I wrote an Opinion a couple of weeks ago that fits Ellison's approach as
described in the morning Chronicle, but had some additional thoughts which
he'll find interesting. The Opinion follows a summary.
(1) Apple's strength is its operating software, not its hardware. Always
has been. Few people ever bought Macintosh for the hardware. When Ellison
buys Apple, he should put the focus there, not on hardware.
(2) Apple's problems have always been a deep lack of executive and
marketing understanding about the technology Apple owns. The execs and
marketing have rarely understood the benefits of their technologies at a
gut level. Most rarely used the technology themselves so they couldn't see
its advantages. The engineers were always light years ahead. OpenDoc is the
latest casualty, but there have been many others. Ellison should change
(3) Apple currently lacks a focus. While the rest of the world focuses on
network computing, Apple could be focusing on document centric computing
and clean up on the market now dominated by Microsoft. Ellison should have
Apple become the world's document centric leader and tie the OpenDoc
technology (or some equivalent based on Java) to its Notes technology. What
are people going to do with all of the JavaBeans and information they get
off the net. The answer is that they are going to SHARE that information in
personally designed, customized documents. Since Oracle knows about shared
documents from its Notes business, document centric computing simply rounds
out Oracle's business model.
Now the Opinion
Arnold F. McKinley
President and CEO
MetaMind Software, Inc.
Mill Valley, CA
March 10, 1997
Two weeks ago a friend of mine visited our offices to see a demo of our new
software. After 5 minutes of focused concentration, he stopped me short,
utterly amazed with what he had seen on the screen. Much to my chagrin, he
was taken, not so much with our software, as he was with the Macintosh
"Nothing", he said, "in the Window's world compares with what you've just
shown me. Sure many of the same features are there, but it's not the same".
Those are potent words from a guy who recommends computing equipment to
corporate MIS. Hard to believe, but he had never seriously considered
Macintosh. And he was astounded with what he saw: simple, ordinary,
Despite the technological advantages of the Mac OS over Windows, Apple
struggles with market share reaching near 5% overall. In niches where it
once dominated, it sorely lags. Why is that?
The answer has little to do with the crown jewels and more to do with
Apple's marketing savvy. Apple has always thought of itself as a hardware
supplier, never as a software company. I can assure you that no one ever
bought Macintosh because of superior hardware. It's the software they
wanted, pure and simple. And they still do.
Microsoft got the story right a long time ago: market the software
operating system and let the PC manufacturers deal with the small margins.
Someone has convinced Gil Amelio that Apple's troubles are with the Mac OS;
that somehow Windows has caught up, and that Apple's only chance at
surviving the onslaught is to buy a more "sophisticated", ready made
platform. While it is true that the Mac OS is 13 years old, it is far from
true that Windows is somehow superior, or that the crown jewels need to be
thrown out with the bath water. While it may be a good idea to begin
working toward a 21st century OS, the one they have now isn't all that bad.
Indeed, Mac OS development was on a steady course of repair and
rejuvenation when Apple acquired NeXT. Very creative technology is being
built into System 8 and even though we know it as transition technology, it
is still vastly superior to anything most computer users use today. So what
if it is late? Last year, planners decided on a much more sensible
strategy: bring it out in pieces.
But Apple doesn't seem to have the people capable of marketing that
transition OS, to customers or to the press.
Yes, Apple's problems are, and always have been, due to marketing failures,
essentially the failure to recognize the value of the jewels they hold in
their own hands and to do something extraordinary with them. And I am sure
that this ball bounces at times out of the marketing department and into
the execs' court. While all that I have said may be water under the bridge,
there doesn't seem to be any current recognition of the problem in
executive circles which would lead to changed behavior in the future. Just
Case in point is OpenDoc. You say, what? Never heard of it? That's what I
mean about marketing.
OpenDoc could be Apple's saving grace, the technology which takes them to
profitablity in the short run and transition them to the next (NeXT)
operating system whatever that might be. OpenDoc can be Apple's play on the
JavaBeans/ActiveX battleground. Where JavaBeans and ActiveX are fighting
over who's best in web page display capability, OpenDoc stands alone in
document handling, information storage and retrieval, and inter-component
data transfer. It is rather unbelievable that the financial rags haven't
written about it in the five years it's been banging the walls at Apple.
Sun blew everyone out of the water with Java's massive marketing campaign
long before Java itself was released, and long before anyone heard of
JavaBeans. Is Java profitable for Sun? OpenDoc has been finished since
October 1996, and there are excellent software components out there using
it, page layout and presentation editors, text processors, spell checkers,
dictionaries, language translators. database connectors, spreadsheets
editors, graphing and charting tools, movie viewers. There are even a
number of educational products in the works targeting science, math and
But Apple has said precious little about any of it publicly. I have not
read the word "OpenDoc" once in any significant financial magazine, yet I
read about Java all the time. And that's a major shame. After all it runs
on Mac, Windows, OS/2 and AIX.
So how does Apple capitalize on it in the short run? (1) With its sights
set on hardware, Apple needs to get OpenDoc onto every computer it sells
and every clone it licenses. (2) Massively market OpenDoc to the press,
focusing on its information handling capabilities. What, indeed, will
people do with all that information they generate in the business place and
school? (3) Think of Apple as a software company. Co-develop and co-market
incredible new products with loyal developers. In an component future,
developers will abandon large, costly monolithic applications and focus
instead on pieces they know best. Apple should capitalize on that idea. (4)
Focus on information translators, so customers can move from the
applications they use today to the component based documents of tomorrow.
We now have a new "NeXT" culture assuming command at Apple and, as everyone
knows, the new often displaces the old, often rather sharply and bitterly.
Technology which doesn't fit the new camp and promises made to old, loyal
customers and developers will be undervalued, forgotten, trodden on, and
finally dismissed. Apple could tell us to forget the old "internet
strategy" promised just a few months ago, to supplant it with a "new NeXT"
strategy. We could be asked to hold out a bit longer, to wait another year
while Apple tries to market an "idea" rather than real operating software.
We could, but we shouldn't.
Apple doesn't have a year. If any new strategy focuses solely on NeXTStep,
to the detriment of the Mac OS and OpenDoc, no one will buy Macintosh. If
OpenDoc and Cyberdog disappear from Apple's immediate, short term marketing
initiatives, Apple will lose the opportunity to make any impact in the
component marketplace for at least another year. Its market share will drop
to zero, and it's credibility with customers and developers will precede
Apple's disappearance by only a few months. So if OpenDoc goes, I'll give
Apple less than six months, unless Jobs sinks his fortune into it, then
maybe ten months.
That's my opinion.
Arni F. McKinley
MetaMind Software, Inc.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
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