2005: Apple's 1984?

Apple has intriguing products and a great public image. It also has a potential attitude problem that could sour the whole deal

With the iPod selling in the tens of millions and the Mac mini exciting the interest of millions more, Apple may be poised on the edge of true populism.

The launch of the Mac mini could also reignite the old hostilities between Apple chief Steve Jobs and his old nemesis Bill Gates. If ever there was a computer aimed squarely at replacing Microsoft on the desktop, it's this one. Newly minted Mac converts don't have to move any furniture or even rearrange their desks to make Apple part of their lives. Unhook the ugly old PC from the life support of keyboard, mouse and display, send the corpse off for recycling, and plug in the shiny, tiny Mac. Result: the Mac really does become the machine for the many rather than the few.

At least, that's the theory. If it actually works -- and Apple is in the 'getting it right' phase of its corporate sunspot cycle -- what will that do to Apple's cool, elitist corporate ethos? The company is arrogant enough with a 3 percent PC market share: how will it behave if it actually becomes a success? The signs are not good.

Apple's actions this week in launching a lawsuit against amateur tech journalism site ThinkSecret.com is a PR mistake, especially from a company that has been so careful to avoid the Big Brother image it prefers to ascribe to Microsoft and IBM. "That's why 1984 won't be like 1984," said the original SuperBowl advert for the Macintosh. 2005 is apparently a different matter.

Is this the same company that ran an advertising campaign which asked us to 'Think Different' and utilised maverick but heroic figures such as Mohammad Ali? Perhaps that doesn't apply if you're a teenager with a strong journalistic streak and the ability to break stories worthy of the big guys but, crucially, without the legal department to fend off the offended. Nice move, Steve. Stick up for the helpless billion-dollar company in the face of the rapacious penniless student.

Apple may be able to make the transition back to mainstream computer company without the support of its hardcore devotees, those who have bought into the image -- and truth -- of Apple being a different, and in many ways better, way to do things. It could be that the company couldn't care less, that it actually wants to be seen as more gangster than hipster. If this isn't the case, then we have one message for the company. Bullies aren't cool.

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