to start controversy where there is none. I live and breathe pretty deep in the industry, so either I'm surprised that I've not heard one single person--power user or not--recently bemoan the Mac hardware's inflexibility or lack of software, or I'm surprised that I haven't heard of Frank Catalano before.
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE
Unfortunately Frank Catalano distorted the picture about the availability of applications for the Mac operating system. There are thousands upon thousands of apps written for the PowerPC-based Mac. Some counts (yes, they may be overstated a bit) are as high as 12,000.
But I don't want to debate quantity here. The bottom line is that there are more than just "basic" apps available for Mac. Yes, the Windows market has more apps available and sometimes no Mac equivalent. But consumers should always ask themselves and their sales reps: "This is what I want to do; can I do this on the Mac?" Does Frank really expect Apple to say, "Now we gotta tell you, there's more apps in the Windows market. More is better"?
More and more business apps are moving to a Web/Java-based model. Apple is positioned here. Just as we have seen an explosion of Mac gadgets over the last 11 months, we will soon see an explosion of apps. In truth, we've already seen it. More and more big-name games are on the Mac. Lotus is on the Mac. Yadda yadda yadda.
New York, New York
MAYBE THERE'S A 12-STEP PROGRAM
Frank Catalano asserts that the Mac market is on a downward spiral and Steve Jobs is quietly steering the company from making PCs to making information appliances. I disagree.
I've been a loyal Apple user since the Apple II. During that time I've noticed one inescapable fact: Every time Apple walks away from the home market, it suffers. The Apple 2+ was a great home computer. Then Apple decided to go into enterprise with the Apple III. It was expensive, there was a distinct lack of third-party software, and it bombed. The IIe and IIGS returned to the home-computer philosophy and were successful. The business-oriented LISA was not. The original Macintosh was the quintessential home computer. Later business models were less successful.
Today what marks Apple's resurgence more than anything is its recommitment to the consumer space. The iMac is a great home computer. Period. It is not, as Mr. Catalano suggests, a dumbed-down information appliance. It offers more processing power, speed, and affordability than any Mac before it. What Mr. Catalano would call "niche marketing," I call flexibility. The iMac is a great Web surfer; it's also an excellent network computer, net-booted terminal, game player, and, yes, home computer. It's a Swiss army knife for the information age, where the same hardware is called upon to do many different tasks.
As for the vibrancy of Apple Computer, the sub-$500 PC market is killing margins and hurting profitability across the spectrum. Microsoft is giving away computers in a desperate attempt to bolster MSN. Who's really in trouble here? Apple keeps selling each $1,199 iMac it can build. Profit margin has expanded in the last quarter, demand is up, and inventory is down.
Want further proof that the PC world is truly in bankruptcy? Look at how quickly it's adopted the iMac model of colorful plastics, all-in-one design, and ease of Internet access. You don't copy a failure.
It's always sad to see a former Apple user giving themselves over to the dark side. There are certain inevitable signs of their seizure, certain things which mark their conversion experience. Unfortunately, Frank has all the symptoms. My advice, for what it's worth, is to drop-kick your Aptiva and buy yourself a nice little ibook when they arrive. I think you'll be forced to admit that the company you loved once is not only intact but thriving.
Best wishes for your recovery,
SATAN VS. THE REAL COMPUTER
Hopefully I won't sound like the usual pro-Mac reader. I too was a user of most of the programs Frank Catalano mentioned had fallen by the wayside. But it's not like software hasn't died on the PC side. The bigger problem is that in several types of software, small players are dying in the shadow of major publishers' products.
I work at a university that signed a deal with Satan for a systemwide license of Microsoft products, and in this environment options for PC users are disappearing, too. Just because one platform has 27 word processors available, and the other only 5, doesn't make any difference if everyone thinks only Microsoft Word matters.
There is no software I need that doesn't exist for my Macs, and I have lots of applications on my machine. If the Mac is disappearing from the business side, it's because the care and feeding of Windows NT and NetWare is so burdensome that no one wants to make room for an easier system to set up, maintain, and use. And that's coming from someone who takes care of 50-plus PCs. The real appliance is the PC; the Mac is a computer. That's what is keeping it alive, and at a healthy profit to Apple at the same time.
FRANK CATALANO RESPONDS
We're all entitled to an opinion, and that's what my essay was--an opinion based on market data and my own experience. The essay was a "bad news, good news" piece. The bad news is that there has been an apparent downward trend in the total number of software applications readily available for the Mac--based on recent independent data, not just on what's in an Apple-maintained database.
This doesn't mean the Mac isn't cool, fast, doesn't have shareware or enough software for many Mac owners. But those issues weren't the focus of the piece; expecting every Mac commentary to be comprehensive is as realistic as expecting every article about camping to mention Lyme disease.
The good news is that iMacs are selling well, owing to their focus on the Internet. And that could be a huge market--the half of U.S. households that don't own a computer. Yet the bad news upset some people to the point that they ignored the good news in the same commentary. The world is not black-and-white. Even the iMac should be offered in shades of gray.
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