The Desktop Critic: First the Battles, Then the War

The Wall Street Journal told us. Fortune told us. And Lord knows, Time magazine told us: Apple "has no future." These publications' ability to draw negative conclusions from any news, no matter how positive, often bordered on the Monty Python-esque. You get the idea that if Apple won a 90 percent market share, bought out Microsoft, and hired Bill Gates to mop the bathrooms, Business Week would write: "Apple has all but ignored the possibility of alien invasion-an event that would cut deeply into profit margins."

Once the media seized upon the Death of Apple as their favorite slow-news-day whipping boy, a cycle of anti-Mac feeling took hold among non-Mac users. One company after another announced Mac phaseouts. We heard about banks, telecom services, and even Web pages withdrawing Mac support.

Those announcements, naturally, made further headlines. But the Apple-obsessed media are missing a story that's ten times juicier: that many of the much-hyped Mac phaseouts never happened . We're talking about corporations, universities, and government departments completely reversing themselves, admitting bad judgment, and eating enough crow to make Thanksgiving look like a snack.

What brings about these amazing policy reversals? It's the oldest and most reassuring story in the American book: the people spoke. Every phaseout triggers a tidal wave of resistance. Every Mac-bashing official gets a sharp, overwhelming lesson in the consequences of taking away choice. Eventually, the clueless get an education: People care about their Macs, and we're willing to fight for our right to use them.

You've probably already heard how Intuit's Quicken for the Mac was canceled, and then uncanceled in the face of pressure from the public (and Steve Jobs) and how the Disney Blast Web site was incompatible with Macs until Mac customers pounded down the door. But those cases are only the tip of the iceberg.


Wells Fargo

In July 1998, Wells Fargo Bank wrote to its customers: "Online banking through Quicken for Macintosh will be discontinued, since only a small number of our customers use this service."

Or maybe not. Within five days, 700 customers wrote to complain. Mac fan Tom Chiara's polite, no-nonsense letter was among them: "Many of us would rather switch banks than use Windows to access our account," he wrote.

Wells Fargo was big enough to admit its mistake. "We goofed," said the form letter Chiara received only 11 days later. "The service will not be discontinued as previously announced."

Put one way, Wells Fargo's original decision wasn't surprising; only 1 percent of its online customers use Macs. But 1 percent is 7,000 Wells Fargo customers; for a bank, that's quite a chunk of change.

Yale University

In June 1997, Yale wrote to every incoming freshman: "You are strongly encouraged to select a Windows PC. Owing to uncertainties about availability of software . . . the University cannot guarantee support for Macintoshes beyond June 2000."

This edict came from a tech director named Dan Updegrove, who apparently had visions of Intel equipment grants dancing in his head (see The Desktop Critic, March 1998 ). But the reaction was overwhelming: outraged alumni, students, faculty, and Yale grad schools rushed to denounce the policy-one that made absolutely no sense in an environment where Ethernet and Web connections are all that matters.

Updegrove never did apologize or retract his decree, but it didn't matter; the university took matters out of his hands. "This year," says Yale spokesperson Tom Conroy, "Yale made no recommendation to incoming students regarding what brand of computer to buy," leaving students to make their own choices. This year's letter to entering students, in fact, reads like an ad for Apple, prominently listing Mac systems for sale (as well as Windows machines).

Oh-and guess whose name isn't signed to this year's letter?


Johnson Space Center

In 1996, John Garman, chief information officer of NASA's Johnson Space Center, announced that the center would be going all Windows.

The ensuing controversy raged for two years on the Web, via e-mail, and in the nation's newspapers. This one stung; after all, NASA is government, our tax dollars at work. A key question: Had Garman followed federal guidelines for choosing the most cost-effective solution?

But you don't just tell the nation's leading scientists and researchers that you're taking away their favorite tools. Today, Garman is long gone, and NASA is buying more Macs. "There is no plan to standardize on one platform," says Don Andreotta, NASA's deputy CIO for operations. "Customers can select the platforms they want and the service they require."

That's good news to people like Joe Williams, rendezvous guidance and procedures officer. "I was worried when the Wintel standard was established," he says. "But I'm still using Macs in everyday activities, [including] support of shuttle flights. I'm the guy sitting in the front-center row of the Mission Control Center, the one with the PowerBook 5300cs."

BellSouth ADSL Service

In May 1998, BellSouth announced the availability of ADSL (for Internet connections up to 100 times faster than modems) in 30 cities-for Windows only.

Mac fan Nathan Tennies helped to inspire BellSouth's reversal with a sly tactic: he pointed out to the local paper's technology columnist that his own, rival firm (Road Runner cable modems) was Mac friendly. The pressure was on.

When members of the Raleigh, North Carolina, Mac user group followed up by swamping BellSouth with calls, this story fell into its usual pattern: BellSouth admitted that the response from Mac users had been enormous, way out of proportion to the supposed market-share numbers. In July, BellSouth and Apple published a joint press release. "By working directly with Apple," BellSouth said, "we are bringing the Mac version of BellSouth.net FastAccess ADSL service to market."


Santa Barbara Department of Continuing Education

Not every Mac triumph involves a major corporation. When the Santa Barbara, California, Department of Continuing Education announced that it was about to replace its lab full of aging Macs with Wintel boxes, user-group member Harold Adams was appalled. He circulated a petition at the newspaper where he worked (the News-Press ); within days, he had sheets full of signatures. "We let the community know how our local paper depends on Macintosh for daily productivity and output," he says.

The petition was submitted to the school board. Incredibly, Adams's simple demonstration that people cared resulted in new all-Mac labs, classes in Adobe Photoshop and FileMaker-and, in this era of a rebounding Apple, a community sense of having done the right thing.


The Battles Continue

Don't bother e-mailing me accounts of lost battles; I'm aware that the Mac isn't always victorious. But thanks to the polite but unbending pressure from those of us who know a superior machine when we see one, the Macintosh is unmistakably retaking lost ground in workplaces and schools all over the world. At my Web site, you'll find tale after tale of the Mac's resurgence after "cancellation" at such establishments as the National Institutes of Health and the Stanford Linear Accelerator; Winona State University, Texas Christian University, and the University of Waterloo (Toronto); and school systems in Rockford, Illinois; Sarasota, Florida; Des Moines; Malvern, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

I thought you'd want to know about these quiet, but significant, Macintosh victories. Because one thing's for sure: you won't read about 'em in Business Week .

DAVID POGUE ( http://www.davidpogue.com ) is a coauthor of Macworld Mac Secrets , fifth edition (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998).

January 1999 page: 191

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