Mucho Macs 'n stuff

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Attack of the clones

Who remembers the Mac clones of the mid-90's? Oh those were the days. Here's a link to a history of one of the clone makers. Pretty interesting stuff. Apple begrudgingly make the call to license the OS as a last ditch effort to help save itself. It worked out OK as it gained them more market share but at the same time it diluted the brand (especially it's image) and confused consumers. What's interesting to note is Apple's market share in those days was about what it is today but it's coffers were nearly empty. The company nearly went under. The clone makers got the rug pulled out from under them as soon as Jobs returned as iCeo (that i is for interim) in '97. The first thing he did was pull the plug on the licensing deal. He was kind of sneaky about it, too. The clone makers were licensed only for System 7 versions of the OS. He used this loop hole to make the revised OS System 8 and that kind of took care of that. The licensing of the OS is always an issue with Apple fans. Some people believe that Apple did the right think by not licensing the OS early on, that it maintained the integrity of the brand and kept the quality of the products high. Others think it was a dumb mistake that let Windows come in and sweep up enough market share to become the standard. I go both ways on this. I do believe they kept product quality high by always being involved in the hardware step. That marriage of hardware and software makes sense and creates greater reliability. Apple's roots are in hardware so this all makes sense in terms of their philosophy.

However, the clone program was very successful. The clone mfrs. sold a lot of units and helped get more Macs, well Mac running computers, to the masses. Apple was careful to monitor the hardware end and everything seemed to work. Had Apple instigated a similar policy early on I think we would all be using Mac OS based computers instead of Windows. Microsoft saw the opportunity to make it big in software while Apple was stuck on hardware + software, thinking that's were the future would be. What Microsoft seized on, in a rather brilliant way in terms of marketing, was the need for unification and standards. This certainly led to some rather large compromises in the quality of the software and the PCs that it was married to. But Apple stuck to it's guns and continued making higher quality products that went against this grain. I think this was a great idea that resulted in fantastic products but the problem was they were charging way to much for them. Their profit margins hovered around 50% and that greed hurt when it came time to ship computers to the masses. Once Windows starting gaining huge volumes of market share with a Mac knockoff OS Apple sued declaring copyright infringement. A loophole in a contract made between John Sculley, Apples' early CEO, and Gates let Microsoft win that battle. What Apple should have done at that time was look at the reality of things. Microsoft is winning because they're using our ideas but putting them into cheaper machines. This is letting them become the standard as even the cheapest computer during this time is pretty expensive. So why not ramp up the same computers, or create a 'consumer computer' that is of the same quality as your lineup, and get millions out the door? Had Apple focused on this rather than being misguided on projects like the Newton and mismanaged by laurel resting attitudes we would all be using Macs and be far happier. And more productive.

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