The Mac is back

 

We've all seen this before of course; it's the stuff of innumerable godawful Rocky movies. After being knocked down repeatedly - losing market share, software developers and faith in itself, Apple Computer is getting back up again. Thanks to an eye-catching piece of plastic called iMac. Suddenly, computers have become sexy again. The message? I want one.

There's a lot more to it than a spiffy new box, however. Real consumer desire has been stirred in computer buyers for the first time since 1984, when the original, vastly overpriced and underpowered Macintosh introduced itself to an enraptured Californian audience.

Here was a necessary breath of fresh air. The world was seduced by a friendly face in the world of computing, proudly watched over by its fairy godfather, Steve Jobs, one of the co-founders of Apple Computer back in 1980.

Fifteen years later, floundering Apple has been to hell and back. The original sexy silicon valley startup concentrated on profit margin, refused to license the operating system, preferred instead to stay small and rich.

Of course, while the company complacently reaped profit margins that were the envy of the industry, leaner, hungrier companies raced to establish the Windows/Intel platform as the standard. Inferior, but more popular. "Fine," said Apple. "We've got better technology." "Who cares," said Wintel, if hardly anyone uses it?

Faced with this competition, Apple's worldwide market share slowly dwindled. They came out with some great technology, Quicktime video software being one of the highlights, but millions were poured into unproven technologies such as Newton (pioneering Personal Digital Assistant). The Macintosh's customer base narrowed; Mac users were mainly desktop publishers and creative multimedia folk.

Things were not looking good. Corporate infighting had taken its toll at the company, and it had lost consistent vision and direction. Share price fell, employees lost the faith, and software developers deserted the sinking ship. In a final effort to revive the company's fortunes, fallen angel Steve Jobs was begged to come back to the company he had been fired from. Jobs took charge, simplified. Back to basics. iMac was born: the answer to Apple's prayers.

The immense popularity of iMac is 1984 (the Mac launch, not George Orwell) all over again: marketing, hype and the most talked-about personal computer in years. There's certainly nothing special about the computer itself. It looks cool, it has no floppy drive, and, in another throwback to 1984, it's expandability is limited.

What iMac does do, however, is package the Macintosh operating system - the real jewel in the Apple crown - in a stylish, sexy package. That's the key. All those Macintosh diehards are unflinchingly loyal for a reason: working on a Macintosh is, in this writer's view, simply easier and more fun than working on a PC. That's my bottom line.

If you've never tried it, I think you should.

By making the brilliant Apple technology popular again, it makes a dent, however small, in the Wintel monopoly. Competition drives innovation.

That's why a lot of people are hoping that Apple can rebound from their recent misfortunes, get back on track, and not make the same mistakes again. That's why this computer is such a hit. It's because the real beauty of the iMac is on the inside.

Ted Felton: felton@indigo.ie