Apple: Get Out of Desktops

Opinion: It's long past time for the Cupertino company to forget the Macintosh, from software to all its hardware incarnations. Instead Apple should focus on its real opportunity-consumer convergence.

Before I get into this, let me just forestall some of the more nasty responses I know Im going to get. Back in 1984, my Dad brought home one of the first Macintosh computers. He was a partner at Peat-Marwick, and they outfitted everyone with the cutesy luggables. I loved that computer, and logged many a happy hour fighting gelatinous cubes in Ultima 1.

But its been twenty years. And lets face it, even though the promise of 1984 didnt come true, Apple has delivered a steady stream of powerful, and industry-leading niche computers.

Apart from the horrible hockey-puck mouse (Steve Jobs quoted me at a MacWorld keynote, when I called it the "worst mouse ever made"), every computer user owes a great debt to Apples foresight and innovation. Apple popularized the graphical user interface we know today with overlapping windows, made the mouse a household word, and brought style and flash to the boring PC market.

But Apples time in that market has come and gone. When it comes to servers, notebooks and desktops, the company is now a follower and a failure, not a leader. Luckily, the innovative company still has a bright future.

Apple knows design. But lately functionality hasnt always followed. For example, I loved the early blue and white Power Macintosh G3s design with the easy-access side panel. It was brilliant, and made upgrading or repairing the desktops simple. But the G4 Cube, however beautiful its industrial design, was a boat anchor.

The iMac was a revolution in computer design. The iBook looked like a porta-potty refugee from a Hello Kitty cartoon.

Sure, todays Power Mac G5 is fast. And with two processors, its ideal for editing video or making movies. But its not the only game in town. Many movie studios are discovering that a fast Linux-based system can outpace any Macintosh—at a fraction of the price.

For proof of this, look no further than cinema-quality 3D animation and photo-realistic special effects. The processors found in desktop systems are now fast enough to supplant the super-expensive Silicon Graphics boxes needed just a few years ago for movies such as Shrek, The Lord of the Rings and Pearl Harbor.

But movie studios arent trading in SGI for Apple. Instead DreamWorks, Disney, Warner Brothers and other houses are moving to low-cost Linux workstations from HP, IBM and other vendors. Even Pixars rendering tools are available on Linux and Windows along with Mac OS X.

So what about portables? Apples new notebooks are lookers, definitely, but they dont offer anything you cant find elsewhere. The designs are nice, but theres little else, besides brand, to differentiate them.

What about the OS and software? Apples been rightly lauded as a leader in both areas. But not anymore. Apples OSX operating system is based on Unix, and now the company steals interface ideas from Microsoft, instead of Xerox. I love the new Expose quick-zoom feature on the desktop, but thats hardly worth switching from either Windows or Linux.

And what about Sherlock? The ultra-usable search tool that was supposed to take the Internet by storm? Google has been running rings around it for years.

When it comes to operating systems and software, Apple surely puts out a good product. But unlike in years past, its not much better than Windows. Its not even the most talked about computer interface—GNOME and KDE, over in the Linux space, take that crown.

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