Editor's Note: I wrote this article in June of 2009. While I would never undo what I wrote -- as my feelings about the man and his company have not changed -- I urge you to read my final words about Steve Jobs.
(artwork by Spidermonkey)
David Morgenstern’s column last week about Psystar’s imminent demise and his accompanying “Good Riddance” commentary struck a particular sour chord with me that reeked of the typical dismissive Mac fanboyism and “Not invented here” mentality which has plagued the company for decades.
While I enjoy David Morgenstern's work and I think he is a great guy, and a talented and knowledgeable writer about all things Apple, the tone of his piece brushed me in such a way that it took me an entire week to formulate a response, the process of which caused me to contemplate the very reasons why I often find myself at odds with Apple and its fans.
People have often characterized me as an “Apple hater” but this is actually a simplistic assessment of what I feel about the company and its products, since arguably my entire history with personal computing began with Apple.
Do you really want to enter the deepest parts of the Perlow psyche? Then read on.
The Fanboy Template
Let’s flash back with the shimmer effect to late November of 1981. Ronald Reagan was about to finish his first year in office. For my 13th birthday, and as part of my Bar-Mitzvah money, I was allowed to purchase a brand new Apple II+ PC, a beauty of a machine with dual floppy disks, 48K of RAM, 80 Column and CP/M cards, phosphor-green CRT display, with 300 baud Hayes SmartModem.
At the time, the machine was the state of the art, and I chose it because the kids in my upper middle-class suburban neighborhood of Great Neck, New York were all getting them, as were the local libraries.
I got several years of use out of the system, as well as having accumulated huge amounts of software via “trading” (we didn’t call it “Piracy” back then, we just went over to each others houses and copied floppies with Locksmith and played Dungeons and Dragons) and later on even traded up to a Apple IIc, a more “compact” and lower cost version of the unit.The Apple ][ series had the distinction of being the last personal computer that Steve Wozniak (the true technical brains behind early Apple Computer) was responsible for engineering.
After a near fatal airplane crash in February of 1981, Wozniak spent his time recovering from amnesia and getting his college degree. He didn’t return to Apple for another two years, but by that time, he was completely out of the loop on any product development and his presence at the company was largely symbolic and motivational.
In 1984, Apple released the Macintosh. By this time, my interests had gravitated towards the IBM PC-XT and its MS-DOS clones, such as the Tandon and the Leading Edge, which my father had purchased to run his dental practice downstairs, and I wanted to learn software that actual businesses were now using, such as Lotus 123, WordStar, dBase, and Harvard Graphics.
My Apple IIc, while still useful, was showing its age. 1984 is also the year I came in contact with my first Mac Fanboy, my first cousin Andrew.
I remember the moment vividly. I was 15 or 16 years old, and was visiting my Aunt and Uncle at their home in New Rochelle, New York, and Andrew, several years my senior, was boasting about his new Macintosh, which had only recently been released.
Andrew at the time was in his second or third year of college, and he beckoned me up to his room upstairs to show the machine off to me, trying to appeal to my fellow geekishness.
The thing was tiny, with an integrated CPU and tiny monitor, and it had a GUI, which was the state-of-the-art at the time. It had 128K of memory, versus the 384K on my cranked out PC. But it came with a word processing program, Mac Write, as well as a simplistic painting program, Mac Paint.
While I don’t recall the exact wording of the conversation that Andrew and I had, it sounded something like this:
Andy: “Look Jason, I painted a picture of the loft I’m going to build in my dorm room! With the mouse! And it’s so small, I can bring the whole thing in one bag to school with me, it’s portable! Try that on your dad’s stupid PC! Steve Jobs is a genius!”
Jason: “Yeah but it can it run Lotus 123 or WordStar? Can you go onto CompuServe or BBSes with it?”
Andy: “Who cares? This thing is so cool!”
Jason: “Enjoy. I’ll stick with my keyboard, character mode graphics and PC-XT.”
Cousin Andy grew up to be a very nice, smart and successful guy and went into educational publishing. He got married and had a couple of kids, and is now a venture capitalist.
But at that time, when I was 15 or 16, I just remember him as my know-it-all older first cousin. Andrew, I love you man, but you are responsible for creating the master template for my complete distaste for Mac Fanboyism and my eventual disassociation from anything Apple. Sorry.
As far as I know, both Andy and his younger brother, Scott, who went into advertising, still use Macs.
The Structural Reinforcement
Flash forward to 1988. I’m in my first year of college at American University, in Washington DC. The year is particularly memorable because it was the same year that Steve Jobs introduced the NeXT, his answer and arrogant retort to the company which he founded that ousted him two years earlier.
American University turned out to be one of the first pilot schools to test the NeXT computer. It had a brand-new advanced computer lab that was built underneath a newly constructed dormitory (partially paid for by Saudi Sheik and Iran-Contra arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi) and virtually nobody knew anything about the new lab or the weird, new NeXT machines that were down there.
I ended up spending a lot of quality time with them because the main computer lab with the PCs in the student center was always busy and you could never get any time on them.
So I poured through the NeXTStep documentation and became an expert on the early NeXTCubes and was able to apply my skills from working for a XENIX/Altos system integrator during summers at home in Queens that I was able to learn the Mach-UNIX based OS on the Cube fairly easily.
I became so accustomed to their use and the technology that the local sales rep who frequented that lab to show the machines off to prospective customers in Washington, DC area used to have me talk to them about the system’s capabilities. I even had the pleasure of meeting Steve Jobs on several occasions when I worked at the lab.
NeXT, of course, turned out to be a total bust. The $6,500 graphical UNIX workstation that was targeted towards higher education was a technical marvel, but nobody in their right mind, let alone college students could actually afford one.
My experience with the NeXT Cube is where I first began to truly understand the simultaneous brilliance (for surrounding himself with technical geniuses to do his engineering for him) and arrogance of Steve Jobs (for having a penchant for creating expensive toys few people can actually afford).
Apparently, over $400.00 of the system’s cost came from the unique magnesium alloy casing created by frog design, which was reportedly chosen as the system’s housing because it matched the stereo system in Jobs’ house and it “Just looked cool.” If this didn't set a precedent for a behavioral pattern that would follow for over two decades, I don't know what did.
I didn’t fully appreciate Jobs’ arrogance until 1993, when I went to work at Canon as a software engineer. Canon was one of the original investors in NeXT.
Various sources on the web indicate that the Japanese electronics giant invested around $140M in the company, but I was told by various executives at the time that the debt that NeXT had owed to Canon had exceeded the several of hundreds of millions of dollars range, because Canon was the manufacturer for the unique Magneto-Optical drive unit in the NeXTCube and also produced the LBP-LX printer engine for the NeXT laser printer.
As a partial debt settlement, Canon was supposed to take possession of NeXT’s manufacturing plant in California in order to produce PowerPC-based Windows NT systems, but the deal with Jobs fell through.
NeXT, instead of going bankrupt, laid off 300 of its staff of 540 people, keeping only its essential core of engineers, and went into a software partnership with Sun, Canon and Hewlett-Packard and produced a version of NeXTStep for Intel 486 and several other chip architectures, such as the Sun SPARC.
This software, although boasting a highly advanced, object-oriented software development platform yet again turned out to be a complete commercial failure because it was priced very high (Do we see a pattern evolving here?) and the RAM and disk requirements for running it on PC hardware at the time were very, very steep.
NextStep was also ported to run independent of the operating system as the OpenStep developer environment on Windows NT, Solaris and HP/UX, but it was horribly expensive ($1500) and saw little commercial interest. Today, a re-implementation of OpenStep lives on as the Open Source project GNUstep.
In 1995 NeXT did have one very impressive piece of software which had tremendous commercial potential, the beta release of WebObjects, which ran on Windows NT or NeXT machines and allowed you to build dynamic, object-oriented web sites.
Compared to Cold Fusion and other Web development tools at the time, it was state of the art. At the time, I was put in charge of developing Canon’s initial Web presence, and I thought it would be cool to have the software to develop our prototype with.
As I understand, when the Japanese head of IT for Canon USA asked NeXT if we could have a site license, Steve Jobs asked us to pay for it, and the IT director and the CEO of Canon blew their tops. After all, the company owed us a LOT of money.
NeXT, of course, was saved from oblivion by a failing Apple (that was under the stewardship of Gil Amelio) which needed a next-generation operating system to revive the Mac platform.
Jobs' triumphant return to Apple, and NextStep's transformation into Mac OS X of course is history, but whenever I am asked why I have such a rod up my rear end about Steve Jobs and Apple, I remember the proud and honorable Japanese electronics company that was completely screwed over by the ultimate snake oil salesman and techno-huckster.
The Present Day: The Song Remains The Same
So now you know why I have a massive distrust for Steve Jobs and his flock. Based on their prior track record, I’m convinced they are fully capable of screwing their partners and their developers, not to mention their customers and early adopters.
But back to why I’ll never own a Mac, and why I think Morgenstern and his characteristically Apple fanboy epithets about Mac clones need a dose of reality orientation.
After my praise for the Apple Airport Express, I got a number of lengthy emails about why I’m prejudiced about the company’s products and how “obviously having never used Apple products before” I was unable to comprehend the Mac’s and Apple’s greatness.
Oh believe me, I fully comprehend the greatness, which like on the classic Macs, and the Apple II before it, was created on the shoulders of software and hardware engineering geniuses like Avie Tevanian, who pioneered the development of NextStep, OpenStep and Mac OS X, and left the company in 2006. Not turtleneck-wearing snake oil salesmen like Steve Jobs.
If anything, Jobs and his fixation on keeping everything in the Mac proprietary and locked-down has been an obstruction to the Mac and Apple from taking over the entire Personal Computing industry. Don’t believe me? Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer. They seem to have done a pretty good job of picking up the ball that Apple and Steve Jobs dropped in exchange for their Insane Greatness.
So why won’t I own a Mac? Well, for starters, I’m a systems integration expert by profession -- as in what I do that pays my day to day bills –- and the systems that I work with and architect are based on Windows as well as Mid-range/Enterprise platforms like Linux, VMWare, UNIX and mainframes.
The Mac, for all its Insane Greatness and cool factor, as well as having all the DNA to make it an enterprise platform, doesn’t get a lot of traction in large enterprises, so there isn’t a lot of motivation for me to own a system which has no bearing on stuff that I work with to make a living.
Additionally, most of the off-the-shelf tools which I work with that I need to do my job -– Microsoft Office, Visio and Microsoft Project are all Windows applications. Indeed, you can get Office for Mac, and you can even dual boot a Mac into Windows, but what would be the point? Why not just buy a PC?
Why would I incur a large personal expense on a Mac for home use when my laptop is corporate managed and issued to me as a company asset, and when all our line of business systems are Web and Java-based? If anything, I want my personal assets to be compatible with what I work with.
And if I am going to use an alternative platform to Windows as either a desktop or a server, I’ll use Linux, because it has a huge library of Open Source software. Mac can use Open Source software too, but why bother if I can buy a commodity PC which I can purchase for a fraction of the cost?
Reality Orientation for Mactards
This gets us to Morgenstern and his poorly considered comments about a lousy economy saving us from “Clone Crap”. Really? He really thinks that a lousy economy is going to save Apple from cloning? He really thinks that the demise of some tiny upstart in Florida that overextended itself on loans is the end of the road for people who want inexpensive solutions which run on Mac OS when Apple won’t give it to them?
First of all, if anything, the economy is going to DRIVE us into more Mac clones. Particularly in countries like China, Russia and South Korea where Apple’s legal reach is going to be minimal. But there’s another reason why the economy is going to facilitate Mac Cloning, which is the sheer effect of the consolidation of vendors and manufacturers of the commodity parts that go into personal computers.
You see, with a crappy economy, a whole bunch of parts manufacturers are going to fail, or find themselves acquired by larger manufacturers with ample cash to absorb them.
Where we used to have a dozen or more companies in each category making graphics chips, I/O bridges and bus controllers for Intel and AMD processors, and all the other support electronics that goes into PCs, Notebooks and Laptops, you’ll maybe have a handful.
This effect will be further exacerbated by highly consolidated chipsets which companies like Intel and AMD will release in order to minimize the amount of components that go onto a mainboard –- like on Atom-based netbooks.
The net effect of this means that after the great supplier and manufacturer purge, there will only be a few basic reference designs for building systems, and the hardware variation between PCs will be minimal, allowing the Hackintosh community to focus on a much smaller set of hardware to support with their special kernels and boot loaders.
You know how easy it is to get Mac OS X running on a Dell netbook now? Within the next year, every new PC released to the market will be a Mac OS X Hackintosh candidate, with little or no technical expertise necessary in order to install it with Apple's OS.
Originally, I thought that on-chip virtualization on every PC would be the disruptive technology to cause Mac Cloning to explode like a hydrogen bomb. Little did I know that economy, not technology, would be the disruptive force to do it.
Arrogance and wishful thinking on the part of Apple and its rabid fan base will not stop Mac clones. But it will certainly stop me from buying a computer with an Apple logo on it.
Satisfied? Talk Back and Let Me Know.