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A LETTER TO THE MACINTOSH COMMUNITY

August 29, 1997

My Technology & You column, "OS 8: Almost as Easy as Windows," in the September 1, 1997 issue of Business Week produced an outpouring of mail, the overwhelming majority of it sharply critical.

To those of you who sent flames questioning my ancestry or integrity, I have nothing to say. But I did receive a number of thoughtful and reasoned notes that deserve a reply. Unfortunately, there were far too many to respond to individually, but I hope I can clear up some misunderstandings in a public reply.

First, let me clear up what I was not trying to do. A Tech & You column, which runs perhaps 500 words, is no place for a comprehensive comparison of Mac OS and Windows. Had I attempted such a comparison, I would have concluded that there are certain things that each OS does better than the other. A number of correspondents, for example, pointed out that Mac aliases are far more robust than Windows shortcuts, and they're absolutely right. It is also much easier to set up a Mac on a network. On the other hand, I still prefer the Windows Explorer and the help system even to the much-improved versions in OS 8. And questions like filename extensions vs. resource forks and DLLs vs. CDEVs and INITs rapidly become quasi-religious disputes that never end.

Instead, my focus was on what was new in OS 8, and it was Apple, a company that can't seem to keep from leading with its chin, that invited the comparison of "new" features that have been available in Windows since Win 95 shipped two years ago. And yes, I know that many of these features have been available as third-party add-ons, but that is beside the point. Customers shouldn't have to turn to third parties for basic OS functionality, whether they are using Mac OS or Windows.

I'd like to deal with a few specifics. A number of readers seem to have misunderstood my comments about Windows NT getting better font and color-matching technology. I did not mean to suggest that NT would then be superior to Mac OS in these areas, but rather that this would allow NT to catch up in an area where the Mac has long been far in front.

The question of stability is tricky and controversial. Many readers claim greatly improved stability for OS 8, but I've seen nothing to back this up. I think it depends in part on where you are coming from. Release 7.6 provided a big increase in stability over 7.5.x, especially in installations that had accreted lots of extensions and other add-ons. OS 8 will look like a huge improvement if it's installed over 7.5, much less so over 7.6 (I have done both).

The comparison of stability with Win 95 is a bit beside the point, and I wish I hadn't bothered raising the issue myself. As I cannot say strongly enough, the competition that matters going forward is NT. And for stability, no version of Mac OS can hold a candle to NT. It's true that I can't run every piece of Windows or DOS software ever written under NT, but this compatibility vs. stability tradeoff is inescapable. Apple will face the same issue with Rhapsody, where it has already decided not to support 680x0 processors and, presumably, code written for them.

The timing of NT 5.0 vs. Rhapsody is an open question. If I had to bet, I'd put my money on NT 5.0 shipping before what Apple calls the Rhapsody Unified Release, with the completed version of the Blue Box. It's hard for anyone to know how long it will take to finish an OS, but Microsoft, for better or worse, has a lot more resources to throw at the problem than Apple does. Microsoft should begin its first external beta of NT 5.0 within a few weeks; Apple is promising a developer release of Rhapsody in "mid to late 1997."

Several readers asked for more specifics on the PowerMac 6100 that gave me trouble on an upgrade. ItĚs an early PowerMac 6100/60 with 32 MB of RAM, a 2 GB external hard drive, a Zip drive, and tons of software that has been installed and removed over the years. It probably didn't help that this machine had never been upgraded to 7.6 and we were installing over 7.5.3.

The problem that baffled me was a "bus error" early in the installation process. My son, who is a Mac pro, was able to complete the installation mostly by knowing which error messages he could ignore. One of the very nice things about Mac OS is the way it eases having multiple boot devices. NT's boot manager isn't bad, but it's not as clean.

Finally, a theme running through many of the notes I received is that the news media are responsible for Apple's troubles and that I, of course, am part of the problem. Apple's press over the years has ranged from gushing to skeptical but it has been responsible neither for the company's successes nor its failures. Apple's current predicament is the result of a string of atrocious management decisions that would have killed most companies. I have owned and used Apple products continuously since I bought an Apple II in 1980, and I really do want the company not only to survive but to prosper. I fear management is making another disastrous mistake by picking a fight with clone makers that likely will lead to a nasty legal battle. That would be another distraction at a time when the company needs to focus entirely on once again producing insanely great products.

I welcome any civil replies.

Steve Wildstrom
Technology & You



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