When Apple marches on

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In the past couple of weeks I’ve written about AppleWorks, Apple’s venerable, capable, but seriously-people-this-thing-is-so-dead application suite. On Twitter (I appear there in the guise of @BodyofBreen) where the hip kids hang out, this has elicited allusions to dinosaurs, System 7.5, cranky old men shouting “Get off my lawn!”, AOL, and time travel. The e-mail response takes a different tack along the lines of “THIS IS A SLAP IN THE FACE!!!!” “I REFUSE TO MOVE TO PAGES BECAUSE IT WON’T LET ME PASSWORD PROTECT A DOCUMENT!!!” and “YOU DON’T GET IT!!!” (Oddly, a good number of these messages are from AOL members.)

And you see where that leaves me. Torn.

When I started writing about technology a little more than 20 years ago I was a starving musician with a Mac 512Ke converted to a Mac Plus. I voraciously read Macworld and MacUser (and MacWEEK when I could scam a copy). And while reading those fine publications I swore that if I ever got to the point where my name appeared at the top of the page rather than in tiny italics at the bottom of a 75-word news piece, I’d try to avoid becoming a technology writer who denigrated those who either choose (or are compelled) to stick with older technology.

But I have to say that this AppleWorks reaction has tested me, as it taps into a couple of issues worthy of our consideration.

The first is Apple and its penchant for sometimes jumping two-steps ahead of the casual Mac user. Examples litter the Mac-scape—floppy disks, SCSI, ADB, the Classic environment, and, recently, physical iPod controls. It is frustrating when you’ve found a technology that works for you—whether it’s a Newton, HyperCard, or AppleWorks—Apple pulls the plug, and provides nothing (or next to nothing) to fill the void. You’re welcome to continue using that thingummy, but then you face the very real risk that you're entrusting your data to a zombie technology. It walks, but there’s very little life left in it.

And, of course, you’ll eventually be compelled to make a choice. A new Mac, a new operating system, and new connection protocol, a new… something... won’t see eye-to-eye with your beloved miracle worker and then where are you? Caught between using something that works and potentially missing out on a whole lot more that could add a great deal to your technological life.

And then there’s the resulting outrage. The Slap-In-The-Face, Steve-Jobs-Is-A-Money-Grubber, How-Dare-Apple-Abandon-Technology-X, very personal outrage. And here too, I understand the frustration (though little of the vitriol that comes with some of it). It’s no fun when Apple drops a product or technology that works perfectly for you. Count me among the unhappy with Apple’s decision to remove FireWire from the MacBook and ship all new laptops with a glossy screen, for example.

But Apple is a business. And one of the things businesses are compelled to do is make a profit. And your profit projections are going to look pretty weak if, on April 17, 1999, you pronounce, “Well, we’ve pretty much done everything we’ve set out to do. The Mac is perfect. Our operating system is perfect. AppleWorks is the perfect solution to 90-percent of your office chores. We’ll just stop right here. Let us know if something breaks and we’ll pull another one off the shelves. We’ve got plenty!”

Apple didn’t get to where it is today by standing still. Generally, it gives its users time to move from old to new—the Classic environment and AppleWorks are two shining example. And when it doesn’t and instead releases a whatchamajigit for a specific kind of user—and I’m thinking the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and third-generation iPod shuffle here—you’re welcome to just say no, thank you. If enough people do, Apple will try again with something possibly more appealing.

And if you choose to not follow, great, you’ve found your happy place. At that point, however, it’s a bit much to ask more from the people who manage Apple. They served you five years ago. And for them, the meal has grown cold.

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