Guy Kewney's Weekend Diary

MondayAn early start, locally; up at 6am. That's local time but in my skull it's a lie-in -- and boy, do I need it, because Sunday was the journey to Macworld Expo, San Francisco.

The plan, of course, was to spend Monday (a day off from the show) doing exciting stuff down in the valley. Netscape was high on my list of must-visit people. So was Apple.

A cynic might suggest that Apple's dire financial results are the main reason I spent the day in the hotel. They don't bear repeating; after several upbeat assurances, Gil Amelio finally sneaks out the admission that he's going to make another thumping loss, knocking the share price into the gutter. Late Friday is traditionally the way you get the announcement out after Wall Street closes, giving you the weekend to put a fresh spin on things.

In fact, the modern stock market makes this futile, and the real reason is nothing to do with financial requirements. It's Protocol. Protocol, of course, is more important than publicity. You phone Apple in Cupertino, and say: "I'm going to Macworld! Who of the following senior executives can I interview?" Phoning the States direct is Bad Protocol. The answer, naturally, is: "Please, could you contact our London office? They handle all the UK press." So you do, only to discover what you already knew: that the blessed press officer has been transferred to the US office. The same trick with Netscape and a couple of other exciting people.

Well, probably for the best; I'm relying on MSN for my Internet access. All my e-mail goes through CIX in Surbiton, via Telnet. Telnet through Windows 95 and MSN is something of a lottery, but on this occasion, Microsoft chooses Monday morning to update all the MSN software and my account becomes "invalid." Do you know how long 45 minutes feels when listening to music on hold?

Tuesday

This, I feel sure, will be the St Crispin's Day of the Mac. People who were at Gil Amelio's keynote speech will tell their grandchildren: "I was there." Nobody will believe them. I've already read a half dozen press reports of the speech, and nobody managed to persuade their editor to print what actually happened. What actually happened was that a 45 minute speech took two hours 40 minutes, destroyed lunch, and utterly amazed anybody with sense.

Amelio is a lovely guy; an academic, a Silicon Valley veteran from National Semiconductor, and nervous as a kitten on stage. Some idiot told him to dress informally; he did. He wore his suit, but instead of a shirt and tie, put on a Grandad vest. One was almost tempted to put a dime in his coffee mug. And he was shaking like a leaf -- nerves and over-rehearsal I gather.

A friend of mine, Rick Doherty, is a good buddy of Steve Wozniak, and so was sitting next to Woz in the front row. I know what Woz said, and there's no way anybody would publish it. Muhammed Ali was there, too; he doesn't talk much these days, but he was the other side of Rick, and Rick didn't feel comfortable.

Dave Winer was passing messages. Winer is an original Mac supporter, being the guy who developed ThinkTank and sold it to Symantec. He now runs Davenet, where he talks about developer issues. His messages, however, were more like theatrical criticisms; he felt that as a stand-up comic, Amelio was ready to be wheeled off. "He's dying," said Winer's first note. "He's dead." Things went rather downhill from there.

It wasn't Steve Jobs that really finished the session for me but he was a low point, almost as low as the lunatic who arrived with a video about his Boomerang -- an airplane that uses a PowerBook as its central avionics control. Jobs, of course, is an icon. You have to understand that he's a genuine visionary; he loves ideas in a way that Bill Gates never could understand; but Gates is the guy who made the money. It was literally incredible. A room full of two thousand raving Mac lunatics, all on their feet, cheering and stamping. I swear I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that the presentation that Jobs gave was exactly, precisely, the same speech he gave when introducing Next in 1986. They didn't care. They greeted it as if it was brand new. Even his bragging about Display PostScript. Steve, if you're reading this, go and ask someone in the industry what year it is? It's 1997, for goodness sake; Display PostScript was obsolete five years ago, and there is absolutely no damn way you're going to drag it back into the Mac.

No, ghastly though that was, the real hump was the simple fact that nearly three hours had gone past, and nobody had had any lunch.

Wednesday

If yesterday's keynote goes down in history, last night's Microsoft party must be given a day to itself, because it was almost as good.

Microsoft has announced Internet Explorer 3.0 for Mac. Big fat hairy deal, you remark? Well, Brad Chase, the man in charge of this operation, bumped into me during the lunch we were supposed to have with Ellen Hancock, who is chief technology officer at Apple, and who will be plotting the future course of their OS.

Chase is a nice young multi-millionaire, and believes in Microsoft without being one of the more modern Microsoft zombies who can't understand why some people pretend not to love the corporation. He is also the guy in charge of Office 97, but his job here at Macworld Expo was just to announce support for IE 3.0 on the platform.

To judge by the razzamatazz, however, you'd have thought he was an Eastern Potentate Of Great Power, with a brief to sell all Apple senior VPs into slavery if they displeased him. I've known Apple since 1977 when I first met Jobs and Woz at the launch of the Apple ][ (that's how they spelled it) and never once, since then, have I seen more senior Apple VPs under the same ceiling.

Larry Tesler, Heidi Rosen, Ellen Hancock, Gil Amelio, and all. Name a senior Apple exec and you'd have found them there; sitting at Brad's feet, tongues almost lolling in an effort to demonstrate solidarity.

Brad demonstrated a Java JIT compiler (just in time) which appeared to run five times faster on a standard PowerMac than the Netscape interpreted Java. Lukewarm applause from the audience; rapturous enthusiasm from assembled Apple Veeps.

Oh, I also managed to sneak off for a half-hour, to have coffee courtesy of Intel and MMX. More about that some other time.

Thursday

This is the day to do one-to-one meetings, and recover from walking the show. Actually, the show was amazing. It's hard to believe that 80,000 people come to Macworld here. That's half the number that get to Comdex, for goodness sake. So OK, they aren't all "trade buyers" as they are at Comdex, but it's still amazing.

Now, here's the odd thing: statistics show that well over half the people who prepare Web page content use Macs. Everybody knows that the Web is the future; Microsoft is almost bursting a blood vessel to get a quarter of the Web profile that Apple has. And Apple's senior management just don't get it.

Goodness knows, Mac needs an upgrade path. But the upgrade is the Web, not just Office and suites! And this show just crawls with amazing stuff; if you want just one example, hop over to www.akimbo.com, and have a look at Globetrotter. You'll need a Mac; doesn't run on anything else. It's just astonishing software. And it's far from the only amazing thing here that runs just on the Mac, and developers are clustering around the platform. And what does Ellen Hancock say?

The question was easy enough: "Which platform should developers work to? Mac System 7.x, which is going to be upgraded for another year? Or NextStep?" And the answer: "Oh, I think if your project is going to take more than 18 months, you should consider the new platform." I thought Heidi was going to faint.

Friday

Politics, politics. It's Motorola's day; they've hijacked me and flown me to Arizona to see a factory. Why? Well, obviously not to show me another factory. The story, according to marketing VP Dennis Schneider, a DEC veteran, is that "there's no future in up-market, high-power servers and workstations."

Motorola is interested in the Power PC, of course; it's a major player in the Mac clone market, and it makes the chip. But Motorola executives all sing from the same hymn book; "We're really only interested in the embedded market."

They refer, of course, to things like control processors in motor cars - a market they probably control, with around 60 per cent to 70 per cent share. And very profitable it is, from a silicon fabrication point of view; not too demanding production, enormous numbers, satisfying profit margins.

By contrast (as Schneider knows very well from his experiences with Alpha) the workstation market requires huge, expensive chips, made in pitifully small numbers, in silicon factories costing billions. He's not interested in that.

Well, no. I don't think anybody could argue that this is not an understandable point of view. The question is whether it's a reasonable one. I think it isn't. Someone has to do the expensive R&D; and the embedded stuff is the harvest. If you want a harvest, you have to plant seeds.

For example, I have a preference for driving large, comfortable motor cars. So I buy second-hand, solid, reliable lumps from makers like Rover, Volvo, Mercedes, Jaguar; these are things which cost a fortune new, but with 100K on the clock three years later, can be purchased for around the price of a brand-new Escort. It's a great strategy as long as there are enough mugs around to buy the brand-new versions.

Motorola would very much like IBM to be the mug. IBM can build the expensive, leading edge silicon fab, and support the platform while software tools are expensively developed and debugged. Then, four years later, Motorola can scoop up the profitable embedded sales, with products that have almost free software.

IBM, of course, doesn't see the attraction of this, and is putting it about that if this is what Motorola is going to do, then IBM doesn't see why it shouldn't buy Intel chips, and abandon Power PC.

Neither of them, of course, has any such intention; but it's making for a really entertaining fight.

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