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Think different, act different

Is Mac still a boutique offering or a long-haul winner in the OS wars? Apple needs to clarify its “thinking.” Think different, act different Is Mac still a boutique offering or a long-haul winner in the OS wars? Apple needs to clarify its “thinking.”

I am not an OS warrior. Over the past 10 years, I have used MS-DOS, OS2, Windows, and Mac operating systems, with no particular allegiance to any of them. My primary concern tends to be: Does a given device/platform/system help me accomplish my goals, and does it do so in an easy, forthright way, with little hassle? Lately, that answer is increasingly “no” when it comes to the Mac. I work in a publishing company filled with Macs, which are great for running Quark, graphics programs and word processors. But for the part of my job that involves reviewing products and software, I’m constantly seeing the Mac squeezed out of the loop–particularly for any cutting-edge device or offering from a new company. Apple is not entirely to blame for this–it’s a PC world, especially the business world. But after taking some time to catch up with the company, I have to ask: What the heck is Apple doing?

The more I read about Apple, the more confused I get. On the one hand, it has rolled out OS X, potentially alienating home-based users and developers, as developers wait to see if the system catches on. On the other hand, OS X is UNIX-based with features like preemptive multitasking and BSD’s rock-solid networking stack that would seem to endear it to developers and open Apple to more possibilities. With OS X, Apple seems to have taken a big, hopeful step outside of its established fan base. But other decisions continue to cloud the picture–for example, introducing stunning new hardware designs mixed with sometimes-questionable decisions to discontinue serial port connectors and popular features such as rewritable CD drives. And Apple’s recent decision to open retail stores has everyone scratching their heads.

What does cut through the confusion is a picture of a company that is so focused on itself that it may be missing obvious opportunities. Take a look at Apple’s press releases on its Web site. See any about partnerships? They seem to be eerily absent. Likewise, looking for Apple news on the Web, I found a lot of information on Steve Jobs, Apple’s retail-store rollout, profits, and latest products, in roughly that order. But a search on Apple or Mac paired with terms such as “wireless” and “developers” yielded much less, and what I did find had a disturbingly proprietary, small-world feel. Is OS X going to support new standards like Bluetooth? Does Apple plan a small-footprint OS for handheld devices and cell-phones, or is it content to give away this lucrative consumer space to Microsoft, Palm and Midori Linux? Even if Apple continues to mostly forgo business and enterprise, it still needs to be prepared for consumer forays away from the desktop and even the laptop.

Apple has deliberately carved out a niche for itself as a boutique offering, but will it continue to exasperate folks who aren’t diehards? (Just ask CU Editorial Director James Mathewson about trying to get his Mac to work with DSL.) Why, when Apple still has plenty of innovation to offer? I’m hoping that a newly appointed head of developer relations and this week’s Apple developers conference in San Jose will provide a clearer company direction. But in the meantime, not being a diehard myself, anybody got a spare PC?

Sara Aase is web managing editor of ComputerUser.com. Garth Gillespie, architect and chief technologist of ComputerUser.com, contributed to this report.

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