School of Computer Science, Carnegie-Mellon University
JRChang+@CMU.EDU | http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/jrc/
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Is There An Opportunity for Us In the Confusion?
By Jean-Louis Gassee
I am, of course, referring to the agitation around Apple's
repurchase of Power Computing's Macintosh license and the
Mac cloning scene in general. Is there an opportunity here
for an end-run? In the last couple of weeks, a number of
Be-watchers have suggested the same poetic alternative:
A BeOS/CHRP coalition. As one e-mailer put it:
"The original appeal of BeOS, the thing which made it so
refreshing, was that it was a modern OS on modern
processors; while Apple behaves like idiots, PowerPC
broadens its lead. Want my money? Here's the formula:
Dual G3 CHRP box + BeOS + Mac Emulator = Juggernaut
Take my money, it's sold!"
Poetic, indeed...but is it the most affordably
prosaic way to get Be on your desktop?
Before I elaborate, a bit of context.
Power Computing was the first and most visible Mac cloner
to graciously host the BeOS as an additional OS for the
user to install on their system. We'll miss their
spirit, the way they reinvigorated the Macintosh community
-- and we'll certainly miss the exposure to their customers
that they afforded us.
But Power, for all its well-earned visibility, isn't the
only or even the most important channel of distribution for
the BeOS. We now have bundling agreements with magazines in
the US (MacUser), Europe, and Japan totaling over
700,000 BeOS CDs. We distributed 28,000 copies at
MacWorld, we'll hand out even more at other trade shows,
and when the Preview Release "point release" is available,
we'll offer Web downloads. We'll miss Power, but their
demise doesn't signal ours.
So how will we survive? Another bit of context:
With our next major release, we'll have an Intel version.
This isn't an uncontroversial port, at least not to some.
I found this in my mailbox last week:
"Face it. In the Intel space OS/2 was a June bug on NT's
windshield. You guys are a mosquito."
The prognosis of our undergoing the same fate as
OS/2 is an opportunity to restate our position:
We're not crazy enough to think we can compete with Windows
(95 or NT, pick your death).
They offer a proven, general-purpose OS (or two), while we
have a (nascent) specialized OS, focused on digital media,
as stated in a previous Newsletter:
OS/2 went to battle with Windows on Windows'
turf. We know better by their example, and we know
that to our intended (Intel-based) audience of technically
proficient users, adding another OS to what they already have
on their hard disk is a known exercise. We want
to complement rather than foolishly attempt to replace, and
we do this in a context where users are comfortable with the
So, how does this compare to CHRP space?
In the first place, it sounds like Apple won't support CHRP.
In other words, the CHRP platform won't be able to run the
Mac OS, just the lonely BeOS. Contrast this with the
multi-OS Intel boxes -- Which one will win? The undeniable
charm of the PowerPC just isn't enough.
Others feel the same. One of our readers, and a frequent
commenter, Philippe Dambournet, wrote to Guy Kawasaki, the
distinguished Apple Fellow and Agitpropagandist, suggesting
a CHRP initiative. Guy wrote back: "It will never happen.
Too many people to get together. And it would have an even
smaller installed base/run rate than Macintosh."
Motorola and IBM don't seem to feel very sanguine about the
PowerPC, either. The New York Times, in today's (9/9/97)
business section had this to say: "Motorola and IBM said
Monday that they were refocusing the Power PC microprocessor
family into new markets beyond the computer industry, toward
applications in consumer electronics and industrial markets."
The article quotes Hector Ruiz, the new President of Motorola's
Semiconductor Product Sector, as saying that Motorola is not
planning a direct competitor to Merced, the PC chip family that
Intel is designing in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard Co. The
future of the Moto/IBM/Apple alliance is, in Ruiz'words, "a work
For us, the situation is simple. If Motorola or IBM --
preferably both -- build and market a CHRP platform, with or
without a Mac OS license to boot, we'll be happy to make
sure the BeOS shines their hardware. In any case, we'll
continue with our processor-agnostic strategy, providing
developers and customers cross-platform compatibility on
Intel and PowerPC machines.
I also received many invitations to "comment" on Apple's
recent moves, meaning, given the tone of those messages,
joining in the criticism. I don't see how this would be
helpful, or justified. I, for one, do not believe we have
the full picture of Apple's real strategy.
Regarding the cloners, Apple was faced with a tough choice,
the same one as they faced in '86 when the licensing idea
was first agitated. Damned if you lose the hardware
business, damned if you don't license.
My sense is that Apple has concluded they couldn't face Wall
Street while losing the hardware business and focusing on
software only. They reasoned the cloning situation would
become more and more competitive and they would lose more
and more of the juicier high-end margins because the
cloners, understandably, didn't want to focus on the low
end. And CHRP would have made the competitive situation worse.
I guess Apple is trying to survive while designing a new
product strategy. Seems logical. Of course, we all realize that
this is, perhaps, not a viable long term solution. But that's
not our concern today. Perhaps Apple is just buying a little
time and some room to maneuver.