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The Great Apple Hope

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Seven years ago several developers from this site ran for the hills. They'd seen something known today as the Summer of Code Red. It was the ultimate writing on the wall. It was in 128 points bold and in dripping crimson red. It said 'get out now'.

Seven years later the choice they made - to go with Apple's Unix/open source offering - appears abortive. A mistake.

There was nothing wrong with the technology - that's a technology that could have displaced Microsoft as king of the heap; but the people holding onto the technology didn't want it to dominate and spread. They wanted to reform it to work only with their own computers.

It's one of the biggest crimes ever in the history of computer science and the greatest of many unforgivable acts to happen to people in the Internet age. For if Microsoft are the pestilence that must be driven from the Internet then the technology Apple acquired is the elixir that should have been administered in its stead.

NeXTSTEP was a closed platform. It was designed to only work on NeXT computers. But several years into production with only a pitiable 50,000 units sold the company - and the CEO - were forced to think again.

It can't have been easy for Steve Jobs. Jobs predicted NeXT would be either the last company able to hold onto a hardware lock-in or the first company to fail at it. And he was right.

But why have a hardware lock-in to begin with? That hardware lock-in crippled NeXT for years and it's been crippling Apple - the 'new' Apple - for the past ten. After all this time - and after all the media hype seen in these past ten years - Apple are still wallowing away with a mere 5% market share whilst Microsoft continue to dominate with 90% or more.

And it's not right.

The Apple fanboys love to see ephemeral increases in market share. They like to cite percentual increases in market share. As in 'our market share increased by 20% last month!' But 20% of nothing is still nothing. It doesn't count and it never will.

Apple fanboys also lose sleep over the thought someone is using their software without having purchased an official fanboy badge - an Apple computer. If people aren't forced to purchase our hardware to get our coveted software, reason the fanboys, then no one will buy our hardware at all.

Which is all true given that the hardware is not really special, heavily overpriced, and in itself is not attractive enough to potential customers.

Were the hardware of better quality; were it priced better; then Apple would be just another OEM on the market - and capable of getting at least the market share they have today.

Most of the fanboys who favour a hardware lock-in would still buy Apple hardware anyway. They might lose a bit of their feeling of exclusivity and snobbish superiority but they'd begrudgingly buy Apple still the same.

All the while not a mere 20 million but closer to a more significant chunk of the overall worldwide 1.5 billion personal computer users would have the chance to use their system. Not on hardware that was as good but a better system still the same.

It takes a lot of planning to switch technologies in the enterprise. It's a no-brainer to purchase a $129 DVD to try out an Apple OS; but it's another matter entirely to budget hardware purchases for thousands without being able to have a clue whether things will work out or not. It's not a gamble the enterprise are interested in - it's the type of suggestion they normally instinctively ignore.

Locking in to Apple hardware leaves the enterprise with no exit strategy. Apple can go tits up at any time; their survival is intimately tied to their ability to keep coming out with new flashy gadgets that win over reviewers and users alike; a single dud can at any time spell doom for them. Theirs is a bubble with no commodity products to fall back on.

Their OS looks nice - but cannot in its present form become an industry standard. And that's what's needed from the Great Apple Hope.

For people who've invested seven years of their lives - and countless tens of thousands in investments - to see the market wallowing at a mere 5% after all these years is debilitating. It's an outright betrayal.

When you have a technology the people of the world desperately need you have a responsibility to get it out there.

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